If you’ve ever fantasized about a cocktail of top-shelf conference action with a splash of non-league play, Week 4 is for you. On tap for the national television schedule this week is a delicate balance of what look like bowl games combined with meaningful conference play. What could be better than that?
Here’s what you and your trusty remote need to remember: (1) You have a legit Thursday night game to watch, don’t forget to tune in! (2) Though Saturday offers something for everyone, the must-see stuff comes in the 3:30pm ET time slot (Florida-Alabama, North Carolina-East Carolina, Michigan–Utah) and then in primetime (Mississippi State-LSU, Oklahoma-West Virginia, Clemson-Florida State, Miami-Nebraska).
Last but not least: (3) It is already Week 4, meaning there are only 10 weeks remaining in the regular season. Make time to gather the family around the television this weekend and watch at least one game together. Before you know it, we’ll be downgraded to “basketball only” status.
Thursday, Sept. 18
7:30pm ET, ESPN: No. 5 AUBURN (2-0) at No. 20 KANSAS STATE (2-0): A Thursday night treat between two ranked teams, both which had a bye in Week 3. Auburn hasn’t had a true non-conference road game since 2011 when it traveled to unranked Clemson and got whacked 38-24. K-State didn’t face a power-five team outside of Big 12 play last season, but beat Miami (Fla.) in 2011 and 2012 and knocked off UCLA in 2010. Watch out for Auburn’s No. 7-ranked rushing offense as it squares off with K-State’s No. 20-ranked rushing defense. The Tigers are averaging 330 ground yards per game and the Wildcats have given up a total of 174 this season. Keep an eye on Auburn running back Cameron Artis-Payne, he hung up 177 yards on Arkansas in Week 1 and scored three times in the Week 2 win over San Jose State. Both these teams are well-coached and both will be ready to go for this big time, non-conference clash.
Friday, Sept. 19
8:00pm ET, ESPN: CONNECTICUT (1-2) at USF (1-2): Though there’s not a lot to love about this one on paper, it is on national television. It’s the American Athletic conference opener for both these teams, both come off a loss in Week 3 (USF fell to NC State 49-17 and UConn lost to Boise State 38-21). Keep an eye out for USF running back Marlon Mack, a true freshman from Sarasota, Fla. Mack is No. 9 in the FBS in total rushing yards with 399 and racked up 275 yards and four scores in his career debut in Week 1 vs. FCS Western Carolina. History tell us that this game should be a nail biter, the two have met consecutively since 2007 with each game decided by a touchdown or less.
Saturday, Sept. 20
12:00pm ET, ESPN: GEORGIA TECH (3-0) at VIRGINIA TECH (2-1): Tune in to watch Virginia Tech try and rebound from its devastating 28-21 loss to East Carolina last week. Georgia Tech hasn’t dropped a game yet this season, but it has given up 78 points and 650 yards rushing in three wins over FCS Wofford, Tulane and Georgia Southern. The Yellow Jackets rank No. 108 in the FBS in rushing defense. Virginia Tech boasts a No. 18 ranking against the run, a strength that will be tested against Georgia Tech’s option offense, ranked No. 13 nationally in rushing yards. The Yellow Jackets haven’t beaten the Hokies since 2009, when Virginia Tech was No. 4 in the AP.
12:00pm ET, ESPNU: IOWA (2-1) at PITTSBURGH (3-0): Perhaps the best early game in Week 4, this old-school clash will feature an elite rushing attack vs. an elite rushing D. Pitt—led by running back James Conner—has the No. 5-ranked rushing attack in the nation while Iowa lays claim to the No. 7-ranked rushing defense. Conner has posted three straight 150-plus yard games in 2014 and leads the nation with eight rushing touchdowns. Iowa hasn’t given up over 100 yards rushing in any of its first three games, holding FCS Northern Iowa to 25 ground yards in the opener. Unfortunately, where Pitt has a stellar defense (No. 16 in scoring), Iowa’s offense has yet to launch this season, ranking No. 102 in scoring. The two teams have met five times previously (Pitt leads 3-2 all-time) and twice since 2008, the last two games were decided by a total of five points. If Pitt wins this game it will be 4-0 and off to its best start since 2000.
