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CFT Cheat Sheet: What to know for Week 4

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A quick primer on who, what and where to look for as we head into Week 4 of the 2019 college football season.

WEEK 4 STORYLINES

  • After a Week 3 that saw no Top 25 vs. Top 25 matchups for the first time since October of 2017, Week 4 brings three such games, with the most noteworthy being No. 7 Notre Dame — and ESPN‘s College GameDay roadshow — traveling to Athens to square off with No. 3 Georgia in a primetime non-conference affair.  The football bluebloods have faced each other just twice previously, the most recent in 2017 (one-point UGA win in South Bend) and the first coming in the Sugar Bowl following the 1980 regular season.  When it comes to this year’s playoff picture, this game is exponentially more important to Notre Dame than Georgia as the Fighting Irish, without a conference championship to pad its résumé, would have a tough row to hoe in getting in as a one-loss independent while the Bulldogs could overcome such an early-season loss by winning out the remainder of the regular season and knocking off a team like Alabama or LSU in the SEC title game.  Right now, though, the sportsbooks really like UGA as the Bulldogs are listed as anywhere from a 14- to 15-point favorite as of this posting.
  • All told, there are four games that will see two undefeated teams meet, including the one mentioned above as well as Air Force at No. 20 Boise State Friday night (I’ll address the other two further down). Additionally, there are 11 games featuring undefeateds going up against one-loss teams: No. 1 Clemson (3-0) at Charlotte (2-1); Wake Forest (3-0) at FCS Elon (2-1); Virginia (3-0) at Old Dominion (1-1); Oklahoma State (3-0) at No. 12 Texas (2-1); Utah State (1-1) at San Diego State (3-0); Cal (3-0) at Ole Miss (2-1); Colorado (2-1) at No. 24 Arizona State (3-0); No. 10 Utah (3-0) at USC (2-1); Southern Miss (2-1) at No. 2 Alabama; No. 8 Auburn (3-0) at No. 17 Texas A&M (2-1); and Appalachian State (2-0) at North Carolina (2-1).
  • Let’s get this out there right up front: in no way, shape or form is David Shaw even remotely close to sitting on a stool that’s slightly above room temperature let alone a hot seat.  That said, there has to be some level of concern in the Land of the Tree.  Coming off four straight wins to end the 2018 campaign, hopes were high that the Cardinal would again be deep in the mix in the Pac-12 South race.  A sloppy 10-point win over Northwestern in the opener caused some trepidation; two straight double-digit losses (USC, UCF) — the first time they’ve lost back-to-back games by 18-plus points since 2016 — have raised red flags all over The Farm as the Cardinal’s remaining schedule features games against five teams currently ranked in the Top 25, including No. 16 Oregon this weekend.  A loss to the Ducks would give the Cardinal a 1-3 record to start a season for the first time since 2007, and place in serious jeopardy the program’s streak of 10 straight years with eight-plus wins.
  • How has the 2019 campaign gone for Willie Taggart and his flailing Florida State football program?  Already this season, we’ve seen a bizarre hydration situation play out and a four-year-old’s parent-fueled lemonade stand creation looking to help buy out Taggart’s contract, as well as the addition of Jim Leavitt as a defensive analyst a week ago.  Related to that latter development, FSU’s defense has suffered second-half collapses all three games, two of which resulted in come-from-ahead losses and the other a one-point overtime win over Louisiana-Monroe in Tallahassee.  After halftime — ya know, when coaching adjustments are usually made — the Seminoles have been outscored 75-31; in the two losses, to Boise State and Virginia, it was 38-10.  With a home date against 2-1 Louisville on tap this weekend, this is about as close to a must-win game in Week 4 as you can get; if not, expect to hear a helluva lot more (again) about Taggart’s $17 million buyout in the weeks to come.
  • Can BYU keep the upset Mormentum going and make it three in a row?  The football independent went into Neyland Stadium two weeks ago and added fuel to the dumpster fire that is Tennessee football, then knocked off then-No. 24 USC last Saturday to crank up the heat (again) under Clay Helton‘s seat.  Both of those upsets came in overtime, incidentally. This week should prove to be a much tougher test for BYU as they will play host to No. 22 Washington, whose lone loss of the season thus far came at unbeaten Cal, now ranked No. 23, in Week 2.  At least on paper, this should be a close matchup as the sportsbooks have Washington in the neighborhood of a touchdown favorite.

