Expert Predictions for Week 4 in College Football

Bleacher Report College Football StaffFeatured ColumnistSeptember 22, 2017

Expert Predictions for Week 4 in College Football

0 of 8

    Can Nick Fitzgerald and Mississippi State do it again?
    Can Nick Fitzgerald and Mississippi State do it again?Rogelio V. Solis/Associated Press

    Bleacher Report's college football experts unanimously agree that Oklahoma State will improve to 4-0 with a win over TCU, Lamar Jackson is going to destroy Kent State and Kevin Sumlin's seat is blazing with the fire of a thousand suns.

    As far as that big Mississippi State vs. Georgia game is concerned, though, the experts aren't quite on the same page. And in terms of the number of major upsets destined for Top 10 teams this weekend, the experts are all over the map.

    The long and short of it is we're guaranteed yet another fun week of unpredictable college football.

    With that in mind, our college football experts—Matt Hayes, David Kenyon, Adam Kramer, Kerry Miller, Brad Shepard and Greg Wallace—offered up predictions on eight of the hottest burning questions of the week:

    • How many of the six AP Top 10 teams playing on the road come home with an L?
    • Can Mississippi State defeat another AP Top 15 SEC foe?
    • Which non-AP Top 25 showdown generates the most buzz?
    • Will Kevin Sumlin still be coaching in Week 5?

    Our experts are on the case to let you know.

Does No. 17 Mississippi State Keep the Hot Start Going at No. 11 Georgia?

1 of 8

    Rogelio V. Solis/Associated Press

    Matt Hayes — Follow @MattHayesCFB

    I'm a big proponent of, all things being equal, best quarterback wins in big games. But that Georgia defense is terrific. It can rush with four and cover five or more and leave a robber in the middle to keep Bulldogs QB Nick Fitzgerald from beating it on QB runs when he breaks containment. Then it comes down to Georgia QB Jake Fromm making plays against a Mississippi State defense that has played better than anyone expected this early in the season. I'm sticking with my best-quarterback-wins philosophy.

               

    David Kenyon  Follow @Kenyon19_BR

    No, but I'd be stunned if Mississippi State had a terrible performance. That defense is for real; I simply think Georgia's D is better and will benefit from home-field advantage in a tight finish. I'm fully prepared for Nick Fitzgerald to make me eat these words, though. 

               

    Adam Kramer — Follow @KegsnEggs

    This is suddenly a wildly intriguing game and perhaps the most enticing matchup on the card. But as much as I love Nick Fitzgerald—and as underrated as Dan Mullen still is—I really like how Georgia is playing. I think the defense is athletic enough to keep Fitzgerald at least semi-in check, and I love that Nick Chubb is looking like Nick Chubb again. Georgia wins by a touchdown (cough, cough, covers).

               

    Kerry Miller — Follow @kerrancejames

    Shades of last week's Tennessee vs. Florida game, I wouldn't be surprised if this is a 6-3 contest at the start of the fourth quarter. But instead of the result of painfully inept offenses, it'll be because these are two of the best defenses in the country. This is the type of battle that should be determined by one back-breaking mistake. Considering Mississippi State has only committed one turnover all season, I like its chances. Give me MSU by a 20-13 margin, and please subsequently hook me up to an IV containing all of the hot takes about the Bulldogs winning the SEC West despite not yet playing Alabama or Auburn.

               

    Brad Shepard — Follow @Brad_Shepard

    I think they do. I'm not sure I buy into Georgia's quarterback situation just yet, and it's a matter of time before that becomes a full-fledged issue. Nick Fitzgerald has the type of skills that never take a week off, and the Starkville version of the Bulldogs is riding high after a 37-7 win over LSU last week. Dan Mullen is the second-best coach in the SEC, and he'll travel to Athens and come away with another big win. 

               

    Greg Wallace  Follow @gc_wallace

    Outside of No. 1 Alabama, the SEC hasn’t had a lot go right in the first three weeks, but these two teams are clearly positives. The MSU Bulldogs are the most positive surprise in the league, looking nothing like the 2016 team that squeaked into the St. Petersburg Bowl at 5-7. They’re averaging 47.7 points per game and just handed Coach O and LSU a wicked 37-7 beating. Nick Fitzgerald has been a legit two-way threat and the defense has been nasty. Sanford Stadium will be electric Saturday night, but Fitzgerald's poise will help MSU win the battle of the Dawgs.

Who Wins the Track Meet Between No. 16 TCU and No. 6 Oklahoma State?

