Week 4 is a big week in college football, and Steen Kirby, Yesh Ginsburg, John Bava, Mike Loveall, and Brett Margolies are on hand to offer their previews and predictions. USC travels to Cal for a PAC-12 clash, Missisippi State and Georgia will battle as two of the SEC’s hottest teams. TCU travels to face Oklahoma State in a battle of Big 12 contenders, Washington travels east to face Colorado in Boulder, and Penn State will go take on Iowa in the big matchups this week.
#5 USC at California (Saturday 3:30 P.M. in Berkeley, CA)
Line: USC by 17
Steen: Cal is better than advertised and will compete in this game, however the USC offense is better than Ole Miss and should find the mojo in this PAC-12 road clash. This is a big rivalry game and I expect a physical battle, USC has more talent and should edge it though. USC 27, Cal 21
Yesh: This game really intrigues me. The Cal defense really stood up in the second half against Ole Miss, and USC struggled against Texas. True, the Longhorns have a more athletic line than Cal, but this screams “trap game” to me and that we’ll see a letdown after an emotional win over Texas. USC 28, Cal 27
Brett: Cal has passed both tough test’s so far this season with wins over UNC, and Ole Miss. They now have a chance for a signature win at home over rival USC. The trojans have looked vulnerable at times throughout the season with their opening week struggles against WMU, and the 2 OT win over Texas last week. I think this will be more like the Stanford game with a win in dominant fashion. USC 41, Cal 20
John: Despite looking less than convincing in two of their first three games, USC is still favored by two touchdowns and a field goal on the road against an undefeated Cal squad. The Golden Bears have to come into this game feeling pretty confident after two of their three non-conference wins came against Power Five opposition. But neither North Carolina nor Ole Miss possess the firepower on offense the Trojans have.
Under first-year head coach Justin Wilcox, Cal looks to be improved on defense. The Bears finished dead last among Pac-12 teams in scoring defense during three of Sonny Dykes’ four seasons in charge. Through three games, they’re currently top half of the conference. But they still rank 126th nationally in pass defense. That’s not a recipe for success with Sam Darnold coming to town. USC 41, Cal 30
Mike: Was USC’s game against Texas more of a statement on USC or Texas? Sam Darnold came perilously close to losing his winning streak against the Longhorns. USC’s defense didn’t look as good against Texas as they did against Stanford. How will they hold up against Cal? It’s an afternoon game up north, and the Trojans might have a hard time getting ready for this game mentally after their week 3 reality check. USC 42, Cal 31
#16 TCU at #6 Oklahoma State (Saturday 3:30 P.M. in Stillwater, OK)
Line: Oklahoma State by 13
Steen: Mason Rudolph is the best quarterback in college football right now, the Oklahoma State Cowboys also have one of the best offenses in the nation, which poses a stern test for the TCU defense. Rudolph vs. an experienced TCU secondary is the biggest matchup in this game, and I’ll give the edge to the Cowboys by the slighest of margins. TCU QB Kenny Hill will need to step up on the offensive side of the ball for the Horned Frogs, this game should devolve into a shootout, and the Cowboys have the edge in that type of game. Oklahoma State 45, TCU 35
Yesh: I want to root for TCU in this game. I am a huge fan of Gary Patterson and he has the Horned Frogs much better this year than last. But I also saw that his defense couldn’t do much against a good and fast spread against SMU, and Oklahoma State’s offense is just faster and better. Oklahoma State 49, TCU 21
Brett: Through the first few weeks of the season Oklahoma State looks like they might have the best offense in the country. Mason Rudolph is playing great so far and I wouldn’t be surprised if that continued in what looks to be the game of the week. TCU has also looked impressive with a dominant win over Arkansas, but Oklahoma State at home will be too much. Oklahoma State 38, TCU 27
John: If you’re looking for a dark horse College Football Playoff contender, the Oklahoma State Cowboys are your team. The same can be said about quarterback Mason Rudolph with respect to the Heisman Trophy race. He hasn’t even played in the fourth quarter this year and yet is ranked fourth nationally in pass yards per game and tied for second in touchdown passes.
But don’t sleep on TCU. The Horned Frogs come into this game a few weeks removed from a 28-7 demolition of Arkansas. That win came in Fayetteville so they certainly know how to get things done on the road. And TCU’s pass defense is third in the Big 12, so they may have the formula to limit Rudolph’s effectiveness. In a matchup between the fourth and seventh ranked scoring offenses in the nation, expect a shootout. But in the end, the Pokes continue to roll. Oklahoma State 45, TCU 35
Mike: Mason Rudolph and the Cowboys look like a legitimate Playoff contender team early on this season. The Pokes are
seemingly on a late-season collision course with Baker Mayfield and Oklahoma for the Big 12 title. But Kenny Hill has TCU’s offense moving again this season. Gary Patterson continues plugging away in relative anonymity in Ft. Worth. The Horned Frogs won’t beat Oklahoma State, but it’ll be closer than people think. Oklahoma State 52, TCU 40
#17 Mississippi State at #11 Georgia (Saturday 7:00 P.M. in Athens, GA)
Line: Georgia by 5.5
Steen: The Georgia offense has a rising star in QB Jake Fromm, and he’s complimented by a physical running attack. The Bulldogs from Georgia already earned a big win against Notre Dame, while the Bulldogs from Mississippi beat LSU last week and have a ton of momentum heading into this road clash. The Missisippi State defense choked the LSU offense last week, but the Georgia offense is a step up. Meanwhile the Georgia defense should take advantage of the home field and get enough stops to win this game. Miss State is a trendy pick but I’m not sold yet. Georgia 24, Mississippi State 17
Yesh: LSU kind of self-destructed last week, but man was Mississippi State good in forcing that. Georgia struggled offensively against Notre Dame, and there is no reason to believe that the same won’t happen against a better Mississippi State defense. Mississippi State 24, Georgia 10
Brett: Before last week I wouldn’t have thought much of this game but after Mississippi State’s dominant win over LSU this game is very intriguing. It’s going to be interesting to see how Nick Fitzgerald handles a hostile atmosphere, but if they can pass the test they’ll be serious contenders this year. It’ll be close throughout but I think Georgia wins in the end. Georgia 24, Mississippi State 17
John: The SEC’s marquee matchup this weekend takes place “between the hedges.” In a game between the conference’s Bulldogs, expect a dogfight between two of the league’s top defenses. Both are ranked no worse than sixth in all major defensive categories among SEC teams.
