Looking ahead to college football: Week 4′s five games to watch

The college football offseason is long and arduous, but its end is almost in sight. We’re going to take a look at five games you have to look forward to for every weekend of the season. (This is also a handy guide to decide how to RSVP for any autumn weddings.)

All times are Eastern and all games are played on Saturday unless otherwise noted. Note: This week is also a little light on potential match ups, but we solider on with a focus on the west coast.

These games take place the weekend of September 21st.

Arizona State at Stanford (TBD) – These two schools haven’t met since 2010, and a lot has changed since Jim Harbaugh and Andrew Luck defeated Dennis Erickson and Steven Threet 17-13. The Pac-12 opener for both participants, it should be a fun clash between two teams with eyes on winning their division and meeting against in the conference title game. Sun Devil quarterback Taylor Kelly was extremely successful during his sophomore season, throwing for 3,040 yards and 29 touchdowns with an additional 520 on the ground, but I’m not sure he had to face a defense like the Cardinal's. David Shaw returns 8 starters on that side of the ball, including Shayne Skov, Trent Murphy and Ben Gardner, who combined for 20 sacks last year. Good luck, Mr. Kelly.

Boise State at Fresno State (9 p.m., ESPN, Friday) – The Broncos have owned their old WAC compatriots, not just winning every game since 2005, but doing so by double digits each time. But this is where the Bulldogs can get their vengeance: A Friday night showdown, at home, with quarterback Derek Carr and his top two receivers back. Carr, the younger brother of former number one overall pick David, threw for over four thousand yards and 37 touchdowns during last year’s nine-win campaign. Boise is trying to get back to the halcyon seasons of the Kellen Moore Era (they only went 11-2 last year) and they’ve got a shot at stealing a BCS bid, but they’re going to need to win the Milk Can to carry those hopes into October.

Utah State at Southern Cal (TBD) – This game is going to hinge on how much each team’s 2012 bleeds into 2013. Utah State lost coach Gary Andersen to Wisconsin, but they return a really, really good quarterback in Chuckie Keeton (3,373 yards passing, 619 rushing and 35 total touchdowns last year) and experience on both lines and at linebacker. USC’s 2012 was a raging tire fire, and one of the big questions for this season is whether Lane Kiffin will put that fire out or be out of a job in December. The Trojans will have a talent advantage on paper at basically every position but if they haven’t settled on a quarterback to throw bombs to Marqise Lee by kickoff of this game, Keeton and the Aggies might be able to spring the upset.

Utah at BYU (TBD) – Last year’s edition of the Holy War was as memorable as it was ridiculous, as Utah fans stormed the field three separate times to celebrate the Utes’ 24-21 victory. In another case of conference realignment hurting old rivalries, next season will be the first break in the series since World War II. They’ll meet again in 2016 but there aren’t any games scheduled after that, meaning this year’s edition carries some extra importance in regards to Beehive State bragging rights. Utah also needs as many non-conference wins as it gets before embarking on a tough Pac-12 slate, after missing the postseason for the first time since 2002 last year.

Oregon State at San Diego State (7:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network) – The Beavers surprised last year, opening the season 6-0, and in 2013 the schedule makes a 7-0 start possible before an absolutely brutal closing stretch (Stanford, USC, @ASU, Washington, @Oregon). They shouldn’t overlook the Aztecs, who will lean on running back Adam Mueuma (1,458 and 16 scores last year) and an extremely experienced defensive front (SDSU returns their top seven defensive linemen and top five linebackers). We may also know the winner of the Oregon State quarterback derby by this time, as both Cody Vaz and Sean Mannion return after successful 2012 campaigns.

Other games considered:

Clemson at NC State (7:30 p.m., ESPN, Thursday) – For all the jokes people make at the expense of the Tigers, there wasn’t any “Clemsoning” last year. (“Clemsoning,” for those unfamiliar with the term, is “the act of delivering an inexplicably disappointing performance, usually within the context of a college football season.”) NC State will attempt to replicate the magic of their 2012 upset of Florida State at Carter-Finley Stadium.

Michigan State at Notre Dame (3:30 p.m., NBC) – A lot of talent returns to two of last season’s best defenses in a game that will likely be heavy on the hard hits but light on the points. The Irish have won the last two meetings by double digits following 2010’s Spartans victory in overtime.

Kansas State at Texas (TBD) – The Wildcats embarrassed the Longhorns last year on their way to the Big 12 title, so mark this down as a potential revenge game for Mack Brown’s team. K State must replace not just Heisman finalist Collin Klein at quarterback, but also nearly every relevant member of their defensive front seven. Bill Snyder is a wizard, but a successful 2013 will take every spell in the book. (Afternoon Update: Kansas State fans would like me to point out that the Horns have not defeated them since 2003, so here they go.)

Tennessee at Florida (TBD) - The Volunteers haven't beaten the Gators since 2004, and with a new quarterback in the The Swamp against a Will Muschamp defense, the victory drought for Rocky Top could continue.

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