2 of 8

    Mason Rudolph
    Mason RudolphKeith Srakocic/Associated Press

    Matt Hayes

    Oklahoma State. I loved what TCU did defensively two weeks ago against Arkansasbefore following it up with a clunker against SMU. I'm not buying that it was a letdown game; that's a rivalry game. There are problems in coverage at TCU, and that’s not a good sign with the Cowboys' electric offense waiting. QB Mason Rudolph has three legit threats in the passing game (WRs James Washington, Marcell Ateman, Jalen McCleskey) that will press TCU's secondary all game. 

               

    David Kenyon

    SMU just threw for 339 yards on TCU, and only 62 of those came in the fourth quarter. Considering Mason Rudolph is averaging 378.3 yards without yet attempting a single pass in the final frame, he should be headed for another massive day. I'll take Oklahoma State by a two-possession margin. 

               

    Adam Kramer

    Playing Oklahoma State looks absolutely miserable right now. I mean that sincerely. I cannot imagine what it's like to be a defensive coordinator having to match up with an offense this in sync. That said, there will be points scored here. Kenny Hill looks very much like the guy we saw in his first three starts at Texas A&M, and TCU will find the end zone a handful of times. The problem is the Horned Frogs just won't be able to keep up for all four quarters with the best offense in football.

               

    Kerry Miller

    When healthy, Mason Rudolph has been one of the most consistently solid quarterbacks in the country dating back to the start of the 2015 season. And he has been positively unflappable at home. Take out the one game against Oklahoma in 2015 in which he only attempted three passes due to injury and Rudolph has a career 37-4 TD-INT ratio in Stillwater, averaging better than 325 yards per game. Let's just say Kenny Hill hasn't been that consistent, and I trust the Cowboys to get the job done in somewhat convincing fashion.

               

    Brad Shepard

    This is easy. It's going to be the Cowboys, and ultimately it won't be close. When they're clicking, the only team with the same type of firepower as the Fightin' Mullets is their neighbor in Norman. The Horned Frogs are off to a nice start, but they haven't played anything like Mason Rudolph and his High Flying Act. It may be close for a half, but the Cowboys will run away with it. 

               

    Greg Wallace

    This shapes up as a classic Big 12 score-fest, with Oklahoma State entering averaging 54 points per game and TCU averaging 49. Last one with the ball wins, perhaps? TCU's defense showed some bite against Arkansas, and Oklahoma State could have named its score against Pitt, running up a 49-7 lead and allowing only a fumble-return score after halftime. Mason Rudolph and James Washington are superior to Kenny Hill and his receiver corps, though, and the Cowboys burnish a top-five resume in comfortable fashion. 

Six of the AP Poll's Top 10 Teams Play on the Road: How Many Lose?

3 of 8

    Michigan
    MichiganTony Ding/Associated Press

    Matt Hayes

    Zero in the Top 10, but there will be carnage in the Top 25. I've already chosen Georgia and TCU to lose, and let's add Florida (at Kentucky) and San Diego State (at Air Force). Imagine the horror in Gainesville when Kentucky snaps a 30-game losing streak to the Gators.

               

    David Kenyon

    I'm going with zero, so that likely means Team Chaos is about to dominate Week 4. I think Alabama, Washington and Michigan have too much defense for the underdogs to overcome, while the offenses of Oklahoma, Penn State and USC will propel those teams. 

               

    Adam Kramer

    I'll say one, and I believe it has a chance to come from a few places—the most likely being Colorado, which has really done a fine job reloading and could push Washington. That will be the "upset" I pick, because saying "none" really is boring and not all that good for anyone. Other places I would consider? Iowa City, for certain. While Penn State is a much more talented team, things get strange at Kinnick during night games. I could also see Purdue pushing Michigan, which is not a sentence I expected to be typing for like 12 more years.

               

    Kerry Miller

    In each of the last three seasons, at least one AP Top 10 lost to an unranked opponent by the end of Week 3. You don't seriously think we're getting through four weeks without such an upset, do you? In fact, I think we could see as many as three Top 10 teams go down on the road this week. Purdue can definitely beat the Michigan we've seen thus far. Colorado is going to be one heck of a first true test for Washington. And when have you ever known Iowa to just roll over and die against a title contender? The Hawkeyes could shock Penn State.

               

    Brad Shepard

    Zero. The ones that will come the closest are Michigan at Purdue and Penn State at Iowa, but neither will lose. This is the week where everybody takes notice of just how good of a coach the Boilermakers have in Jeff Brohm, who is going to be one of the hottest names in what could be a wacky offseason. But they don't quite yet have the ammo to take down the Wolverines. (They'll cover the double-digit spread, though.) Colorado may make a bit of noise against Washington, but it won't win, either. 

