Picks for the biggest Week 4 games
Wes Huber previews and offers up picks for Saturday's biggest matchups.
Picks for the biggest Week 4 games
No. 9 UCLA at No. 16 Arizona
Line: UCLA -3
The weekends highest set of ranked opponents matches a pair of schools with lofty expectations with each crafting 3-0 records to begin the year. UCLA’s highly-touted true freshman QB Josh Rosen has been given the opportunity to lead, basically, the intact 2014 version of the Bruins offense, sans QB Brett Hundley. The defense recently lost superstar LB Myles Jack and that could actually be a significant hindrance to the playoff chances for UCLA.
Arizona has yet to play against an opponent capable of ably defending their spread option offense and that fact has resulted in an impressive set numbers for QB Anu Solomon. RB Nick Wilson has also taken full advantage of the early schedule considering the Wildcats are currently the seventh-best rushing attack in the nation. Solomon has played well this season, but his metrics display a precipitous drop-off in success at targeting depths greater than ten yards.
Prediction: UCLA’s Rosen has seen a steep decline over the last two weeks and the Arizona defense is far better against the run than the pass. If Rosen is unable to exploit the vulnerability of the Wildcat cornerbacks, we could be in store for a minor upset. Scooby Wright, Arizona’s top-defender, has been rumored as possibly returning for this game, and his presence would push Arizona to seize the victory at home … Arizona 38, UCLA 37.
No. 19 USC at Arizona State
Line: USC -5.5
USC QB Cody Kessler has been hailed as the top NFL-ready option at the position and for very good reasons. The ball placement on his throws are second-to-none within the college game and he should never be counted out from emerging victorious in any matchup. Last weeks surprising loss to Stanford provides some interesting factors to consider for this matchup. The Cardinal squad was able to take full advantage of the Trojans dismal third-down conversion efficiency and surprising inability to stop the run.
As for the Sun Devils, they received a pair of soft matchups in Cal Poly and New Mexico after squaring off with a red-hot Texas A&M roster. The “lesser” opponents have provided QB Mike Bercovici with the opportunity to establish timing with his receiving group and, paired with its solid offensive line, we should see Arizona State’s 43rd-best passing offense climb the ranks moving forward. On defense, ASU is far more vulnerable to the run considering they have allowed 215.3 yards per game.
Prediction: This one promises to be an exciting meeting between quality opponents that are led by supremely efficient quarterbacks and suspect defenses. Despite the home game and the recent loss against Stanford, Kessler and company will present the Sun Devils with an offensive explosion behind per game averages of 349.7 passing and 208.0 rushing yards. Arizona State is simply not equipped with the defense displayed by Stanford and they will be unable to prevent USC from piling up points or matching their occurence … USC 40, Arizona State 31.
No. 24 Oklahoma State at Texas
Line: Oklahoma State -3
It may come as a bit of a surprise to find that Oklahoma State is only favored to win this game by three points, but that most likely means you have yet to acquaint yourself with the exploits of Texas QB Jerrod Heard. After logging extensive time in place of Tyrone Swoopes, the numbers show that no quarterback in the country with greater than 100 snaps can top Heard’s 12.67 yards per passing attempt average. Another trend that has emerged is his ability to accumulate rushing yardage at an alarming rate. Over the last two games, Heard has totaled 35 attempts, 259 yards and three TDs.
As for the Cowboy’s, they have a signal caller of their own that has finally begun to generate some buzz. QB Mason Rudolph has produced a healthy 10.52 (eighth-best) yards per passing attempt average of his own and leads the newly-established Air Raid offense into Austin. Rudolph has led Oklahoma State to posting the nations 16th-best passing offense and is joined by JUCO-transfer and emerging halfback Chris Carson.
Prediction: After Heard nearly led the Longhorns to an upset over California, confidently considering the Cowboy’s as a sure-thing is just not in the cards. While Oklahoma State’s rushing defense currently ranks 34th, scrambling quarterbacks have a knack for working circles around paper stats. That said, the Texas defense has been horrendous (116th-ranked total D), most likely forcing Heard to attempt a heroic encore, but this time facing a high-caliber defense … Oklahoma State 35, Texas 24.
No. 3 TCU at Texas Tech
Line: TCU -7
After the much-reported disappointment and disagreement with the playoff committee’s decision to bypass the Big-12 last season, it became abundantly clear that the conferences schools will be hard-pressed to be selected with anything short of a perfect record.
