B/R Experts Answer Biggest College Football Questions for Week 4

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystSeptember 25, 2020

B/R Experts Answer Biggest College Football Questions for Week 4

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    Cincinnati RB Gerrid Doaks
    Cincinnati RB Gerrid DoaksMike Carlson/Associated Press

    With SEC football making its long-awaited 2020 debut and Big 12 teams playing head-to-head for the first time this season, college football's Week 4 promises to be the most entertaining yet.

    Three SEC teams in the AP Top Five (Alabama, Florida and Georgia) will make their season debuts on the road. There are also three games that pit ranked teams against one another, which is a nice change from getting just one game of that ilk in the first three weeks combined.

    But aside from a significant uptick in games worth watching, what should we be expecting from the first relatively full slate of action? 

    Bleacher Report's college football expertsDavid Kenyon, Adam Kramer, Kerry Miller, Joel Reuter and Brad Shepard—have answers to the hottest questions, such as:

    • Will new-look LSU be shiny or shaky in its season debut?
    • Can Army outrun Cincinnati in an AP Top 25 clash?
    • Which quarterback will put up the most yards this week?
    • And will there be a single ranked team that loses to an unranked team?

    Our experts are on the case.

No. 23 Kentucky at No. 8 Auburn: Who You Got?

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    Bo Nix
    Bo NixChris O'Meara/Associated Press

    David Kenyon

    Kentucky doesn't get much press, but this offensive line is one of the nation's best blocking units. I'm not totally sold on the rest of the offense, given the value of the recently drafted Lynn Bowden Jr. and what Kentucky needs to replace. Yes, quarterback Terry Wilson's return provides hope of an actual passing game, but I'll ride Auburn and happily be wrong if Kentucky is a more complete team than I perceive.

            

    Adam Kramer

    I have been bullish in my support of Kentucky in our weekly Top 25 rankings, and I believe this will be a tough, ugly, low-scoring game. My concern in picking the Wildcats here, however, boils down to two issues. First, I am curious to see what this offense looks like without Bowden running wild. And second, does Auburn have superior athletes in too many places?

    It feels like the gap between these two is shrinking rapidly. That will show here. But I don't think it'll be enough. Ultimately, the growth of Auburn QB Bo Nix will largely determine the outcome. I think Auburn gets a victory, but it'll be tight.

             

    Kerry Miller

    It has been tough sledding for the No. 23 team in the AP poll. Iowa State was in that spot to open the season, and it promptly lost to Louisiana. Then, Appalachian State jumped up to No. 23 before losing to Marshall. Now, it's Kentucky's turn to go down but not without a fight. This is going to be a defensive skirmish in which I'd be surprised to see the winning team put up more than 24 points, and I believe Auburn's recent history of tough season openers (Oregon last year, Washington the year before, Clemson in 2016) will pay dividends here. Auburn 24, Kentucky 20.

            

    Joel Reuter

    Kentucky has a lot of returning talent, including four starters on the offensive line, and it should have a more balanced offensive attack with Terry Wilson under center. The Wildcats will be a tough draw all season, but Auburn is always stubborn at home and Bo Nix has an impressive array of weapons at his disposal for his second season. Auburn by a touchdown.

            

    Brad Shepard

    What Mark Stoops has done at (what used to be) a perennial loser is spectacular. This team is strong in the trenches and has several quality options at running back. But I'm hesitant to say it can compete with the top of the SEC. Auburn has its own set of question marks, but with Nix at quarterback and Kevin Steele leading a defense that has a lot of new faces, I still like the Tigers to win this game fairly comfortably. I'll take AU 31-20.

Will No. 24 Louisville or No. 21 Pitt Win Early Battle for 5th-Best in ACC?

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    Javian Hawkins
    Javian HawkinsBryan Woolston/Associated Press

    David Kenyon

    Is there any program more frustrating than Pitt? Like, every single year. Might smoke a good team; could beat 'em. Might crush an overmatched team; sometimes loses as a clear favorite. Even without star D-tackle Jaylen Twyman, this defense is very, very good. Louisville quarterback Malik Cunningham needs to improve pretty significantly when under pressure, and Pitt should be wreaking havoc all game long. I'll take the Panthers with the full understanding that it may backfire spectacularly.

