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Who'll win Week 4's biggest games?

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Week 3 of the college football season brought us the most hyped game in some time — No. 1 Alabama and No. 6 Texas A&M — and it was well worth the wait.

Week 4 doesn't offer any singular game with that type of buzz, but it does give us a compelling slate with quality games across different conferences.

From South Bend to the SEC to the Holy War, we cover it all in this week's Fearless Predictions.

Check out CollegeFootballNews.com for more on this week's games.

Michigan State at No. 22 Notre Dame

Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, NBC

 

Why You Should Give A Hoot: If the Michigan game told us anything about Notre Dame – which it might not have been considering the clunker the Wolverines came up with against Akron – then this truly might be a revelation moment.

Notre Dame sputtered against Purdue last year, too, but coming off the loss to Michigan, last week’s 31-24 battle against a bad team seemed a little scarier. The pass rush still isn’t quite there, and while the passing game has been terrific and the offense is actually working a wee bit better than it did last season, there are still red flags.

If the Irish are going to look that bad defensively against the Wolverines and Boilermakers, what’s going to happen in the next three games against Oklahoma, Arizona State and USC? OK, so maybe not USC, but Navy is looking terrific, Pitt isn’t really that bad, BYU torched Texas and Stanford is still there to deal with at the end of the fun. So if Notre Dame can’t win its third straight game against the Spartans, there’s going to be some real concern.

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Who's going to win the big game on Saturday? Check out the latest Whatifsports.com college football simulation predictions.

Meanwhile, Michigan State couldn’t possibly be a more frightening 3-0. The offense needed Youngstown State to make itself feel better, but it couldn’t get things working against Western Michigan and USF – two teams that have yet to win a game and have FCS losses on the ledger. The Spartan defense is playing at a Big Ten championship level, but a potential dream season could be wasted unless the O can go. With Iowa up next followed by Indiana, Purdue and Illinois, everything is set up for a hot start before hosting Michigan. But the Spartans need to beat Notre Dame in order to keep the momentum rolling.

Why Michigan State Might Win: The defense is the real deal. Yes, it’s put up great stats against bad teams so far, but it’s really that good. It’s No. 1 in the nation in total defense and pass efficiency defense, the secondary is tight as a drum and the run defense has allowed just 151 yards so far. Notre Dame isn’t going to even think about running the ball, making it the Tommy Rees show from the start. Purdue’s defense isn’t Alabama’s, but Notre Dame still had a hard time establishing the ground game and struggled a bit to keep Rees from being popped. The Spartan defensive front-seven isn’t allowing a thing, and it’s generating a terrific pass rush. 

Why Notre Dame Might Win: Don’t fall for Youngstown State; Michigan State’s offense is painfully dysfunctional. There were weather issues against Western Michigan, and USF can play a little defense, but the four passing touchdowns against YSU last week were the first passing scores of the season. The ground attack actually hasn’t been too bad, but the offense doesn’t move, converting just nine of 33 third down chances in the first two games. If the Irish can get up early and make the Spartans press, there could be big problems. 

What Will Happen: It’s not going to be pretty. The Spartan defense will get to Rees just enough to throw him off, and the Irish running game won’t be able to pick up the slack. MSU will get a defensive score and manufacture just enough to slip by. 

Prediction: Michigan State 23, Notre Dame 17

[Read the full prediction at CollegeFootballNews.com]

Auburn at No. 6 LSU

Saturday, 7:45 p.m. ET, ESPN

 

Why You Should Give A Hoot: With one big win, Auburn could rebound from a disastrous 2012, a coaching change and all the expectations after the 2010 national championship season and become a massive player in both the SEC and national title chases. No one thinks Auburn is ready for primetime with a team still rebuilding under new head coach Gus Malzahn, but the pieces to be good again, quickly, are there from recruiting classes put together by Gene Chizik.

The 3-0 start matches Auburn’s win total from last season, and those wins came against ULM, New Mexico State and Alabama A&M – hardly powerhouses even in their respective low-level conferences. Beating Washington State looks better now than it did a few weeks ago, thanks to the Cougars’ win over USC, while wins over an Arkansas State team that could win the Sun Belt and a not-that-bad Mississippi State team have already made the season a success in some ways. Even though it took a late hold to get by Wazzu and a late score to beat Miss State, 3-0 is 3-0. Although 4-0 would take things to a whole other level.

Auburn has given LSU a hard time over the years, but it’s only 1-4 in its last five games in the series, with the lone win coming in the magical 2010 campaign and its last win in Death Valley coming in 2003. But LSU is beginning to have the make-up and the look of something truly special.

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Now that we’re all done with the Alabama-Texas A&M hype, the focus will shift to LSU’s really big games, and this is just the beginning. A trip to Georgia comes next, and games against Florida, Ole Miss, Alabama, Texas A&M and Arkansas are still ahead. However, LSU has all the pieces for a national title run, with a defense that’s improving by the week and a balanced offense that could be the most complete in the Les Miles era.