               

    Greg Wallace

    This isn't a classic "Showdown Saturday" of college football, a fact that ESPN seemed to reinforce by placing College GameDay in that noted CFB Mecca, Times Square (?!?!). However, it could be a fun Saturday with multiple Top 10 teams entering hostile environments. I'm not certain it will shake up the polls a great deal, but I could be wrong. Alabama will handle Vanderbilt easily, and same for Oklahoma at a wretched Baylor program. USC will benefit from last week's double-OT wake-up call against Texas, and I'm still not buying into Purdue against a quality Big Ten foe. Washington-Colorado has classic #Pac12AfterDark written all over it, and Kinnick Stadium can be a snake pit for ranked foes (ask Michigan, Penn State). I'm going to say two Top 10 teams go down Saturday. 

Which Game Between Unranked Teams Gets Twitter Buzzing the Most?

4 of 8

    Nic Shimonek
    Nic ShimonekJohn Weast/Getty Images

    Matt Hayes

    Texas A&M vs. Arkansas. A noon kick, so that gets things going right off the bat. Much like last week with Tennessee at Florida, there are no winnersand things only get worse for the loser. If Arkansas loses, Bret Bielema will have lost all five games to Texas A&M in his tenurea stark reality for Hogs fans of where the program sits. If Texas A&M loses, where do the Aggies get SEC wins the rest of the way (outside of Ole Miss, which isn't a given)? 

               

    David Kenyon

    Texas Tech and Houston will probably light up the scoreboard, but any swing in the Texas A&M-Arkansas matchup has the potential to cause a flurry of jokes and/or way-too-serious analysis for a random play. Neither team is great, so there might even be a handful of lead changes. We could see Kevin Sumlin get fired, re-hired and re-fired before halftime. 

               

    Adam Kramer

    Oh, people will be mad online. In fact, Arkansas and Texas A&M could pull off the rare accomplishment of leaving both fanbases angry (see: Florida-Tennessee from one week ago) after Saturday's game. Given the level of uneasiness surrounding both coaches, this just feels like a game that could ultimately send the hot seat discussion over the top, certainly if A&M loses. Regardless, people will have things to say, and they will likely not be positive.

               

    Kerry Miller

    There are a lot of great options, but I think it's going to be Notre Dame vs. Michigan State. There shouldn't be too much else causing a national ruckus during that window (8 p.m. ET kickoff), and you just know something wild is going to happen when Gus Johnson is on the mic. Honorable mention to UCLA vs. Stanford, which would probably field a bigger TV/Twitter audience if most of the country wasn't asleep for the end of that late game. 

               

    Brad Shepard

    The easy answer is Texas A&M and Arkansas, but since it's for reasons we'll discuss later, I'll go with another one: UCLA at Stanford. Not only are these two teams a lot of folks like to watch with some marquee playmakers, but it's also in a high-visibility spot in the "Pac-12 After Dark" game. We'll all be tuning in if we're crazy about college football because it'll be the best thing on. Plus, with the way Josh Rosen flings it around and Bryce Love runs, it could be a fun night. 

               

    Greg Wallace

    One of the most intriguing games is Texas Tech at Houston. The Red Raiders can score (54 ppg) but can't defend very well, and Houston is playing at home and will surely be motivated to prove to the Big 12 that it missed out by passing on the Cougars during its expansion. Nic Shimonek has already thrown for 927 yards and nine scores (in just two games), and Kyle Allen is a Power Five-worthy QB, as well. There will be plenty of scoring, fun and a weak early Saturday slate will help this game capture attention.

How Will Miami (FL) and Florida State Look After 21 Days Off?

5 of 8

    Mark Walton
    Mark WaltonJoel Auerbach/Getty Images

    Matt Hayes

    Miami will be fine because, more than anything, it can out-athlete Toledo. FSU, on the other hand, is in for a testy conference game against NC State. New QB James Blackman will be facing one of the top defensive lines in the ACC, and there will absolutely be an adjustment for a freshman who hasn't thrown a pass in his career. FSU coach Jimbo Fisher will protect him and lean on his stout defense, but at some point, Blackman will have to make plays.

               

    David Kenyon

    Neither matchup is ideal for the Florida schools. Toledo quarterback Logan Woodside is an efficient passer, and quick-hitting routes are often successful against Miami because they neutralize the front seven. For FSU, it's rolling out a first-time starter in true freshman James Blackman opposite an excellent defensive line. Both teams should pull away in the fourth quarter, but the 'Canes and 'Noles still have some growing pains to encounter.

