Sports

College football Week 4: Picks and preview

The fourth full week of the 2021 college football season is here, and it seems there are more questions than answers at this point. Perhaps things will become a little clearer this weekend.

Here are our previews and predictions (point spreads courtesy of DraftKings, and current at the time of publication) for Week 4 games featuring teams in The Associated Press
Top 25 and other intriguing contests.

All times Eastern. Statistics in parenthesis from 2021, unless noted.

 

1 of 25

UNLV (0-3, 0-0 in Mountain West) at No. 22 Fresno State (3-1, 0-0 in Mountain West), 10 p.m., Friday, CBS Sports Network

Richard Mackson/USA TODAY Sports

Is Fresno State poised to the class of the Mountain West Conference? We’ll see how that plays out, but the Bulldogs’ lone loss came at Oregon by seven points and they just won 40-37 at then-No. 13 UCLA. Quarterback Jake Haener leads the nation with 1,464 passing yards and has thrown 10 touchdowns to just one interception, while Jalen Cropper is second in the country with 29 receptions. UNLV has allowed 120 points and 1,426 total yards in 2021.

Prediction: Fresno State (-30 1/2)

 

2 of 25

Villanova (3-0) at No. 6 Penn State (3-0), Noon, Saturday, Big Ten Network

Villanova (3-0) at No. 6 Penn State (3-0), Noon, Saturday, Big Ten Network

Matthew OHaren/USA TODAY Sports

Since starting the 2020 season with five straight losses, Penn State has won seven in a row by an average margin of 17.3 points. The Nittany Lions have allowed 112 points during a run that’s spanned two seasons. Don’t expect Penn State’s winning streak to end against Villanova, which is ranked 11th in the Stats Perform FCS Poll, but has not faced a ranked opponent since November 2008. These Pennsylvania foes last met in 1951.

Prediction: Penn State (-29)

 

3 of 25

No. 2 Georgia (3-0, 1-0 in SEC) at Vanderbilt (1-2, 0-0 in SEC), Noon, Saturday, SEC Network

No. 2 Georgia (3-0, 1-0 in SEC) at Vanderbilt (1-2, 0-0 in SEC), Noon, Saturday, SEC Network

Joshua L. Jones via Imagn Content Services, LLC/USA TODAY

Georgia just might be the best team in the country, thanks to a defense that’s allowed only 23 points, forced six turnovers, and recorded 13 sacks. That can’t be good for a Vanderbilt program that’s totaled 34 points during a three-game home losing streak to Georgia. The Bulldogs are looking for a 17th consecutive road victory against unranked SEC teams since falling at Tennessee in October 2015.

Prediction: Vanderbilt (+35 1/2)

 

4 of 25

No. 12 Notre Dame (3-0) vs. No. 18 Wisconsin (1-1) (at Chicago), Noon, Saturday, Fox

No. 12 Notre Dame (3-0) vs. No. 18 Wisconsin (1-1) (at Chicago), Noon, Saturday, Fox

Matt Cashore/USA TODAY Sports

The storyline within the story of two ranked Midwestern teams meeting, for the first time since 1964, at Soldier Field, is Notre Dame quarterback Jack Coan facing his former school. Coan passed for more than 3,200 yards in three seasons for the Badgers, now aims to keep the Irish undefeated despite looking less-than dominant in their first three contests. Wisconsin has had a couple of weeks to prepare, and a defense that’s yielded 23 points and 389 total yards could be tough for Coan and Co. to handle.

Prediction: Notre Dame (+6 1/2)

 

5 of 25

Massachusetts (0-3) at No. 17 Coastal Carolina (3-0), 1 p.m., Saturday, ESPN+

Massachusetts (0-3) at No. 17 Coastal Carolina (3-0), 1 p.m., Saturday, ESPN+

Nicholas LoVerde/USA TODAY Sports

Coastal didn’t have an easy time pulling out a 28-25 win at Buffalo last weekend, but there would be a world of concern if it struggled against lowly UMass. The Minutemen have allowed 138 points this season and now must face talented Chanticleers quarterback Grayson McCall, who is 46-of-59 for 739 yards with six touchdowns and an interception. Coastal has won nine straight at home while UMass will be looking to avoid a 13th consecutive road defeat.

