After the brief, satisfying crest of Week 3, the discerning sports consumer may find him or herself tempted to take it easy in Week 4. Conference play still hasn’t begun in earnest for most leagues. Many of the nation’s premier programs will be playing host to paid teams of beat-up bait. If Alabama can play Colorado State, if Ohio State can host Florida A&M, why can’t you, Jenny and Johnny Football Fans, skip the noon or the 3:30 flight of games to get some yard work done?
Take your cues from lesser mammals, and note: The light is thinning outside. The air will be crisping up soon. The dead things in your gutters are already dead, and nothing can help them now. After this Saturday, there will be college football teams in this country already through a third of their regular seasons. This is no time to write off a weekend.
No, brothers and sisters: You need to hoard these games, even these games, like you’re squirreling away nuts for a long, dumb, football-less winter.1 Grumble now, enjoy the lone Top 25 pairing of Arizona State and Stanford, and thank us the week after the Super Bowl when the mere memory of whatever it is ASU’s Will Sutton is about to do this weekend will keep you powering through the offseason. (Your gutter critters should be well frozen by this point, depending on the location of your home, and can easily be removed with a hatchet.)
On Your Marquee: N/A
All times Eastern.
No one game looks poised to capture the national spotlight in Week 4, but intrepid explorers of the channel menu won’t go wanting.
• No. 23 Arizona State at no. 5 Stanford. This is the only Week 4 matchup between ranked teams, and is not to be slept on. The balance of power in the Pac-12 has swung decidedly to the north, with the North Division champion (Oregon in 2011, Stanford in 2012) having won both Pac-12 championship games thus far before going on to win the Rose Bowl. This weekend, we’ll get our first indication of whether any team besides UCLA might be prepared to swing that needle back toward the South.
The Sun Devils are by no means proven contenders — their opener against Sacramento State was a predictable walkover, while last week’s win over Wisconsin was, ahem, of somewhat dubious provenance. But they do have an experienced — and nasty — front seven that should match up well against Stanford’s road-grading offense.
The Cardinal, meanwhile, haven’t exactly looked like world-beaters, either, though one can perhaps forgive them for not devoting their full attention to San Jose State or Army. They’ll need to wake up for this one. The season may hinge on the November 7 battle royal with the Oregon Ducks, which has served as a de facto North Division title bout the last couple of years, but the Sun Devils mark the first of several potential pitfalls for Stanford between now and then.
Both squads are undefeated heading into their first conference game. The Cardinal and Sun Devils have not met on the field since 2010; ASU hasn’t beaten Stanford since 2008. Jersey numbers to keep an eye on, if you’re unfamiliar: In cardinal, no. 25, running back Tyler Gaffney, who shelved a baseball career to truck footballs up and down the field for David Shaw. Gaffney passed the 100-yard mark in each of Stanford’s first two games and has recorded four touchdowns. In white, no. 90, defensive tackle Sutton, who will do things like this to you if you are not careful. (Saturday, 7 p.m., Fox)
• Michigan State at no. 22 Notre Dame. Yes, Michigan State has been damn near unwatchable on offense. Yes, Notre Dame lost to Michigan and then had to hang on for dear life against a Purdue team that may not record an FBS win all season. Yet even through each team’s lean years, this rivalry has managed to put on some pretty impressive shows: State’s double-OT win in 2005; Notre Dame’s three-touchdown fourth-quarter comeback in ’06; Sparty’s fake field goal in overtime three years ago.
