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College Football Week 4: Five Games To Watch

Daniel Carr-Crawford, Omar Shamout, Michael Katz, Alix Fitch |
September 22, 2011 | 5:38 p.m. PDT

Sports Staff

USC held off Arizona State 34-33 last season at the Coliseum. (Shotgun Spratling)
USC held off Arizona State 34-33 last season at the Coliseum. (Shotgun Spratling)
The early-season college football slates filled with boring matchups are done. This week features four games between Top 25 teams, and a contest that could put one team in the driver's seat in the Pac-12 South.

(All picks without scores are straight up. Lines merely for informational purposes)

No. 23 USC (+2.5) at Arizona State

Daniel Carr-Crawford: Arizona State 28, USC 24 - This will be the Trojans' first major test of the season. The Sun Devils are coming off of a deflating loss against Illinois, while USC is going on the road following its most complete win of the season over a decent Syracuse team. This one could go either way, but because it’s in Tempe the edge has to be given to ASU.

Omar Shamout: USC 31, Arizona State 30 - Last season's matchup at the Coliseum was a barn burner, and this year's will be no different in Tempe. Trojans quarterback Matt Barkley will have a monster performance in the air, though Vontaze Burfict will stifle Marc Tyler and the the 'SC ground game. It could go either way, and don't be surprised if this one goes to overtime.

Michael Katz: USC - This could be the Trojans' biggest game of the year. This is, for all intents and purposes, the battle for the Pac-12 South. 'SC is going to come out firing, as will the Sun Devils. I think quarterback Matt Barkley gives USC the edge.

Alix Fitch: USC - This matchup will inevitably come down to the role of the defense. By maintaining control of the ball without any careless mistakes and unnecessary penalties, USC will be the victor in this battle for the top spot in the Pac-12 South.

No. 2 LSU (-6) at No. 16 West Virginia

Mountaineer Field in West Virginia (John Duffy/Wikimedia Commons)
Mountaineer Field in West Virginia (John Duffy/Wikimedia Commons)
Carr-Crawford: LSU 24, WVU 13 - LSU's defense has utterly dominated the competition this season; they have not given up a single touchdown since the Oregon game. West Virginia QB Geno Smith has taken his game to new levels under first-year coach Dana Holgorsen, setting personal records for yardage in his first few games. Don't expect that trend to continue this week.

ShamoutLSU 20, WVU 13 - We already know it's almost impossible to run the ball against this LSU defense, and WVU's offensive line won't be able to protect quarterback Geno Smith long enough for him to find targets downfield. LSU is the epitome of an SEC team. Dominant, mean and very ugly (in a good way).

Katz: West Virginia - Great offense versus great defense. LSU is clearly the better team on paper, but WVU coach Dana Holgersen is looking at this matchup as his potential "signature win." A win here would propel WVU up the polls, and with the way quarterback Geno Smith has been throwing the ball, I think they will pull off the upset.

Fitch: LSU - The Tigers are a strong team with a tough defense, which will pose a challenge for West Virginia. LSU has the systematic drive to be a contender for the National Title and will overmatch the passing offense of the Mountaineers.

Clemson Tigers football (Jim Ferguson/Wikimedia Commons)
Clemson Tigers football (Jim Ferguson/Wikimedia Commons)
No. 11 Florida State (+2) at No. 21 Clemson

Carr-Crawford: Florida State 30, Clemson 24 - Despite FSU losing to Oklahoma, the Seminoles' defense proved they can stay with anyone. The offense, however, took a nosedive when QB E.J. Manuel was injured. Clemson’s offense looked very impressive in a 38-24 win over Auburn, but Auburn’s "D" ranks last in the SEC. It's hard to see the Tigers producing similar stats in this matchup.

Shamout: Florida State 23, Clemson 17 - A classic letdown game for the Tigers. Yes, they just ended Auburn's unbeaten streak last week, but the Clemson defense really isn't that good. They gave up 27 points to Wofford -- at home.  Luckily for them, FSU's offense isn't nearly as good as its defense, which is pretty darn good. This will be close, but the 'Noles will bounce back after last week's loss to Oklahoma.

Katz: Clemson - The Seminoles looked pretty bad last week against Oklahoma, and Clemson is riding pretty high off their victory against Auburn. Plus, the game is in South Carolina and I still do not trust FSU’s offense, especially with E.J. Manuel getting hurt last week.