The Horned Frogs pummeled Ole Miss 42-3 in the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl last season in response to the snub, but began 2015 with a hard-earned victory over Minnesota. QB Trevone Boykin as played as-advertised, but the TCU defense has been the early-season surprise. The defense is allowing 4.84 yards per play and 156.0 rushing yards per game, despite facing SF Austin and SMU following the face-off with the Golden Gophers.
Texas Tech has a reputation of a pass-happy team that provides very little in the form of a defense. The current version of the Red Raiders does not disappoint those expectations with the nations 2nd-ranked passing offense and 112th total defense. QB Patrick Mahomes II has a difficult-to-defend style of play that gave Arkansas fits last week in Fayetteville. One surprising fact about Texas Tech, they will actually bring the 56th-ranked rushing offense into this matchup with TCU.
Prediction: The success of the Red Raiders is very encouraging, but TCU will present their defense with far more than they encountered against Arkansas. Both teams rank in the top-six in third-down conversion percentage and average well north of 350 passing yards per game. The 80.5 over/under should actually prove to be underestimated, but the spread will favor TCU with a decisive road victory in Lubbock … TCU 59, Texas Tech 41.
Bowling Green at Purdue
Line: Bowling Green -2.5
Shifting focus to the matchup of 1-2 schools looking to even their records and, for the most part, offering very little fanfare. The matchup will present plenty of offensive firepower with an over/under of 75 and headlined by Bowling Green’s top-ranked passing offense. Falcons QB Matt Johnson has returned in 2015 from a hip injury in top form averaging 455.7 passing yards per game and 14.70 yards per completion. The offense has distributed the ball between a solid group of wideouts that includes Ryan Burbrink, Ronnie Moore, Gehrig Dieter, and superstar No.1 vertical-monster Roger Lewis.
While Bowling Green clearly highlights the passing game, Purdue failed to display a lasting identity in their losses to Virginia Tech and Marshall. The Boilermakers will face the Falcons at home in West Lafayette and with a new quarterback under center, as David Blough will take over for Austin Appleby after throwing an FBS-high six interceptions to begin the season.
Prediction: Purdue may find comfort from playing at home, but this game provides an exploitable spread at -2.5 in favor of Bowling Green. It is very true that the Falcons surrender 6.40 yards per play and rank as the 114th-best defense in the FBS. What is also true is that Purdue fields the countries 88th-ranked total defense and that will be more than what will be required for the road team to win comfortably enough to cover the spread … Bowling Green 45, Purdue 27.
Indiana at Wake Forest
Line: Indiana -3.5
Another unlikely matchup to see gracing this list, but also another one offering significant earning potential. Indiana fans should be very excited to see their Hoosiers sitting at 3-0 with a winnable road matchup next on the schedule. Indiana is unlikely to offer much resistance on defense with the 65th-ranked rushing and 121st-ranked total defense in the country. The Hoosiers will present a list of problems to their host due to an excellent offense that currently averages 245.0 rushing yards and 312.7 passing yards per game. QB Nate Sudfeld has averaged an astounding 16.17 yards per completion and RB Jordan Howard has exploded onto the scene after transferring from UAB.
Despite opening the 2015 season at 2-1 with a top-25 passing offense and top-10 total defense, breakout QB John Wolford is questionable to play in this game. The teams offensive line is extremely poor, previously unable to protect Wolford, and only allowing the running game to average 140.0 yards per game (100th-best in the FBS). Without Wolford, the team will turn to Kendall Hinton, a dual-threat passer with very little experience.
Prediction: Indiana is very unlikely to even keep a Hinton-led offense from making frequent visits to the endzone, but the Demon Deacons will ultimately be unable to keep pace with the high-powered Hoosier attack. While Wake has lofty defensive rankings after three weeks, they have yet to face an opponent with the offensive capability of Indiana. Look for IU to leave Winston-Salem at 4-0, providing another matchup easily covering the spread, and one that will likely exceed the over/under … Indiana 37, Wake Forest 29.
Northern Illinois at Boston College
Line: Boston College -5
On paper, this matchup clearly favors Boston College with the top-ranked total and rushing defense in the country that will also be playing at home. The rushing attack has racked up 230.0 yards per game and permitted the offense to convert 19-of-40 third downs. Favorable factors indeed… until you consider that QB Darius Wade was lost for the season last week against Florida State.
The “underdog” in this matchup just took the top-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes to the wire, featuring QB Drew Hare and his precision passing (73.9 accuracy percentage). RB Joel Bouagnon has shed one tackle every 5.7 rushing attempts and North Dakota transfer-WR Kenny Golladay has provided Hare with a reliable and true No. 1 option.