It sounds weird to say this about two teams that are a combined 5-1, but both the Spartans and the Irish could use an electrifying moment or two to stimulate their seasons. After averaging only 281 yards of offense against FBS competition so far this season — and bad FBS competition at that — Michigan State would very much like someone other than punter Mike Sadler to be a reliable threat for positive yardage. And what will Irish quarterback Tommy Rees and pals make of a Spartans defense that threatens to outscore its offense? (Saturday, 3:30 p.m., NBC)
• Utah State at USC. This is an easier sell than you think it is. The Trojans have allowed an average of 10 points per game through three games … against Hawaii, Washington State, and Boston College. The Aggies are averaging close to 50 points scored … against Utah, Air Force, and Weber State. Who blinks first, Chuckie Keeton or Clancy Pendergast? (Saturday, 3:30 p.m., ABC/ESPN2)
But First …
There’s some essential weeknight action to be had this Friday. There’s also a prime-time game on Thursday, about which we are of two minds. It’s no. 3 Clemson at North Carolina State (7:30 p.m., ESPN), and while we think Clemson can handle NC State, seeing as how State had trouble with Richmond two weeks ago, this is the sort of game where A Clemsoning might occur, if A Clemsoning were in the cards for this season, with the Tigers destined to blow a low-stakes game for no good reason. Unless, by watching this game and believing it counts, we’re activating some sort of gridiron Tinkerbell protocol.
What should really grab your attention, and could easily qualify as a headliner matchup, is the Friday-night tempo fight of Boise State at Fresno State (9 p.m., ESPN). Fresno, absent Robbie “Mighty Mouse” Rouse this year, has Derek Carr putting on fireworks shows at quarterback while trying to replace the impact of the school’s all-time leading rusher. Boise, after a truly unfortunate Week 1 meeting with Washington, looked pretty Boise-y again against Air Force. How late are you prepared to stay up? You’re about to find out.
Earlier this week, we spoke with Fresno head coach Tim DeRuyter as he was preparing his team for the Bulldogs’ most crucial Mountain West matchup of the season.
How is the team approaching this game after the disappointment of last season’s loss to Boise? Coming in with a grudge, or is everybody pretty serene?
Ever since I came to Fresno State, as I go out and talk to different booster groups throughout the Valley, the one team everybody talks about is the success of Boise, and how much we have to beat them. So if I’m hearing it, I’m sure the players are hearing it. [Last year], while the final score was relatively close, we didn’t play very well. I don’t think it was as close as what the score indicated. We didn’t play well; they did. I don’t think revenge is a factor as much as our guys are looking for more redemption. That we know we can play better.
Some of the shine got knocked off of Boise in Week 1, but where do the Broncos concern you the most?
Boise’s still dangerous. A lot of times people jump to conclusions based on one game. I think they ran into a little bit of a perfect storm against Washington. They’re playing a team that they just beat in a bowl the game before, the season before, so obviously Washington’s got a little extra incentive to get after ’em. They open their stadium up, and there’s an energy and buzz in that stadium probably like they haven’t had there in a long time. And I personally, watching the game, I think Washington’s got some dudes. I think they’ve got a chance to have a heck of a team this year. I don’t think people realize how good Washington is. You look at the next two games, and they’re back to being Boise. They’re extremely efficient offensively, and defensively they’re getting after people. So I don’t know that they’re more vulnerable this year. Other than that one blip of a game, I don’t see it.
How is Derek Carr adjusting, balancing school and football with being a new parent?
[Laughs.] I don’t know. I had enough going on going to school and playing football. All those demands weigh on him. But you wouldn’t know it, looking at his work ethic. He’s mature beyond his years. When he came back to practice, there was a definite raise in the comfort level of our team. We’re a different team with him.
I think a lot of that’s due to being in his brother’s shadow, and seeing how his brother did it. He’s got some ghosts he’s chasing, and that kinda drives him. His brother talks to him all the time about what he’s got to do as a quarterback, not just on the field, but leadershipwise, in the community, and Derek really does a good job of taking his brother’s advice as well as his coaches’. I think he’s got a little additional drive that most people don’t have, trying to chase his brother’s legacy.
So you’ve got Boise coming in after an unexpected weekend off. Where were you guys in the process of getting ready to go when the Colorado game was canceled?
