College football Week 4 isn’t the most drama-laced schedule on the card, as evidenced by the fact ESPN’s Gameday crew is using this week to tip their caps to the program at the FCS level, with a trip to Fargo to watch North Dakota host Delaware State. If you see a report that Gameday is going to “ND”, just know they’re abbreviating the state, not a certain school in South Bend.
But the fact there are no great games doesn’t mean they aren’t some good ones, and Fox will have the best one on the board when Arizona State visits Stanford in a 7 pm ET kickoff. This is a potential preview of the Pac-12 Championship Game and could settle homefield advantage for that game in a league where that reward exists for its best division winner. And, lest we forget, neither team has lost and Stanford is expected to be in the national championship hunt all year.
This game should be about tempo control, with Stanford playing one of the more muscular styles of the elite national teams, and Arizona State being better if the game is a little more open. The Cardinal is a seven-point favorite and deservedly so. They have a terrific secondary, and even if ASU can open the flow of play, the Stanford defensive backs can still make big plays off of Taylor Kelly.
If the Sun Devils want to pull the upset, they need to stop the Stanford run. The presence of All-American nose guard Will Sutton leads you to give them a chance at doing that, but Arizona State did not stop the run against Wisconsin last week, and would likely have lost that game if not for an officiating travesty. That was at home. Now they’re on the road against what is likely a superior opponent.
Maybe the number to look at here is 51.5 That’s the totals line on this game. If it goes Over, Arizona State has the edge, if it goes under, the game leans Stanford’s way. I would hold this view with one caveat—Stanford still might win if it goes over. There’s no way ASU wins if it goes Under. I’m picking the Cardinal.
Normally I like to hone in on about three games that should define the day for the college football fan, but that really doesn’t exist this week. So let’s just run through the entire TV schedule upcoming for Week 4, with each fan’s conference rooting preference likely deciding what their viewing fare will be…
TheSportsNotebook dealt with Thursday night’s Clemson-N.C. State game (7:30 PM ET, ESPN) in a separate post on what is an interesting week in the ACC. Friday night’s ESPN game is Boise State-Fresno State.
This is similar to Arizona State-Stanford—it’s a possible conference championship game preview in a league that awards homefield advantage. Fresno looks much better than Boise this season, with Derek Carr leading a good offense and the Bulldogs are a 3 ½ point favorite at home. Fresno is the possible BCS candidate out of the Mountain West this season and needs this win if they’re going to pull that off.
Saturday’s best game in the noon ET time slot is North Carolina-Georgia Tech, dealt with the aforementioned post on the ACC games this weekend. The rest of that time slot, and the balance of the day, shapes up as follows…
San Jose State-Minnesota (Noon, ESPN2): The Gophs have played well so far, but are dealing with uncertainty as to the health of quarterback Philip Nelson and running back Donnell Kirkwood. The latter will probably play, the former is listed as doubtful.
Minnesota’s going to need some points, because San Jose quarterback David Fales is one of the best you’ve never seen. San Jose is only a 3 ½ point dog on the road at a Big Ten venue and even that spread looks a little large.
Marshall-Virginia Tech (Noon, ESPNU): Virginia Tech’s defense did an admirable job collaring East Carolina and quarterback Shane Harden last week in a 15-10 win. Although when you only score 15 against a C-USA defense it speaks volumes to your offensive problems. It’s a similar opponent this week, with that great Hokie D facing all-everything Rakeem Cato.
My guess is Tech’s D is again up to snuff, and the Marshall defense is worse than East Carolina’s. Even this VT offense has to be able to win and cover a 5 ½ point line at home.
Tennessee-Florida (3:30 PM ET, CBS): This is a serious litmus test on Florida as a contender in the SEC East. If they can’t hammer what’s a woeful Tennessee team right now, there is no reason to take the Gators seriously as anything but a spoiler in a race that would then boil down to Georgia and South Carolina. That means the Florida offense has to do something for the first time in the Wil Muschamp era.
Michigan State-Notre Dame (3:30 PM ET, NBC): Notre Dame’s narrow escape over a shaky Purdue team and their loss at Michigan takes some of the gloss off this game. Michigan State has three non-descript wins to mark its resume and the big question is how Connor Cook will do at quarterback. Mark Dantonio pulled the plug on senior Andrew Maxwell, trying to juice up a bad offense.
