Week 4 Fearless Predictions

Conference power clashes commence as Kansas State battles Oklahoma, Clemson takes on Florida State and Arizona faces Oregon. Get Fearless Predictions for the week's biggest games.

Predictions for every game: ACC | Big East | Big Ten | Big 12 | Pac-12 | SEC | All

Missouri
at
No. 7 South Carolina

Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS

Here's The Deal: South Carolina hasn't exactly taken the world by storm. After limping to an opening night win over Vanderbilt, the Gamecocks have been quietly fantastic in blowing away East Carolina and UAB, but that's not enough. South Carolina has been flying under the radar while other SEC powers have been earning their stripes. The defense has been solid, the offense has worked despite an injury to quarterback Connor Shaw, and running back Marcus Lattimore hasn't looked like the pre-injury Marcus Lattimore. Now it's time to get a little bit splashy.

Beating Missouri at home wouldn't be as big as beating Georgia, LSU or Florida later on this season, but it would show that the team needs to be put deep in the mix for the SEC East title. Even if it's not pretty, as long as it's an effective win all will be fine with the Gamecock world.

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Missouri needs to come up with an SEC win and it needs to come up with one now. It's only the team's second conference game after getting steamrolled by Georgia a few weeks ago, and getting Vanderbilt at home will help, but the Alabama game is looming and the conference finishing kick at Florida, Tennessee and Texas A&M is brutal. After getting by a good Arizona State team, there's the potential to make some noise in the East, but it's going to take a minor miracle and something special to be in the hunt for the division title. Beating South Carolina in Columbia would be a start.

Why Missouri Might Win: The Gamecocks haven't faced anyone yet with a strong short-to-midrange passing game. Missouri is going to bring something different against a defensive backfield that's less than 100 percent. Akeem Auguste isn't back yet after missing time with a leg problem, and safety D.J. Swearinger has been suspended for a game after a helmet hit in the UAB game. South Carolina still has defensive back talent, and the pass rush should help make up for a slew of issues, but Missouri has a smart passing game whether it's James Franklin or Corbin Berkstresser under center. Franklin missed the ASU game with a shoulder injury, but Berkstresser proved he could handle the workload.


Can James Franklin lead Mizzou to an upset?

If this is close and if it comes down to the special teams, Missouri has an advantage -- at least in the return game, with Marcus Murphy averaging 19.18 yards per punt return and the team averaging over 24 yards per kickoff return. South Carolina hasn't had any shots at kickoff returns so far and the punting game has been shaky. Kicker Adam Yates has made just one of two field goal attempts.

Why South Carolina Might Win: Yes, Missouri has a passing game, but it hasn't been as efficient as expected so far. There haven't been too many big plays down the field, and the consistency hasn't been there. Even though the Gamecocks might not have their full defensive backfield, Georgia's was in worse shape and the defense survived after a rocky start. If the South Carolina offense is able to control the game early on by pounding away with Lattimore, everything should be fine.

That sound you heard was the drool hitting the floor this week when the Gamecock ends watched film of Georgia's Jarvis Jones against Missouri. With top tackle Elvis Fisher out with a knee injury, the pass protection went bye-bye against the Dawgs with Jones turning in an All-American performance. South Carolina is about to bring something different from both sides. Jadeveon Clowney has been terrific, with three sacks in his first three games.

What Will Happen: The Tigers have the defensive front to hold Lattimore in check and to keep the Gamecock offense from getting on a roll, but their offensive line is going to have problems keeping Clowney and company out of the backfield. Missouri will hit a few home runs, but the Gamecock defense will hold firm in the second half just enough to allow the running game to take over. The style points won't be there, but it will be an effective and hard-fought win for Steve Spurrier.

CFN Prediction: South Carolina 24, Missouri 20

No. 2 LSU
at
Auburn

Saturday, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN

Here's The Deal: For all the talk about Gene Chizik potentially being on a hot seat after a mediocre 2011 and a rocky 1-2 start, it can all go bye-bye with one really, really big upset win. There are big games and then there are games like this that can potentially define the direction of a program. However, the problem is that no matter what happens, there will probably be an overreaction.