We had already had our meetings, our final meetings in the morning. We had just had our final walk-through here, in our own stadium. We were getting ready to shower and get on the buses when our AD called me and says hey, hold off, we’re gonna push the plane back a couple hours, it looks like we’re gonna look at some alternative sites, because playing the game on campus didn’t look that feasible. So we told the guys hey, hang out, we’re in a holding pattern here. And then maybe an hour later they called and said it’s not gonna happen this weekend.
How did you use that extra time? What did you have the team do on Saturday?
We wanted to kind of take advantage of not playing, and banging [around], so we had our strength coach work our guys out, and our staff really got to study Boise. We were in all day watching Boise tape, and then we had practice on Sunday. We had a padded practice on Sunday, which you don’t normally get early in the week like that.
Can’t let you go without talking about the Austin Wentworth touchdown. Whose idea was that?
Dave Schramm, our offensive coordinator. Dave’s got a whole book full of gadget plays that we go into. I told him when we first got here that we wanted to be able to do those kinds of things, I want to keep it fun for our players and get multiple position groups involved.
And then last year for our bowl game, Dave approached me with the play, and at first I thought he was kidding. And we actually went out and practiced it, and he executed it pretty well against our scout team. So I said OK, we’ll do it if we get down there around the 10, 15-yard line where Austin doesn’t have to go very far, because I’d hate to have him score a touchdown and us have to get oxygen out to him.
The thing I liked about it was that Austin acted like he’d done it a thousand times.
I think it’s probably primarily about fun. From a team morale standpoint, if you have the chance to get some guys on defense chances to carry the ball, or different position groups chances to carry the ball, I think it does nothing but help your team. When guys can come in after a win, and you’re watching the tape on Monday morning, guys are laughing. Hopefully you didn’t do something too stupid with the ball. But it’s a game. Guys ought to have fun in it. A lot of times with all the pressure on it, we can take it too seriously.
• Most promising undercard pairing: Auburn at no. 6 LSU. Not as dismal a game as one might have imagined prior to the season, Tigers-Tigers boasts the twin draws of Gus Malzahn’s fledgling offense versus LSU’s many and varied hatchling defenders, and of being in Death Valley after dark. (Saturday, 7:45 p.m., ESPN)
• Most grudgeful grudge match that isn’t actually a grudge match: Louisiana-Monroe at no. 20 Baylor. Baylor didn’t lose to Louisiana-Monroe in Monroe last year, but the Warhawks put a scare into the Bears. This year, the battle moves to the Brazos, and Baylor brought beards:
— Baylor Football (@BUFootball) September 18, 2013
GO BEAR(D)S? (Saturday, 4 p.m., Fox Sports 1)
• Most grudgeful grudge match that definitely is a grudge match: Florida International at no. 7 Louisville. Man, this was a fun upset pick a couple of years ago. Remember the glory days of the then-roomy T.Y. Hilton bandwagon? This year will be … different. And grisly (and not for Louisville). (Saturday, noon, ESPN3)
• Most promising nightcap: There’s a nice little cluster of games at 10:15 and 10:30. If you’re interested in seeing the race for the Beehive Boot progress, you can take in Utah and BYU at 10:15 on ESPN2. If you want to watch no. 13 UCLA mow down New Mexico State, you can do that at 10:30 on the Pac-12 Network. For our part, we will be in Pullman taking in Idaho–Washington State, a highly underrated geographical matchup in terms of pure spite expended.
• Wait, GameDay is where? Fargo, North Dakota. Why? To see the two-time defending FCS champs, the North Dakota State Bison, play Delaware State in the delightfully named Fargodome. Is this the team that beat Kansas State? This would be the team. When is this game? Saturday at 3:30 p.m.
Arbitrary Power Rankings: Humorous Singular Nouns
“The front doors are closed. They don’t open manually, either. It’s dark outside, and the parking lot looks empty. Was it dark outside when you came in here? When did you come in here? Were you alone? You’re alone now, so you must have come in alone.” —Mallory Ortberg, The Toast