            

    Adam Kramer

    The good news for Louisville is that the team it's playing does not have nearly as many offensive weapons as the team it played last Saturday. The bad news is the Cardinals defense was woeful, and Pittsburgh should be salivating at this opportunity.

    Still, Pitt didn't exactly overwhelm Syracuse. The small point spread here speaks volumes to the unknowns for both teams. But it does feel like the best individual unit in this game is that Pittsburgh defense, led by a superb defensive front. And I like that to be the difference in a low-scoring Panthers victory.

              

    Kerry Miller

    This should be a less attractive version of Kentucky-Auburn. Louisville is more than capable of putting up points, but Pittsburgh has had the stingiest defense in the nation thus far, allowing just 2.73 yards per play and 10 total points. But even against a lackluster Cardinals defense, will the Panthers be able to muster up enough offense? Pitt could be a legitimate contender in the ACC if this is the year Kenny Pickett becomes more than just a game manager. I like the Panthers in a 23-20 type of nail-biter.

            

    Joel Reuter

    The Pitt defense will be the X-factor in this game. It pitched a shutout against overmatched Austin Peay and held Syracuse to 10 points and 171 total yards last week. The high-powered Louisville offense is a different animal entirely, but the Panthers should be able to come up with enough key stops to improve to 3-0 on the year.

            

    Brad Shepard

    Louisville's defense is soft, but Pittsburgh's offense is weak. In this scenario, I'll take the team I'm most confident will be able to post points with its star athletes. That's got to be Scott Satterfield's Cardinals, led by the trio of Malik Cunningham, Javian Hawkins and Tutu Atwell. I thought Louisville would be better than Miami last week, and the Hurricanes made me look silly. But I think that was a wake-up call. U of L will have a nice rebound game this week in a grind-it-out win. Although, the Panthers could prove me wrong two weeks in a row.

Does No. 22 Army Pull Off the Road Upset of No. 14 Cincinnati?

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    Sandon McCoy
    Sandon McCoyVera Nieuwenhuis/Associated Press

    David Kenyon

    Absolutely brilliant start for Army, rolling Middle Tennessee 42-0 and Louisiana-Monroe 37-7. So far, the Black Knights have surrendered just 5.7 yards per pass attempt. That transitions nicely into my biggest concern for Cincinnati: Desmond Ridder's efficiency. Last year, he averaged no better than 6.7 yards in his last six appearances. I'll give Ridder the benefit of the doubt while primarily trusting UC's stout defense, though.

            

    Adam Kramer

    This is the most intriguing game of the weekend. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. The double-digit point spread would argue against my claim, although it's hard to gauge exactly how good these teams are given the results. 

    But I like Army. Not just to cover but to win outright. Cincinnati might kick it into overdrive and just obliterate this prediction. But I love the balance I've seen from Army thus far and am willing to ride with the upset pick to back it up.

    Please delete this section if Cincinnati wins by two scores. Thanks in advance.

             

    Kerry Miller

    I like the Black Knights to get the W. Excluding running out the clock at the end of the 42-0 win over Middle Tennessee, Army gained at least 40 yards on each of its first nine possessions of the season. While many offenses have struggled to get into a groove over the past few weeks, Army's triple-option is firing on all cylinders. Cincinnati's defense is a whole heck of a lot better than those of MTSU and ULM, but Army's defense has been quite stout thus far, too. Army 28, Cincinnati 24.

            

    Joel Reuter

    The Black Knights have piled up 776 rushing yards through two games with their triple-option attack, outscoring Middle Tennessee and Louisiana-Monroe by a 79-7 margin. However, those rushing lanes won't be as wide against a Cincinnati defense that ranked 44th in the nation against the run last season. A couple of early scores from the Bearcats should put things out of reach for an Army squad that will struggle playing from behind.

            

    Brad Shepard

    This is the biggest tossup game of the week for me. What do you make of Army after such a strong start? Are the Black Knights the real deal, or have they just benefited from facing awful opponents? It's probably a little of both. But Luke Fickell is one of the least-discussed great coaches in the country, and the Bearcats are fundamentally sound on defense and sneaky-good on offense. Since this game is in Cincy, I'm going to take the Bearcats. But it will be very close.