Why Auburn Might Win: It’s time to test the LSU secondary. TCU’s passing game is fine, but UAB and Kent State weren’t going to give LSU any issues. Auburn might not have a high-powered air show, at least not yet, and it might not be quite doing all the things Malzahn wants. But it showed against Mississippi State that it could come through late, overcome some big mistakes and be explosive. Nick Marshall kept on pressing against the Bulldogs and kept on pushing the ball down the field, and despite throwing two picks, he was relatively sharp. His receivers helped him out with several nice plays, and he managed to keep his poise. Against LSU and in the hostile environment, he can’t get rattled.

Why LSU Might Win: The offense is clicking. The return of RB Jeremy Hill has added yet another element to an attack that seemed to be working just fine before, but the key so far has been an ultra-efficient passing game under coordinator Cam Cameron, helped by the improvement of QB Zach Mettenberger. The Auburn defensive front that did a terrific job last week against the Mississippi State running backs, but couldn’t handle the mobility of quarterback Dak Prescott, doesn’t have to worry about Mettenberger taking off, but it has to be ready to be pounded on. Washington State doesn’t run the ball, and while Arkansas State does, it doesn’t line up and blast away. LSU is about to line up and blast away.

What Will Happen: It’s the 15th annual ooh-my-sides groaner prediction that’s a 100 percent guaranteed lock of the century. The Tigers will win.

Prediction: LSU 38, Auburn 13

[Read the full prediction at CollegeFootballNews.com]

No. 23 Arizona State at No. 5 Stanford

Saturday, 7 p.m. ET, FOX

 

Why You Should Give A Hoot: This is the first really big game of the Pac-12 season. The Cardinal returns home after making a rare trip to the East Coast, beating Army, 34-20. Stanford didn’t accumulate many style points in its first two wins, but flash and showmanship never were a part of this program’s agenda. If the Cardinal truly are the next best thing to Oregon in the Pac-12, it’ll begin to show on Saturday evening.

The Sun Devils won a critical game late last weekend, defeating Wisconsin, but it was a controversial ending that wound up making the headlines. Yeah, the officials blundered, preventing the Badgers from attempting the game-winning field goal, but ASU made a statement nonetheless. It can make an even louder declaration by handing Stanford its first blemish of the year.

Why Arizona State Might Win: The Cardinal offense didn’t locate its rhythm against San Jose State or Army. Things get only tougher with the Sun Devils coming to town. Arizona State plays with the defensive speed and range that’ll cause problems for Stanford. Will Sutton, Carl Bradford and Jaxon Hood all get off the snap quickly, while the linebackers and defensive backs will keep the Cardinal playmakers from getting to the edge. Stanford will have some success pounding between the tackles, but it’ll work for every point it scores on Saturday night.

Why Stanford Might Win: ASU is fast, but Stanford is physical. Sun Devil QB Taylor Kelly posted big numbers against the Badgers, but he didn’t play all that well. He and his linemen will have their hands full trying to keep one of the nation’s best front-sevens out of the backfield. Blocking has long been an ASU shortcoming, and that’s an issue since Stanford DE Ben Gardner and linebackers Trent Murphy and Shayne Skov are rarely far from scrimmage. The Devils bowed to the Wisconsin ground game a week ago. Now, they’ll try to slow down Stanford’s north-south duo of 215-pound Anthony Wilkerson and 226-pound Tyler Gaffney.

What Will Happen: Substance beats style in a matchup of contrasting approaches and personalities. Arizona State is about to hit a defensive wall, a Stanford D that yields little. The Sun Devils lack the blockers up front to move the line of scrimmage, which allows Kelly and Grice to play to their potential. The Cardinal will grind out their first key win of 2013, controlling the tempo on the ground and forcing Kelly into costly turnovers. ASU is good, but it remains a solid rung below Stanford on the Pac-12 ladder.

Prediction: Stanford 28 , Arizona State 17

[Read the full prediction at CollegeFootballNews.com]

Tennessee at No. 19 Florida

Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS

 

Why You Should Give A Hoot: There was a time not all that long ago when this rivalry ruled the college football world. It was Spurrier, it was Manning, it was Wuerffel, it was Fulmer, it was Clausen, it was Grossman, it was NFL prospect after NFL prospect, and it was the circle game on the calendar. Tennessee-Florida hit a final high pitch in 2001, when the Vols visited Gainesville as a massive underdog to Florida, which was in position to play for the SEC title and national championship, and came out a shocking winner. Since then the battle has gone into a freefall.

Both programs struggled in 2002, and then Ron Zook at Florida and a 5-6 2005 season at Tennessee happened, and since then the showdown hasn’t held the same luster. With the Vols hitting a rough patch, they’ve lost eight straight in the series and the last six by double digits. Not to mention there can’t be much of a lower point than getting pasted by Oregon last week 59-14.