Prediction: Coastal Carolina (-36)

 

6 of 25

No. 7 Texas A&M (3-0, 0-0 in SEC) vs. No. 16 Arkansas (3-0, 0-0) ( (At Arlington, Texas), 3:30 p.m., Saturday, CBS

No. 7 Texas A&M (3-0, 0-0 in SEC) vs. No. 16 Arkansas (3-0, 0-0) ( (At Arlington, Texas), 3:30 p.m., Saturday, CBS

Tim Heitman/USA TODAY Sports

This potentially could be the game of the week in the SEC, or the entire country, for that matter. Playing it at a relatively neutral site, however, may hinder the Razorbacks’ chances of pulling off an upset this time. Texas A&M will be looking for a ninth consecutive victory within the series, and seventh straight when played at a neutral site — where three in a row and five of the last six have been decided by seven or fewer points.

Prediction: Texas A&M (-5 1/2)

 

7 of 25

No. 14 Iowa State (2-1, 0-0 in Big 12) at Baylor (3-0, 1-0 in Big 12), 3:30 p.m., Saturday, Fox

No. 14 Iowa State (2-1, 0-0 in Big 12) at Baylor (3-0, 1-0 in Big 12), 3:30 p.m., Saturday, Fox

Steven Branscombe/USA TODAY Sports

Iowa State has won three of the last four meetings over Baylor and is coming off a needed 48-3 rout of UNLV from last weekend. However, the Bears are off to somewhat of a surprise start thanks to an offense that’s averaging 46.7 points. Though their three wins have come against teams with a combined two victories. The Cyclones’ offense has struggled with consistency early on, but their defense has yielded 40 points and 578 total yards.

Prediction: Iowa State (-7)

 

8 of 25

Colorado State (1-2) at No. 5 Iowa (3-0), 3:30 p.m., Saturday, FS1

Colorado State (1-2) at No. 5 Iowa (3-0), 3:30 p.m., Saturday, FS1

Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen via Imagn Content Services, LLC/USA TODAY

At the moment, Iowa, looking for a 10th win in a row, just might be the most complete squad in the country. The Hawkeyes have totaled 91 points and allowed 30 through three games. They’ve rushed for 431 yards and forced eight turnovers. That all can’t be good for Colorado State, which did just pull out a 22-6 road win over Toledo, but has dropped four straight games against Big Ten opponents.

Prediction: Iowa (-23)

 

9 of 25

Rutgers (3-0, 0-0 in Big Ten) at No. 19 Michigan (3-0, 0-0 in Big Ten), 3:30 p.m., Saturday, ABC

Rutgers (3-0, 0-0 in Big Ten) at No. 19 Michigan (3-0, 0-0 in Big Ten), 3:30 p.m., Saturday, ABC

Junfu Han via Imagn Content Services, LLC/USA TODAY

Perhaps it’s somewhat surprising that both Michigan and Rutgers are undefeated at this point. However, the Wolverines might be the biggest surprise in the conference, outscoring their first three opponents 141-34 after rolling over Northern Illinois 63-10 last weekend. Michigan enters the weekend leading the nation with 1,051 rushing yards, paced by Blake Corum and Hassan Haskins, who have combined for 688 and 11 touchdowns. Rutgers has dropped six straight to Michigan following last season’s triple-overtime home defeat, it’s allowed 34 points so far in 2021.

Prediction: Michigan (-20)

 

10 of 25

No. 9 Clemson (2-1, 1-0 in ACC) at North Carolina State (2-1, 0-0 in ACC), 3:30 p.m., Saturday, ESPN

No. 9 Clemson (2-1, 1-0 in ACC) at North Carolina State (2-1, 0-0 in ACC), 3:30 p.m., Saturday, ESPN

Ken Ruinard/Staff via Imagn Content Services, LLC/USA TODAY

We talked about the concern level at Clemson already, but it’s been elevated following a 14-8 home win versus Georgia Tech. Yes, the Tigers have allowed just 21 points, but have totaled 17 against their two FBS opponents and D.J. Uiagalelei (59.3 completion percentage, 475 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions) has underachieved by most accounts. North Carolina State lost 24-10 in its first 2021 test at Mississippi State on Sept. 11 but has won five straight at home. The Wolfpack have lost eight in a row versus Clemson.