Even if Auburn plays well and loses, the record will still be 1-3 with Arkansas, Texas A&M, Georgia and Alabama still to deal with. If Auburn gets blown out -- like it probably should against a vastly superior team -- then the fuel will be added to the fire that Chizik might not have things on the right track. But if Auburn wins, with six of the next eight games at home, the expectations will be ramped up.

LSU has toyed with teams over the first three games. No, the Tigers haven't been as sharp or as focused as Alabama, but the offense is a machine, ripping out 146 points, and the defense has been more than fine. Along with the Tide, LSU is playing at a whole other level, but this is the first road game of the year and it's still an SEC game -- Auburn isn't Idaho.

Why LSU Might Win: The Auburn offense has been awful. Quarterback Kiehl Frazier hasn't progressed as quickly as expected, and while the running game has been solid, it hasn't made up for the problems in a passing attack that's not getting anything going deep. LSU's defensive front seven should be able to erase Tre Mason and Onterio McCalebb, so unless Frazier can start being far more accurate and far more consistent in a hurry, the Tiger O won't go anywhere.

Mistakes have been a big, big problem with nine turnovers in the first three weeks and just two takeaways. LSU has given the ball away once in each of the first three games and has come up with seven takeaways with four picks against Idaho last week. Auburn has to be perfect to keep this close, and it won't be.


Les Miles' Tigers should have the recipe to top Auburn.

Why Auburn Might Win: Can the pass rush be a problem? It hasn't been special so far, but it's been good enough to provide steady pressure into the backfield and be disruptive. LSU's offensive line is one of the best in college football, but it hasn't been a rock in pass protection and will occasionally get Zach Mettenberger popped. LSU hasn't needed to unleash the passing game yet, and while it has been efficient and effective, it hasn't had to make any big plays when the pressure is on.

Auburn has to come up with something special from some unlikely sources. McCalebb has been terrific on kickoff returns, and Cody Parkey has been excellent in nailing all six of his field goal attempts. The special teams have to somehow be better than the great LSU special teams, the defensive front has to hold up against the power running game, and more than anything else, the Tigers need to get a stunning performance from Frazier.

What Will Happen: Auburn will play well ... for about 20 minutes. The home team Tigers will hang around and make the road team Tigers look bad for a little while with the pass rush coming up with a good start, and then reality and the LSU running game will set in. Kenny Hilliard will run for 150 yards and the floodgates will open in the second half.

CFN Prediction: LSU 38, Auburn 16

No. 15 Kansas State
at
No. 6 Oklahoma

Saturday, 7 p.m. ET, FOX

Here's The Deal: The fun of the high-octane, improved Big 12 is that there's now a fun and wild matchup each and every week, and with the possible exception of Texas vs. Oklahoma, there probably won't be any one definitive Game of the Year. Kansas State and Oklahoma is one candidate, and while neither team can win the Big 12 title this weekend, one could certainly lose it.

For all the good things Kansas State has done since the start of its somewhat stunning resurgence last season, there hasn't been the one huge signature moment to take the program to a higher level of respect. The 2011 team managed to come up with a slew of nice wins over several good teams on the way to a 10-2 regular season, but at 7-0 and with the spotlight on, the Wildcats were demolished by Oklahoma, 58-17. With an obliteration of Miami and easy wins over Missouri State and North Texas, everything is working for an improved Kansas State team in 2012. With winnable games against Kansas and Iowa State up next, a win over OU for the first time since the stunning 2003 Big 12 championship romp might set the table for a huge showdown against West Virginia in a few weeks.

While this might be a better Kansas State team, Oklahoma is a wild card. It has the talent and it has the upside and potential to be special, but it has to be able to put it all together like Kansas State has done over the first part of the season. The Sooners were rocky in the opener against UTEP and had no problems against Florida A&M, but there's a national wait-and-see attitude for a team that has to get over a few potentially fatal flaws.

Why Kansas State Might Win: It's all about doing the little things right. Kansas State is second in the nation in fewest penalties committed, getting flagged a mere five times in three games. The offense is seventh in the country in third-down conversion percentage and the team is 24th in the nation in turnover margin. Along with the solid play on both sides of the ball, the special teams are terrific, leading the nation in punt returns and seventh in kickoff returns. Kansas State isn't going to beat itself.