The Ducks are BCS championship-level good, but the trip to Eugene showed Tennessee just how far it really is from being back among the superpowers. This is a program that took a back seat to no one just over a decade ago, but Butch Jones is a talented and energetic young head coach with the potential to make everything right. First, stopping the slide against the Gators, and putting the Oregon game in the rearview mirror, would be nice.

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Florida has had to sit and chill on its ugly 21-16 gag to Miami for the last two weeks. The Gators thoroughly outplayed the Hurricanes, but they couldn’t stop giving the ball away. Now, the program that was one of the pleasant surprises of 2012 has lost two of its last three games. With Kentucky and Arkansas up next, there’s a chance to go on a nice run before going away from The Swamp to face LSU, Missouri and Georgia. With South Carolina and Florida State still to deal with, there can’t be any slips against a team like Tennessee.

Why Tennessee Might Win: Turnovers. The Gator defense stopped Miami dead-cold after the first quarter, and the offense consistently put itself in position to score with points in key situations, butQB Jeff Driskel threw two interceptions and lost three fumbles. Throw in the 10 penalties, and Florida shot itself in the foot. WKU is giving it up in bunches to anyone who wants to take it, but Tennessee’s defense did a nice job with five picks against the Hilltoppers, making seven interceptions in the first three games. The Vols are third in the nation in fewest penalties with just six, while Florida has committed 20 sins in the first two games.

Why Florida Might Win: Yeah, the Florida defense really is that good. It’s not allowing a thing on the ground – giving up just 100 yards total so far – and it’s brilliant when it comes time to get off the field. Miami converted just 1-of-11 3rd down chances, and Tennessee, considering its mess at quarterback, isn’t likely to go on too many long, sustained drives. Florida has to do everything it did against the Hurricanes, except turn the ball over. Use the power running game, convert 3rd downs, rely on the tough defense, go home.

What Will Happen: Florida will look like it’s supposed to. The power running game will control the game throughout, while the defense will make Butch Jones bring out the quick hook at quarterback. It won’t matter.

Prediction: Florida 34, Tennessee 10

[Read the full prediction at CollegeFootballNews.com]

Utah at BYU

Saturday, 10:15 p.m. ET, ESPN2

 

Why You Should Give A Hoot: It’s the 89th edition of the Holy War, one of the most anticipated annual events -- athletic and otherwise -- in the Beehive State. Conferences and circumstances may change, but this remains one of the most spirited rivalries in college football.

When last seen two weeks ago, BYU was throttling Texas, 40-21, in an epic performance that made Mack Brown’s job security a topic of national debate. The Cougars dismantled a ranked opponent as if they plan on having BCS bowl aspirations. However, this is the same squad that lost to Virginia in the opener, so the book is still very much out on Bronco Mendenhall’s team.

While it’s never hard getting emotionally ready for a trip to Provo, Utah might have a difficult time clearing its head following last week’s heartbreaking overtime loss to Oregon State, 51-48. The Utes churned out more than enough offense to win, but their D failed to make stops when necessary. It was a rude awakening at home for a team that was just beginning to build some confidence.

Why Utah Might Win: The offense has been transformed, largely due to the arrival of venerable assistant Dennis Erickson. The Utes are averaging nearly 50 points a game, spewing out balance for opposing defenses to try to stop. QB Travis Wilson is quickly emerging into a star, a 6-foot-7 playmaker with five touchdown runs and seven touchdown passes. The sophomore is getting lots of help from James Poole on the ground and Dres Anderson and Sean Fitzgerald through the air. This attack will keep getting better the longer Erickson is around to guide it.

Why BYU Might Win: Whatever Utah does on offense, BYU is capable of matching. QB Taysom Hill is the Cougars’ version of Wilson, a big pile-driver who accounted for 259 of his team’s 550 rushing yards versus the Longhorns. BYU can attack with backs Jamaal Williams and Paul Lasike and Cody Hoffman, the best wide receiver in LaVell Edwards Stadium this weekend. The Cougar O-line absolutely dominated Texas in Provo, obliterating a more talented unit at the point of attack.

What Will Happen: For intensity, excitement and general drama, no Week 4 matchup will be more compelling than this one in Provo. Not much separates Utah and BYU, in distance or talent level. Hill and Wilson will not disappoint in the battle of the Collin Klein knock-offs, driving their teams from end to end. It could be a last-team-with-the-ball kind of deal, with Hill and Williams spearheading the game-winning drive in front of an ebullient home crowd. 

Prediction: BYU 37, Utah 35

[Read the full prediction at CollegeFootballNews.com]

Tagged: Michigan, Purdue, Michigan State, Arizona, Arizona State, Stanford, USC, Oregon, Florida, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi State, Mississippi, LSU, Auburn, Arkansas, Navy, Notre Dame, Texas A&M, Texas, Utah, Brigham Young, Will Sutton, Tommy Rees, Taylor Kelly

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