Fitch: Florida State - Even though Clemson managed to pull off a win to Auburn last week, it won't be enough to measure up to the Florida State program. Florida State was able to give Oklahoma a tough game, and if they manage to play with the same mentality, Clemson will stand as little competition to the Seminoles.

No. 14 Arkansas (+11.5) at No. 3 Alabama

Alabama head coach Nick Saban
Alabama head coach Nick Saban
Carr-Crawford: Alabama 28, Arkansas 21 - The winner of this game will have a significant leg up in the SEC West. Arkansas boasts the SEC's highest-scoring offense, but against a weak schedule. Alabama has also not been seriously tested as of yet, but it is home to one of the best defenses in the nation. Expect a close, exciting game (like last season) with the score decided by Alabama's aggressive defense.

ShamoutAlabama 22, Arkansas 19 - Both offenses are good, but Arkansas' running game won't quite be able to match up to the test, and the Crimson Tide will prevail in a close one at home.  

Katz: Alabama - If Arkansas had starting tailback Knile Davis, I think this game could go either way. However, they are pretty one-dimensional right now, and Alabama has one of the best defenses in the country. They also have this running back named Trent Richardson. Maybe you've heard of him? The Tide are going to roll over the Hogs.

Fitch: Alabama - This matchup will be focused on whether or not Arkansas can manage to hold back the speedy Alabama offense. With Arkansas struggling last week to pull off a win over Troy, Alabama will be able to come away with a clear win against the Razorbacks.

No. 7 Oklahoma State (+4) at No. 8 Texas A&M

Carr-Crawford: Texas A&M 45, OSU 34 - This will likely decide who is the biggest competitor to Oklahoma in the Big 12 race. Star WR Justin Blackmon will stress the Texas A&M secondary unlike any other receiver they will see this season. However, Texas A&M will likely prevail in this game due to the Cowboys' recent penchant for turnovers, particularly the six interceptions thrown by QB Brandon Weeden this season.

Shamout: Texas A&M 37, Oklahoma State 27 - WR Justin Blackmon is the star of OSU's top-ranked passing attack, but the Aggies are no slouches in the air themselves, ranked 18th in the country in passing. A&M is more consistent on both sides of the ball, and the home field gives them the edge in this exciting matchup.

Katz: Oklahoma State - This game should be fun to watch. Both teams have stud quarterbacks and great running games. It's pretty hard to win at College Station, but I have a feeling the Brandon Weeden-to-Justin Blackmon combination will be too much for the Aggies to handle.

Fitch: Texas A&M - This is an exciting, even match-up between two top-ten programs that have proven their worth on the national scale. Though Oklahoma State has one of the top three offenses in the country (52.3 points per game, 601 yards per game), it will come down to the home field advantage. Texas A&M will rise to the challenge and have an O-Line good enough to keep the Cowboys from going 4-0.

BONUS ANALYSIS: UCLA (+4.5) at Oregon State

UCLA head coach Rick Neuheisel (Shotgun Spratling)
UCLA head coach Rick Neuheisel (Shotgun Spratling)
Fitch: It's the third week of play and teams are starting to feel the heat. The Pac-12 in particular has a predicament between two programs that face off this Saturday: Oregon State and UCLA. The Bruins and the Beavers are presented with the challenge of maintaining the image of having a stable football program, while their head coaches run the risk of losing their jobs.

To both programs, this is a must-win game. In a recent report by ESPN.com, UCLA head coach Rick Neuheisel (seen left) explains, "I think both Oregon State and UCLA are certainly at that point in their season where they need to win, to get this thing jump started."

A win for the Beavers would allow them to stay out of a 0-3 hole, while keeping alive head coach Mike Riley’s hopes of avoiding a second consecutive losing season as their head coach. For UCLA, a win would let Neuheisel breathe a little bit easier.

However, the key to coming out on top will be a matter of having game-changing players. Oregon State will have receiver James Rogers and tight end Joe Halahuni returning, while UCLA will be taking their chances at the quarterback position with Richard Brehaut replacing Kevin Prince.

Winning this game will serve as a crucial turning point for both schools and determine what is to become of their 2011-2012 season and the future of their once-prominent football programs.


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