SIX-PACK OF MUST-SEE GAMES

  • No. 8 Auburn at No. 17 Texas A&M (-3½) — If you’re a fan of offensive fireworks, you might want to find yourself another game.  A&M is tied for 12th nationally in giving up 11.3 points per game, while Auburn is 22nd at 14.3 ppg.  Were it not for A&M’s lone loss to No. 1 Clemson, this would’ve been yet another battle of undefeateds.  The Tigers have won two straight and three of the last four over their SEC West rivals, and have also won all three games in College Station since the Aggies joined the conference.
  • No. 11 Michigan at No. 13 Wisconsin (-3½) — Coming off a bye weekend, unbeaten Wisconsin has yet to allow a point this season.  This isn’t USF or Central Michigan, though, as undefeated Michigan is in the middle of the pack nationally in averaging 32 points a game.  The outcome of the third game featuring two teams with no losses could very well come down to the right arm of Shea Patterson.  The Michigan quarterback has been average at best this season, completing just over 60 percent of his passes for 410 yards and three touchdowns; he’ll need to be much better than fair-to-middling if the Wolverines hope to steal a win in Madison.
  • Oklahoma State at No. 12 Texas (-5½) — This game just missed being another Top 25 matchup as Oklahoma State was second in the “others receiving votes” category in the most recent Associated Press poll.  Texas’ run defense, 24th nationally at 87.3 yards per game, will face a stiff test as OSU’s Chuba Hubbard leads the nation in rushing.  Texas’ pass defense, 125th out of 130 FBS schools, won’t get a rest, either, as OSU’s Tylan Wallace leads the country in receiving yards (390) and receiving touchdowns (six).  Longhorns quarterback Sam Ehlinger, meanwhile, will test a Cowboys defense that’s 75th in passing yards per game (225.3).
  • Colorado at No. 24 Arizona State (-8) — Colorado scored an impressive come-from-behind win over Nebraska in Week 2, then coughed up an overtime loss to underdog Air Force the following week.  Arizona State, meanwhile, capped off an undefeated three-game start to the season with a dramatic win over Michigan State that quite possibly shouldn’t have happened.  The winner of this game, the conference opener for both, will certainly receive an early boost in the race for the Pac-12 South title.  For what it’s worth, the home team has won each of the last four matchups between the schools.
  • No. 10 Utah (-4) at USC — Which USC team will Utah face Friday night, the one that started the season 2-0, including an impressive 25-point win over then-No. 23 Stanford, to move to No. 24 in the rankings or the one that fell to underdog BYU in overtime? A win by the Trojans would be yuge as it would move them to 2-0 in conference play already, with one of those wins coming against the preseason favorite in the South; a loss, especially if it’s in some form or fashion a beatdown, would increase the drumbeat for Clay Helton‘s head on a silver platter.  A win for the Utes, meanwhile, would put a conference road scalp on its résumé for future playoff consideration.
  • SMU at No. 25 TCU (-9½) — Whoever expected this one to be the fourth of the battle of the unbeatens in Week 4, raise your hands.  Now, put all your all’s hands down as y’all are lying.  SMU is 3-0 for the first time since 1984, and could match that season’s 4-0 start with a road win over the Power Five school.  TCU has beaten SMU in seven straight games, with the Mustangs last win coming in 2011.  One area to watch: TCU is 15th in the nation in rushing yards per game at 273, while SMU is giving up just 105.7 ypg.

