College Football Week 4 Storyline Watch: Ohio State-Notre Dame showdown, Harbaugh back, another Prime matchup

With its vaunted “Game of the Century” pedigree, the standards always are high for an Ohio State-Notre Dame showdown.

But Saturday night’s battle royale between the No. 6 Buckeyes and the No. 9 Fighting Irish (7:30 p.m. ET, NBC and Peacock) already was clearly the biggest game involving a Big Ten team this week (even with Jim Harbaugh making his sideline debut in Ann Arbor and Penn State playing host to Iowa in another battle royale of ranked unbeatens) – and it has echoes of the vintage meetings between the powerhouse programs.

It’s the second consecutive year for this series but only the eighth all time and the third time in South Bend, Indiana.

The first faceoff for these storied programs was Nov. 2, 1935 – the first “Game of the Century” that drew 81,000 in Columbus, Ohio, to witness a Notre Dame comeback of 18 unanswered points from a 13-0 deficit in the fourth quarter.

It’s mostly been high stakes ever since – Saturday will mark the fifth consecutive meeting with both teams ranked in the top 10.

Ohio State has won five consecutive since Notre Dame won the first two in 1935-36, but there’s nothing lopsided about an infrequent rivalry that features two of the top four winningest programs (Ohio State’s 956 victories rank second all time ahead of Notre Dame’s 942 in fourth) and a combined 19 championships.

How to watch No. 6 Ohio State vs. No. 9 Notre Dame: Time, live stream, key storylines for Week 4 matchup

Starpower has been a recurring theme. The Buckeyes kicked off their winning streak over the Irish in 1995 with a 45-26 win punctuated by Eddie George rushing for 207 yards and two touchdowns on his way to the Heisman Trophy.

Saturday could mark a similar springboard for Notre Dame quarterback Sam Hartman, who has become a legitimate Heisman hopeful by throwing for 13 TDs and rushing for two in a 4-0 start.

But Hartman easily could be outshined by the best wide receiver in the country. Marvin Harrison Jr. (who teams with Emeka Egbuka to give Ohio State its latest premier wideout tandem) has three touchdowns and a Big Ten-leading 304 receiving yards in further establishing himself as a No. 1 overall prospect for the 2024 NFL Draft.

Delicious subplots also are the ingredients for a potential classic, and this game will feature two notable cases of shifting allegiances.

ND must 'respond the right way' against OSU

Jason Garrett joins the Notre Dame on NBC Podcast to break down Notre Dame's upcoming game against Ohio State and what the Fighting Irish must do to beat the Buckeyes on Saturday.

Second-year Irish coach Marcus Freeman is an Ohio native who starred at linebacker for the Buckeyes from 2004-08 (after turning down a Notre Dame offer) and also was a graduate assistant under mentor Jim Tressel.

Freeman made some waves with Buckeyes Nation when he told Irish fans that he didn’t want to make the mistake of turning down Notre Dame twice (later clarifying he didn’t mean he regretted choosing Ohio State).

“I don’t know if I could say in one word what (Ohio State means to me, but I know I wouldn’t be (coaching Notre Dame) if it wasn’t for those five years that I spent in Columbus, Ohio,” Freeman said.

The Ohio State ties run deep as well for Notre Dame defensive lineman Javontae Jean-Baptiste, who was in Columbus for five seasons before transferring to South Bend in January instead of entering the NFL draft.

Other major storylines for Week 4:

Khakis back in style

After Michigan rotated four assistants through the acting head coach role in its 3-0 start, Jim Harbaugh returns from a school-imposed three-game suspension for alleged NCAA recruiting violations from 2020.

Though he’s joked about being “a new guy who sees things differently” after his brief sabbatical, Harbaugh figures to be all business with the second-ranked Wolverines trying to extend winning streaks of 19 consecutive regular-season games and 18 at home.

Rutgers hardly has been tested during a 3-0 homestand to open 2023, but the Scarlett Knights have looked bowl-worthy with a powerful running game behind running back Kyle Monangai and mobile quarterback Gavin Wimsatt (who has three passing TDs and no interceptions).

Harbaugh still has been coaching the team during the week, and it came as little surprise that some Wolverines (who wore “Free Harbaugh” shirts to their season opener) told that Tuesday’s practice had “more juice in the building” as Michigan’s excitable and fervent leader prepared his alma mater for its Big Ten opener.

Prime meetings

After surviving its latest Game of the Week thriller, the schedule gets no easier for wildly popular Colorado.

The No. 19 Buffaloes are a three-touchdown underdog on the road Saturday against No. 10 Oregon – a spread that seems unfathomable given the millions who stayed up until after 2 a.m. ET to witness Colorado’s 43-35 double overtime victory over Colorado State.

At least the 3:30 p.m. kickoff (12:30 p.m. local) will be more manageable as Deion Sanders gets his team ready for its next big test at home – the Sept. 30 matchup with No. 5 USC that will kick off at 10 a.m. local time.

