As we near the end of September, the non-conference portion of the season is mostly behind us, and that means a steady diet of traditional intra-conference matchups from now on. Week 4 delivers some pretty good ones – including three with head-to-head ranked teams. Some interesting matchups that I won’t mention below include #7 USC traveling to 3-0 Oregon State, a place where USC has struggled in the past. Then there is a big meeting between two basketball Blue Bloods, Duke and Kansas, who both have 3-0 soccer teams and will play in front of a KU Stadium, which is sold out for the second time in 13 years. Another surprise sell-off is taking place at Rutgers, where the Scarlet Knights will host Iowa in a game that, by the numbers, will be a “first team to kick a FG wins.”
#5 Clemson @ #21 Wake Forest (midday ET, ABC)
Line: Clemson-7 | Money line: Clemson -278, Wake Forest +222 | O/B: 55.5
Clemson has beaten Wake Forest 13 times in a row. The only thing we should really take away from is last year’s game. The Tigers were the only team to keep the Demon Deacons under 35 points during the regular season. They did this in large part by controlling the tempo of the game with a devastating running attack (333 yards, 6.2 per carry). It also minimized the pressure on QB DJ Uiagalelei, who was struggling in 2021.
Uiagalelei seems more comfortable so far this season, but Clemson would likely like to win with the same approach as last season. The Deacons have averaged 142.5 yards per game and 3.9 yards per carry against their two FBS opponents, Vanderbilt and Liberty. That’s not bad, but neither of these teams have Clemson-caliber players. The Tigers should be able to lead it again.
Clemson’s defense also deserves its share of the slowdown in Wake’s offense last year. They forced two fumbles and an interception from Sam Hartman while holding one of the country’s deadliest RPO attacks at 60 yards shy of the season average. Clemson has the athletes to disrupt what the Deacons are doing. So as long as they stay disciplined and don’t miss too many tasks, they should be able to get similar results this time.
This one feels like an easy choice. It’s at Winston-Salem, but the Deacons have never had much home field advantage.
My pick: Clemson -7, Clemson -278
#20 Florida @ #11 Tennessee (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS)
Line: Tennessee -10.5 | Money line: Tennessee -355, Florida +278 | O/U: 62
This once epic SEC match hasn’t deserved much attention in quite a while. In each of the five meetings from 1995 to 1999, both teams have been in the top 10, and in three of those meetings they have both been in the top 5. Neither team is back to Spurrier-Fulmer’s glory days, but this is their best for the first time since 2017 again both ranked. It’s also the first time in a very long time that Tennessee has started as a double-digit favorite (50 years). The series hasn’t been kind to the Vols lately, with the Gators winning 16 of the last 17 meetings.
Both teams have already recorded wins against a ranked opponent, so we should have a pretty good idea of who they are. The volunteers engage in a breakneck style of attack that results in many snaps. That’s not good news for Florida, which is a little thin on its defensive depth chart. They need to limit first downs and get off the field early on possession in Tennessee, otherwise fatigue could be a big problem for them as play resumes. Easier said than done as Vols’ two-pronged run-pass attack can move the ball towards you in multiple ways. Most of these start with QB Hendon Hooker, who can beat you at both passing and running, although he’s yet to do much of the latter this season. He’s also good at protecting the ball – just three interceptions in 387 pass attempts since last season.
Whether the Gators have a chance of staying that close depends on which version of QB Anthony Richardson emerges. Will it be from the season opener against Utah (70% completions, no turnovers, 134 rushing yards and 3 rushing TDs) or will it be from the last two games (<50% completions, zero TDs, 4 INTs)? ? The Vols will try to do the latter by sealing the edges and forcing him to hit them severely by passing, not a great deal for the Gators.
It’s a big game for both teams. There’s no better way for Tennessee to show they’re a rising team than to pull off a rare win over their longtime nemesis, especially as a huge favorite playing at home. For the Gators, they already have a division loss to Kentucky, and a win could give them a decent shot at a 5-1 lead as they head into a brutal three-game stretch (LSU, Georgia, Texas A&M) in late October. Lose that one and you would be in an early hole in the division.
