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College Football 2012 – Week Four Preview

Wake Forest v Florida State
Stacy Revere, Getty Images

After three weeks with few upsets and lots of blowouts, your remote will finally get its first real workout of the season this weekend, with four games between ranked teams all on Saturday night. Here’s a preview of all of this weekend’s action:

Florida Atlantic (1-2) at #1 Alabama (3-0)

[Saturday, 5 p.m. on ESPN Gameplan]

Florida Atlantic gave up 56 points and 713 yards at Georgia last weekend, and things certainly won’t get any easier with this week’s trip to Tuscaloosa. The Crimson Tide has not given up a score in its last nine quarters and is coming off its biggest shutout of an SEC opponent since a 55-0 drubbing of Auburn in 1948. Nine Alabama players have recorded a sack this year and the Tide defense has forced 12 turnovers in three games. Playing into that, the Owls currently rank 105th in total offense and 119th in scoring offense. Let’s just be honest: if Florida Atlantic gets on the scoreboard this weekend, they should consider it a moral victory.

#2 Louisiana State (3-0) at Auburn (1-2)

[Saturday, 7 p.m. on ESPN]

After rolling to three easy wins, LSU begins SEC play this weekend with its first road game of the season. They’ll face a struggling Auburn squad that has already lost to Clemson and Mississippi State and needed a fourth-down stop in overtime to beat Louisiana-Monroe. Auburn ranks 105th in scoring offense, and first-year quarterback Kiehl Frazier has thrown for just 449 yards (Auburn ranks 113th in passing) and two touchdowns with five interceptions. By contrast, LSU ranks ninth in scoring offense and 11th in scoring defense. LSU comes into the game with a nation’s-best 16-game regular-season winning streak. Auburn has lost five straight to ranked opponents.

#22 Arizona (3-0) at #3 Oregon (3-0)

[Saturday, 10:30 p.m. on ESPN]

Seriously, there may not be enough lights in the scoreboard to handle this game. The two teams rank fourth (Arizona) and seventh (Oregon) in total offense and average over 100 points per game between them. The numbers are like something you’d see in a video game. Oregon has scored 42 or more points in its last six games. Running back De’Anthony Thomas is averaging almost 18 yards per carry this season. Arizona quarterback Matt Scott ranks fourth in the nation in total offense at 395 yards per game. While Oregon is a heavy favorite at home, after manhandling Oklahoma State, the Wildcats have shown that they have the ability to keep pace with up-tempo, high-scoring offenses. Oregon has won 15 of its last 18 against Arizona, including eight of the last nine at home.

#10 Clemson (3-0) at #4 Florida State (3-0)

[Saturday, 8 p.m. on ABC]

After this week, the Seminoles will not have to play another ranked team until their season-ending rivalry game against #14 Florida. So Clemson could be the biggest hurdle left standing between Florida State and a shot at the national championship. The Seminoles rank first in virtually every defensive category and are 12th in total offense and second in scoring. However, those numbers came at the expense of Murray State, Savannah State and Wake Forest. This week, they step up considerably against the 10th-ranked Tigers. Clemson’s All-American receiver Sammy Watkins went for 141 yards and two touchdowns in the Tigers’ win over Florida State last year. In addition to Watkins, Clemson features quarterback Tajh Boyd (747 yards and six touchdowns this season) and running back Andre Ellington (leading the ACC in rushing). So this will be the first real test of a Florida State defense that has given up just three points this season.

Vanderbilt (1-2) at #5 Georgia (3-0)

[Saturday, 7:45 p.m. on ESPN2]

Despite losing its top two rushers in the offseason, Georgia’s offense hasn’t taken much of a hit, ranking 20th nationally in total yards, 28th in rushing and 10th in scoring. Quarterback Aaron Murray, who already holds most of Georgia’s career passing records, is averaging over 280 passing yards per game and has already tossed eight touchdowns and just two interceptions. Vanderbilt coach James Franklin is working hard to change the culture of losing at Vandy, but the Commodores just don’t have the talent yet to routinely compete with the SEC’s top teams. Vandy has only beaten Georgia once in the past 17 games and has not beaten a ranked SEC opponent since 2008.

#15 Kansas State (3-0) at #6 Oklahoma (2-0)

[Saturday, 7:50 p.m. on Fox]

Last year, Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones picked apart the Wildcats defense to the tune of a school record 505 yards and five touchdowns in a 58-17 win. The Sooners, who rank 11th nationally in both scoring and total offense, hope that having a bye last week will help prepare them for a similar outcome this year. However, Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein certainly gives the Wildcats a fighting chance. Everybody knew the senior was a threat to run (1,141 yards and 13 touchdowns last season), but he has given Kansas State’s offense a new dynamic with improved passing (43/59 for 609 yards and five touchdowns this year). The Wildcats have committed just five penalties this season. The bad news for K-State is that OU is almost unbeatable at home. The Sooners have lost just three home games in 13+ years under Bob Stoops (including wins in 42 of the last 43), and none of those were to a ranked opponent. Kansas State has won in Norman just three times (1970, 1994, 1997).