BEST/WORST WAGERS OF WEEK 4

  • BEST: Wisconsin (-3) at home against Michigan.  Jim Harbaugh is 0-6 in games at Michigan in which he has been an underdog.  U-M is also 1-5 on the road vs. ranked teams under Harbaugh, with those five losses coming by an average of 15.2 points; just one of the five was by less than seven and none were by less than three. Oh, and Wisconsin is simply the better team at this point in time, so give me the Badgers and give up the points.
  • WORST: No. 21 Virginia (+28½) at home against Old Dominion.  The last time Virginia beat a Group of Five team by more than four touchdowns? Sept. 27, 2014, vs. Kent State.  In its six-year history at the FBS level, Old Dominion has seven losses to Power Five programs; of those seven, five have been by less than four touchdowns. Additionally, there’s been one win — over then-No. 13 Virginia Tech last season.  The Cavaliers won’t suffer the same fate as the 2018 Hokies, but they also won’t cover.
  • COVER SPECIAL: No. 19 Washington State (-18½) at home against UCLA. UCLA is a dumpster fire that’s on steroids and all jacked up on Mountain Dew.  The Bruins have lost three straight this season and 12 of 15 overall under Chip Kelly, including a woodshedding at the hands of pass-happy Oklahoma in Week 3.  Wazzu leads the nation in passing, while UCLA is 108th in passing yards allowed per game.  You do the math.

HEISMAN TROPHY WATCH

  1. Jalen Hurts, QB, Oklahoma (Last week: No. 1) — In the Week 3 rout of UCLA, Hurts became the first OU quarterback ever to pass for 200-plus yards and rush for 100-plus in the first half of a game. 103 of those rushing yards came in the first quarter… and 99 of those came on the first drive of the game.
  2. Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama (No. 3) — The junior had a career-high with 444 passing yards and tied a career-high with five passing touchdowns in the win over South Carolina. The yards were the third-most in Crimson Tide history.
  3. Joe Burrow, QB, LSU (No. 2) — With 11 touchdown passes in three games this season, Burrow now has 27 in 16 appearances since transferring from Ohio State to LSU; in the two years prior to his arrival, Tiger quarterbacks accounted for 29 in 25 games.
  4. Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State (No. 4) — With four scores (three passing, one rushing) in win over Indiana, Fields became just the third Buckeye the last two decades (J.T. Barrett, Dwayne Haskins) to account for at least four total touchdowns in each of their first three games.
  5. Jonathan Taylor, RB, Wisconsin (No. 5) — Taylor, who was off with the rest of the Badgers in Week 3, has eight touchdowns (five rushing, three receiving) in two games, although his average of 118.5 yards per game is down from his career average of 154 per coming into the season.
  6. Sam Ehlinger, QB, Texas (No. 6) — Ehlinger has thrown 11 touchdowns and zero interceptions in three games while completing just over 85 percent of his passes.
  7. Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson (No. 7) — The preseason Heisman favorite has five interceptions in three games (97 attempts) this season; a year ago as a true freshman, he threw four picks in 15 games (397 attempts).
  8. Anthony Gordon, QB, Washington State (unranked) — In the first three starts of his collegiate career, the fifth-year senior has thrown for 420, 464 and 440 yards.
  9. Chuba Hubbard, RB, Oklahoma State (unranked) — Hubbard currently leads the nation in rushing yards (521) and name awesomeness, and is tied for the lead in rushing touchdowns (seven) with SMU’s Xavier Jones.
  10. Jerry Jeudy, WR, Alabama (No. 10) — After catching 18 passes for 240 yards and four touchdowns in the first two games, the junior had a quiet statline of 6-68-0 in the romp over South Carolina.