Prediction: North Carolina State (+9 1/2)

 

11 of 25

Georgia State (1-2) at No. 23 Auburn (2-1), 4 p.m., Saturday, SEC Network

Georgia State (1-2) at No. 23 Auburn (2-1), 4 p.m., Saturday, SEC Network

Matthew OHaren/USA TODAY Sports

Auburn proved its worth, even during a 28-20 loss against a top-10-ranked Penn State squad last weekend. Bryan Harsin appears to have a good thing going early on at Auburn, and this week presents an obviously strong opportunity to bounce back. Auburn’s backfield duo of Tank Bigsby and Jarquez Hunter (663 combined rushing yards, six touchdowns) has been fun to watch. It shouldn’t be too pleasant for Georgia State, which has allowed 577 rushing yards through three games.

Prediction: Auburn (-27)

 

12 of 25

No. 24 UCLA (2-1, 0-0 in Pac-12) at Stanford (2-1, 1-0 in Pac-12), 6 p.m., Saturday, Pac-12 Network

No. 24 UCLA (2-1, 0-0 in Pac-12) at Stanford (2-1, 1-0 in Pac-12), 6 p.m., Saturday, Pac-12 Network

Richard Mackson/USA TODAY Sports

Stanford has already knocked off one Los Angeles-based Pac-12 team this season and now tries to take down another. UCLA followed up its 38-27 home victory over then-No. 16 LSU by losing 40-37 to a then-unranked Fresno State squad at the Rose Bowl. The Bruins need to improve a pass defense that’s allowed 785 yards and five touchdowns in the last two games. Cardinal quarterback Tanner McKee is 50-of-70 for 570 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions this season.

Prediction: Stanford (+5)

 

13 of 25

Tennessee (2-1, 0-0 in SEC) at No. 11 Florida (2-1, 0-1 in SEC), 7 p.m., Saturday, ESPN

Tennessee (2-1, 0-0 in SEC) at No. 11 Florida (2-1, 0-1 in SEC), 7 p.m., Saturday, ESPN

Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Sun via Imagn Content Services, LLC/USA TODAY

Florida fell short in knocking off Alabama last weekend but earned some deserved props in the process. The Gators might have an issue at the quarterback position, but they rank second in the nation averaging 340.3 rushing yards and among the country’s leaders with 11 touchdowns on the ground. Tennessee has allowed just 163 rushing yards this season but lost four straight and 15 of the last 16 against the rival Gators.

Prediction: Florida (-20)

 

14 of 25

Nebraska (2-2, 0-1 in Big Ten) at No. 20 Michigan State (3-0, 1-0 in Big Ten), 7 p.m., Saturday, FS1

Nebraska (2-2, 0-1 in Big Ten) at No. 20 Michigan State (3-0, 1-0 in Big Ten), 7 p.m., Saturday, FS1

Jasen Vinlove/USA TODAY Sports

OK, maybe it’s Michigan’s nearby rival from East Lansing that is the biggest surprise in the Big Ten thus far. The Spartans haven’t started 4-0 since 2015 and might have finally found some offensive consistency with Payton Thorne (726 passing yards, nine touchdowns, zero interceptions) and Kenneth Walker III (493 rushing yards, five TDs) leading a unit averaging 39.3 points. Nebraska showed some moxie in its 23-16 loss in the renewed rivalry game versus then-No. 3 Oklahoma. However, the Cornhuskers are 0-12 on the road against ranked opponents since a 17-14 victory at then-No. 12 Penn State on Nov. 12, 2011.

Prediction: Michigan State (-5)

 

15 of 25

No. 25 Kansas State (3-0, 0-0 in Big 12) at Oklahoma State (3-0, 0-0 in Big 12), 7 p.m., Saturday, Big 12 Network/ESPN+

No. 25 Kansas State (3-0, 0-0 in Big 12) at Oklahoma State (3-0, 0-0 in Big 12), 7 p.m., Saturday, Big 12 Network/ESPN+

Scott Sewell/USA TODAY Sports

Kansas State is trying to open with four straight wins for the first time since 2012. It’s in that position thanks to running back Deuce Vaughn, who has rushed for 371 yards, averaged 6.0 yards per carry, and scored five touchdowns on the ground. However, the Wildcats have dropped two straight against the Cowboys, and six of the last seven at Stillwater. Oklahoma State’s three victories over Missouri State, Tulsa, and at Boise State last week have been decided by a combined 13 points.