Prediction: It is very possible that the Eagles running attack could emerge on Saturday, but they were only able to muster 3.23 yards per rushing attempt against Florida State, and Northern Illinois only permitted the Buckeyes to average 4.38. Look for the healthier team to take the “upset” in Chestnut Hill … Northern Illinois 24, Boston College 17.
Tennessee at Florida
Line: Tennessee -1
This highly anticipated matchup in the Swamp pits Tennessee’s 17th-ranked rushing offense against Florida’s seventh-ranked rushing defense. Florida has finally decided on a quarterback, showcasing dual-threat redshirt freshman-phenom Will Grier behind center to lead a young-but-promising offense. The 3-0 Gators defense is aptly led by LB Jarrad Davis and, after signaling his return to health with a 53-yard interception return last week against Kentucky, CB Vernon Hargreaves III.
On the other side of the ball, the Volunteers are equipped with a dual-threat of their own in Joshua Dobbs who will look to keep the Gators stingy defense off-balance long enough to allow RB Jalen Hurd to find running room. The Tennessee defense is led by superstar-LB Jalen Reeves-Maybin and DE Derek Barnett, providing far more of a force than the statistics might indicate.
Prediction: While the only significant matchup this season from the combined schedule of opponents came in the Volunteers’ loss to Oklahoma, but the interdivisional rivalry will bring out the best from both schools. Florida deserves several points for the game being played in Gainesville and that may just be what provides the deciding factor … Florida 23, Tennessee 20.
California at Washington
Line: California -4.5
The fact that California has remained among the unranked is a little puzzling. The Berkeley defense has actually taken a step forward and the offense can be found in the capable hands of QB Jared Goff. Through three games, the Golden Bears D has recorded seven sacks and turnovers, but did have a setback facing the revitalized Texas offense in Week 3. Goff’s impressive exploits are highlighted by completing 14-of-17 attempts at 20-plus yards for 447 of his 922 passing yards.
Far from forgotten, the Huskies are led by the all-world potential of true freshman QB Jake Browning who, after some struggles in Week 1 against Boise State, has transformed the Washington attack into the 37th-ranked unit in the nation. Averaging 14.31 yards per completion, Browning has gifted Seattle with hope for possible early returns in conjunction with the teams 13th-ranked total defense.
Prediction: This game will be the first true test this season for Goff and also the first to learn if Browning is ready to exchange scoring drives with the high-powered Bear Raid offense. The Washington defense actually held Goff without a TD pass last season in an embarrassing 31-7 loss and we can expect more difficulties facing the physical Husky defense on Saturday. California’s struggles against the Washington defense, and eventual defeat, in this game will finally offer some much-deserved attention paid toward the performances of Browning … Washington 27, California 24.
Mississippi State at Auburn
Line: Auburn -1.5
The Auburn staff has offered public decrees that immediate changes are on the horizon after an embarrassing loss to LSU in Death Valley. First up, QB Jeremy Johnson has been pushed to the bench in favor of redshirt freshman Sean White. The defense has also proven to be a major concern after allowing 270.0 rushing yards per game to begin the season. Giving up 5.65 yards per play is simply not what Auburn fans have come to expect, but they were able to emerge with a pair of razor-thin victories over Louisville and Jacksonville State.
The Bulldogs also bring a 2-1 record into this game and have surrendered a 171.3 rushing yard per game average to Southern Miss, Northwestern State, and LSU. The extreme difference from Auburn’s dilemma is the stabilizing presence of senior QB Dak Prescott and his preferred receiving duo of De’Runnya Wilson and Fred Ross. While Mississippi State does not offer a smothering defense, they have surrendered almost a full yard less per play than the Tigers.
Prediction: The most revealing early season difference between these teams is in their matchups against LSU. The Bulldogs nearly generated a scoring drive at the end of regulation, but their kicker was unable to bring home the victory. Auburn, on the other hand, suffered a truly disastrous 45-21 loss just last week, and would need a complete 180 degree change in approach and performance to see a victory. Considering this will be the debut of a “green” quarterback in White and, even with the changes on defense, Auburn is simply not afforded the opportunity to test the changes in game situations prior to facing the Bulldogs … Mississippi State 33, Auburn 24.
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Wes Huber | Analyst
Wes is an analyst and fantasy correspondent at Pro Football Focus. He's been with the company since 2014, and his work has been featured on DraftKings Playbook and FantasyPros.