My pick: Tennessee -10.5, Tennessee -355
#15 Oregon @ Washington State (4:00 p.m. ET, Fox)
Line: Oregon-6.5| Money line: Oregon -250, Washington St -205 | O/B: 57.5
Though technically not a surprise, Oregon beat a higher-ranked opponent (BYU) on Saturday. I predicted that largely because BYU had pulled off a very physical and emotional win against Baylor the week before and looked like a team primed for disappointment down the road. Now it will be the Ducks who must avoid the same fate as they travel to Pullman to face off against a feisty and surprising Cougars team that has thrived against Oregon in recent years.
Oregon knew they likely had an advantage against BYU’s defensive front, which was down two players and perhaps still worn down by the Baylor game. The Ducks ran the ball early and often, finishing with 234 yards on the floor. QB Bo Nix didn’t have a great day statistically, but he was a very efficient 13-for-18, 222 yards (17 per completion) and 2 TDs plus 3 rushing, which accounted for all five Oregon touchdowns on the board that day. His offensive line was outstanding again. They haven’t conceded a sack all season but face perhaps their toughest pass-rushing team in WSU to date, who had 7 sacks against Colorado State last week. They’re also good at forcing takeaways, 7 so far this season. In their toughest matchup in Wisconsin, they gave up many yards but were bogged down when the Badgers put the ball to the Cougars’ side.
Offensively, the Cougars turned over a lot — eight in their three games. This won’t win you games against Oregon. They only average 354 yards per game, just 97th in the country. Wisconsin’s defense is very good, but if your other two games are against Colorado State and Idaho and you’re running an airborne-based offense, you should be better. The Ducks have a certain inexperience in their high school that has sometimes been exploited by opponents, so this could be an opportunity for QB Cam Ward and company to get the passing game rolling.
I think this game will depend on how focused Oregon is and whether or not they were drained from their big win over the country’s No. 12. While they already proved in the 3:49 loss to Georgia that they are nowhere near as bad as they looked, it would be great to back that up with an away win against an underrated team.
My pick: Washington State +6.5, Oregon -250
No. 10 Arkansas vs. No. 23 Texas A&M (Arlington, TX) (7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Line: Texas A&M-2 | Money line: Texas A&M -130, Arkansas +110 | O/B: 48.5
This matchup showcases the compelling power against the immovable object when Arkansas has the ball. The Razorbacks average over 500 yards of offense per game, 19th in the country. The Aggies only allow 4.23 yards per game, 15th in the country. One thing for Arkansas is that A&M defends the pass better than the run, and the Hogs prefer to run (10th in the country at 244 yards per game). In their loss to Appalachian State, the A&M defense wasn’t bad at all. They gave up just 8 more yards than their season average, and the Mountaineers averaged just 17 points. This is a pretty even matchup.
If the Arkansas properties are the irresistible force against the immovable object, then the Texas A&M properties will be the polar opposite. Aggies’ offensive problems are well documented. Their quarterback has been from subpar to terrible, and schematically they don’t seem able to get their best players into cheap 1v1 matchups. Arkansas will present a great opportunity to rectify that. The Hogs are actually pretty good at stopping the run (just 68 yards per game), but their pass defense is currently the worst in the nation at a miserable 353 yards per game passed. It certainly doesn’t help that All-American safetyman Jalen Catalan is out for the season with a shoulder injury. Add in a bunch of high school inexperience and linebackers who don’t quite have SEC-level athletics and you’ve got holes waiting to be exploited. Again, can the Aggies do it? They have the skillful players, most notably RB Devon Achane and WR Anais Smith – but can Jimbo Fisher plan the right matchups and can QB Max Johnson give them the ball?
This one feels like it boils down to a turnover or a special team game. A&M has the better special teams unit, which in turn uses the talents of Achane (kickoff returns) and Smith (punt returns). I think this is where you will find your difference.
My pick: Texas A&M -2, Texas A&M -130
college football analyst
Mike is from Baltimore and has lived in Portland, OR since 2007. He currently runs his own company specializing in video production and online marketing. Prior to that, he was a Legal Technology Consultant, worked 9 years at Johns Hopkins University and served 6 years in the Air Force. He also enjoys travel, food, beer and is a volunteer with the Oregon Humane Society.