Defensively, the line has done a decent job of getting to the quarterback and a strong job of getting behind the line. OU's front five has been a disaster in pass protection, allowing three sacks to both UTEP and Florida A&M. Kansas State should pin its ears back and be on top of Sooners quarterback Landry Jones for most of the night unless ...


Collin Klein leads Kansas State into one of the biggest games of the Big 12 season.

Why Oklahoma Might Win: ... Jones gets the short-to-midrange passing game working. The Kansas State pass defense has been a sticky spot so far with North Texas quarterback Derek Thompson completing 25-of-28 passes for 208 yards and a score last week, and with Miami quarterbacks -- despite the pressure -- completing 21-of-28 throws for 222 yards and a touchdown. Missouri State threw for 323 yards in the blowout loss. Jones might not be able to hit on much deep right away, but the underneath plays will be there all game long. His receiving corps should be able to make things happen on the move.

Defensively, coordinator Mike Stoops has had two weeks to prepare for Wildcats quarterback Collin Klein. It's not that hard in theory -- stop Klein from running and stop the Kansas State offense. This is a tough OU defense that's been more than fine over the first two weeks against mediocre teams. The defensive front might be a bit thin, but the back seven should be a rock and should keep Klein's running to a minimum.

What Will Happen: You don't give the Stoops brothers two weeks to prepare for a one-dimensional offense. Oklahoma has major issues on the lines and there are concerns about consistency on both sides of the ball, but the defense will keep Klein in check and there will be just enough offensive explosion early on to make the Wildcats chase and get out of their comfort zone.

CFN Prediction: Oklahoma 34, Kansas State 17

No. 18 Michigan
at
No. 11 Notre Dame

Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET, NBC

Here's The Deal: Is there any chance that this can be nearly as good as last year's 35-31 classic? The Wolverines beat Notre Dame last season in, arguably, the best game of 2011 and have won five of the last six games in the rivalry. But this year the pressure is on to not just kick-start the campaign, but to potentially give the struggling Big Ten a little bit of a boost.

Michigan got blown out by Alabama, but that's nothing to get too upset about. However, it took too much of a fight to get past Air Force and the offense was still too reliant on Denard Robinson in a 50-point blasting of UMass. All that really matters at this point is the Big Ten race and the opener at Purdue in two weeks, but a win over the red-hot Irish would be a shot of confidence to both the team's season and Robinson's chances in a weak Heisman field.

There's far more at stake for Notre Dame -- obviously without a conference race to focus on -– because now it's on. Now, after dominating a great Michigan State team there's reason to think really, really big ... like BCS big. USC looked average and soft against Stanford, and Oklahoma has a mediocre offensive line, meaning the two biggest games left on the Irish schedule might not be as daunting as they appeared to be this offseason.

There are still tough battles ahead against Stanford, BYU, and possibly Miami and Pitt if the Irish aren't focused, but if the team is good enough to think about playing in the BCS, then it needs to come out of this week with a win and a big step forward. Beating Michigan State was great, but also beating the Wolverines on the way to a 4-0 start would get the hype rocking and rolling.

Why Michigan Might Win: It's time for Denard to be Denard. The Wolverines aren't getting enough from the supporting cast quite yet and the defense isn't doing its job, but they have the one true game-changer on the field. Robinson has destroyed the Irish over the last two seasons. In 2010, he ran for 258 yards and two scores and threw for 244 yards and a touchdown on the way to 502 yards of total offense in the win. Last year, he ran for 108 yards and a score and threw for 338 yards and four scores -- with three picks -- in the scintillating victory. He's the one guy who can take this game over by himself, and he might have to.

How did Purdue almost pull off the win over the Irish? It stuffed the run and got stellar play from its defensive tackles. Michigan doesn't have Kawann Short and Bruce Gaston, and the run defense hasn't been a positive so far, but the stats are a bit skewed going against Alabama and Air Force. The Irish weren't able to pound away against Purdue and Michigan State. They'll have more luck against Michigan than they did against those two, but if the Wolverines can sell out a bit and turn Everett Golson into a passer, that should play into the strength of the Wolverines defense.


Denard Robinson will hope to run wild against Notre Dame.

Why Notre Dame Might Win: Notre Dame just might be able to pound away. Air Force hit the Wolverine defensive front with Cody Getz, who didn't break off anything big but was able to punch his way to five yards per carry, while quarterback Connor Dietz handled things more on the outside. Alabama simply lined up and blasted the Michigan defensive front off the ball. Notre Dame's offensive line isn't special, but it could be just good enough to establish the ground game early on and take the pressure off of Golson.

