College football coaches love to see their teams perform against the best, a barometer of value after early season success could be the result of playing at a lower level. Several national teams, including Clemson and Tennessee, and undefeated non-top 25 teams will endure this in Week 4, programs we’ll be sure to learn more about as the first month of the season draws to a close.
Look at North Carolina and coach Mac Brown, for example. The Tar Heels win in Appalachian State in Week 2 looks better and better as the season progresses, but there are notable gaps in this team that need to be fixed ahead of Saturday’s clash with Notre Dame. Brown said this week that while he’s proud of the Tar Heels’ 3-0 start, his players need to learn to “handle momentum better” and step on the gas when it comes to team eliminations.
If it happens this weekend, the Tar Heels could be the last ACC team to earn a place in the national polls.
Here are 10 teams on our radar that we’ll learn more about after this weekend’s action:
Horned Frogs TCU
Rival 4 weeks: in SMU (2-1)
After the breakout victories over Colorado and the minor division Tarlton State that opened up for freshman coach Sonny Dykes, Saturday’s game at SMU marks the first time the undefeated Horned Frogs will face a team that has a pulse this fall. In a perfect world, TCU finds the WR1 against the Mustangs, and Kendra Miller has holes to go through thanks to solid offensive play. SMU won back-to-back games in the rivalry series after TCU had seven straight games under Gary Patterson from the 2012-2018 season.
Washington State Cougars
Rival 4 weeks: No. 15 Oregon (2-1)
Those who wondered about the potential disappointment for Washington State after the victory in Wisconsin were quickly silenced after Cameron Ward threw three of his four touchdown passes in the first quarter of last week’s victory over Colorado State. Ward has eight touchdown passes and three interceptions this season after moving from Incarnate Word via a transfer portal. Washington state could move from the bottom to the top 20 this week if the Cougars can topple Oregon, which holds the nationwide spot. This will be the first time this entire season that the Cougars have tested a minor team, and we’ll find out more about that team’s placement in the Pac-12’s top tier depending on what happens at Pullman.
Rival 4 weeks: No. 21 Wake Forest (3-0)
Last week, Dabo Sweeney put most of the blame on his defense for her performance in the last two games. The Tigers haven’t played with a full deck of pass rushers since the season opener against Georgia Tech, but the occasional inability to get off the field against Fuhrman and Louisiana Tech worries the undefeated ACC favorites. This weekend they will certainly be tested against what is arguably the best offense Clemson will face all season at Wake Forest Demon Deacons. Wake Forest quarterback Sam Hartman has never defeated Clemson in his entire career, and he can’t wait to finally put on the tiger-taming crown.
Resin North Carolina Heels
Rival 4 weeks: Our Lady (1-2)
Tar Heels 3-0 and didn’t make it to the rankings despite beating Appalachian State. Why is it so? Well, it’s a defense and Gene Chisick doesn’t make excuses for his unit not showing due prowess on his side of football this season. UNC is giving up yards piecemeal and there have been numerous breakdowns on the second level. Quarterback Drake May made up for many of the Tar Heels’ mistakes this fall with a conference-record touchdown tally, but points could be more expensive against the Fighting Irish this weekend.
Rival 4 weeks: No. 20 Florida
Tennessee fans are cautiously optimistic this week that Saturday’s game against the Gators is going according to plan, ending with a not-so-close victory over a hated opponent. Why the nervousness over the breach clicking all cylinders before opening the SEC? Florida has won five in a row in the SEC East Series, and in many of those games volunteers have shot themselves in the foot at the wrong time. So far, this is the most important stage of the season for Josh Hupel in his second year, and Tennessee has to deal with this stress.
Rival 4 weeks: at Texas Tech Institute (2-1)
Texas showed resilience in a win over UTSA last week after trailing 10 points early in the game. Perhaps the slow start can be explained by the emotional high after the game in Alabama, but, in any case, real The season starts now for the Longhorns in their bid to win the Big 12 championship. This hasn’t happened in Texas in a long time, and of course this season will be tough given the loss on the road to Texas Tech this weekend. It will be interesting to see if Quinn Evers returns to the quarterback position. He plays a crucial role in the passing game when he is there.
Rival 4 weeks: No. 4 Michigan (3-0)
Real Maryland turtles, please stand up? In a game against the Wolverines, we’ll quickly find out if Mike Locksley’s 3-0 start this season will see the passing race and power in the trenches against Taulia Tagovailoa and a real standout rookie, standout ball carrier Roman Hemby. Michigan choke Maryland in six straight games, the last pair being embarrassing for the Terrapins. Last week’s victory over SMU was the best in the Maryland campaign up to this point, but the depth and level of talent the Terrapins will see in the line of scrimmage this week is incomparable.
Minnesota Golden Gophers
Rival 4 weeks: in Michigan State (2-1)
Minnesota either fades into relative obscurity until November with a loss in East Lansing or jumps into the top 25 4-0 after this weekend. In fact, there is a lot at stake for both teams, given the Spartans’ sharp blowback in Washington last week. Minnesota ranks among the top spots in college football in several defensive categories and has lost just 17 points in three games – Georgia-style to the Golden Gophers. Michigan State running back Jalen Berger is the best player Minnesota will face in September, and keeping him under control is a top priority.
Ohio State Buckeyes
Rival 4 weeks: Wisconsin (2-1)
After a 77-point shot against Toledo this season, Ohio State’s unstoppable offense finally arrived. Or maybe not? Wisconsin creates defensive problems for every opponent it plays with, and the Badgers’ plan to slow the game down and keep the Buckeyes in the mud is an obvious ploy here. It’s a great test for Jim Knowles’ new defense and, most importantly, another opportunity for the Buckeyes to show they’ve improved their fitness the first time around. Many AP voters will be affected in one way or another by this weekend’s outcome in Columbus.
Rival 4 weeks: Maryland (3-0)
Jim Harbaugh had the luxury of messing around with his quarterbacks for almost a month, despite one of the softest non-conference schedules in college football. This ends with the opening of the Big Ten and the entry of Maryland into the Big House. The Terrapins’ passing game under Tagovailoa will test a minor player who hasn’t seen too many deep balls yet, and Maryland’s fast-paced offense is one of the conference’s biggest surprises early on. Michigan has led every game this season, and we haven’t seen what happens when the other team gets one or two body shots in the first quarter.