Missouri (2-1) at #7 South Carolina (3-0)

[Saturday, 3:30 p.m. on CBS]

Despite a second injury to his throwing shoulder in three weeks, Connor Shaw has been named the starting quarterback for South Carolina. On the other side, Mizzou quarterback James Franklin is expected to start for the Tigers after missing last week’s win over Arizona State with a shoulder injury of his own. This could be another SEC shootout, with both teams averaging over 35 points per game this season. South Carolina appears to have an edge on the defensive side of the ball (7th nationally in scoring defense) but will be without starting free safety D.J. Swearinger has been suspended by the SEC for this game after a helmet-to-helmet hit in last week’s contest against Alabama-Birmingham.

Maryland (2-1) at #8 West Virginia (2-0)

[Saturday, 12 p.m. on FX]

Going back to last year’s Orange Bowl rout of Clemson, Geno Smith has completed 83 percent of his passes for 1,141 yards, 15 touchdowns and no interceptions in his last three games. Those are the kind of numbers that start drawing RGIII comparisons and get you moved to the front of the Heisman list. This week, he’ll be tested by a defense that ranks sixth nationally in pass defense but has never faced an offense of West Virginia’s caliber. Even if the Terps can slow down the Mountaineers’ explosive offense, it’s still unlikely Maryland will be able to score enough on their own to pull off the upset—the Terrapins rank 100th or worse in almost every offensive category, including 100th in scoring and 122nd in total offense.

#9 Stanford, BYE

After upsetting then-#2 USC last week, the Cardinal get a few extra days off to prepare for a Thursday-night matchup at Washington.

#18 Michigan (2-1) at #11 Notre Dame (3-0)

[Saturday, 7:30 p.m. on NBC]

In two previous games against the Irish, Denard Robinson has accounted for 948 total yards (582 passing, 366 rushing) and eight touchdowns. However, this is undoubtedly the best Notre Dame defense he’s faced in his time with the Wolverines. Led by All-American linebacker Manti Te’o, the Fighting Irish rank eighth nationally in scoring defense and 18th in total defense, their best start since the school’s national championship year of 1988. Notre Dame is 3-0 for the first time in a decade and just recorded its first win over a top 10 team in seven years. The Notre Dame faithful would be fired up for this rivalry game regardless, but expect a particularly raucous crowd in South Bend with the Irish’s hot start and likely move into the top 10 with a win. However, it won’t be easy as the Wolverines have won three in a row in this series and five of the last six. Robinson needs just 191 total yards to pass Chad Henne as Michigan’s career offense leader.

#12 Texas, BYE

The Longhorns survived their first test of the year, blowing out previously undefeated Ole Miss. They now get a week off to prepare for a rough three-game stretch of games at Oklahoma State, vs. #8 West Virginia and vs. #6 Oklahoma.

California (1-2) at #13 Southern Cal (2-1)

[Saturday, 6 p.m. on PAC-12 Network]

Coming off of last week’s upset loss to Stanford, the Trojans will look to begin rebuilding their national-championship campaign hosting Cal, a team they have beaten eight straight years. The Bears, however, are coming off a near-upset of Ohio State in which they outgained the Buckeyes 512 to 412 and actually tied the game midway through the fourth quarter. They’ll need a similarly strong effort if they hope to have any chance of handing USC its second straight stunning loss. While Cal quarterback Zach Maynard’s numbers may not be as flashy as Matt Barkley’s, he has been efficient in leading the Bears’ offense, completing two-thirds of his passes for 754 yards and four scores. However, the biggest challenge will be for a Cal defense that currently ranks 95th nationally in scoring to slow down the USC aerial attack led by Barkley (813 yards and 10 touchdowns this year) and the receiving duo of Marqise Lee and Robert Woods (546 yards and eight touchdowns combined).

Kentucky (1-2) at #14 Florida (3-0)

[Saturday, 12:21 p.m. on SEC Network]

Last week, Florida held Tennessee to just 37 yards in the final 20 minutes and erupted for 24 unanswered points to upset the Vols. This week, they should have an easier task against a Kentucky team that has lost to the Gators 25 straight times (by a combined score of 200-36) and is coming off an overtime loss to Western Kentucky. Florida’s running game racked up 336 yards last weekend and will be facing a Wildcat defense that ranks 92nd nationally against the run. After big SEC road wins at Texas A&M and Tennessee, the Gators return home for what should be a fairly easy way to get to 4-0. However, don’t get too excited Florida fans—the Gators started out 4-0 in each of the past two years, only to drop 14 of their combined 18 games the rest of the season.

Alabama-Birmingham (0-2) at #16 Ohio State (3-0)

[Saturday, 12 p.m. on Big Ten Network]

After needing a late-fourth-quarter rally to beat Cal, Ohio State will look to improve against a struggling UAB squad that ranks last in the nation in scoring defense (44 points per game). Buckeyes quarterback Braxton Miller has proven to be the right fit for Urban Meyer’s spread offense, already accounting for 988 total yards and 12 touchdowns this season. He’ll likely carry even more of the load this week as running back Carlos Hyde will miss the game with an injury. Miller could have a field day against a Blazers defense that is giving up over 220 yards per game on the ground. And as bad as the Blazers’ defense has been, the offense hasn’t been much better—UAB ran the ball 42 times against South Carolina last week, but managed just 27 yards. The Blazers rank 110th nationally in scoring.

