DG’s Look Ahead To Week 4 In College Football:
“Three To See” Nationally And Closer To Home

By David Glenn
North Carolina Sports Network

As we encourage folks to check out our weekly Old North State Tailgate podcast, which drops every Friday night or Saturday morning during college football season and allows for a deeper dive into last weekend’s results and this weekend’s upcoming action, we move on to one of our weekly website features.

It’s called “Three To See,” meaning three college football games that rank among those most worth watching this weekend, with of course a heavy dose of “state of North Carolina” and ACC angles, as you might guess or expect.

First, for perspective, there was not a single game last weekend, in all of the FBS ranks, that matched a top-25 team against another top-25 team. Compare and contrast that to this week, when hungry college football fans have a veritable potpourri of tasty menu options, both nationally and closer to home.

“Three To See” Nationally

#1 — 3-0 Colorado (#19) at 3-0 Oregon (#10), Sat., 3:30 pm, ABC

Deion Sanders somehow has created the most fascinating story in college football.

After taking over a downtrodden Colorado program that finished 1-11 last season and has won more than eight games only once since 2002, Sanders is off to a 3-0 start that includes a win at top-25 TCU.

Through three weeks, the legendary two-sport star once known as “Neon Deion” also has helped the Buffaloes attract three of the five largest college football TV audiences so far this season, something that would have been unthinkable for Colorado’s program at any point in the last 25 years, if not forever.

Despite a 10 pm kickoff last week, and despite being on ESPN (because of cord-cutting, broadcast channels tend to draw larger audiences than cable channels), Colorado’s close victory over in-state rival Colorado State attracted an estimated audience of 9.3 million, the best in all of college football so far this season.

This week, the undefeated Buffaloes are 21-point underdogs to the undefeated Ducks, so it will be fascinating to see if Coach Prime can keep this miracle season on a winning track.

#2 — 3-0 Ohio State (#6) at 4-0 Notre Dame (#9), Sat., 7:30 pm, NBC

Although the Buckeyes (a three-point favorite) haven’t played anyone of significance yet, it’s hard to criticize their 3-0 start, which came by an average score of 40-7.

Similarly, led by Wake Forest transfer Sam Hartman at quarterback, the Fighting Irish have dominated their first four opponents, including on the road against a solid NC State team, by an average score of 46-12.

When Ohio State and Notre Dame opened the 2022 season against each other, the game drew an average audience of more than 10 million viewers and ended up being the fifth-most watched contest of last year’s entire regular season.

This year’s matchup, a prime-time game on NBC, could draw a similarly huge number, especially if — like last year — it ends up being a close game.

#3 — 3-0 Ole Miss (#15) at 2-1 Alabama (#13), Sat., 3:30 pm, CBS

It’s only September, but because of the Crimson Tide’s early season loss to Texas, it’s already worth noting — especially in this final year of the four-team version of the College Football Playoff — that, in the CFP’s nine years of existence, no two-loss team has ever received an invitation, and at least for now there’s no reason to think that will change this year.

That obviously leaves zero margin for error for seven-time national champion coach Nick Saban and his 2023 Crimson Tide, who made seven of those previous nine four-team postseason brackets and emerged as the winner three times.

While the Tide (a seven-point favorite this week) likely will be favored in each of their remaining regular-season games, as they are against Ole Miss, the undefeated and highly ranked Rebels of coach Lane Kiffin are certainly no pushover.

“Three To See” Closer To Home

#1 — 3-0 Florida State (#4) at 2-1 Clemson, Sat., noon, ABC

These are, undoubtedly, the two most dominant football programs in the history of the 70-year-old Atlantic Coast Conference, and this year’s teams were also the preseason favorites to end up in the ACC title game this December.

Clemson, an original ACC member, has the most all-time ACC football titles, with 21. FSU, a long-time football independent that didn’t join the ACC until 1992, has the second-most ACC football titles, with 15. No other school is even close.

The difference lately, of course, is that the Tigers have won seven of the last eight ACC championships, and the Seminoles haven’t won any since taking three straight about a decade ago, in 2012, 2013 and 2014.