(DROPPED OUT: Oregon QB Justin Herbert (No. 8), Clemson RB Travis Etienne (No.9))

WEEK 4 BRAZEN PREDICTIONS
BRYAN FISCHER (@BryanDFischer): While last week had a number of Top 25 upsets, I’m raising the stakes and will say three top 10 teams go down on Saturday. And if this qualifies as bold, Michigan State finds the end zone three times on offense (and once on D), Rutgers comes close to beating Boston College and Cal-Ole Miss features six turnovers.
ZACH BARNETT (@zach_barnett): Kansas keeps the mojo going and moves into a tie for first place in the Big 12 with a win over West Virginia, thereby winning back-to-back games over Power 5 opponents for the first time since taking four straight over the 2008-09 seasons.
KEVIN MCGUIRE (@KevinOnCFB): Two of the biggest games of the season may take place this weekend. Georgia will bring Notre Dame’s playoff hopes to a crashing halt with a lopsided win in Athens. Take Georgia and the points. In the Big Ten, Michigan’s bye week won’t be enough to refine the new offense and Wisconsin will send them home with a loss, forcing Michigan to chase Ohio State the rest of the season.
JOHN TAYLOR (@CFTalk)
: Coming off a rough (ruff?) Week 3, the ACC will go 9-0 in non-conference play in Week 4, which means that, yes, Pitt knocks off No. 15 UCF at home. The other ACC non-conference matchups this weekend are Boston College at Rutgers; Western Michigan at Syracuse; Elon at Wake Forest; Appalachian State at North Carolina; Central Michigan at Miami; Old Dominion at No. 21 Virginia; Ball State at NC State; and Charlotte at No. 1 Clemson, so it’s not like I’m going out on that much of a limb.

NFL DRAFT PROSPECT WATCH
This week, our pals over at Rotoworld zero in on offensive and defensive line matchups in the Notre Dame-Georgia game as pro prospects to watch.  For the entire extensively-detailed piece, click HERE.

Reports: USF quarterback Blake Barnett to undergo season-ending surgery on ankle

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The Blake Barnett era at USF appears to be over.

According to a report from Bulls247 and others, the senior quarterback’s career will likely end at the school after he undergoes surgery on his ankle that will knock him out the rest of the 2019 season.

The signal-caller was originally injured in a loss to SMU last month and hasn’t played since with what was described as a high ankle sprain. He was the team’s starter both last season and at the beginning of this one but was eventually replaced by redshirt freshman Jordan McCloud after several tough performances.

While there’s still an outside shot that Barnett could receive a sixth season from the NCAA thanks to a medical redshirt in 2019, the chances of that happening are always anyone’s guess. He did play in just four games this season but already used his redshirt when transferring the first time from Alabama to Arizona State. He made his way to Tampa prior to the 2018 campaign and led the team to a 7-0 start before the wheels came off for Charlie Strong’s team.

A former five-star recruit who once started for the Crimson Tide over current Heisman favorite Jalen Hurts, Barnett has had a meandering career to be sure but has shown flashes at times with the Bulls. He threw for 3,139 yards across two seasons at USF, completing just under 60% of his passes while tossing 16 touchdowns against 13 interceptions.

Losing Barnett is a big blow to the team’s depth at the position the rest of the season as McCloud has seen limited playing time so far and backup Kirk Rygol is a walk-on. USF takes on Navy this Saturday in Annapolis in a critical game if the team wants to make a bowl game in 2019.

Oregon State moves forward with $175 million Reser Stadium renovation

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While you wouldn’t know it from some of their records on the gridiron, the Pac-12 has been on a football building spree. Just in the past few years, USC, Arizona State and Cal among others have finished off stadium renovations while Arizona and Utah are about to commence some of their own.

It appears you can add another Pac-12 program considering some upgrades too as The Oregonian reports that Oregon State has sent out a request for proposal on a renovation to the west side of Reser Stadium. 

The project, which is set to start after the 2021 season concludes, is expected to cost nearly $175 million and comes on the heels of two renovations to the east side and north end in the past 15 years. The hope is that most of the construction will be finished off prior to fall camp in 2023, though the expectation is that some “non-football areas” will take until the end of the year to complete. 