Prediction: Kansas State (+6)

 

16 of 25

Southern Miss (1-2) at No. 1 Alabama (3-0), 7:30 p.m., Saturday, SEC Network

Southern Miss (1-2) at No. 1 Alabama (3-0), 7:30 p.m., Saturday, SEC Network

Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Sun via Imagn Content Services, LLC/USA TODAY

Florida gave Alabama a run for its money last weekend, but the Crimson Tide held on for a 17th straight victory. The reigning national champions haven’t been their expected dominant selves early on, but they’re still the class of the country at the moment. That should not change this week versus Southern Miss, which has lost eight in a row to Alabama by an average margin of 22.1 points.

Prediction: (Southern Miss (+45)

 

17 of 25

No. 21 North Carolina (2-1, 1-1 in ACC) vs. Georgia Tech (1-2, 0-1 in ACC) (at Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium), 7:30 p.m., Saturday, ACC Network

No. 21 North Carolina (2-1, 1-1 in ACC) vs. Georgia Tech (1-2, 0-1 in ACC) (at Atlanta's Mercedes-Benz Stadium), 7:30 p.m., Saturday, ACC Network

Bob Donnan/USA TODAY Sports

This is a home game in Atlanta for Georgia Tech, but not at their campus stadium. That might give North Carolina a better chance at earning a third consecutive victory. Sam Howell has thrown eight of his nine touchdowns with just one interception while the Tar Heels have scored 59 points in each of the last two games. He threw for 376 yards with four touchdowns during Carolina’s 38-22 win at Georgia Tech in the teams’ most recent meeting.

Prediction: Georgia Tech (+12)

 

18 of 25

Akron (1-2) at No. 10 Ohio State (2-1), 7:30 p.m., Saturday, Big Ten Network

Akron (1-2) at No. 10 Ohio State (2-1), 7:30 p.m., Saturday, Big Ten Network

Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch via Imagn Content Services, LLC/USA TODAY

It hasn’t been an easy start to the season for the Buckeyes, and pundits are already clamoring that they might not be the best team in the Big Ten this season. That could very well be the case, but Ohio State should have no problem with this in-state foe this weekend, even with a defense allowing an average of 28.7 points. These programs last met in 2011, when the Buckeyes rolled to a 42-0 home victory.

Prediction: Akron (+49)

 

19 of 25

West Virginia (2-1, 0-0 in Big 12) at No. 4 Oklahoma (3-0, 0-0 in Big 12), 7:30 p.m., Saturday, ABC

West Virginia (2-1, 0-0 in Big 12) at No. 4 Oklahoma (3-0, 0-0 in Big 12), 7:30 p.m., Saturday, ABC

Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman via Imagn Content Services, LLC/USA TODAY

Perhaps we don’t know what to expect from the Sooners following another less-than-dominant effort — this time against a middling Nebraska squad. Inconsistencies on both sides of the ball have surfaced for Oklahoma, but it has won eight straight over West Virginia, which is mired in a five-game overall road skid. However, the Mountaineers’ Leddie Brown (265 rushing yards, five TDs) is one of the most underrated running backs in the country.

Prediction: West Virginia (+16 1/2)

 

20 of 25

South Florida (1-2) at No. 15 BYU (3-0), 10:15 p.m., Saturday, ESPN2

South Florida (1-2) at No. 15 BYU (3-0), 10:15 p.m., Saturday, ESPN2

Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports

Since Oct. 19, 2019, BYU is 19-3 overall and has won 12 in a row at home. In 2021, the Cougars have used a solid defense, that’s allowed 50 total points while beating Arizona, and ranked Utah and Arizona State opponents, by a combined 27 points. None of that likely bodes well for South Florida, which has dropped seven straight on the road and 12 of its last 14 contests away from home.

