SportsPulse: They are always talked about but really have nothing to show for it. For Michigan and Notre Dame, winning this weekend will go a long way for them to be taken seriously.
Shocking disappointments and better-than-expected performances are anticipated each weekend in wild world of college football. It’s especially true in the first month of the season as teams have yet to get into the swing of the schedules and are more prone to mistakes.
The USA TODAY Sports college football staff — Jace Evans, Paul Myerberg, George Schroeder, Erick Smith, Eddie Timanus and Dan Wolken — weigh in with some bold predictions for Week 4 of the college football season:
Texas has not beaten Oklahoma State since 2014. That streak will continue Saturday as the Cowboys ride their strong offense past the Longhorns in Austin. Freshman QB Spencer Sanders has been solid so far, and he has some of the most dynamic options in the country to get the ball to: Tylan Wallace leads the nation in receiving yards and is tied for touchdown grabs, while running back Chuba Hubbard leads the nation in rushing yards and is tied for the lead in rushing TDs. Texas, meanwhile, struggled to contain an LSU squad that has a far less successful track record of producing high-powered offense as Mike Gundy’s group has.
Wisconsin beats Michigan in Madison, which in itself might not be too bold a prediction – the Wolverines haven’t won at Wisconsin since 2001. But a win for the Badgers would deflate Michigan’s hopes of making the College Football Playoff and dial up the scrutiny on Jim Harbaugh. A win would also shatter the theory from the preseason that this wouldn’t be a vintage Wisconsin team. And wouldn’t a win also poke a hole in the idea that the Big Ten East is by far the better of the league’s two divisions?
IMPACT GAMES: Week 4 showdowns that will decide the playoff race
This will be Bo Nix’s first road game – sorry, but a neutral site that was a 60-40 crowd split Auburn-to-Oregon fans doesn’t count – so it’s fair to wonder how the true freshman quarterback will fare, especially since Kyle Field is one of the best homefield environments in college football (meaning it’s one of the most hostile and potentially intimidating to opponents). But Auburn’s strength is its defense, one of the best in the country. The Tigers will slow Texas A&M and Auburn’s offense will do just enough to beat the Aggies in a SEC West showdown.
The legend of Bo Nix has grown in just three games. The truth is his performance against the two best Auburn opponents (Oregon and Tulane) has been more like a below-average quarterback than a superstar true freshman. Consider he managed less than 6 yards per pass in both those games. Yes, there was the comeback against the Ducks, but his team trailed mostly because of his poor play during the first three quarters.
Now the Tigers head on the road to face Texas A&M in Nix’s first road game. The hostile environment of Kyle Field won’t be welcoming. And the Aggies defense will be difficult to handle. This a unit that already slowed down Clemson on the road two weeks ago.
Reality strikes fast for Auburn as this one gets ugly in a hurry, shattering the warm feeling around Gus Malzahn after his team’s fast start. For Jimbo Fisher and A&M, it’s the start of what could be a run at the SEC title.
San Diego State might be the shakiest 3-0 team outside of Minnesota. The Aztecs are at home this weekend, but they’re about to take their first ‘L’ as Utah State comes to town for their Mountain West opener.
The Aztecs have been punchless on offense, averaging a pedestrian 5.9 yards per pass attempt. They’ve been fortunate thus far to have faced opponents with even less fire power. (Yes, UCLA, that includes you.)
The Aggies, however, are significantly more potent. They lost a heartbreaker in a track meet at Wake Forest, then took out their frustrations in a 62-7 romp past Stony Brook before a week off. San Diego State’s defense is very good, but it can’t keep Jordan Love and Co. down all night.
Why has the whole world turned against Michigan? It looked rough against Army, no doubt, but two weeks is a lifetime in college football and I have to believe that Jim Harbaugh and Josh Gattis have put in some serious work to make the game a little easier for Shea Patterson and to get their running game untracked. Obviously Wisconsin has also had lots of time to prepare, but this feels like a scenario where everyone is going to jump on the home team because Michigan has looked a little shaky. But at the end of the day, the Wolverines have better players.