Capacity at Reser, currently 43,154 overall, is expected to dip as a result of the project, which will include the usual bells and whistles of more suites, a new press box and additional general usage spaces. A new visitors locker room and video board are also expected to be a part of the project, which the school hopes will allow for year-round usage instead of just six Saturdays in the fall. 

Though the Beavers record hasn’t been anything to write home about the past few seasons, Reser has typically been a tough place to play for Pac-12 opponents and one of the more unique places in college football given the setting. The west side is badly in need of an upgrade (originally built in 1953) though so hopefully the program balances the need to create a fun atmosphere with the more pressing issue of having a modern facility. Judging by the pricetag, they certainly are not skimping out on much.

Boise State AD taking very un-UCF-like approach to College Football Playoff

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The team that was the original BCS-buster actually appears very realistic about the chances of cracking the top four and making the College Football Playoff should they go undefeated.

In a sharp contrast to the stance taken by fellow Group of Five program UCF, Boise State athletic director Curt Apsey seems quite content to just make a New Year’s Six bowl in lieu of a semifinal game given the way the current system has been setup for teams such as his own.

“We don’t really focus that much on that sort of pie in the sky, be a part of the College Football Playoff and all that kind of thing,” Apsey told ESPN. “Because we know what we have to do in order to just be considered for that.

“If you have a 12-0 Boise State and, say, you have a 10-2 Alabama. … We beat everyone in our conference and we beat Marshall and we beat Portland State. I’ll be honest with you, I kinda get [selecting Alabama]. I really do.”

The Broncos are currently the highest ranked Group of Five team in the polls and are favored in all of their remaining games this season, starting with a trip to BYU on Saturday. Should they wind up running the table, their most likely destination is the Cotton Bowl. That seems fine by those on the blue turf, which is far from the kind of response that the Black Knights had when they went undefeated in the regular season the past two years and all but demanded a spot in the final four.

Interestingly, Apsey’s stance isn’t quite shared with his head coach — who has a talking point much closer to the one coming out of Orlando the past few years.

“I’ll continue to say that you’re an undefeated team, you deserve an opportunity to continue your season and play for a national championship,” Bryan Harsin said. “If you’re undefeated, you should have an opportunity to play for a national championship. Period. And regardless of perception, don’t care about that.”

Until the College Football Playoff eventually is expanded, it seems like a long shot for any Group of Five team to crack the top four in the final Selection Committee standings. Boise State brass isn’t throwing a huge fit over that fact, which is a welcome change for the team most likely to earn an exclusive ticket to join the New Year’s Six in 2019.

NCAA says targeting penalties down 32 percent in 2019 compared to last season

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Years of emphasizing a different way to tackle in order to avoid targeting penalties might finally be paying off on the field.

According to the NCAA, targeting penalties are down sharply in the first half of the 2019 FBS regular season — dropping some 32% compared to the same time period in 2018. A total of 132 targeting penalties were flagged through the first seven weeks this year, with 83 upheld after video review compared to 171 total and a whopping 122 enforced last season.

“The main reason is that coaches and players have responded,” national coordinator of football officials Rogers Redding told the Associated Press. “We anecdotally see player behavior changing, although we can’t prove it. This is difficult to quantify, but it comes from several (officials) coordinators and me, based on years of experience with this rule.”

The NCAA passed several rules changes prior to the 2019 campaign related to the targeting penalties, including requiring that any targeting foul which cannot be confirmed by video review to be overturned. While Redding noted that there would have been some calls last season that would have been overturned given those changes, there still would have been sharp drop off year-over-year even when factoring in such targeting calls being waved off. Players will continue to be ejected from the game and miss the next half of football if targeting is upheld but a new change also makes such calls even costlier for repeat offenders, as three targeting penalties in one season will force a player to miss their next full game.

Ever since it was introduced, the targeting penalty has been among the most controversial aspects of the game for players, coaches and fans. It appears the message is finally getting through for some however as everybody has gotten used to the changes in recent years.