After a week that saw the nation's top teams seemingly separate themselves from the pack in the national title hunt, more conference battles dot the schedule for Week 4. Key matchups that will set the tone for conference pecking order in the Pac-10, SEC and Big Ten will headline the weekend, with the best game taking place in Baton Rouge. Here are the top ten games for Week Four, followed by an honorable mention selection for each conference.
10. #4 Oklahoma @ Tulsa (Friday 8 PM EST, ESPN2)
The Sooners, fresh off a blowout win over Utah State, head to Tulsa to play their secon Friday night game since entering the Big 12 in 1996. Ironically, the other Friday night game for OU was at Tulsa in 2002. QB Sam Bradford has gone from question mark to exclamation point thus far for Bob Stoops' team, a group that has all the tools needed of a national title contender. But don't sleep on the Golden Hurricane of Todd Graham, also sitting at 3-0 after a win over BYU last weekend. If Tulsa is to entertain any thoughts of an upset, they'll need an outstanding game from QB Paul Smith, who's thrown eight touchdown passes to just two interceptions through three games. Look for Tulsa to be motivated playing the Sooners, but Oklahoma may have too much talent for the Golden Hurricane.
9. Illinois @ Indiana (Saturday Noon ET, Big Ten Network)
This is one of the weekend's more intriguing games, if only for the amount of young talent on both teams. With the Big Ten as a whole proving to be more wide open than expected the past three weeks, the winner of this one could have a much needed kick-start towards bowl eligibility. In Juice Williams (Illnois) and Kellen Lewis (Indiana), two of the nation's better young quarterbacks will be on display. Lewis already has twelve total touchdowns (9 passing, 3 rushing), making him one of the nation's more productive dual-threat signal callers thus far. But the Hoosiers' schedule to this point (Indiana State, Western Michigan and Akron) definitely leaves something to be desired in the level of competition department. Can IU achieve the goal of their late head coach Terry Hoeppner and "Play 13"? This game will give an answer one way or the other.
8. Michigan State @ Notre Dame (Saturday 3:30 PM EST, NBC)
Now, I know exactly what you're thinking. Notre Dame is 0-3, and has looked terrible in reaching those depths. Well, what better way to start the road to recovery than to welcome a rival with whom you've had some of your wildest games in recent years. Hate to bring it up for fans of 3-0 Michigan State, but there's a reason that some have pulled out the "That's why they're Michigan State" sentence in the past. Hopefully, Mark Dantonio is on his way to permanently taking care of that problem. Last year's game saw the Spartans do whatever they wanted for about three quarters...only to have the Irish steal the game in the end. With trips to Purdue and UCLA, followed by home games with Boston College and USC, this could be Notre Dame's best shot at avoiding an 0-8 start. Keep an eye on this one, as it could end up being one of the day's more entertaining games.
7. North Carolina @ #23 South Florida (Saturday Noon EST, ESPN)
The first-ever game in school history as a ranked team for USF, and it just has to come a mere six days before West Virginia comes to town. That's the danger facing the Bulls on Saturday, a game that's a measuring stick for their program even though the young Tar Heels are overwhelming underdogs in this one. Top programs don't just win the big games, they take care of business in the games that they're supposed to win. Led by LB Durell Mapp and receivers Hakeem Nicks and Brooks Foster, UNC has the talent to give the Bulls some headaches. The problem is that they're so young. Carolina will hang around for a bit, but look for the Bulls to eventually pull away.
6. #10 Penn State @ Michigan (Saturday 3:30 PM EST, ABC)
There's been some talk the past couple of weeks that the Nittany Lions are the best team in the Big Ten. While they've certainly been the most impressive thus far, there's the minor issue of an eight-game losing streak to Michigan that PSU needs to handle before achieving Big Ten glory. Michigan looked fine last week, getting their first win of the year in a 38-0 whipping of Notre Dame. But as we saw in Happy Valley a couple of weeks ago, Notre Dame's no Penn State. While Penn State doesn't run a spread offense, something that did in the Wolverines in losses to Appalachian State and Oregon, they do have enough offensive weapons to spread them out. Rest assured, this game will be a more strenuous test of Michigan's ability to tackle than last week's. Is QB Anthony Morelli capable of leading the Lions to the top of the Big Ten? This game will give us an answer to that question.
5. Air Force @ BYU (Saturday 3 PM EST, The Mtn)
Before the season, very few people had the Falcons pegged to make any noise in the Mountain West. But after an overtime win over TCU last week, a win in Provo is all that separates Air Force from declaring themselves the favorite in the Mountain West. Senior QB Shaun Carney has played at a high level thus far, throwing for 425 yards and rushing for another 128. To put the 425 yards in perspective, consider that Carney's season high for passing yards was 1393 in 2005. And that was in eleven games. He's nearly 1/3 of the way to that number in three games, which goes to show just how successful the tweaks made to the Air Force offensive system by new head coach Troy Calhoun have been. But going into Provo is never easy, especially when faced with an angry home team coming off a loss at Tulsa. BYU was one of the team pegged before the year as a possible "BCS crasher". On Saturday, Bronco Mendenhall's bunch may be simply trying to save their season.
