College Football Picks: Week 4 Predictions for Every Game

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystSeptember 22, 2020

College Football Picks: Week 4 Predictions for Every Game

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    Alabama RB Najee Harris
    Alabama RB Najee HarrisVasha Hunt/Associated Press

    Raise your hand if you have no clue what week of the college football season it is.

    *Aggressively raises both hands*

    This is officially Week 4, although your interpretation of it depends on which teams/leagues you follow.

    For the SEC, this coming Saturday is Opening Day, and that means business is about to pick up in earnest. But while some teams have already played three games, several ACC and Big 12 squads have yet to take the field, most notably AP No. 20 Virginia Tech.

    And in Big Ten country, I suppose it's Week Negative-Four, since those teams won't get to play until late October.

    Here's the main takeaway, though: Barring more postponements, 21 of the teams in the AP Top 25 will be playing this weekend, including three head-to-head contests. In the first three weeks, there was a combined total of 15 games involving ranked teams. So that's a huge step in the right direction.

    In all, there are 35 games on the docket, and we've got predictions for each and every one of them.

AP Nos. 25-21

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    Pittsburgh QB Kenny Pickett
    Pittsburgh QB Kenny PickettKeith Srakocic/Associated Press

    No. 25 Marshall (2-0) IDLE

    Next Game: at Western Kentucky (Oct. 10)


    No. 24 Louisville (1-1) at No. 21 Pittsburgh (2-0), noon ET

    When the Cardinals have the ball, it'll be an intriguing battle between a top-notch running back (Javian Hawkins) and a defense that has held its first two opponents to just 52 rushing yards on 56 attempts. But when the Panthers have the ball, it'll be a much more stoppable force (Pittsburgh's offense) taking on a movable object (Louisville's defense).

    My assumption is this will be a lower-scoring affair, which favors Pittsburgh. But this game feels like the wild card of the week. Louisville QB Malik Cunningham has thrown for at least 300 yards and three scores in each of his first two contests and could keep the Cardinals from slipping below .500 by stretching that streak to three games.

    Prediction: Pittsburgh 23, Louisville 20


    No. 23 Kentucky (0-0) at No. 8 Auburn (0-0), noon ET

    Prediction in AP Nos. 10-6 Section


    No. 22 Army (2-0) at No. 14 Cincinnati (1-0), 3:30 p.m. ET

    Prediction in AP Nos. 15-11 Section

AP Nos. 20-16

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    Virginia Tech QB Hendon Hooker
    Virginia Tech QB Hendon HookerSteve Helber/Associated Press

    No. 20 Virginia Tech (0-0) vs. North Carolina State (1-0), 8 p.m. ET

    We haven't seen Virginia Tech yet in 2020, but the Hokies bring back 18 starters from a team that was solid once Hendon Hooker took over at quarterback in early October. Transfers Khalil Herbert (RB), Raheem Blackshear (RB/WR) and Justus Reed (EDGE) could be the boost they need to get back to an ACC championship. They should at least start out 1-0 against a Wolfpack team that gave up 42 points to Wake Forest this past weekend.

    Prediction: Virginia Tech 38, NC State 27


    No. 19 Louisiana (2-0) vs. Georgia Southern (1-0), noon ET

    After debuting in the AP Top 25 for the first time since World War II, Louisiana needed overtime to escape with a win over Georgia State. The Panthers rushed for 223 yards and three touchdowns, which is not a promising lead-in to a showdown with Georgia Southern's triple option.

    The real question, though, is what can Georgia Southern do to slow down ULL's rushing attack? Elijah Mitchell is averaging 8.8 yards per carry on the young season, and both he and Trey Ragas had a pair of rushing touchdowns in last year's win over the Eagles. Expect a relatively high-scoring affair, but also expect the Ragin' Cajuns prevail.

    Prediction: Louisiana 43, Georgia Southern 35


    No. 18 BYU (1-0) vs. Troy (1-0), 10:15 p.m. ET

    BYU annihilated Navy 55-3 on Labor Day. It was the Cougars' first time defeating an FBS opponent by at least 50 points in more than a decade. The last time it happened was a 52-0 win over Wyoming in November 2009, which was also the last time BYU finished a season ranked in the AP Top 25. Could another such season be in the stars? If the Cougars take care of Troy even half as well as they did Navy, I'll be ready to start drinking the "Undefeated BYU" Kool-Aid.

