There's really not much to see in Week 4. There are only 5 cross-conference games between Power Five teams compared to last week's 10, and last week seemed like a bummer before all the upsets. There are some storylines that make things more interesting, however:
Will Kansas State and Utah be re-evaluated correctly?
- #4 Auburn (2-0) at #40 Kansas State (2-0)
- #18 Utah (2-0) at #49 Michigan (2-1)
Lines/spread: Auburn by 9; Michigan by 5
Notice that our power rating has a bigger spread between these teams than the AP poll, which has Kansas State at #20 and doesn't rank Utah. We think the Wildcats are overrated and the Utes are flying under the radar, and these games may prove both points. But if they do, what will the reaction be? If Auburn beats Kansas State by a lot more than the 9 point spread thursday night, and Utah "upsets" Michigan on Saturday, the pundits will probably focus on how dominant the SEC is and how bad Michigan/the Big Ten is (and whether Brady Hoke can survive the season). We suggest that Utah should get most of the credit, and that Auburn won't deserve too much credit, though they are one of the nation's best teams. If the games don't turn out this way, we'll be the ones doing the re-evaluation.
Auburn 38, Kansas State 17
Utah 31, Michigan 24
Will the SEC throw us any more curveballs?
- #24 Florida (2-0) at #5 Alabama (3-0)
- #21 Mississippi State (3-0) at #12 LSU (3-0)
Lines/spread: Alabama by 15; LSU by 10
After last week the SEC picture shifted into a limbo state where no team looked like a Playoff team given that they're all going to knock each other out. It would take a perfect storm for that to happen but these games could contribute to it. However, the better teams—as far as we can tell so far—are the home teams, which makes chaos a lot less likely. Assuming the favorites win, the closeness of the games will tell us something about the chances of Alabama and LSU to make the playoff; right now we see Alabama's chances as pretty good, and LSU's as poor to futile. Upsets would boost Will Muschamp's chances of staying on at Florida and boost Mississippi State into the Playoff discussion. We're going with the home favorites but figure that Florida was looking ahead last week and will cover, and the Bulldogs will scare the Tigers too. The teams involved all have great defense (and in most cases much less to offer on offense) and that should keep these games low-scoring like classic SEC clashes.
Alabama 16, Florida 10
LSU 19, Mississippi State 17
How does Florida State compare to Georgia? How does Oklahoma rate vs. Alabama?
- #20 Clemson (2-1) at #2 Florida State (3-0)
- #10 Oklahoma (3-0) at #26 West Virginia (2-1)
Lines/spread: Florida State by 16; Okahoma by 8
Clemson lost to Georgia by 24, and West Virginia to Alabama by 10. So if Florida State and Oklahoma win by substantially more (or less) than those totals, it might tell us something about the Seminoles and Sooners vs. the top SEC teams. Of course things are complicated by Jameis Winston's absence for the first half, and the fact that Oklahoma plays on the road. But either way these are very important games for the College Football Playoff, and upsets here would really upset the picture. Last year's scores were FSU 51, Clemson 14, and Oklahoma 16, WVA 7, on the opposite home fields. We don't see FSU as being very likely to take the Tigers seriously after last year's blowout, and see West Virginia giving Oklahoma a very tough test.
Florida State 31, Clemson 26
Oklahoma 30, West Virginia 27 (OT)
What are BYU's Playoff chances? Does Northern Illinois have a way in?
- #47 Virginia (2-1) at #8 BYU (3-0)
- #58 Northern Illinois (3-0) at #32 Arkansas (2-1)
Lines/spread: BYU by 14; Arkansas by 14
BYU is #21 in the polls, #8 in our power rating, and #7 on our Playoff Odds chart, meaning we think they have an excellent chance of sneaking in if Power Five conference teams knock each other off enough. Northern Illinois is unranked in the polls, is #58 in our power rating, and is #15 in Playoff Odds, meaning they need a whole lot to go their way to make it but have a prayer. First and foremost is going undefeated, and Arkansas is the last real hurdle; win Saturday, and they're favored the rest of the way. BYU is already favored the rest of the way, and they're a 2-touchdown favorite to beat Virginia, while NIU is a 2-touchdown underdog to Arkansas. BYU-Virginia gives us yet another comparison vs. UCLA; the Cougars beat Texas by 34, the Bruins won by 3. UCLA beat Virginia on the road by 8, so a refocused BYU should win comfortably. An improving Arkansas probably dispatches the Huskies' Playoff chances.
BYU 35, Virginia 14
Arkansas 38, Northern Illinois 27
Is Syracuse the #1 team in the nation? Can Central Michigan and Kansas both lose?
- #33 Maryland (2-1) at #51 Syracuse (2-0)
- #100 Central Michigan (2-1) at #99 Kansas (1-1)
Lines/spread: Maryland by 1; Kansas by 4
The questions above are tongue-in-cheek, but there's reasoning behind them. Syracuse is 2-0 and unranked in the polls, and is just #51 in our Bayesian/ELO power rating which uses pre-season ratings as a starting point. But in the earliest incarnation of our unbiased Strength power rating, the Orange are #1! This follows an overtime win vs. Villanova and a 40-3 win over Central Michigan. And because Central Michigan beat Purdue 38-17, a better showing than Notre Dame managed, the Chippawas are at #10. Obviously things aren't far enough along to make valid comparisons without prior knowledge, but it does suggest that Syracuse might be a better team than people think; we can probably assume that they should be in the top 50, and Maryland will be a good test of that and provide yet another opportunity for the Big Ten to flop. Meanwhile Central Michigan takes on Kansas, who lost 41-3 to Duke. Are the Chippawas and Jayhawks equally inept? Their ranks in our power rating suggest they're a good match. We'll pick two minor upsets by slim margins.
Syracuse 30, Maryland 27
Central Michigan 28, Kansas 27