              

    Adam Kramer

    This is something I will certainly have my eye on, and the reality is we really don't know. Using Alabama as a barometer for Florida State's worth seems unfair. Throw in a new quarterback taking snaps, and that one is a mystery to me. NC State has given the Seminoles fits in the past, so I could see this game being close. Miami, meanwhile, should be able to handle Toledo, although I want to see what players outside of Mark Walton do on offense. Both will win, but I wouldn't be shocked to see one (or both) get out of the gate slow. 

               

    Kerry Miller

    After their Week 2 games were canceled, both teams were probably more than happy to postpone their head-to-head showdown. Miami is still trying to make sure Malik Rosier is the right answer at QB, and if there's any team in the country that needed some time off to figure things out, it's FSU as it adjusts to life without Deondre Francois. My guess is that both teams look sloppy in the first half of their respective games, but that this hurricane-induced break proves to be good for them in the long run.

               

    Brad Shepard

    Very rusty. Everybody is intrigued to see what the Seminoles are going to look like in the James Blackman era. For as long as they've been off and with a true freshman making his first start at quarterback, this is a very vulnerable position to be playing a team as good defensively as North Carolina State. Also, Miami looks like it could be primed for a big leap in Year 2 of Mark Richt's tenure, but Toledo is a very good mid-major team. It would not surprise me if one of those two teams comes away with an upset loss.

               

    Greg Wallace

    In a word? Rusty. They couldn't help it, but it’s hard to sit for three weeks thanks to hurricanes and expect high-level play. Florida State is breaking in a true freshman quarterback against a solid NC State team, and Toledo shouldn't be overlooked by Miami. Both Florida schools triumph, but it won't be easyor pretty to watchon either side. 

What Will Lamar Jackson's Stat Line Be as He Looks to Rebound Versus Kent State?

6 of 8

    Lamar Jackson
    Lamar JacksonTimothy D. Easley/Associated Press

    Matt Hayes

    A lot of passing yards, a lot of rushing yards, a lot of touchdowns. How's that for simplicity? Kent State is 120th in the nation in total defense and 112th in scoring defense. Do the math.

               

    David Kenyon

    Poor Kent State. The wrath of Lamar Jackson is going to overwhelm the Golden Flashes, who gave up 665 yards to Clemson in Week 1. Jackson will complete 18 of 28 passes for 310 yards, add 120 yards on the ground and be responsible for five touchdowns.

               

    Adam Kramer

    How long does he play? That's the biggest question. As a significant favorite, it wouldn't shock me to see Jackson out of this game early in the second half, especially after last Saturday's physical clobbering, assuming Louisville is coasting. We also know that Jackson can do amazing things in no time at all, so I imagine the numbers will still be majestic. My prediction: 302 yards passing, 94 yards rushing and four touchdowns. Not terrible. 

               

    Kerry Miller

    In all three games, the opposing quarterback has had at least one passing TD and one rushing TD against Kent State. And for all the talking heads who absurdly expect you to believe that Jackson's case for the Heisman is toast because of a loss to Clemson, the dude is averaging 464 total yards and 3.7 touchdowns per game. Factor in his bubbling frustration and the only way Jackson doesn't amass at least 525 yards and four touchdowns is if the game gets too out of hand before he can get there. 

               

    Brad Shepard

    It's going to be disgusting—in a good way. His hopes of a Heisman Trophy repeat took a major hit a week ago, but he'll post ridiculous numbers against the Golden Flashes. You've got to expect he'll only play three quarters. So, I'm thinking he'll go for 380 total yards and five touchdowns. If he plays the whole game (he won't), it'll approach 500. 

               

    Greg Wallace

    Oh, poor Kent State. The Golden Flashes were a sacrificial lamb in a 56-3 loss at Clemson, and now, thanks to the Tigers, they get to face an angry Louisville team and Lamar Jackson, who'll be looking to shake the taste of a rough night a week ago at Cardinal Stadium. Kent State's only win came against Howard. The Golden Flashes have scored three points total against Clemson and Marshall. They allowed 313 yards of total offense to Kelly Bryant. Put Jackson down for 400 yards (300 through the air, 100 on the ground) and four total touchdowns in a romp. 

Will Dante Pettis Break NCAA Record with a 4th Punt-Return TD in as Many Games?

7 of 8

    Dante Pettis
    Dante PettisElaine Thompson/Associated Press

    Matt Hayes

    He'll get another punt-return touchdown this fall, just not in this game. The Buffs are solid on special teams, and they've been pointing toward this game since Washington embarrassed them in last year's Pac-12 title game. Colorado may not win, but it will play welland Pettis won't break the NCAA record.  