12:00pm ET, ESPN2: BOWLING GREEN (2-1) at No. 19 WISCONSIN (1-1): Before you decide to opt out of this one, keep in mind that Bowling Green knocked off Indiana 45-42 last Saturday. It will be huge ask for the Falcons’ defense—ranked No. 107 in scoring—to contain Wisconsin’s No. 39-ranked rushing attack, but it did manage to win last week against a Hoosier ground game that ranks No. 4 in the FBS. Keep an eye on Bowling Green quarterback James Knapke, who is playing in relief of injured starter Matt Johnson. Knapke threw a whopping 73 passes last week, racking up 395 yards, three touchdowns and one interception.
3:30pm ET, CBS: FLORIDA (2-0) at No. 3 ALABAMA (3-0): Set your remote to CBS again this Saturday for one of the most provocative early-season SEC games of 2014. After watching Alabama look questionable vs. West Virginia in the opener and taking care of business against FAU and Southern Miss, we’ll get a look how the Tide looks against top-tier, full-speed talent. Florida’s true identity has been equally cloaked by the blowout win vs. Eastern Michigan and the near-miss against Kentucky, making it time to pull the training wheels off with a road trip to Tuscaloosa. Does Alabama have a starting quarterback and is it as good defensively as it has been in the past? As for the Gators, do they have a real offense this season and if they can give up 369 yards of passing to Kentucky what will they donate to Alabama? Look out for a stud receiver from each side: Demarcus Robinson from Florida, the No. 2 receiver in the FBS in yards per game with 169.5 and Amari Cooper from Alabama, the No. 5 guy with 151.3. The two teams haven’t met since 2011, Alabama has won the last three by 19-plus points and the Gators haven’t won in Tuscaloosa since 1998.
3:30pm ET, ABC/ESPN2: No. 6 TEXAS A&M (3-0) at SMU (0-2): Your last chance this season to see the Aggies pummel a former Southwest Conference member. These two met in 75 consecutive seasons before the SWC disbanded in 1996, but the Mustangs haven’t beaten A&M since 1984 when they won 28-20, capping a 5-0 run against the Aggies. After head coach June Jones suddenly resigned following the 43-6 loss to North Texas in Week 2, SMU is a program in disarray. Jones was the guy that brought the death-penalty program to four consecutive bowl appearances from 2009-12, its first since 1984. Interim coach Tom Mason has his work cut out for him, a solid performance against a powerhouse Texas A&M squad would be a good start.
3:30pm ET, ESPN: VIRGINIA (2-1) at No. 21 BYU (3-0): A battle of two teams off to a great start in 2014, the Cavaliers are one of only two power-five opponents remaining on BYU’s schedule. For Virginia, it’s a chance to win three games in a row for the first time since 2011. What’s intriguing about this matchup is BYU’s No. 23-ranked rushing offense, featuring quarterback Taysom Hill, taking on Virginia’s No. 17-ranked rushing defense. Look out for Cavalier senior linebacker Henry Coley, who has 29 tackles, six tackles for a loss, three-and-a-half sacks, three broken-up passes and two forced fumbles so far this season. This is a rematch of last season’s opener for both teams, Virginia won 19-16 and then lost 10 of its next 11 games.
3:30pm ET, ESPNU: NORTH CAROLINA (2-0) at EAST CAROLINA (2-1): It’s Week 4 and East Carolina is squaring off with another ranked, power-five program on national television. The Pirates were at No. 21 South Carolina in Week 2 (a 33-23 loss), at No. 17 Virginia Tech in Week 3 (a 28-21 win) and finally return home to host No. 25 (in the Coaches) North Carolina this week. The Tar Heels were many folks’ favorite in the ACC-Coastal, but have yet to impress in wins over FCS Liberty and San Diego State. Tune it to see a North Carolina defense that ranks No. 92 vs. the pass this season (it gave up 341 yards through the air to SDSU) take on East Carolina’s No. 7-ranked pass offense. Remember, the Pirates won’t have to ask themselves, “can we beat the Tar Heels?” because they know they can, winning 55-31 in Chapel Hill last season, despite being 12-point underdogs. Is East Carolina (now in the American Athletic conference) this season’s version of UCF in 2013?