Over/Under: Alabama, Florida and Georgia Win by Combined Margin of 69.5 Points?

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    Kyle Pitts
    Kyle PittsJohn Raoux/Associated Press

    David Kenyon

    I'll go a little bit over. Alabama and Georgia are in a different world than Missouri and Arkansas, respectively. I'm expecting at least 28-point margins in both of those matchups, meaning the over hits if Florida wins by two touchdowns. That should happen, though I'm curious to watch Lane Kiffin's debut in Oxford. Not expecting an upset by any means, but the offense might be dangerous if a couple more receivers emerge alongside Elijah Moore. The talent is there; will it show immediately?

            

    Adam Kramer

    Give me the over. Alabama and Georgia are hovering around four-touchdown favorites against Missouri and Arkansas, respectively. Florida, meanwhile, is a two-touchdown favorite against Ole Miss. That game feels like it could be close, although Florida might take that next step this year and make this commentary moot.

    Either way, I am feeling the chalk. Alabama's offense is going to stay exceptional, and I could see Nick Saban's team winning by seven touchdowns. I could also see Georgia winning by 30 points. (I am so, so sorry, Arkansas fans.) And while I am excited for the Lane Kiffin era at Ole Miss, I think the Gators deliver a double-digit win.

            

    Kerry Miller

    Got to go with the over. All three of those road favorites should win by roughly three touchdowns, and you just know one of those games is going to get out of hand for some sort of 56-17 blowout. I hope it's the Alabama game that gets ugly, because I want to see a lot of true freshman QB Bryce Young and redshirt freshman RB Trey Sanders this weekend.

            

    Joel Reuter

    Over, and there's a chance that Alabama and Georgia won't even need Florida's help on this one. Both teams open their 2020 seasons on the road, but Missouri and Arkansas stand no chance of slowing down either high-powered offense or moving the ball against those stacked defenses. The Florida vs. Ole Miss game will be more competitive but should still be a comfortable double-digit win for the Gators.

             

    Brad Shepard

    The Crimson Tide are going to be able to name their number against Missouri, but this will give Nick Saban some reps to work with younger guys. Alabama is going to win by 30. Georgia has quarterback questions that need to be addressed right away, and the Razorbacks are not going to be as bad as a lot of people think. Still, I like Georgia to win the game by three touchdowns. That leaves the Gators, who get Lane Kiffin's opener against Ole Miss. Do not sleep on the Rebels. That game is going to be closer than many think, and I think it's going to be around a 10-to-14-point final margin. So, I'll say under. Slightly.

How Will No. 6 LSU Look in 1st Game of Title Defense?

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    Myles Brennan
    Myles BrennanMichael Democker/Associated Press

    David Kenyon

    How about comfortably shaky? LSU's offseason turnover has gotten a bunch of attention, and I do think it's what prevents the Tigers from making a run at a second straight title. However, they should be able to attack a group of cornerbacks that basically only returns Martin Emerson. While it won't always be pretty—and that's perfectly understandable with so, so many new starters—I'm not expecting a fourth quarter "upset alert," either.

              

    Adam Kramer

    This team was gutted. And I mean gutted. It won a championship but then lost just about every key cog—minus Derek Stingley Jr., the best cornerback in the nation—who made it possible.

    With that said, there is still plenty of talent in the bayou. The offense is rife with weapons (somehow) and the defense will reload. It won't immediately look the same against Mississippi State, nor would you expect it to. But it will be enough to best Mike Leach in his debut. Perhaps convincingly. I'm not sure what that means in the grand scheme, although I don't see LSU falling off as much as others do.

            

    Kerry Miller

    'Twas a fun year with Joe Burrow and Co. scoring at will, but I suspect LSU is going to look a lot like it did in 2016-17: lots of rushing plays on offense and one of the nation's stingiest secondaries on defense. The champs don't have many returning starters, but all-world CB Derek Stingley Jr. and safety JaCoby Stevens will be one heck of a strong tandem on D. And it won't be long before we're all referring to LSU's backfield as the law firm of (Chris) Curry, (John) Emery and (Tyrion) Davis-Price. It might not be pretty, but they'll win the home opener against Mississippi State.