Looking ahead to Saturday afternoon, these may be the two most talented teams in the ACC this season. That’s actually a relatively new twist in this rivalry, because while the Tigers have by far the most current NFL players among ACC programs, reflecting their amazing talent pipeline over the past decade or so under coach Dabo Swinney, the Seminoles have fallen back into the middle of the pack in that regard.

The most obvious keys to this game are how proven FSU quarterback Jordan Travis manages the Seminoles’ offense against an absolutely loaded Clemson defense, and how unpredictable young Clemson QB Cade Klubnick — who was clearly nervous and ultimately ineffective in the Tigers’ shocking Labor Day Night loss at Duke — manages the Tigers’ offense against a talented FSU defense.

The Seminoles (a two-point favorite) lead this all-time series, 20-15, but have lost seven straight games in the rivalry. The Tigers also have won nine of the teams’ last 10 matchups held at Death Valley.

#2 — 3-0 North Carolina (#17) at 1-2 Pittsburgh, Sat., 8 pm, ACC Network

Thanks to its very impressive wins over South Carolina of the SEC and Minnesota of the Big Ten, North Carolina is one of only nine teams nationally with two victories over “Power Five” opponents entering Week Four of the regular season.

The Tar Heels’ matchup against the Panthers actually looks a lot like their challenge against the Golden Gophers, except for the fact that it will be Carolina’s first true road game this season, and road trips have been a problem for some recent UNC teams.

After the Heels beat the Gamecocks mostly with their defense, then App State mainly with their running game, the biggest difference against the Gophers was Carolina’s strong quarterback play from Drake Maye and Minnesota’s struggles at that same position with two different signal-callers.

UNC defensive coordinator Gene Chizik’s unit harassed talented South Carolina QB Spencer Rattler with nine sacks, then bottled up a Minnesota offense despite its strong rushing attack.

Next up for Carolina’s much-improved defense is Pitt QB Phil Jurkovec, formerly of Notre Dame and Boston College, a pocket passer and former prep All-American who hasn’t gotten very good pass protection from the Panthers’ offensive line so far this season and hasn’t thrown the ball very well when he has had time in the pocket.

The Tar Heels are a seven-point favorite at Pitt. Although Carolina went 6-0 on the road during last year’s 9-5 campaign, all six of those victories were by seven points or fewer, and in 2021 the Heels were 0-6 away from home, including a 30-23 overtime defeat at Pitt.

#3 — 1-2 Georgia Tech at 3-0 Wake Forest, Sat., 6:30 pm, CW Network

This certainly isn’t among the sexiest matchups of the weekend, but this game was selected in part just for the opportunity to toss another bouquet in the direction of Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson, one of the best coaches in school history.

The Demon Deacons were down 17-0 at halftime last week at Old Dominion, and they were down 24-13 entering the fourth quarter. Most teams just don’t win under those difficult circumstances, especially on the road, and especially with a first-year starter at quarterback.

But the Deacons did win, and that’s a tribute to those players, their resiliency, and their unbending trust and confidence in their coaching staff. Mitch Griffis threw two fourth-quarter touchdown passes, the last one to superstar wide receiver Jahmal Banks, and Wake survived ODU 27-24 to remain undefeated.

Whether these Deacs can be truly great this season remains to be seen, but they’re a four-point favorite over the middling Yellow Jackets, and they certainly look like a bowl team for the eighth year in a row. That’s a tribute to Clawson’s amazing record of consistent success in Winston-Salem, where such things have been very hard to come by on the gridiron historically.

Elsewhere This Weekend

NC State (2-1) is favored at Virginia (0-3) on Friday night. … On Saturday, 18th-ranked Duke (3-0) is a heavy favorite at Connecticut (0-3). … App State (2-1) is a slight underdog at Wyoming (2-1). … East Carolina (0-3) hosts FCS opponent Gardner-Webb (1-2), with the Pirates still looking for their first win of the season; given the angst toward fifth-year coach Mike Houston among at least a segment of Pirate Nation right now, it will be very interesting to see how many people show up for that game and how well they support the home team at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. … Charlotte (1-2) is a big underdog at Florida (2-1), as you’d expect, but it’s pretty cool that coach Biff Poggi and the 49ers get to experience The Swamp not long after they had a national TV game at Maryland, as part of the Big Ten’s brand-new contract with NBC.