What to watch, Week 4: ACC takes center stage

Frank Schwab

While we're all still trying to figure out the hierarchy of power in a retooled college football landscape, the term "Big Four" has been tossed around in regards to the Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC. Whether the ACC is on the outside looking in is debatable, but the conference is still relevant considering it has the clear marquee game of the weekend.

No. 10 Clemson travels to face No. 4 Florida State at 8 p.m. ET on Saturday. The nation will get a good look at Clemson's playmakers, but they'll be going up against one of the premier defenses in college football.

Clemson is one of the most exciting teams in the nation, with explosive players like running back Andre Ellington and receiver DeAndre Hopkins and a fine quarterback in Tajh Boyd. Then there's Sammy Watkins.

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There aren't many players in the country better than Watkins, who made his 2012 debut last week after serving a two-game suspension. Last year as a freshman Watkins pounded Florida State with seven catches for 141 yards and two touchdowns. The Seminoles remember that, and their defense has been excellent through three weeks.

Florida State is allowing 103.3 yards per game, which is not only best in the nation, but the best by 57 yards. The Seminoles have played a weak schedule of Murray State, Savannah State and Wake Forest, but allowing three points in three games is impressive no matter the competition. Florida State also ranks 12th nationally in total offense -- nine spots higher than Clemson.

Here's the rest of what to watch in Week 4:

• Michigan-Notre Dame never lacked for coverage or attention over the past few years, even when those two teams were mediocre. Now Brady Hoke and Brian Kelly are building up these proud programs, and Michigan vs. Notre Dame (7:30 p.m. ET) is once again a legitimately interesting game.

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This year's game is unlikely to produce the drama of last year, when Michigan scored with two seconds left to win 35-31, but it should still be good.

Michigan's Denard Robinson has a chance to erase the memory of the debacle against Alabama in Week 1 against a solid Irish defense.

• Kansas State's Bill Snyder has done a remarkable job building the Wildcats program, but Bob Stoops has his number. Kansas State tries to break that hex when it travels to Oklahoma (7:50 p.m. ET).

Snyder has held his own against just about everyone, even going 4-2 against Texas. But he has had trouble against Oklahoma, and Stoops in particular. Stoops has a 7-1 record against Snyder over the years. This game should be competitive. Oklahoma is a rather unknown, having struggled a bit in the opener at UTEP before pulling away, and then beating an overmatched Florida A&M squad. Kansas State pounded Miami (Fla.) a couple weeks ago, but it's fair to wonder how impressive that feat actually is this season.

• Louisville held on to beat North Carolina last week, and now travels to Florida International (7 p.m. ET) in what will be a homecoming game for Cardinals quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. Bridgewater has been great this season, with 855 passing yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions. His return to Miami will be a harsh reminder of how he got away from the Hurricanes after committing to them in high school.

• USC's national title dreams are likely over, Matt Barkley is off the Heisman radar for now, and Lane Kiffin is putting his sole focus on making sure the media doesn't ask him pesky questions about injured players. Fun times for the Trojans, who host Cal (6 p.m. ET) in what they hope is a rebound game after losing at Stanford last week. Cal put a scare into Ohio State last week, losing 35-28, and the Golden Bears are either catching a disappointed USC team still reeling from last week's loss, or they're facing an extremely focused and angry USC squad that knows it needs to be perfect from here on out to get back in the national championship hunt.

• Oregon State has played just one game so far, but it was a pretty good one. The Beavers' season opener against Nicholls State was postponed after Hurricane Isaac affected the Nicholls campus, and then Oregon State dominated Wisconsin in a 10-7 win the following week, before getting a bye. While that win doesn't seem quite as impressive given the Badgers' problems in the early part of the season, Oregon State can make a statement with a win at UCLA (3:30 p.m. ET), which is 3-0. Given that UCLA has a pretty impressive win over Nebraska among its first three victories, it's fair to wonder if the Bruins have the best team in Los Angeles.

• Florida has had a great start to the season, winning back-to-back SEC road games the last two weeks. The Gators won at Texas A&M in front of an excited crowd as the Aggies made their SEC debut, and then followed that up with a win at Tennessee, winning the second half 27-6. The Gators rolled up 555 yards at Tennessee and put to rest questions about their offense. This week the Gators host Kentucky (12:21 p.m. ET), which everyone outside of Jared Lorenzen believes will be an easy opponent for Florida before its bye week, which will be followed by a showdown at The Swamp against LSU.

• Missouri quarterback James Franklin appears to be improving and could return from a shoulder injury this week, which will be a nice boost for the Tigers as they travel to face South Carolina (3:30 p.m. ET). The Gamecocks have their own quarterback injury issues, but it appears Connor Shaw will be able to start against the Tigers this week. After squeaking out a win against Vanderbilt in Week 1, South Carolina overwhelmed UAB and East Carolina the past two weeks and looks like a team hitting its stride.

• Duke improving to 3-1? It could happen this week, as the 2-1 Blue Devils prepare to face winless Memphis (6 p.m. ET). Duke hasn't been to a bowl game since 1994, and while a 50-13 loss to Stanford in Week 2 indicates that the Blue Devils might not be able to collect enough wins in ACC play to get bowl eligible, getting a third win this early in the season would be a nice step. And losing to a hapless Memphis team would obviously be a pretty awful sign for the rest of the year.

• There was finally some good news in Arkansas, as it appears quarterback Tyler Wilson will return from the concussion that kept him out last week and play against Rutgers (7 p.m. ET). While the Razorbacks had a tough couple weeks, remember that they did hold a big lead against Louisiana-Monroe when Wilson was knocked out of the game. And while they wouldn't have beaten Alabama with a healthy Wilson last week, that game probably would have been much more competitive. Wilson will make Arkansas a completely different team.

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• Arizona already beat one high-powered offense when it knocked off Oklahoma State couple weeks ago, but the Wildcats get an even bigger challenge this week when they go up to Eugene to take on Oregon (10:30 p.m. ET). This should be a very interesting matchup, showing how far Rich Rodriguez has already brought Arizona in his first year as Wildcats coach. Arizona got the big win against Oklahoma State, but it also needed overtime to beat Toledo at home in the opener. Meanwhile, Oregon has been its typical self, scoring 57, 42 and 63 in its first three games. Running back and Sports Illustrated cover boy De'Anthony Thomas is a Heisman candidate, and quarterback Marcus Mariota is off to a great start as well this season. Oregon might be the most exciting team in college football and with USC slipping up last week, the Ducks are the Pac-12's best bet to play for the national title. Arizona will have to play a flawless game to match Oregon's scoring punch.

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