            

    Joel Reuter

    The LSU defense managed to hold Kylin Hill to 34 yards on 15 carries in a 36-13 victory last season. However, the Bulldogs didn't have K.J. Costello under center in that game, and a passing attack good enough to keep defenses honest could open things up on the ground. LSU is the better team and should win by double digits, but Mississippi State covering the 16.5-point spread is not out of the question.

            

    Brad Shepard

    I've ranked the defending champions lower than most because I believe it's going to be very tough sledding, especially early on. There are just too many vacancies to fill on both offense and defense. Ed Orgeron has recruited elite talent to the Bayou, but there are plenty of positions of concern that need stability. Lining up against Mike Leach in his first game at Mississippi State is an extremely dangerous matchup. The Tigers are going to win, but it's going to be sloppy at times. You'll want to watch.

Will There Be Any Unranked-over-Ranked Upsets This Week?

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    Chuba Hubbard
    Chuba HubbardBrody Schmidt/Associated Press

    David Kenyon

    If Spencer Sanders is out, West Virginia over Oklahoma State is pretty straightforward. Without him last week, it took a spectacular defensive day and Tulsa constantly self-destructing to bail out the Pokes. Aside from that game, though, I don't believe so. Tennessee's trip to South Carolina is worth monitoring, but I'll trust the Vols defense to carry the team.

             

    Adam Kramer

    Yes. I'll take NC State over Virginia Tech. Not exactly an upset that's going to rile up the readers, but it would be an upset nonetheless.

    NC State snuck past Wake Forest 45-42, which is not the most encouraging detail in picking an underdog. I did, however, like what I saw from the Wolfpack offense. In particular, the 270 rushing yards. Ricky Person Jr. and Zonovan Knight both almost ran for 100 yards, and that's the combo I'm backing.

    This is Virginia Tech's first game, which makes it tough to handicap. It also probably gives an advantage to the opponent with one game under its belt in a bizarre year. I'll say NC State 34, Virginia Tech 31.

            

    Kerry Miller

    It's extremely unusual for me to answer "no" to this question, but I just don't see it this week. The two likeliest candidates are No. 16 Tennessee at South Carolina (almost always a close game) and No. 15 Oklahoma State vs. West Virginia (Cowboys looked awful this past weekend). I like both ranked teams to eke out a win, though.

            

    Joel Reuter

    Oklahoma State struggled to pull out a 16-7 victory over Tulsa last week after starting quarterback Spencer Sanders was sidelined in the first quarter with an ankle injury. If he's unable to go or is playing at less than 100 percent, West Virginia poses a much taller task in the Big 12 conference opener. The Mountaineers racked up 624 yards in a 56-10 victory over Eastern Kentucky, and they played the Cowboys tough last season, even in the midst of a 5-7 campaign.

            

    Brad Shepard

    If Sanders doesn't play against West Virginia, the Mountaineers are going to upset Oklahoma State. That offense looked atrocious a week ago against Tulsa, and Neal Brown's team may have a better second season than expected in Morgantown. This would be the jump-start they need. If Sanders plays and looks like himself, though, the Cowboys are going to win.

    No. 16 Tennessee at South Carolina is a tossup, and with the way the Vols opened last year against Georgia State, nothing is out of the question. UT should win, though.

    I also think North Carolina State could upset No. 20 Virginia Tech in what is the latter squad's first game of the season.

Who Throws for the Most Yards in Week 4: Spencer Rattler or the Field?

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    Spencer Rattler
    Spencer RattlerSue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    David Kenyon

    I'll take the field, though Kansas State's secondary did not play anywhere near my expectations in the loss to Arkansas State. The Red Wolves racked up 330 yards and five touchdowns through the air. Call it stubbornness for now, but I am confident Kansas State is much better defensively than it showed in the opener. (Oklahoma still wins handily, though.)

             

    Adam Kramer

    Pretty wild that we're having this conversation after Spencer Rattler made one start against an inferior opponent. That Oklahoma offensive machine is relentless. But I will somewhat reluctantly take the field, because we have options.

    I think Sam Ehlinger could throw for 400 yards against Texas Tech. Alan Bowman, Texas Tech's starter, could also be the winner here. He threw for 430 yards in his team's first game. But the one I really like is UCF's Dillon Gabriel going up against East Carolina. If he plays long enough, that could get ugly.