    Prediction: BYU 42, Troy 23


    No. 17 Memphis (1-0) IDLE

    Next Game: at SMU (Oct. 3)


    No. 16 Tennessee (0-0) at South Carolina (0-0), 7 p.m. ET

    When Tennessee won last year's game against South Carolina by a score of 41-21, it ended a seven-year streak of games in this series decided by six points or fewer. Dig a little further back and you'll find that 14 of the last 20 SC-UT matchups ended with a one-possession margin.

    I expect Tennessee to be the better team this season, but this game is always a little weird. The Vols have also lost their last two season openers and needed overtime to win each of the previous two. Finishing last year on a six-game winning streak was a nice touch, but Tennessee will be sweating out this one.

    Prediction: Tennessee 27, South Carolina 20

AP Nos. 15-11

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    Cincinnati QB Desmond Ridder
    Cincinnati QB Desmond RidderJay LaPrete/Associated Press

    No. 15 Oklahoma State (1-0) vs. West Virginia (1-0), 3:30 p.m. ET

    West Virginia's offense was just plain awful last season, but the Mountaineers were impressive in the 56-10 shellacking of Eastern Kentucky two weekends ago. Over the final seven games of the 2019 season, they had 356 rushing yards and no touchdowns. They went for 329 yards and five rushing touchdowns against the Colonels. Quality of opponent be darned, that's a promising start.

    Oklahoma State went the opposite direction, scuffling to just 279 total yards in a closer-and-lower-scoring-than-expected 16-7 victory over Tulsa. If quarterback Spencer Sanders (ankle injury) is able to go against WVU, maybe the Cowboys will be fine. But if you sold all of your stock in Oklahoma State after watching that first game, you're not alone.

    Prediction: Oklahoma State 27, West Virginia 25


    No. 14 Cincinnati (1-0) vs. No. 22 Army (2-0), 3:30 p.m. ET

    Hope you like rushing yards. Cincinnati ran for 276 yards and five touchdowns in its first game of the season. Army also had five touchdowns on the ground in each of its first two games and is averaging 388.0 rushing yards per contest. Both sides will be facing much stiffer resistance on defense in a head-to-head battle, but this game has ground-and-pound written all over it.

    Let's roll with Army in a mild upset on the road. Cincinnati had to replace its two best linebackers from last season (Perry Young and Bryan Wright) and the Bearcats surprisingly allowed 353 total yards and 20 points in the opener against Austin Peay. If there are any cracks whatsoever in that front seven, Army's triple-option offense will find them.

    Prediction: Army 28, Cincinnati 24


    No. 13 UCF (1-0) at East Carolina (0-0), noon ET

    Since beginning its ascension from 0-12 disaster to Group of Five juggernaut, UCF has had its way with East Carolina, winning the last four meetings by an average margin of 25.0 points. Given the usual degree of offensive firepower that the Knights displayed in a season-opening 49-21 win over Georgia Tech, there's no good reason to expect any change in that momentum.

    Prediction: UCF 56, East Carolina 17


    No. 12 Miami (2-0) vs. Florida State (0-1), 7:30 p.m. ET

    Two weeks ago, this looked like it would be another fun installment of an in-state rivalry that would provide a little separation among the ACC's middle tier. But now it looks like a game that the Hurricanes will win with room to spare.

    Miami has turned a corner on offense with D'Eriq King steering the ship, whereas Florida State is already reeling from a poor showing in a home loss to Georgia Tech. Adding illness to insult, head coach Mike Norvell is probably going to miss this game after testing positive for COVID-19. At this point, a Seminoles win would be a rather large upset.

    Prediction: Miami 35, Florida State 23


    No. 11 North Carolina (1-0) IDLE

    Next Game: at Boston College (Oct. 3)

AP Nos. 10-6

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    Auburn QB Bo Nix
    Auburn QB Bo NixChris O'Meara/Associated Press

    No. 10 Texas A&M (0-0) vs. Vanderbilt (0-0), 7:30 p.m. ET

    It's only the third year of the Jimbo Fisher era at Texas A&M, but it already feels like a "now or never" type of season for him and the Aggies. Good thing they open the season with the easiest SEC game possible: at home against Vanderbilt. (Next week's road game against Alabama will be a wee bit more challenging.) Running back Isaiah Spiller will have a field day against the Commodores.

