by Rafid Farjo (Twitter: @rafid_313)

The non conference slate certainly left some surprises, perhaps most notably that the playoff teams are not inevitable. Alabama struggled against Florida (albeit in a conference game), Georgia looks strong but has a difficult schedule, Oklahoma has had some close calls, and Ohio State and Clemson have struggled by their own standards, each leaving the early season with a loss. Cincinnati has surprised some in strong victories thus far, and may be the best non Power-5 team, perhaps better than Notre Dame who thus far have left much to be desired. Week 4 brings about the true conference season, where we learn to separate the good from the bad and contenders from pretenders. As the new week of college football approaches, we headline our best predictions for some of the marquee matchups using odds and lines from Barstool Sportsbook. 

The Game: (12)Notre Dame vs. (18)Wisconsin

The Play: Under 46.5 total points (-112), Notre Dame +6 (-108)

Why: In the best matchup of the college football week, Notre Dame and Wisconsin head to the neutral Soldier Field in Chicago to face off. Both teams come into this game off questionable starts to the season, with Notre Dame struggling but prevailing against Florida State and Toledo, and with Wisconsin dropping a home game against Penn State. Stylistically, Wisconsin will aim to control the pace of the game. The Badgers have rushed the ball an astounding 113 times in 2 games thus far, and will aim to create long scoring drives, as they rank 4th in the country in plays per game. Notre Dame may also be willing to settle into this slugfest type style. The Irish are led by a running back duo of Kyren Williams and Chris Tyree, and will likely lean on this duo to keep the ball out of their Wisconisin-transfer QB Jack Coan’s hands. Coan has been serviceable for Notre Dame with 8TD on the season and 276 ypg, but has been notorious for making bad decisions under pressure and taking sacks (Coan has been sacked 4.7 times per game). Against a Wisconsin defense that ranks 4th in DF+ at 1.94, Notre Dame’s sack issues likely won’t resolve. Combining Wisconsin’s desire to play at a slower pace and each team’s stout defense, both teams will not have very many opportunities and points will be at a premium. The Irish are the more experienced team, and in this physical and hard fought game, it is hard not to believe the 6 points are too much as well. 

The Game: (9)Clemson @ NC State

The Play: Under 48 total points (-113)

Why: The F+ metric clearly demonstrates the disparity between Clemson’s offense and defense, but perhaps still doesn’t do it justice. Clemson boasts the 3rd highest DF+ at 2.18, but has a much lower (but still good) OF+ of 1.11. The eye test confirms the strength of the Tigers defense but has shown the Tigers offense to have had much more struggles. QB DJ Uiagalelei has only passed for 158.3 ypg this season and the Tigers offense has only scored 8.5ppg against Division 1 opponents this year. Nonetheless, the Clemson defense has not yet allowed a touchdown through three games. Similarly, NC State is also a much better defensive team. The Wolfpack rank 68th in offense but 31st in defense according to F+ and have allowed 10.3ppg. The talent disparity is clear and Clemson should win as 9.5pt favorites, but with both teams defensive prowess coupled with Clemson’s offensive struggles, the game will be low scoring and close. 

The Game: Louisville @ Florida State

The Play: Louisville -2 (-109)

Why: This one should be more simple. Florida State is not a good team, while Louisville has looked good as of recent. Florida State looked to be broken last week against Wake Forest, turning the ball over 5 times and was unable to stop the Demon Deacons offense, which averaged 5.33 yards/play. That 35-14 loss comes off of perhaps an even worse loss for Florida State against FCS Jacksonville State. The Seminoles rank 68th in total offense and 95th in total defense. It is difficult to imagine Florida State containing Louisville QB Malik Cunningham, who comes into this week off a game in which he threw for over 250 yards and rushed for 100 more. Louisville has rebounded nicely off of a Week 1 thrashing against Ole Miss, which doesn’t look nearly as bad in context of what Ole Miss has shown this year. The Cardinals have since moved to the 27th ranked offense in the country by F+ and their defense has shown improvements, specifically in the secondary, only allowing 176.5 pass ypg in their last 2 games, in comparison to 381 against Ole Miss. Louisville should handle business, and it would not be surprising if they do so convincingly. 

The Game: (21)North Carolina @ Georgia Tech

The Play: UNC -12.5 (-110)

Why: This line seems like an overreaction to Georgia Tech’s near upset of Clemson and UNC’s opening loss to Virginia Tech. It seems as if everyone has forgotten Sam Howell is still a Heisman trophy candidate and the odds-on favorite to be the 1st overall draft pick in 2022. Georgia Tech is still the same Georgia Tech that lost at home in Week 1 to Northern Illinois (who Michigan obliterated this past weekend 63-10). One week does not redefine a team’s talent and core identity. ESPN FPI’s 13th ranked and OF+’s 5th ranked Tar Heels seem to have put their issues in the rearview mirror. Howell threw for an insane 14.6 yards/pass attempt last week against Virginia, accumulating 5TD points and leading the offense to 59 points. The Tar Heels defense still struggled, allowing 39 points, but the UVA offense led by Brennan Armstrong who threw for 554 yards is in another galaxy than Georgia Tech’s 83rd rated offense by OF+. The Yellow Jackets could only muster 2.5ypc against Clemson and Freshman QB Jordan Yates’ was limited to 6 yards/pass attempt. With such a monumental gap between each respective offense, the Tar Heels should have little resistance.

The Game: California @ Washington 

The Play: Washington -7 (-124)

Why: Washington is a good football team that will be relevant in the Pac 12. As shocking as that sounds to any Michigan football fans that witnessed the drubbing of the Huskies at the Big House just 2 weeks ago or heard of their loss to Montana in Week 1, Washington is talented. They were more than deserving of their preseason ranking coming into the year and despite struggles through the first two weeks, they looked very impressive in Week 3. They defeated Arkansas State 52-3, who in their own right is a good team and nearly knocked off Memphis in Week 2. Washington’s rebound was certainly noted by F+, who has moved them up to 19th overall (24th offense, 12th defense). ESPN’s FPI also took note of the Huskies’ improvement to a lesser degree, but placed them at 36th overall this week. Huskies QB Dylan Morris looked good with 367 yards passing and for the first time this season Washington eclipsed 5ypc throughout a game. California has not yet beaten an FBS opponent this season, but was competitive in losses to Nevada and TCU. The Golden Bears have been able to move the ball this season with better than 6ypc and overall 250 pass ypg, but have struggled to score points. They have only come away with points on 6/8 red zone drives against FBS opponents this season and are yet to convert a 4th down (0/3), causing long drives to end fruitless. California’s defense has not impressed either, allowing 439 yards/game, ranking 91st in college football. Washington is the better team offensively and defensively and in a must-win game to start the conference season, they will handle Cal. 

Football Outsiders F+ (Using SP+ from Bill Connelly and FEI from Brian Fremeau) – https://www.footballoutsiders.com/stats/ncaa/fplus/2020 

Barstool Sportsbook – https://www.barstoolsportsbook.com/

*Odds as of 9/23/21