3:30pm ET, ABC/ESPN2: UTAH (2-0) at MICHIGAN (2-1): Since joining the Pac-12, Utah has needed a win to launch it back onto the national radar, this is that game. Michigan may not be a Top 25 team, but if you go into the Big House and win, people will notice. What’s interesting about this matchup is the Wolverines’ defense—ranked No. 29 in scoring, allowing just 18.3 points per game—taking on Utah’s No. 3-ranked scoring offense, averaging 57.5 points per game. Watch out for Utah quarterback Travis Wilson, who is 24-of-38 (63.2%) for 446 yards, six touchdowns and zero interceptions. His passer rating of 213.85 is No. 2 in the FBS. Keep in mind that Michigan is ranked No. 124 out of the 128 FBS teams in turnover margin, with only one gain vs. eight losses. This may be the key to this Pac-12/Big Ten showdown.
4:00pm ET, ESPNews, TEXAS STATE (1-1) at ILLINOIS (2-1): Definitely the Week 4 sleeper, this clash over on ESPN News has lots of potential. It’s the first-ever meeting between the two schools and only the second time in history that Texas State has faced a Big Ten foe (it lost 42-0 at Minnesota in 2002). Though an upset is improbable, check out Texas State’s No. 15-ranked rushing attack as it takes on Illinois’ No. 93-ranked rush defense, the same unit that gave up 203 ground yards to Youngstown State in the opener. If that weren’t enough, how about the Illini passing attack—ranked No. 14 and led by quarterback Wes Lunt—taking on the Bobcats’ No. 5 ranked pass defense? The only problem is, Texas State earned its statistical resume against FCS Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Navy, which runs the option and threw only seven passes in last Saturday’s win.
7:00pm ET, ESPN: MISSISSIPPI STATE (3-0) at No. 8 LSU (3-0): Kicking off a fabulous primetime line-up, the Bulldogs haven’t beaten the Tigers since 1999 and haven’t won a game in Baton Rouge since 1991. Both these squads have played well on defense this season—Mississippi State’s D ranks No. 11 in scoring while LSU’s is No. 2—meaning this should be a low-scoring affair. That said, there are two key matchups worth watching: LSU’s rush defense—it gave up 334 rushing yards to FCS Sam Houston State—taking on the Bulldogs’ top two rushers, running back Josh Robinson (288 yards and three scores) and quarterback Dak Prescott (273 yards and two scores). On the flip side, check out Mississippi State’s questionable secondary—it coughed up 435 yards through the air to UAB—take on a young LSU aerial attack, headlined by sophomore wide receiver Travin Dural (370 yards and four scores on 12 receptions).
7:00pm ET, ESPNU: NORTHERN ILLINOIS (3-0) at ARKANSAS (2-1): Even though this matchup isn’t as sexy as the alternatives, keep it on your radar and switch over as necessary. While Arkansas has only squared off with Northern Illinois once in history (a 30-27 win in 1994), its second-year head coach Bret Bielema faced the Huskies three times while at the helm in Wisconsin, scoring a perfect 3-0 record. Watch out for Arkansas’ rushing attack, a unit that ranks No. 3 in the FBS and racked up 495 ground yards on FCS Nicholls State and 438 against Texas Tech last Saturday, take on NIU’s No. 13 ranked rushing defense, which has given up a TOTAL of 243 rushing yards in wins over FCS Presbyterian, Northwestern and UNLV. NIU has only beaten one SEC opponent in nine tries, shocking No. 21 Alabama in Tuscaloosa 19-16 in 2003.
7:30pm ET, FOX: No. 4 OKLAHOMA (3-0) at WEST VIRGINIA (2-1): FOX’s contribution to Saturday night’s fun, Oklahoma beat Tennessee last weekend 34-10 while West Virginia survived a wild 40-37 decision at Maryland. This game will come down to how well Oklahoma’s secondary can play against the Mountaineers’ prolific passing attack, a unit which has gained steam as the season has progressed. The Sooners’ have played well against the pass this season, but in 2013 gave up 388 yards through the air to Texas Tech, 348 to K-State and 387 to Alabama. WVU quarterback Clint Trickett is No. 3 in the FBS in passing yards with 1,224 and receiver Kevin White is No. 2 in receiving yards with 460. On the other side of the ball, look out for the Sooners’ secondary, featuring cornerback Zack Sanchez who already has three interceptions, along with cornerback Julian Wilson and linebacker Geneo Grissom, both with one pick six in 2014. West Virginia has never beaten Oklahoma in Big 12 play and has never scored a win over the Sooners in Morgantown.