               

    David Kenyon

    I'd like to say Colorado is smart enough not to test Pettis. Plus, the Buffs have only allowed nine yards on two returns in 15 total punts this year. But they also surrendered two non-block punt-return scores last season, so while I'm going to say "No, Pettis' impressive streak ends at three," it wouldn't be a shocking development. 

               

    Adam Kramer

    The safe answer is no, and I will stick by that because I assume Colorado will kick into the stands 20 yards short of where it should because it doesn't want him to get the ball. Pettis is doing something remarkable right now—averaging nearly 40 yards a punt return—and he's making teams who kick to him pay dearly. Let's assume Colorado tries to avoid being that next team and doesn't kick to him. At this point, why even try? 

               

    Kerry Miller

    I keep thinking this will be the week that teams stop punting the ball to Pettis, and yet, it keeps happening. Though Pettis' first career punt-return touchdown came at Colorado in 2014, I have to believe the Buffaloes keep him from doing anything on special teams. Alex Kinney has punted 15 times this season with just two returns for nine yards. They'll keep it away from the game-changer. 

               

    Brad Shepard

    It all depends on if Kinney's directional punting game is on. You never, ever want to kick the ball to Pettis. But this isn't the same putrid Buffaloes special teams from a year ago. Coach Ross Els is helping turn things around in that area. Even if Pettis gets chances, he won't wind up with six points. Colorado will lose, but it won't be because of special teams. 

               

    Greg Wallace

    Pettis is emerging as one of the nation's most electric players. Three punt returns for touchdowns in as many games certainly helps. Will Colorado be his latest victim Saturday night? The Buffaloes are middle of the pack in average punt-return yardage, No. 43 nationally out of 119 teams. My guess? Mike MacIntyre is a smart coach. He'll kick away from Pettis as much as possible, and the streak ends.

Will the Losing Coach from Texas A&M vs. Arkansas Still Have a Job on Sunday?

8 of 8

    Kevin Sumlin
    Kevin SumlinDanny Moloshok/Associated Press

    Matt Hayes

    Of course. But the pressure to win and finish with a record that won't get them fired will be significantly increased. Sumlin is clearly in a tougher situation than Bielema, who is likely safe this season unless he loses out. 

               

    David Kenyon

    Yes, because I think Texas A&M sneaks out another win. I believe Bielema is safe through the season. I would still say yes if my prediction favored the Razorbacks, but Arkansas is the start of a brutal six-week stretch for Sumlin.

               

    Adam Kramer

    If it's Bielema, yes. If it's Sumlin, I'll say no. Arkansas is clearly uneasy with where things are headed, but I don't see firing Bielema being the course of action. It's different with Sumlin, though. His boss essentially called him out over the summer, giving us fair warning of his work environment. Then the meltdown against UCLA happened. Then A&M looked sluggish for much of its next two games against weak opponents. A loss would likely seal the inevitable, and it wouldn't shock me to see the Aggies follow the path LSU took with Les Miles almost exactly one year ago. 

               

    Kerry Miller

    My prediction before the season began was that Sumlin would get fired on October 14right before A&M's bye week and right after getting pummeled by Alabama and Florida to fall to 3-4. Given how bad the Aggies have looked thus far, though, they might cut ties with the head coach if he loses to Arkansas. I think Bielema will survive the week regardless, but an Arkansas loss would certainly push him to the top of the hot-seat rankings. 

               

    Brad Shepard

    It depends on who loses. If it's the Aggies, Sumlin absolutely could get the ax. A&M could sever ties and ramp up the Chip Kelly pursuit. If it's the Razorbacks, I doubt Bielema would be in danger. Athletic director Jeff Long doesn't seem to be in a rush to rid himself of Bielema, so his job should be on firm footing until next year barring a total collapse.

               

    Greg Wallace

    Texas A&M-Arkansas is a huge battle of hot-seat coaches, as A&M has looked unimpressive while blowing a 44-10 lead to UCLA and grinding out wins over Nicholls State and Louisiana. Meanwhile, Arkansas fans are less than thrilled with a 1-1 record that includes an ugly 28-7 home loss at the hands of TCU. The temperature is building under Bielema's seat at Arkansas, but it isn't nearly as hot as the flames lapping at Sumlin. If the Hogs beat A&M down, the Aggies could wave goodbye to Sumlin, but I don't see the same happening to Bielema, if only because Arkansas owes him $15.4 million if he's fired before 2018. That'd be a knee-jerk reaction to a September defeat.