    Prediction: Texas A&M 49, Vanderbilt 10


    No. 8 (tie) Texas (1-0) at Texas Tech (1-0), 3:30 p.m. ET

    Texas Tech gave up 572 passing yards in a season-opening nail-biter against FCS school Houston Baptist. Texas' Sam Ehlinger has more than 9,000 passing yards since the beginning of 2017 and is one of the most dangerous quarterbacks in the country. He threw for 348 yards in last year's 25-point win over the Red Raiders. Both of those numbers should be higher this week.

    Prediction: Texas 52, Texas Tech 17


    No. 8 (tie) Auburn (0-0) vs. No. 23 Kentucky (0-0), noon ET

    Most of the AP Top 10 games are going to leave us searching for something more entertaining to watch by halftime. But this game? This one could be awesome.

    The most recent meeting between Auburn and Kentucky was in 2015, but each of the last three games in this series has been decided by a single possession. Kentucky has had an excellent defense over the past two seasons, and the return of Terry Wilson at quarterback should help offset the loss of Lynn Bowden Jr. to the NFL. Bo Nix and Co. should get the win at home, but this should be a good one well into the fourth quarter.

    Prediction: Auburn 24, Kentucky 20


    No. 7 Notre Dame (2-0) at Wake Forest (0-2), noon ET (Postponed)

    Notre Dame rushed for 281 yards and six touchdowns in a 52-0 blowout of South Florida. A few hours later, Wake Forest allowed 270 rushing yards and four touchdowns in a 45-42 loss to North Carolina State. This comes after the Demon Deacons had nothing close to an answer for Clemson's Trevor Lawrence or Travis Etienne to begin the season. Notre Dame will eventually need to get the passing game going, but not in this one.

    Prediction: Notre Dame 42, Wake Forest 21 


    No. 6 LSU (0-0) vs. Mississippi State (0-0), 3:30 p.m. ET

    The reigning national champions will look a lot different sans Joe Burrow, Clyde Edwards-Helaire and the vast majority of last year's startersnot to mention defensive coordinator Dave Aranda and passing game guru Joe Brady. But the Tigers should be good enough to win this opener against a Mississippi State team going through somewhat of a roster/coaching staff makeover of its own.

    Prediction: LSU 35, Mississippi State 24

AP Nos. 5-1

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    Oklahoma QB Spencer Rattler
    Oklahoma QB Spencer RattlerSue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    No. 5 Florida (0-0) at Ole Miss (0-0), noon ET

    Time to find out what Lane Kiffin is bringing to the table in his third tour of the SEC. The former Tennessee head coach and former Alabama offensive coordinator inherits an exciting offense that averaged better than 250 rushing yards per game last season, but immediately taking on a Florida defense that held eight opponents under 90 rushing yards last year won't be easy. Slowing down the Kyle Trask-to-Kyle Pitts connection will be just as difficult. This might be close for a little while, but Florida eventually rolls.

    Prediction: Florida 41, Ole Miss 21


    No. 4 Georgia (0-0) at Arkansas (0-0), 4 p.m. ET

    In addition to an early home loss to San Jose State, Arkansas lost its final six games of last season by an average margin of 30.7 points. If the Razorbacks even put up a fight against one of the favorites to reach the College Football Playoff, they should immediately build a statue honoring new head coach Sam Pittman. Don't count on it, though. This will be an easy debut for new Georgia quarterback JT Daniels.

    Prediction: Georgia 42, Arkansas 13


    No. 3 Oklahoma (1-0) vs. Kansas State (0-1), noon ET

    Kansas State stunned Oklahoma last October, handing the Sooners their only loss of the regular season. But this doesn't look like a spot where lightning could strike twice. Not with how poorly Kansas State defended in a season-opening loss to Arkansas State, nor with how proficient that Spencer Rattler-led offense was against Missouri State. Let's see if Oklahoma can establish the run, though. The Sooners entered the year with big question marks in the backfield, and averaging 3.5 yards per carry against Missouri State didn't alleviate those concerns.

    Prediction: Oklahoma 48, Kansas State 24


    No. 2 Alabama (0-0) at Missouri (0-0), 7 p.m. ET

    Did you know Missouri has held 13 consecutive SEC opponents below 30 points? That streak is going to come to an end at the hands of Mac Jones, Najee Harris and DeVonta Smith, but this probably won't be the 62-7ish September blowout we're using to seeing from the Crimson Tide. That isn't to say it'll be a close game, mind you, but it might not be a "true freshman quarterback Bryce Young plays the entire second half of a blowout" type of game.