            

    Kerry Miller

    Rattler is going to get his. Oklahoma has had at least 370 passing yards in each of its last four games against Kansas State, and that Wildcats secondary was particularly awful in the season opener against Arkansas State. But considering a bet on the field gives me Sam Ehlinger against Texas Tech, Dillon Gabriel against East Carolina, Shane Buechele against Stephen F. Austin and Boston College's new star, Phil Jurkovec, against Texas State, I've got to go with the field.

            

    Joel Reuter

    Rattler. The Sooners threw for 484 yards in a 48-0 blowout of Missouri State in their opener, with 290 yards and four touchdowns coming from Rattler before he took a seat on the bench. Meanwhile, the Kansas State secondary allowed 330 passing yards and five passing touchdowns in a 35-31 loss to Arkansas State. This one should be just competitive enough to keep Rattler in the game for the duration, which should mean a 400-yard day through the air.

            

    Brad Shepard

    The field. I love UCF phenom Dillon Gabriel going up against East Carolina, and it's going to be fun watching Phil Jurkovec at Boston College. The Notre Dame transfer could put up some big numbers this season. And even though it's against LSU's vaunted secondary, K.J. Costello is going to light up box scores in Mike Leach's offense. So there are a lot of options who could have more than Rattler. But, man, am I excited to watch him play again.

Is The U Back?

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    Brevin Jordan
    Brevin JordanPhelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    David Kenyon

    Not to the level that being "back" truly describes. Defense defined those dominant Miami teams, and I am very concerned about this back seven—particularly in pass coverage. When the defensive line didn't generate pressure, both UAB and Louisville picked apart the Miami secondary. Fortunately for the 'Canes, this offense is seemingly capable of scoring 30-plus points on a consistent basis. That can get them past bad teams, but "back" means competing with Clemson. I'm not jumping to that conclusion.

              

    Adam Kramer

    Man, I hope so. Seriously, I do. But let's be clear. The U that we're talking about probably will never come back. It was arguably the deepest collegiate team ever and one of the greatest dynasties the sport has seen. Even if Miami becomes an annual contender in the ACC, I'm not sure we will ever see it recreate what we saw for all those years at the turn of the millennium. Those rosters were just consistently absurd. That's what I think about when I hear "The U."

    But Miami may be on to something here, and that makes me happy. It's too early to know how that explosiveness will translate over the course of a full season, but it's hard not to at least be curious and intrigued by the growth. D'Eriq King was his old self at QB. Cam'Ron Harris was explosive for the second consecutive game. The wideouts and tight ends looked like matchup nightmares. There was a lot to like, but it was one game.

    I like Miami this week against Florida State. The next game, against Clemson, is where we may need to revisit this question if the Hurricanes play well once again.

            

    Kerry Miller

    Not yet, but I think I already like this Miami team better than the one that started 10-0 in 2017. We already knew King was a star from his days at Houston. Harris is the best running back Miami has had since Duke Johnson, and his backup, Jaylan Knighton, is an exciting bundle of freshman potential. And having a reliable kicker in FIU transfer Jose Borregales is a nice change of pace.

    But the defense has a lot of room for improvement, and these receivers (aside from Brevin Jordan) sure have dropped a lot of passes in the first two weeks. Major step in the right direction, though, and I'm ready for even more Miami buzz after the 'Canes drill Florida State this weekend.

            

    Joel Reuter

    We'll find out soon when they head to Death Valley to take on Clemson on Oct. 10, but the Hurricanes certainly look like the real deal after a convincing road win over Louisville. King has breathed new life into the passing game, and Harris is averaging a staggering 10.3 yards per carry. They should cruise past Florida State this week, as the defense will be looking to make a statement ahead of the Clemson matchup.

            

    Brad Shepard

    Yes. I was a doubter, and the Hurricanes embarrassed me against Louisville a week ago. I will not make that same mistake again. I was concerned about the depth on defense and with the passing game. Turns out Manny Diaz just didn't show much of the playbook against UAB. With King leading the charge, some exciting running back options, a pass rush led by Quincy Roche and Jaelan Phillips and an elite safety corps, what's not to like at all levels? This Miami team can make some noise.