By Alan Brads
I like to open with a clever anecdote, something to draw you in, but I’ll resist the urge this week, not because I don’t want to, but because I have to embrace some degree of realism.
Nothing, absolutely no introduction I could give, could possibly be even 10% as interesting as the college football matchups going down this weekend. So why even try? Let’s talk football.
Without further ado, three storylines and five, (that’s right, I couldn’t settle for just three) five games to watch in week four.
#3- Turmoil among perennial powers
Alabama, Clemson, Georgia, Ohio State, Michigan – no one looks flawless. With college footballalready seismically shifting, it just makes sense that it’s time for a change of the guard. But nothing is new under the sun. The four teams primed to fill in the gaps at the top are Florida State, USC, Texas and Notre Dame. Can anyone say 2005? Parity is good for college football, and the bigger they are, the harder they fall, and the harder they fall, the more fun we have.
#2- Conference slates get REAL
Conferences spatter intraleague games through early September, but funnily enough they usually manage to schedule their bottom feeders against their superstars in early September. But that all changes this week. The Pac-12 plunges into the deep end, while Iowa travels to Penn State’s white out, Ole Miss hosts Alabama, and Florida State takes on Clemson. Every season there’s a week where multiple conferences gain their framework. That’s week four in 2023, no doubt about it.
#1- The Pac-12 takes shape
I could’ve written a 2,000 word article about the Pac-12 alone this week. #19 Colorado finally faces a tough test in Eugene, with a chance to knock off #10 Oregon and flip the conference on its head with the whole country watching. #22 UCLA travels to #11 Utah for a battle of the undefeated. And to cap it off it’s #14 Oregon State @ #21 Washington State, (the battle of the Pac-2). For those not keeping track, that’s six undefeated and ranked teams playing each other. Good on the Pac-12 for going out with a bang.
There’s too much good football to cover in depth here, and I can’t think of a better problem to have. I wanted to choose about 15 games this week, but I’ll spare the appetizers and desserts, as good as they may be, and just serve up the main course: two honorable mentions and the five best games of the week.
Honorable mention- #22 UCLA @ #11 Utah
Honorable Mention- #19 Colorado @ #10 Oregon
My phone has a split screen function, and I’ve always wondered when I would actually want to use that feature. Well, I found it. This is the occasion. I can watch four Pac-12 hopefuls battle it out on my phone with Alabama-Ole Miss on the TV. It’s just one of those weekends.
#5- #4 Florida State @ Clemson
Forget Texas, is Florida State back? Entering the season I couldn’t see the Seminoles beating LSU and Clemson in the first four weeks. Well they manhandled LSU, and now they’re 2.5 point road favorites at Clemson. It’s early to start thinking about the college football playoff, but FSU’s path clears if they can fend off some Tigers for the second time this season. As for Clemson, this game is about dignity and status. If you get flattened by Duke, it’s on you to prove to everyone that you still run the ACC. Sorry, but those are the rules.
#4- #14 Oregon State @ #21 Washington State
Out of all the aforementioned Pac-12 matchups, why this one? This game means more than the sum of its parts. Yes, Colorado is the hot topic right now, but this game is about something bigger. The winner of this game will be the beacon of resistance, America’s team that represents the anti-realignment sentiment felt across the nation. More than any of the other 131 FBS teams, these two caught the brunt of the conference ship-jumping. How poetic would it be if the winner of this game won the Pac-12 in its final season before the other ten teams evacuate for greener pastures?
#3- #24 Iowa @ #7 Penn State
Iowa could change the perception of their program with a top-ten win at a Penn State whiteout. They’ve been the laughing stock since Michigan embarrassed the Hawkeyes in the 2021 Big Ten championship game, but Iowa could have the last laugh. An untimely loss could sink a promising season for a Penn State team that finally seems up to par with Michigan and Ohio State in the Big Ten East. This is the year for the Nittany Lions, and the Hawkeyes are a great warmup for the biggest matchups, but if there’s one thing we know Iowa is great at, it’s causing chaos. While you watch Ohio State and Notre Dame battle it out on NBC, keep an eye on this game, I smell trouble brewing in Happy Valley. Plus, when has the Penn State whiteout not been 5-star television?
#2- #13 Alabama @ #15 Ole Miss
The chokehold Alabama has on college football for over a decade appears to be disintegrating. Georgia chipped away at it for two years and Texas all but ripped Bama’s hand off of college football’s throat two weeks ago. Saban and Alabama regained no ground in an embarrassingly close win against USF last week. The Rebels have a chance to drive in one last nail in the coffin, and they get to do it in Oxford. Alabama would fall to 2-2 for the first time since 2003. But the benefit for the Rebels goes far beyond sticking it to the tyrants. In a three horse race for SEC West supremacy, the winner here gains a massive head start over the loser and LSU toward Atlanta. Whichever team pulls off the win can afford to drop the ball against a lesser SEC opponent, as long as they take care of LSU when the time comes.
#1- #6 Ohio State @ #9 Notre Dame
I hate to hyperbolize, but this might be the best regular season slate of college football games in my living memory. And this is the crown jewel. What makes it so special is that we don’t really know who these teams are yet. We know who they’ve been, a perennial offensive juggernaut that owned the Big Ten for two decades, and a perennial tier 2 team full of “what-ifs” and “could’ve-beens” year after year. But in 2023 these teams look different. Ohio State faced quarterback controversy for the first time since 2015 and didn’t look themselves until they clobbered Western Kentucky last week. Notre Dame looks like everything they would’ve-could’ve-should’ve been since the start of the BCS era. If this doesn’t have instant classic written all over it, I don’t know what does.
Alan Brads is a senior journalism student and sports editor for Cedars. He enjoys playing the drums, speaking Spanish and watching Buckeye football like his life depends on it.