College Football Week 4: Showcasing Most Intriguing Narratives and Storylines

Ben Chodos@bchodosCorrespondent IISeptember 18, 2012

College Football Week 4: Showcasing Most Intriguing Narratives and Storylines

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    Week 4 of the college football season will bring another set of intriguing storylines and plot twists.

    Many teams are facing their first tough test of the season while starting a stretch of conference games.

    There will be several showdowns between ranked teams, and the AP Top 25 poll may look drastically different when the weekend is over. 

    Here are the five most fascinating narratives that will play out in Week 4. 

The ACC Championship in Week 4

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    No. 4 Florida State and No. 10 Clemson have been extremely impressive during their first three games. The rest of the ACC has not.

    The Tigers and the Seminoles are the only undefeated teams left in the conference, but that will change this weekend when Clemson travels to Tallahassee in this week's only battle between top-10 opponents.

    Virginia Tech lost to Pittsburgh this past weekend and looked like a vastly overrated team. Miami and Georgia Tech now have a chance to win the Coastal Division, but all three of those teams are not in the same class as Clemson and Florida State.

    With explosive athletes like Sammy Watkins for the Tigers and Kelvin Benjamin for the Seminoles, this will be a thrilling game featuring plenty of offense.

    The team that comes out on top will have a clear path to the ACC Championship Game. At this point, it is unlikely that any other team in the conference would be able to derail either Clemson or Florida State.

    The winner of this game is a safe bet to win the ACC in 2012.

What Happened to the Big Ten?

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    The Big Ten started the season with three teams ranked in the top 15 of AP Top 25 preseason poll and five teams ranked in the top 20.

    Now, no team from the conference ranks in the top 15. No. 16 Ohio State and No. 18 Michigan are the only teams left in the top 20.

    After Michigan State's home loss to Notre Dame in which it only put three points on the board, the Spartans have dropped to No. 21. Nebraska is still trying to climb back up the polls after losing to UCLA and sits at No. 25, while Wisconsin's struggles have dropped them out of the Top 25.

    The SEC's supremacy was never going to be questioned this year, but the Big 12 has four teams in the top 15. The Pac 12 has two teams in the top 10, as does the ACC.

    None of the Big Ten teams look even remotely capable of competing for a national championship, and it is doubtful at this point in the season that a team from the conference will win a BCS Bowl game. 

    The Big Ten as a conference is failing to compete right now, and teams like Ohio State and Michigan must markedly improve as the season goes on for this to change. 

Geno Smith, De'Anthony Thomas and the New Heisman Trophy Favorites

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    Matt Barkley is now playing from behind in the Heisman Trophy race, and a new crop of leaders has emerged. 

    West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith has been fantastic this season. The Mountaineers have faced comically easy opponents, but Smith has been flawless in these games. He has completed 88 percent of his passes for 734 yards, nine touchdowns and no interceptions.

    The schedule gets slightly tougher for Smith this week against Maryland, but this will likely be another blowout. If he can keep performing at a similar level against Baylor and Texas, then he will take control of the Heisman race.

    Other players who may have their names called in New York in a couple months are Pac-12 running backs De'Anthony Thomas and Johnathan Franklin.

    Thomas is Oregon's spark plug and the most explosive playmaker in the country. He is averaging 17.5 yards per carry and has four rushing touchdowns thus far, along with 11 catches for 154 yards and three more scores.

    But Oregon has also had a soft schedule through three games. The Ducks' Pac-12 showdown with Arizona provides a stage for Thomas to put his name atop the list of Heisman hopefuls.

    Franklin has provided senior leadership for UCLA. The running back gained over 200 yards in each of his first two games this season, including an incredible performance to lead the Bruins' upset over Nebraska. 

    He has 541 rushing yards through just three games, and another fine performance in the Bruins' first conference game against Oregon State will keep his name in contention for college football's most prestigious award. 

How Good Is Notre Dame?

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    Notre Dame did not appear in the AP Top 25 preseason poll, but during the first three weeks of the season it has done nothing but prove that the voters made a serious error in judgement.

    The Fighting Irish blew out Navy, as was expected. The team then showed remarkable resolve to win in thrilling fashion against Purdue.

    But the Irish showed how truly devastating their defense can be against Michigan State. Running back Le'Veon Bell stormed into this game as a dominant force for the Spartans, but he was held to 77 yards rushing and did not get in the end zone.

    This was a fantastic performance for Notre Dame, but the schedule will not get any easier. The team will have to prove that it can put together high-quality outings in back-to-back weeks as it takes on Michigan this Saturday. 

    Even if the Irish survive Michigan, Stanford, Oklahoma and USC are still on the schedule. This is a remarkably difficult set of games, but Notre Dame has shown that it can rise to the occasion.

    If the team beats Michigan this weekend, it will establish itself as a legitimate national championship contender. That will make the tough games down the road fascinating affairs. 

Teams Taking on Their First Test

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    There are several highly ranked teams that will be facing their first competitive opponent this weekend. 

    No. 4 Florida State is the premier example of a team in this situation, as it will be facing No. 10 Clemson after taking on two FCS schools and a weak Wake Forest team. 

    No. 3 Oregon will also be tested for the first time this season. After blowout victories over Arkansas State, Fresno State and Tennessee Tech, the Ducks will take on an Arizona program that has been revived by Rich Rodriguez and is ranked No. 22 in the country.

    With two productive offenses on display, the Ducks and the Wildcats should produce an exciting amount of points.

    No. 6 Oklahoma is another top-10 team taking on a ranked opponent after playing lesser opponents to start the season. UTEP and Florida A&M stood no chance against the Sooners, but No. 15 Kansas State will put up a much better fight.

    Collin Klein and Landry Jones will take center stage in a matchup that has the potential to become an epic quarterback duel. 

    The top of the college football rankings may look completely different heading into Week 5 if these teams are not up to the challenge.