Virginia (2-1) at #17 Texas Christian (2-0)

[Saturday, 12 p.m. on ESPN]

TCU quarterback Casey Paschall had three fumbles last week at Kansas, but has otherwise had a nearly perfect start to the season, completing almost 85 percent of his passes for 536 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions. He also has the benefit of a Horned Frogs defense that has given up just 450 total yards and six points this season. That defense could feast on a Cavalier offense that ranks 109th in rushing offense and 82nd in scoring. Virginia has lost 17 of its last regular season road games against ranked opponents. TCU, on the other hand, is riding a nation’s-best 11-game winning streak and has won 27 of its last 28 home games.

Oregon State (1-0) at #19 UCLA (3-0)

[Saturday, 3:30 p.m. on ABC/ESPN2]

UCLA’s offense has been almost unstoppable this year, ranking second nationally in total offense and 20th in scoring. Quarterback Brett Hundley is averaging over 315 total yards per game and running back Johnathan Franklin leads the nation in rushing with 541 yards (8.2 yards per carry). This week they’ll go against an Oregon State squad that has only played one game this season, but made it a big one with a Week Two upset of then-#13 Wisconsin. In that game, the Beavers scored only ten points, but held the Badgers to just seven points and 35 rushing yards. While it’s unlikely they’ll have those kinds of numbers this week, the Beavers will need a very strong defensive effort to slow down the Bruins and give the Oregon State offense a chance.

#20 Louisville (3-0) at Florida International (1-2)

[Saturday, 7 p.m. on ESPN3]

Louisville is off to its best start since 2006 thanks to three straight home games. But now they hit the road for back-to-back road tilts against Florida International and Southern Miss. Cardinals quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has been superb this season, completing almost 82 percent of his passes for 855 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions. This week, he’ll have the luxury of going against an FIU defense that ranks 107th in passing defense and is giving up 39 points per game.

Eastern Michigan (0-3) at #21 Michigan State (2-1)

[Saturday, 3:30 p.m. on Big Ten Network]

Eastern Michigan could be just what Michigan State needs to recover after a disappointing loss to Notre Dame last week. The Eagles are 0-3 and have the worst rush defense in FBS, giving up over 312 yards per game on the ground. The Spartans’ bruising running back Le’Veon Bell was held to just 77 yards by the Fighting Irish but could be poised for a monster game against the outmanned EMU defense. Unfortunately, Eastern Michigan isn’t much better on offense—the Eagles rank 110th nationally in both total offense and scoring. This game shouldn’t be much more than a tune up for the Spartans as they look ahead to next week’s game against #16 Ohio State.

South Alabama (1-2) at #23 Mississippi State (3-0)

[Saturday, 7 p.m. on ESPN Gameplan]

The Bulldogs find themselves in the Top 25 after enjoying their first 3-0 start since 1999. They’ll have the chance to run their record to 4-0 hosting a South Alabama team in its first year in the FBS. However, that’s not to say this game is without question marks. Mississippi State gave up 572 yards and had to hold off a late rally to beat Troy last weekend. And, despite being 1-2 and ranking 118th nationally in scoring offense, the Jaguars have been game competitors in losses to Texas-San Antonio and North Carolina State. That said, if they take care of business, Mississippi State should be able to carry a 4-0 record into next week’s bye week and the SEC schedule after that. The Bulldogs are enjoying a 12/1 turnover ratio advantage this season.

Brigham Young (2-1) at #24 Boise State (1-1)

[Thursday, 9 p.m. on ESPN]

BYU is coming off a stunning last-second loss to archrival Utah and is now looking to reboot its season against a Boise State team that rebounded from its season-opening loss to Michigan State by throttling Miami (OH) in last week’s home opener. BYU committed 12 penalties and fumbled the ball five times against the Utes. This game will likely be decided in the trenches—Boise State is one of just four FBS teams who has yet to give up a sack, but is facing a defense that is giving up just 53 rushing yards per game and is ranked fifth in the nation in sacks. Boise State has won 19 straight home games in the month of September.

Idaho State (1-1) at #25 Nebraska (2-1)

[Saturday, 3:30 p.m. on Big Ten Network]

Nebraska’s already-potent running game (295 yards per game; 8thin the nation) should get an added boost this week with the expected return of workhorse running back Rex Burkhead (1,357 yards last year). However, it likely won’t matter who is running the ball as the Cornhuskers go against a Bengals defense that gave up 484 rushing yards in a Week One loss to Air Force. Idaho State is also one of just nine FCS teams that have not recorded a sack this season. As such, any chance the Bengals have of pulling the upset (or even staying close) rests with their offense, which is third in the FCS at 541 yards per game and going against a Blackshirt defense still stinging from giving up 653 yards to UCLA two weeks ago. In last week’s game against Arkansas State, Nebraska signal caller Taylor Martinez joined Heisman winner Eric Crouch as the only two Cornhusker quarterbacks to throw for 4,000 yards and rush for 2,000 in a career.

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