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College football: Week four preview and predictions

NCAA Football: Georgia at Notre Dame
Georgia Bulldogs running back Sony Michel (1) runs the ball as Notre Dame Fighting Irish defensive lineman Daelin Hayes (9) pursues in the third quarter at Notre Dame Stadium.
Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Week three of the college football season brought us some shocking developments. What started as a predictable day of results between ranked and unranked foes, quickly turned into a full-moon night with upsets and escapes.

No. 3 Clemson was expected to beat Louisville, but not necessarily in a dominant blowout like they did.

No. 4 USC played an inferior Texas team that they should’ve taken care of, but needed heroics from multiple players — Sam Darnold being one of them — to escape against Texas in overtime.

No. 12 LSU laid an egg in an embarrassing blowout against unranked Mississippi State for the first time since 1999.

No. 18 Kansas State and No. 19 Stanford both lost to unranked teams in low-scoring affairs, late Saturday night.

Will week four have similar results? Let’s take a look at the best matchups this weekend.

Appetizers

UCLA at Stanford

Saturday, Sept. 23rd, 10:30 p.m.

Stanford Stadium, Stanford, CA

This Bruins team isn’t very good — certainly not after their 48-45 defeat to Memphis. The defense is underwhelming, and the offense wouldn’t be half of what they are without QB Josh Rosen. Rosen has been the best quarterback in college football over the first three games. The Heisman candidate looks steer UCLA back on track, but it will take a stellar performance from him to overcome Stanford.

The Cardinals have all the talent the Bruins don’t, but don’t have Rosen. Combine the two teams, and you have a team who can challenge Alabama. Unfortunately, football doesn’t work that way, and we’re left to watch Rosen attempt to put the Bruins on his back against the Cardinals’ stifling defense. The Bruins defense will get punched in the mouth by the Cardinals, and Rosen will only be able to do so much. Stanford wins by two scores and controls the clock in the second half.

NCAA Football: Stanford at San Diego State
Stanford Cardinal linebacker Casey Toohill (52) defends San Diego State Aztecs running back Juwan Washington (29) during the second quarter at Qualcomm Stadium.
Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Notre Dame at Michigan State

Saturday, Sept. 23rd, 8 p.m.

Spartan Stadium, East Lansing, MI

Two teams who have a decent hatred for each other are both entering this game without much publicity. This matchup has always produced a close ballgame, and these two teams are often ranked with a lot on the line when they meet.

This time around is a bit different. Both teams are unranked — though it’s still early in the season — and neither has grabbed headlines this season. Notre Dame has had mixed results in their first three games — perhaps they’d have more publicity if they had beaten Georgia at home — but their offense looks more balanced and dangerous than it was last season. One reason the Fighting Irish have had success on offense is their ability to run the ball effectively. They exploded for 433 yards against Temple and 515 yards against Boston College. Running back Josh Adams and quarterback Brandon Wimbush have made a great one-two combo for ND, but the defense will be tested against Michigan State.

The Spartans have a rushing attack of their own. They don’t have the playmakers ND has, but they don’t turn the ball over and control the clock. They’ve held onto the ball for an average of well over 35 minutes in the first two games. Their defense has been fantastic up to this point, too.

MSU gives ND all they can handle, but expect ND to ground and pound their way to victory in the second half. The huge offensive line for ND will take over and MSU will not have enough offense to match the Fighting Irish late in the game. ND pulls away and milks the clock.

NCAA Football: Notre Dame at Boston College
Notre Dame Fighting Irish linebacker Drue Tranquill (23) celebrates in the third quarter against the Boston College Eagles at Alumni Stadium.
Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

(7) Washington at Colorado

Saturday, Sept. 23rd, 10 p.m.

Folsom Field, Boulder, CO

Two teams who grew to dislike each other last season, meet again this season in a different scenario. Washington is still ranked like they were last season, and they still have quarterback Jake Browning and a killer defense. Colorado is unranked this time around, and have lost key contributors from last year’s defense. Both teams have played underwhelming competition this year, so it’s hard to tell just how good either team can be. The Huskies will get off to a slow start on the road but will survive the test the Buffaloes will provide. Washington edges Colorado in a close, defensive game.

NCAA Football: Fresno State at Washington
Washington Huskies quarterback Jake Browning (3) passes against the Fresno State Bulldogs during the first quarter at Husky Stadium.
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

(4) Penn State at Iowa

Saturday, Sept. 23rd, 7:30 p.m.

Kinnick Stadium, Iowa City, IA

Penn State looks like a real threat to make the college football playoffs. They haven’t had any true tests yet, but the Nittany Lions have a lot of talent on both sides of the ball. Iowa will have their hands full trying to stop Heisman candidate Saquon Barkley at running back, and if they do, they still have to stop QB Trace McSorley who has been fantastic.

However, playing the Hawkeyes in Iowa in a primetime television slot is always dangerous. The stadium will be rocking, and Iowa has a history of playing tight games against highly ranked teams. The Hawkeyes also have a special running back of their own in Akrum Wadley. Expect the Hawkeyes to frustrate the Nittany Lions early on, but come up short in the fourth quarter. Penn State wins by less than a touchdown and escapes Iowa with a victory.

NCAA Football: Pittsburgh at Penn State
Penn State Nittany Lions quarterback Trace McSorley (9) drops back to pass against the Pittsburgh Panthers during the fourth quarter at Beaver Stadium.
Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Main Course

(16) TCU at (6) Oklahoma State

Saturday, Sept. 23rd, 3:30 p.m.

Boone Pickens Stadium, Stillwater, OK

TCU had an impressive 28-7 win at Arkansas -- the quietest thumping of the weekend. QB Kenny Hill leads a dangerous attack and has hit 75% of his passes for 737 yards and eight touchdowns with two picks thus far. Those are video game numbers that will cause problems for Oklahoma State’s defense. Look for Hill to light up the scoreboard, keeping TCU in the game until the very end. Can the defense stop QB Mason Rudolph when the game is on the line?

No. Mason Rudolph is coming off a game where he threw for 497 yards and five scores for an offense that’s now ranked the third-best in the country. Rudolph will continue to play like a first-round pick, and make some NFL throws late in the game. The Cowboys are a legitimate playoff contender and will prove that Saturday by surviving TCU’s attack, but TCU will have its chances to pull off the upset. This could be one of Rudolph’s defining moments.

NCAA Football: Oklahoma State at Pittsburgh
Oklahoma State Cowboys quarterback Mason Rudolph (2) passes against the Pittsburgh Panthers during the second quarter at Heinz Field.
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Dessert

(17) Mississippi State at (11) Georgia

Saturday, Sept. 23rd, 7 p.m.

Sanford Stadium, Athens, GA

Mississippi State is coming off of their most impressive victory in years. They blew out No. 12 LSU at home and sent a message to the rest of college football: We can hang with the SEC’s best. QB Nick Fitzgerald has quietly put together a case for dark-horse Heisman candidacy, and the defense has looked meaner and tougher than last season. Beating LSU at home is one thing, but beating Georgia on the road? Another story.

Georgia has had a great start to the season as well. The defensive front is dominant and shut ND down to 55 rushing yards in South Bend, and the RB duo of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel was vicious. QB Jake Fromm hasn’t shined too bright, but he’s done enough to help the team through the air. Georgia will prevail with some late heroics to seal a close victory at home.

NCAA Football: Samford at Georgia
Georgia Bulldogs running back Nick Chubb (27) reacts with offensive tackle Isaiah Wynn (77) after scoring a touchdown against the Samford Bulldogs during the second half at Sanford Stadium.
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports