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There won't be any games on campus matching ranked opponents this week. That doesn't mean we don't have two significant showdowns in college football Saturday.
No. 10 Notre Dame will face No. 15 Wisconsin at Solider Field in Chicago, a neutral site that offers almost the same distance between the two campuses. There's also the meeting of No. 5 Texas A&M and No. 18 Arkansas in Arlington, Texas, which will host the matchup of rivals for the seventh time in eight seasons.
The Fighting Irish enter the game against the Badgers unbeaten, but with many questions about their status as a playoff contender. A win would silence many doubters and they'll have former Wisconsin quarterback Jack Coan leading the offense in an interesting plot twist to the story. The Badgers, already with one loss, can't afford another if they want to get in the mix for the semifinals.
The Aggies also are in a similar spot to Notre Dame with more questions than they had at the start of the season. Zach Calzada was pressed into action at quarterback after starter Haynes King went down. He struggled until the late stage of a win at Colorado. How he performs against the Razorbacks will be a better litmus test of how far this team can go. Arkansas already has beaten Texas handily and now gets another big name from its neighboring state. A second win against a ranked opponent would prove this program is on the rise in Sam Pittman's second season.
Clemson's visit to North Carolina State is one of two key games to keep an eye on. The Tigers have struggled on offense and the Wolfpack are capable of pulling a surprise. In the Big 12, Oklahoma State hosts Kansas State. The Wildcats have been more impressive than the host Cowboys, but can they win in Stillwater?
In the crazy world of college football, there are always surprises and unexpected results. Some of our experts offer their forecasts for some unlikely events this weekend.
Clemson's offense can't look any worse than it has over the season's first three weeks, can it? Expect the Tigers offense, which ranks dead last in the ACC in plays of 10+ yards and total offense, to get off the schneid and have some semblance of looking like a 21st century functioning unit that can move the ball. If not, benching DJ Uiagalelei certainly can't be out of the question especially if the Tigers want to be taken seriously as playoff contenders.
Sam Pittman was certainly not a splashy hire for Arkansas, but since taking over the job in December 2019 he has provided the Razorbacks something they’d been missing for years: an identity. As they showed against Texas, the Hogs are a smash-mouth football team possessing the No. 8 rushing attack in the nation. The culture clearly is improved as No. 18 Arkansas – ranked for the first time since the 2016 season – enters a massive showdown with No. 5 Texas A&M. The Aggies have won nine in a row in this series and have the nation’s No. 1 scoring defense, but their offense has been inconsistent at times this season. Arkansas will be able to cause some problems for A&M QB Zach Calzada while counterpart K.J. Jefferson and the Razorbacks’ offense does just enough to win a hard-fought upset.
Notre Dame finds the answer to its woes on the offensive line and finds a way to protect quarterback Jack Coan and create holes in the running game in a huge win against Wisconsin. Beyond putting the Irish back on the map in the playoff race, a win would set up another make-or-break game on Oct. 2 against Group of Five favorite Cincinnati
Games after a close loss - especially to an opponent as big as No. 1 Alabama - are always tricky. Florida could be prone to a big letdown this week and that could be a major concern with Tennessee coming to town. Yes, the Volunteers have looked shaky in Josh Heupel's debut season. They have, however, shown the ability to put points on the board, which will challenge the Gators defense. A spread of almost 20 points seems way out of bounds given the emotional aspects to this game. Florida survives, though it will be much closer that expected and could go down to the final minutes.
No. 8 Penn State has a three-game losing streak against Saturday’s opponent from the Football Championship Subdivision. Of course, it should be noted that the Nittany Lions haven’t played Villanova since 1951, long before such distinctions existed. But even though the two Keystone State programs operate in very different orbits in the modern era of football, PSU would be advised not to take the Wildcats lightly. Villanova is 3-0, ranked seventh in the FCS coaches poll coming off last week’s thrilling 34-27 win against Richmond. The Wildcats’ backfield duo of quarterback Daniel Smith and running back Justin Covington are among the subdivision leaders in several categories. So will the Wildcats’ series win streak reach four after nearly three-quarters of a century? Well, no. But don’t be stunned if the score looks closer than one would expect in the first half – and possibly beyond.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: College football picks: Predictions for Top 25 NCAA games in Week 4