Prediction: BYU (-23)

 

21 of 25

Arizona (0-3, 0-0 in Pac-12) at No. 3 Oregon (3-0, 0-0 in Pac-12), 10:30 p.m., Saturday, ESPN

Arizona (0-3, 0-0 in Pac-12) at No. 3 Oregon (3-0, 0-0 in Pac-12), 10:30 p.m., Saturday, ESPN

Chris Pietsch/The Register-Guard via Imagn Content Services, LLC/USA TODAY

The Ducks enter conference play feeling good about things, and, at the moment, looking like the best team in the league. Anthony Brown has been a serviceable quarterback while running backs CJ Verdell and Travis Dye have totaled 483 rushing yards and six touchdowns on the ground. Arizona, meanwhile, just fell to the FCS’s Northern Arizona — its 15th consecutive defeat. The Wildcats have also lost 12 straight Pac-12 contests.

Prediction: Oregon (-28 1/2)

 

22 of 25

Wake Forest (3-0, 1-0 in ACC) at Virginia (2-1, 0-1 in ACC), 7 p.m., Friday, ESPN2

Wake Forest (3-0, 1-0 in ACC) at Virginia (2-1, 0-1 in ACC), 7 p.m., Friday, ESPN2

Bob Donnan/USA TODAY Sports

Wake is trying to go 4-0 for the second time in three seasons because it’s outscored the first three opponents 118-40. Last week’s 35-14 win over Florida State gives the Demon Deacons a bit of credibility, but Virginia has averaged 41.3 points. There are also some college football pundits who believe Cavaliers quarterback Brennan Armstrong (87-of-121, 1,298 yards, 11 TDs, two INTs) who could have a successful career at the next level. Wake Forest has won four straight in this series.

Prediction: Virginia (-4)

 

23 of 25

Texas Tech (3-0, 0-0 in Big 12) at Texas (2-1, 0-0 in Big 12), Noon, Saturday, ABC

Texas Tech (3-0, 0-0 in Big 12) at Texas (2-1, 0-0 in Big 12), Noon, Saturday, ABC

John Gutierrez/USA TODAY Sports

Texas has won its two 2021 home games — versus then-No. 23 Louisiana and Rice — by a combined 96-18 scoreline. Texas Tech comes in looking to start 4-0 for the first time since 2013 when current NFL quarterbacks Baker Mayfield and Davis Webb were on the roster. This will be the Red Raiders’ first true 2021 contest on the road, where they’ve lost five straight and 11 of the last 12.

Prediction: Texas (-8)

 

24 of 25

Louisville (2-1, 0-0 in ACC) at Florida State (0-3, 0-1 in ACC), 3:30 p.m., Saturday, ESPN2

Louisville (2-1, 0-0 in ACC) at Florida State (0-3, 0-1 in ACC), 3:30 p.m., Saturday, ESPN2

Reinhold Matay/USA TODAY Sports

The Seminoles are trying to avoid going 0-4 for the first time since that 1-10 season of 1974. Their quarterback situation is murky, they lost to an FCS team on a 59-yard, last-second touchdown pass and have allowed 96 points in three games — 35 in a 21-point loss at Wake Forest last weekend. Louisville, meanwhile, is 1-8 at Tallahassee since 1980 but has a potent offense led by versatile quarterback Malik Cunningham (733 passing yards; 207 rushing yards, six TDs). This could be a barn-burner.

Prediction: Florida State (+2)

 

25 of 25

Kentucky (3-0, 1-0 in SEC) at South Carolina (2-1, 0-1 in SEC), 7 p.m., Saturday, ESPN2

Kentucky (3-0, 1-0 in SEC) at South Carolina (2-1, 0-1 in SEC), 7 p.m., Saturday, ESPN2

Jordan Prather/USA TODAY Sports

It was 2018, the last time Kentucky opened 4-0. The Wildcats might have the talent to achieve that feat again, behind quarterback Will Levis (800 passing yards) and running back Chris Rodriguez (369 rushing yards, three TDs). Kentucky should also be confident knowing it’s won five of the last six versus South Carolina, which has dropped three consecutive SEC games at home, where it’s 5-8 in league contests since the start of the 2018 season.

Prediction: Kentucky (-5 1/2)

Jeff Mezydlo has written about sports and entertainment online and for print for more than 25 years. He grew up in the far south suburbs of Chicago, 20 minutes from the Mascot Hall of Fame in Whiting, Ind. He’s also the proud father of 11-year-old Matthew, aka “Bobby Bruin,” mascot of St. Robert Bellarmine School in Chicago. You can follow Jeff at @jeffm401.


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