    Prediction: Alabama 38, Missouri 10


    No. 1 Clemson (2-0) IDLE

    Next Game: vs. Virginia (Oct. 3)

The Next-Best Games

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    Boston College's Phil Jurkovec
    Boston College's Phil JurkovecNell Redmond/Associated Press

    Iowa State (0-1) at TCU (0-0), 1:30 p.m. ET

    Kansas (0-1) at Baylor (0-0), 7:30 p.m. ET

    Two Big 12 battles in which the road team opened the season with a loss to the Sun Belt and the home team has yet to play a game because of postponements.

    The afternoon game should be a good one. Both Iowa State and TCU entered the season in the Big 12's middle tier, likely battling for fourth place behind Oklahoma, Texas and Oklahoma State. The Cyclones had a disappointing start against Louisiana, but that was a good opponent and bad things tend to happen when you give up both a punt-return TD and a kickoff-return TD.

    The evening game...not so much. Baylor is breaking in a new head coach and a ton of new defenders, but starting that journey against Kansas is a nice perk. The Bears have won 10 consecutive games against the Jayhawks by an average margin of 37.1 points. And their performance in a 15-point loss to Coastal Carolina provides no hope of changing that trend.

    Prediction: Iowa State 27, TCU 24
    Prediction: Baylor 38, Kansas 10


    Texas State (1-2) at Boston College (1-0), 6 p.m. ET

    Boston College looked solid in a 26-6 win over Duke, but Texas State has taken a huge leap forward out of nowhere. The record might not suggest that, but after four consecutive seasons averaging fewer than 20 points per game, the Bobcats are putting up 36.7 in the early going. Boston College is going to be favored by multiple touchdowns, but this could be a sneaky fun game.

    Prediction: Boston College 34, Texas State 22


    North Texas (1-1) at Houston (0-0), 7 p.m. ET

    Is Houston finally going to play a game? The Cougars were supposed to open the season on Sept. 3 against Rice, but that game got postponed in mid-August. Then the Week 3 game against Memphis got called off. They quickly scheduled Baylor for Week 3 instead, but that game got nixed, too.

    If they do play this one, get ready for this to be the highest-scoring game of the week. North Texas is averaging 46 points per game and allowing 48, and Dana Holgorsen is no stranger to high-octane offense.

    Prediction: Houston 45, North Texas 37

The Rest of the Slate

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    SMU QB Shane Buechele
    SMU QB Shane BuecheleStephen Spillman/Associated Press

    UAB (1-1) at South Alabama (1-1), 7:30 p.m. ET on Thursday

    Prediction: UAB 28, South Alabama 20


    Middle Tennessee (0-2) at UTSA (2-0), 8 p.m. ET on Friday

    Prediction: UTSA 24, Middle Tennessee 21


    Georgia Tech (1-1) at Syracuse (0-2), noon ET

    Prediction: Georgia Tech 20, Syracuse 14


    Georgia State (0-1) at Charlotte (0-1), noon ET

    Prediction: Charlotte 26, Georgia State 24


    Campbell (0-2) at Appalachian State (1-1), noon ET

    Prediction: Appalachian State 42, Campbell 17


    Florida International (0-0) at Liberty (1-0), 1 p.m. ET

    Prediction: Liberty 31, Florida International 23


    Tulane (1-1) at Southern Mississippi (0-2), 2:30 p.m. ET

    Prediction: Tulane 28, Southern Mississippi 24


    Tulsa (0-1) at Arkansas State (1-1), 3:30 p.m. ET

    Prediction: Arkansas State 21, Tulsa 20


    UTEP (2-1) at Louisiana-Monroe (0-2), 3:30 p.m. ET

    Prediction: Louisiana-Monroe 25, UTEP 17


    Duke (0-2) at Virginia (0-0), 4 p.m. ET

    Prediction: Virginia 24, Duke 10


    South Florida (1-1) at Florida Atlantic (0-0), 6 p.m. ET

    Prediction: Florida Atlantic 27, South Florida 17


    Houston Baptist (0-2) at Louisiana Tech (1-0), 7 p.m. ET

    Prediction: Louisiana Tech 45, Houston Baptist 31


    Stephen F. Austin (0-2) at SMU (2-0), 7 p.m. ET

    Prediction: SMU 54, Stephen F. Austin 13