Expect Vanderbilt to hang with Alabama; the Miami Hurricanes have a very tricky test against Toledo; and a 30-year winning streak might be ending.
The USA TODAY Sports college football staff — Paul Myerberg, Lindsay Schnell, George Schroeder, Erick Smith, Eddie Timanus and Dan Wolken — weighs in with some bold predictions for Week 4 of the college football season:
Vanderbilt won’t beat Alabama, but Derek Mason’s defense will provide a blueprint. There may not be a better defensive coach in college football than the former Stanford coordinator, who has the Commodores in the thick of the chase for an East Division title. The issue is simply talent: Alabama dwarfs Vanderbilt in this category, so a win seems hard (if not impossible) to pull off.
But Mason will have his defense ready to go. The lingering impact of Saturday’s game may be in how Vanderbilt’s game plan will give the Crimson Tide’s biggest rivals — say, an LSU or Auburn — a schematic for stopping Jalen Hurts and the Crimson Tide offense.
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Vanderbilt keeps it close with Alabama… through three quarters. Yes, I’m a believer in the ‘Dores, who have started the season 3-0 and will now play host to the perennial powerhouse Alabama. The Tide, of course, are used to raucous environments but one thing Nick Saban & Co. haven’t been treated to is a Derek Mason defense at its best.
Vanderbilt is No. 1 in the nation in total defense, allowing just 198.3 yards per game. What’s more, Mason has a history of bottling up dynamic opposing QBs, dating back to his days as Stanford’s defensive coordinator when the Cardinal locked up Heisman winner Marcus Mariota. The Tide will get rolling eventually, but not before Vanderbilt scares Jalen Hurts and his teammates a little.
Nov. 15,1986. That’s the last time Kentucky beat Florida in football. But on Saturday in Lexington, a 30-game losing streak ends as Kentucky finally gets the Gators.
The beginning of conference play starts to separate pretenders and contenders. Games have more emotions, and opponents are more familiar with your positives and negatives. Four of the top six teams in the poll go on the road to face unbeaten foes — Alabama (Vanderbilt), Penn State (Iowa), Southern California (California) and Washington (Colorado). Each of the quartet are favored by more than 10 points.
But their trips are not going to be easy. It wouldn’t be a shock for all of the games to be contested into the fourth quarter. The best chance of the upset comes from the Buffaloes, who have been overlooked this season. There’s some extra motivation, too, after a lopsided loss to the Huskies in the Pac-12 championship game.
If you enjoyed that Memphis-UCLA shootout last week in the early television window, make sure you come back for the sequel in the same time slot when Texas Tech visits Houston.
The ingredients are there. Both like to sling the ball around. The Red Raiders do it more than anyone else with 992 passing yards in two games with Nic Shimonek at the controls. But they give up their share of yards and points as well, and Cougars’ QB Kyle Allen has hit on 56 of his 65 pass attempts through two games for a stellar.862 completion percentage. The over/under will likely be a three-digit number. We won’t offer wagering advice, but we’ll just say enjoy the ride.
As Miami (Fla.) returns to the field after Hurricane Irma, which severely disrupted the team’s routine (not to mention people’s lives), it’s really unfortunate that they have to play a very tricky opponent like Toledo. While I’m sure Miami will play with a lot of emotion, the Hurricanes better be ready to score a lot of points because Jason Candle and his offense is going to get theirs on Saturday.
Now, the Rockets will also give up plenty of points — Toledo comes off a 54-51 win last Saturday against Tulsa — but I wonder whether Miami will really be in rhythm having not played a game since Sept. 2 against Bethune-Cookman. Will Miami’s players be in game condition? Is the offense far enough along under Malik Rosier to win a shootout? I have my doubts. This feels like the stars aligning for Toledo and Candle, who could become one of the nation’s hot young coaches.
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