The Legend of Coach Prime will reach dizzying heights if the Buffaloes can remain unbeaten (and end a 19-game losing streak to top 10 teams) while without two-way star Travis Hunter (the cornerback-wide receiver will miss at least three games after a late hit sent him to the hospital with a lacerated liver).

SoCal access issues

It’s been a surprisingly newsy week for USC, which will take on 1-2 Arizona State in Tempe for a game that otherwise would have merited little scrutiny.

But then Trojans coach Lincoln Riley made off-field headlines by detailing a two-week suspension from practice of Orange County Register reporter Luca Evans for multiple violations of USC’s media policies.

After significant backlash from other local media outlets (and Arizona State confirming that Evans still would be approved for a game credential Saturday), the suspension was lifted two days later after a “candid” conversation between Riley and Evans.

UCLA coach Chip Kelly was bemused when asked about the crosstown suspension. “I didn’t even know you could do that, so I don’t think we have policies on that,” Kelly said. “Part of it for us (is) we don’t pay much attention to what’s being written … I think you’re going down a rabbit hole.”

With Riley trying to guide the Trojans to their first national championship playoff berth while quarterback Caleb Williams aims to repeat as Heisman Trophy winner, managing distractions will be an ongoing challenge for USC.

Spartans seek stability

Though official closure could be weeks away, Mel Tucker seems to have coached his final game for Michigan State.

After a 41-7 home shellacking to Washington last week in its first game under interim coach Harlon Barnett, the Spartans would like to start the next chapter Saturday when unbeaten Maryland visits East Lansing, Michigan (3:30 p.m. ET Saturday, NBC and Peacock).

The MSU defense allowed a school-record 713 yards to Washington, and the offense was lacking nearly as much, notably quarterback Noah Kim (who struggled to complete only 12 of 31 passes before being replaced by Katin Houser for the fourth quarter and the Spartans’ only touchdown drive).

How Michigan State bounces back vs. Maryland

Following a tough loss to Washington, Todd Blackledge and Noah Eagle discuss how Michigan State can rebound against Big Ten opponent Maryland in Week 4, who has yet to lose a game.

“This past week we were off kilter a little bit,” said Barnett, whose team also has lost multiple starters to injuries. “There were a lot of different things that came about, but it’s going to all settle down. I got some things in my mind I want to do as far as my coaching and try to normalize us again.”

History will be on the side of the Spartans, who are 7-0 over the Terrapins since 1950 in Spartan Stadium. But Maryland, which hits the road after a 3-0 start at home, beat Michigan State 27-13 in College Park last year.

How to watch Maryland vs. Michigan State: Time, live stream, key storylines for Week 4 matchup

Other key matchups for Week 4

--It’s the 15th “White Out” in Happy Valley, which means No. 7 Penn State has requested fans eschew outfits with colors at Beaver Stadium against No. 24 Iowa. Both teams are 3-0 with some momentum – Iowa beat Western Michigan 41-10 for its highest point total (41) in nearly two years; Penn State forced five turnovers in handling Illinois 30-13 on the road.

--The Pacific Northwest’s “other” state schools will square off as ranked opponents for the first time in 108 meetings dating to 1903 as No. 21 Washington State plays host to No. 14 Oregon State.

--After narrowly escaping 31-29 at Boston College, No. 4 Florida State will face another road upset threat against Clemson, which has averaged 57 points in two victories since its stunning season-opening 28-7 loss to Duke.

--No. 13 Alabama (2-1) probably has more to worry about (after a lackluster 17-3 win at South Florida) than its faint playoff hopes, but a loss in Tuscaloosa to No. 15 Mississippi (3-0) would be the worst start of the Nick Saban era (dating to 2007).

How to watch Big Ten football on NBC and Peacock this weekend

This week’s featured games are Maryland at Michigan State (3:30 p.m., NBC and Peacock) and Ohio State at Notre Dame (5 p.m., streamed exclusively on Peacock).

Information for how to sign up for Peacock is available here. Peacock is available for streaming on several devices (view the full list of supported devices here).

Below is the announced remaining schedule for Big Ten teams on NBC Sports; more NBC Sports games will be announced during the season (all times are ET):

Sat., Sept. 23

3:30 p.m.

Maryland at Michigan State

NBC, Peacock

Sat., Sept. 23

7:30 p.m.

Ohio State at Notre Dame

NBC, Peacock

Sat. Sept. 30

3:30 p.m.

Illinois at Purdue


Sat. Sept. 30

7:30 p.m.

Michigan State at Iowa

NBC, Peacock

Sat., Oct. 14

7:30 p.m.

USC at Notre Dame

NBC, Peacock

Sat., Nov. 11

7:30 p.m.

Michigan State at Ohio State

NBC, Peacock

Fri., Nov. 24

7:30 p.m.

Penn State at Michigan State (Ford Field)

NBC, Peacock