8:00pm ET, ABC: No. 22 CLEMSON (1-1) at No. 1 FLORIDA STATE (2-0): Here’s the one to circle twice, the game of the season in the ACC. The home team has only lost twice in the last dozen games between these two—Clemson lost at home last season and FSU lost in Tallahassee in 2006. For Clemson to upset the Seminoles, it will have to find a way for its young offense to expose an FSU defense that ranks No. 103 against the run. The Seminoles gave up a whopping 250 ground yards in its 37-12 win over FCS Citadel in Week 2, presenting an interesting opportunity for a Tiger offense that hasn’t had a 100-yard rusher yet this season. On the other side of the ball, watch as Florida State’s passing attack takes on a Clemson secondary that ranks No. 2 vs. the pass after two games. The Tigers held Georgia’s young offense to 131 yards through the air in Week 1. The plot thickens with Heisman winner Jameis Winston’s first-half suspension for “shouting an obscene sexual phrase” on campus Tuesday. In for Winston for the first two quarters will be Sean Maguire, who saw limited action in three games last season and threw five passes in the Week 2 win over FCS Citadel.
8:00pm ET, ESPN2: MIAMI (FLA.) (2-1) at No. 24 NEBRASKA (3-0): A rematch of the 2002 BCS title game, the Hurricanes and Cornhuskers haven’t squared off since Miami soared over Nebraska 37-14 for a national championship. This game presents one of the best strength vs. strength matchups of Week 4: Tune in to see Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah—No. 10 in the FBS with 396 rushing yards—take on a Hurricane rushing defense that ranks No. 15 in the land. Watch out for Hurricane senior linebacker Thurston Armbrister, tied for No. 4 in the FBS with four sacks—he’s also registered four tackles for a loss and two forced fumbles this season. Miami has never won in its three previous tries in Lincoln, last visiting 38-years ago in the Bicentennial year of 1976.
10:30pm ET, ESPN: No. 2 OREGON (3-0) at WASHINGTON STATE (1-2): Even though it’s tempting to doze off during what’s primetime on the West Coast, do not allow peaceful slumber to get in the way of this one. Should the No. 2 Ducks have their way with Washington State, a team that lost to Rutgers and Nevada earlier season and gave up 21 points to FCS Portland State? Absolutely. But remember, Oregon is ranked No. 100 (out of 128 teams) vs. the pass this season and will be taking on the No. 1 ranked aerial attack in the FBS. The Ducks gave up 343 passing yards to Michigan State in Week 2 (the most the Spartans have hung up on an FBS team since racking up 383 against Western Michigan in 2009) and 284 to Wyoming last week. Suddenly, Cougar quarterback Connor Halliday (who leads the nation in passing yards, passing yards per game and passing touchdowns) looks a bit menacing. But then again, Washington State is 1-9 vs. Oregon since 2006, so it couldn’t happen. Right?
10:30pm ET, FOX SPORTS 1: SAN DIEGO STATE (1-1) at OREGON STATE (2-0): What’s even better than a quality late-night game? Two late night games to switch back-and-forth from. Yes friend, fear not! Don’t worry about falling asleep during the commercial breaks in the Oregon-Washington State contest, because you will have the San Diego State-Oregon State game programmed into your remote! This is a rematch of last year’s game, a contest Oregon State survived 34-30 in San Diego. Though the Beavers are undefeated and 10-point favorites, don’t forget that the Aztecs played then No. 21 North Carolina to a tight 31-27 decision in Week 2. The Tar Heels needed 17-fourth quarter points to avoid an upset against SDSU. If Aztec quarterback Quinn Kaehler can limit mistakes (he threw three picks vs. UNC), and the defense can find a way to deal with Oregon State’s No. 19-ranked passing attack, this game could get exciting.