4. Washington @ UCLA (Saturday 10 PM EST, Fox Sports Net)
Both teams come into this one licking their wounds following losses last weekend. But at least the Huskies (at home against Ohio State) were competitive, as th Bruins seemed nearly comatose in their 44-6 loss at Utah. This has been the issue with the Bruin program in recent years: a lack of consistency that can see them show up sky-high for games with name opponents, only to fall flat on their collective faces in other games. Young Washington QB Jake Locker looks to rebound from an unspectacular effort against the Buckeyes, but if last week's game in Salt Lake City is an accurate representaion of the UCLA defense, then Locker could have a big day. Individually, this game may be most important for UCLA QB Ben Olson, who was dreadful last week in throwing three interceptions. If either team has ambitions of moving up in the Pac-10 pecking order, this game would be a good point from which to start.
3. #20 Texas A&M @ Miami (Thursday 7:45 PM EST, ESPN)
In their first game in the State of Florida since 1968, Texas A&M gets a test in their first road game of the year. The Aggies haven't produced as much as the faithful would like on offense, having been outgained in two of their three games thus far. But they are 3-0, which is most important. Miami on the other hand, comes into this one at 2-1, a record that could be seen as shaky due the instability at quarterback. In what's been the story of the position at UM rcently, one guy (Kyle Wright or Kirby Freeman) can't set himself apart from the other. Freeman began the year as the man, only to see Wright get the reins back following their 51-13 loss at Oklahoma. This game marks Wright's first true test in 2007, with last week's win coming over Florida International. This is a chance for both teams to make a statement on national television, with the Aggies seemingly permanently stuck behind Texas and Oklahoma and the 'Canes looking to restore past glory.
2. #21 Kentucky @ Arkansas (Saturday 6 PM EST, ESPN2)
Two of the headline names in the Heisman Trophy get together in Fayetteville on Saturday evening. QB Andre Woodson leads his undefeated Wildcats into Arkansas to face RB Darren McFadden and the Razorbacks. Neither defense performed too well in their games last week, with UK being the beneficiary of some porous defense from in-state rival Louisville. Arkansas wasn't as lucky, losing in the final minute to Alabama. McFadden should have his cramping issue under control this weekend, something that cost him the fourth quarter of last week's game. Either a lot of points will be put on the board, or the defenses will step up. Regardless of which way this one goes, expect an entertaining affair between two teams looking to show that the SEC has more than two contenders (Florida and LSU) for the conference title.
1. #12 South Carolina @ #2 LSU (Saturday 3:30 PM EST, CBS)
Some scoffed when Steve Spurrier said that his Gamecocks had a shot to win the SEC this year at SEC Media Days. After a win at Georgia two weeks ago, people aren't laughing anymore. And if USC were somehow able to go into Baton Rouge and stun the Tigers, people just might take them seriously as a national title contender. However, QB Blake Mitchell will have his hands full with with the nation's best defense. But in RBs Cory Boyd and Mike Davis and WR Kenny McKinley, the Gamecocks do have some weapons that could give DT Glenn Dorsey and company some trouble. On the other side of the ball, the talk is about talented backup QB Ryan Perrilloux, and if (or when) he takes over for Matt Flynn at some point. Flynn has done his job thus far in leading LSU to a 3-0 start, but some want more explosion from this unit. An interesting dilemma for Les Miles and offensive coordination Gary Crowton to have (I bet they'd like to have it in South Bend right now), but whoever's under center will have some exciting skill players to get the ball to.
ACC: Georgia Tech @ Virginia (Saturday Noon EST, ESPNU)
Big 12: Texas Tech @ Oklahoma State (Saturday 3:30 PM EST)
Big East: UConn @ Pittsburgh (Saturday 7 PM EST, ESPU)
Big Ten: Iowa @ #9 Wisconsin (Saturday 8 PM EST, ABC)
Conference USA: East Carolina @ #5 West Virginia (Saturday Noon EST, ESPN2)
MAC: Baylor @ Buffalo (Saturday 6 PM EST)
Mountain West: Utah @ UNLV (Saturday 10 PM EST)
Pac-10: Oregon State @ Arizona State (Saturday 10 PM EST)
SEC: #22 Georgia @ #1 Alabama (Saturday 7:45 PM EST, ESPN)
Sun Belt: Florida Atlantic @ North Texas (Saturday 7 PM EST)
WAC: New Mexico State @ Auburn (Saturday 7 PM EST, ESPN GamePlan)