But for Notre Dame to win, the defense has to be better than Robinson. The Irish were able to contain the Navy running game and quarterback Trey Miller, but it helped that he got hurt early on and couldn't run. The pass rush has been fantastic, racking up four sacks last week against Michigan State and plenty of tackles for loss over the first three games. Manti Te'o has been every bit the All-American he was expected to be with 30 tackles so far on the year, while Dan Fox has been a solid running mate with 16 stops. The defensive front should hold its own, but it will be up to the Irish linebacking corps to clean things up. It should be able to do it.

What Will Happen: The Notre Dame defense will continue to be terrific. The front seven won't stop Robinson cold, but it will contain him enough to make him more of a passer than he should be to give the Wolverines a shot at winning. The big plays will be kept to a minimum, and while this isn't going to be pretty, it'll look just fine to the Irish.

CFN Prediction: Notre Dame 23, Michigan 20

No. 10 Clemson
at
No. 4 Florida State

Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, ABC

Here's The Deal: The lead in the Atlantic Division. Frontrunner status in the ACC. Viability in the BCS National Championship chase. Yeah, there'll be plenty at stake in Tallahassee.

The game of the year in the Atlantic Coast Conference is upon us, with No. 4 Florida State hosting No. 10 Clemson in a game of national significance. If one team has more at stake at Doak Campbell Stadium, it's the Seminoles. They're home, they're favored and they're pining for the return to glory that has eluded the school for years. Heck, the one-time perennial shoe-in to win the conference title last sat on the mountaintop in 2005, too long a drought for a program of this caliber. But Jimbo Fisher's third team appears to be different. The ‘Noles have disappointed before, and routs of Murray State, Savannah State and Wake Forest come with a law of diminishing returns. Florida State has yet to be tested, but if it passes its Week 4 exam, the hype machine will be billowing out dark smoke by Sunday morning.

Clemson would like to remind everyone that it -- not Florida State -- is the defending ACC champ. No, the Tigers haven't run the gauntlet to get here, but they do own an opening-day win over Auburn on a neutral field. Dabo Swinney's kids took last year's meeting against the Seminoles in a 35-30 thriller, but wins in Tallahassee have historically come at a premium. In fact, it's happened just once since the ‘Noles joined the league in 1992. Clemson will arrive with a chip on its shoulder, still feeling as if it isn't getting the respect it deserves. Winning a game of this magnitude will do wonders for its reputation.

Why Clemson Might Win: The Florida State defense is fantastic, but it hasn't seen anything this month that resembles the Tigers offense.

Now in its second year under coordinator Chad Morris, Clemson's attack is diverse, fast-paced and chock full of exciting skill position players. Tajh Boyd is at the quarterback controls, a second-year starter who has grown by leaps and bounds from his debut. He makes good decisions, no longer forces throws and has a firm grasp on the system. Oh, he also has access to arguably the nation's best receiving corps this side of Los Angeles. DeAndre Hopkins and Sammy Watkins are elite game-breakers, with the speed and ball skills to stretch the field for Boyd. And when the defense is spread out, electrifying running back Andre Ellington gets wider lanes to traverse.

Why Florida State Might Win: Defense still wins championships ... and marquee ACC showdowns.


E.J. Manuel has Florida State in the national title conversation.

The Seminoles boast the better defense in this game. Strike it, the Seminoles boast one of the better D's in America. Even without injured defensive end Brandon Jenkins and transferred cornerback Greg Reid, Florida State has been like the Florida State of old, playing faster and with more aggression than the guys on the other side of the ball. Yes, the competition has been awful, but by allowing 103 yards and a single point a game, coordinator Mark Stoops has his kids playing at a very high level. Bjoern Werner has evolved into a tour de force at one end spot, while Cornellius Carradine is making the most of Jenkins' absence. The linebackers are stout, and the defensive backs play with an edge that'll take Watkins and Hopkins out of certain plays.

What Will Happen: Florida State is back ... for now.