Sparty is getting six here and I at least like them to be close enough to cover that number. And though I wouldn’t actually put my money behind a Michigan State win, I’ll put my mouth there.
Purdue-Wisconsin (3:30 PM ET, ABC/ESPN2): We could take Notre Dame’s troubles in West Lafayette last week and attribute them to Purdue, but that requires us to ignore the Boilermakers’ complete incompetence at Cincinnati to start the season. This game will be more about Wisconsin—as in, have the Badgers put the rob job they suffered at the hands of Pac-12 officials behind them better than their fans (like me) have? If so, winning won’t be an issue and the (-24) line will be all that’s in doubt.
Utah State-USC (3:30 PM ET, ABC/ESPN2): If I wasn’t a Wisconsin fan or if this game was on at a different time, I’d rate it the most interesting matchup of the day. USC has yet to show us they can beat a good team, and while Utah State may be a midmajor, they are good and they can score points, led by quarterback Chuckie Keeton.
The Trojan defense is stout enough to slow down Utah State, but can the offense generate anything against an opponent of quality ?(the 35 against Boston College last week don’t qualify). USC is a seven-point favorite and if Lane Kiffin wants to keep the wolves at bay, he certainly needs to win and probably needs to do it with some decisiveness. Use the (-7) line as a benchmark in that regard.
Arkansas-Rutgers (3:30 PM ET, ESPN): Both teams have health question marks pertaining to their quarterbacks and neither are all that impressive to begin with. Ugly matchup.
West Virginia-Maryland goes on ESPNU in this spot, and that game was discussed in our college football coverage on the ACC’s weekend.
Colorado State-Alabama (7 PM ET, ESPN2): Colorado State head coach Jim McIlvaine used to be the Tide offensive coordinator, the only possible reason I can think of for why this game was schedule. ‘Bama’s giving 40 and it sounds like a bargain on the favorite.
SMU-Texas A&M (7 PM ET, ESPNU): This is a big moment for SMU quarterback Garrett Gilbert. If he can’t put up numbers against a defense that gets carved up by opponents both big name (Alabama) and small-name (Rice), then SMU won’t compete for a high finish in the American Athletic Conference this year.
Auburn-LSU (7:45 PM ET, ESPN): It’s the 25th anniversary of when these two teams played in LSU and the Tiger crowd shook the earth enough to register on the Richter scale. That 1988 game was a defensive classic that LSU pulled out 7-6 and it was Auburn’s only loss of the season. This year’s matchup is more about measuring where Gus Malzahn has the rebuilding project at Auburn, and whether Zach Mettenberg can continue his growth in the LSU passing game. Safe to say the final wont’ be 7-6 again.
Michigan-UConn (8 PM ET, ABC): What genius decided this game was a good idea to go on prime-time, even as part of split national coverage? UConn’s gone to the toilet since Randy Edsall left for Maryland following the 2010 season and we’re not playing basketball. I’m sure Brady Hoke has had the attention of his young, but talented Wolverines, after their narrow escape over Akron, UM covers the (-19) line by halftime and cruises home.
Kansas State-Texas (8 PM ET, ABC): I assume this game is the one most of the country gets and where Brent and Herbie will be planted. Texas has completely imploded on defense in losing to BYU and Ole Miss by a combined forty points. David Ash at quarterback still has a head injury and is questionable. Kansas State looks like a team that lost almost everyone of consequence from a group that won the Big 12 last season.
Media speculation is rampant that Mack Brown will be done (at the end of the year anyway) if he loses this one at home. Between Brown, Jason Garrett with the Dallas Cowboys and Ron Washington with the Texas Rangers, the greater Dallas area is not offering a lot of job security to its sports leaders right now.
Utah-BYU (10:15 PM ET, ESPN2): BYU’s statement win over Texas a couple weeks ago looks less so after Ole Miss did the same thing to the Longhorns. The Cougars have a tough schedule as an independent and need every win they can get.
Wyoming-Air Force (10;15 PM ET, ESPNU): Wyoming quarterback Brett Smith is a health concern, but he’s listed as probable. This is a big game for the Cowboys. They have a chance to get back onto the bowl map this year and Air Force really looks bad so far in 2013. Presuming Smith plays, I think Wyoming really needs to win this game.