Mississippi State boasts the conference’s top ground game, with Aeris Williams and dual-threat quarterback Nick Fitzgerald leading the way. Both average over seven yards per attempt with Fitzgerald actually tied for the lead in the SEC with five rushing touchdowns. But Georgia’s run defense ranks fifth nationally and should be able to make up for an inexperienced quarterback in Jake Fromm starting in place of the still injured Jacob Eason. Georgia 23, Mississippi State 17
Mike: Mississippi State had the biggest surprise of the week last week when they dominated LSU at home. As a reward, they get to go on the road and face a Georgia team that returns 10 of 11 starters on defense and two all-conference caliber running backs. Much has been made about the West versus the East in the SEC, but this year Georgia helps even things out at the top. Georgia 24, Mississippi State 17
#4 Penn State at Iowa (Saturday 7:30 P.M. in Iowa City, IA)
Line: Penn State by 13
Steen: Iowa is once again a solid football team that should give the rest of the Big 10 fits and starts, traveling to Kinnick is also a stern test for any team. That said, Penn State has talent and has produced results on both sides of the football, and I’m not convinced the Iowa offense can keep up with Penn State’s own air and ground attack. Penn State should pull away by the second half. Penn State 35, Iowa 14
Yesh: Iowa has looked decent to open up this season, but Penn State is several orders of magnitude better than “decent.” Penn State’s offense is going to make quite a statement in its opening Big Ten game. Penn State 45, Iowa 17
Brett: Penn State is definitely on upset alert going in to Iowa on Saturday night. Saquon Barkley has another chance to make a statement in a primetime game against an Iowa defense that has struggled this season. I like Barkley’s chances to run for 100+ again and get the win on the road. Penn State 30, Iowa 14
John: Much like USC, Penn State are sizable road favorites against an undefeated team this week. It’s not much of a surprise considering the Nittany Lions average margin of victory coming into this game is 42.3 points. Part of their success comes from forcing mistakes out of opposing offenses, with their nine turnovers forced third best nationally.
Both teams boast talented running backs who are off to slow starts in 2017. Heisman candidate Saquon Barkley currently ranks 30th among FBS backs in rush yards per game. And Hawkeye speedster Akrum Wadley left last week’s game due to injury but should be good to go on Saturday. The two quarterbacks, Iowa’s Nate Stanley and PSU’s Trace McSorley, both are in the top ten nationally in passing touchdowns.
I usually hate to pick double-digit road favorites, but the Nittany Lions are loaded this year and should be super motivated to get their Big Ten title defense off to a good start. Penn State 40, Iowa 21
Mike: Pink locker rooms aside, Iowa is losing ground in the Big Ten. You better believe James Franklin has showed his team the tape of Iowa dashing Michigan’s CFP dreams last season. The Nittany Lions offense has been efficient if nothing else. But their defense has been better, yielding 14 total points on the season. Look for Penn State to roll Iowa. Penn State 35, Iowa 10
#7 Washington at Colorado (Saturday 10:00 P.M. in Boulder, CO)
Line: Washington by 11.5
Steen: I’m a firm believer in this Washington team, and I have them as best in the PAC-12. Colorado appears to be back as a quality program and can hope for more than just making a bowl game, but Jake Browning and Myles Gaskin are in a league of their own for the Huskies. Traveling to the mountains should ensure a rather slow start for Washington, but look for them to figure it out in the end. Washington 35, Colorado 24
Yesh: This is another big potential upset out west. Colorado has been sneakily really, really good this year, and Washington struggled a bit on the road against Rutgers. As long as the Buffs don’t kick it to Dante Pettis, they should have a real chance. Colorado 31, Washington 28
Brett: Washington has been able to put points on the board so far this season led by Jake Browning, and Myles Gaskin. They look similar to last years team early on and can be a real threat later in the year. Colorado has looked good as well and the home crowd will help, but Washington should win and cover. Washington 42, Colorado 27
John: This inter-divisional showdown is a rematch of last year’s Pac-12 title game. That night, the Huskies routed Colorado 41-10 to ensure their spot in the College Football Playoff. The Buffaloes are the second Pac-12 team among our picks this week who come into the weekend as double-digit home dogs.
Perhaps the biggest X-factor this week is U-Dub wide receiver Dante Pettis. He also returns punts for the Huskies, and scored a special teams touchdown in each of his team’s first three games. Only two other players, Kansas State’s David Allen (1998) and North Carolina’s Ryan Switzer (2013), have accomplished that feat in NCAA history.
Neither team has had a real test up to this point, but that changes Saturday at Folsom Field. Though the Buffs want to erase the memory of last year’s blowout in the conference championship game, Huskies quarterback Jake Browning’s quality ultimately shines. Washington 38, Colorado 20
Mike: After a sluggish start against Rutgers to start the season, the Huskies have been flying under the radar in the last two weeks. Colorado has played well, albeit against inferior opponents. This week will be different. Are the Buffaloes back for good, or was 2016 a one season aberration? Look for Washington to balance their offense and the defense finally gets some pass rush. Washington 38, Colorado 24