All signs point to the Seminoles taking another important step forward in their quest to return to national prominence. Clemson will quiet the crowd with an occasional long ball from Ellington, Watkins or Hopkins. However, the ‘Noles will sacrifice a few battles to win the war in Tallahassee. Their superior defense will be the difference in this game. Florida State will tighten up once things settle down in the second quarter. Clemson won't be so fortunate.

The legs will eventually go out on the Tigers defense, succumbing to the passing of quarterback E.J. Manuel and a long sprint or two from running back Chris Thompson. With the crowd in its corner, and the offense humming, the Florida State defense will pin its ears back and seal the victory in the fourth quarter.

CFN Prediction: Florida State 37, Clemson 24

No. 22 Arizona
at
No. 3 Oregon

Saturday, 10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

Here's The Deal: Oregon's quest for a fourth straight Pac-12 championship wasn't supposed to be threatened until it travelled to the Coliseum on Nov. 3 to face USC. Arizona, apparently, received a different script before the season began.

Through the first quarter of the 2012 season, the Wildcats have been one of the biggest surprises in college football. Conventional wisdom suggested that Rich Rodriguez was going to be a good fit in Tucson. Absolutely no one was suggesting as recently as last month that the head coach would be paying hefty dividends this quickly. Arizona was supposed to beat Toledo and South Carolina State in Week 1 and Week 3, respectively. Ranked Oklahoma State? Few saw that coming. Now it's the Cats who are ranked, confident and eyeing a program-defining upset of the nation's No. 3 team. If RichRod can pull it off, his rebuilding plan will be on the tarmac and prepared for lift-off.


Rich Rodriguez has orchestrated a quick turnaround in Tucson.

September has been a business trip thus far for Oregon, a program that's become accustomed to lopsided wins and title chases. The Ducks have used their high-powered offense to jet past their first three opponents, Arkansas State, Fresno State and Tennessee Tech. This will be their first true test of the year, and the first legitimate challenge for redshirt freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota. After USC fell to Stanford last Saturday, Oregon can use this week's visit from Arizona to solidify its spot as the face of the Pac-12.

Why Arizona Might Win: The new offense has gelled faster than anyone -- even the staff -- could have hoped.

RichRod and Chip Kelly in the same building is reason enough for this to qualify as a can't-miss event. Rodriguez and his staff have done a marvelous job of installing their version of the spread in such a short period of time. After starting slowly in the Toledo game, the Cats have erupted for at least 56 points in each of the last two games. Matt Scott has played as if he's orchestrated this system for years, throwing seven touchdown passes, scrambling for two more and turning the ball over just once. The fifth-year senior is getting lots of support from budding running back Ka'Deem Carey and an eclectic group of receivers. While Oregon is home to an underrated defense, the loss to injury of safety John Boyett two weeks ago could finally be noticeable on Saturday night.

Why Oregon Might Win: Arizona's resurgence has been nice, but defense has had little to do with it.


Oregon QB Marcus Mariota will face his first big test of the season.

The Cats have been a good story so far, but they're far from a complete team. The defense, for instance, is closer to the one that allowed 636 yards to Oklahoma State than the one that just shut out South Carolina State. Arizona is light on next-level players and is even lighter on pressure, ranking last in the league in sacks. The unit is not a good match for Kelly and his array of weapons. Mariota has performed a lot like Scott so far, spreading the ball around, ripping off the occasional big play and generally avoiding mistakes. He's a phenomenal all-around athlete, as are streaking backs De'Anthony Thomas and Kenjon Barner. Thomas, especially, will take a pitch, a pass or a handoff and get to the edge in a hurry on this defense. Unlike its first three games, Oregon might not take its webbed foot off the gas once it builds a comfortable first-half lead.

What Will Happen: Oregon wants to make a simple statement at Autzen Stadium Saturday night -- nice start, Arizona, but you still have a very long way to go.

The Wildcats are going to make more noise this fall, but in Week 4, they'll be drowned out by the locals in Eugene. All signs point to the Arizona defense getting badly exploited on Saturday night. The unit isn't very good, and certainly not talented enough to slow down Mariota, Barner and Thomas. The Ducks have been a machine on offense for years, plugging in athletes and watching them flourish. Oregon is going to pounce on Arizona from the opening kickoff, robbing it of whatever confidence it took on the flight.

CFN Prediction: Oregon 52, Arizona 25


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