Florida's offense, USC's defense lead the five biggest questions for Week 4 in college football




The first three weeks are mostly filled with non-conference appetizers to the college football season. Yes, there's some big games and a few league matchups sprinkled in, but its mostly lighter fare.

The full course starts this week and there's big matchups across the country that will begin to shape conference races and sort out the potential College Football Playoff contenders.

The two biggest teams facing challenges are No. 3 Ohio State and No. 5 Clemson. The respective favorites in the Big Ten and ACC are favorites in games against Wisconsin and Wake Forest but there's potential for things to get tricky.

Arkansas, Southern California and Tennessee also face difficult matchups this week and could see their unbeaten starts spoiled.

The five biggest questions ahead of Saturday's showdowns:

Can Texas A&M contain Arkansas QB KJ Jefferson?

In consecutive games against Appalachian State and Miami (Fla.), the Aggies offense has been pedestrian and scored just 31 combined points at home. A&M is now headed to neutral ground of Arlington, Texas, and the idea that somehow the group finds its mojo and becomes dynamic seems unrealistic. That means avoiding a second loss on the season falls on the defense, which has done its part for the past two games. The challenge is that the Razorbacks have more firepower and balance with Jefferson a threat running and passing. The Aggies are stingy enough up front to contain him. But after two difficult games, do they have enough juice to keep it up for four quarters, especially if the offense is not doing its part?

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Does the Southern California defense finally get exposed?

Let's be real, USC has been allowing yards at an alarming rate, especially in the first halves of games. What has bailed out the Trojans is turnovers. They've forced 10 through three games. And while defense should get credit for getting stops by taking the ball away, that's not a reliable strategy over the long haul because there will be games where the other team isn't loose with the football. Oregon State is the type of team to do that. The Beavers are 10th in turnover margin - not as high as USC at No. 1, but good enough to indicate that they're disciplined enough to make the Trojans beat them. And part of that task for the USC defense is to figure out how to stop a balanced offense that is averaging 468.3 yards per game. With a significant home-field advantage, Oregon State has all the pieces in place to pull off an upset. The Trojans can always be bailed out by their offense, but this looks like the type of game that stays close if the Beavers play disciplined, and anything can happen in the fourth quarter.

Southern California defensive back Mekhi Blackmon (6) intercepts the ball intended for Stanford wide receiver Elijah Higgins (6) during the first quarter at Stanford Stadium.
Southern California defensive back Mekhi Blackmon (6) intercepts the ball intended for Stanford wide receiver Elijah Higgins (6) during the first quarter at Stanford Stadium.  

How will Wake Forest's offensive line handle Clemson?

The Demon Deacons had a wonderful 2021 with a trip to the ACC championship game and a record-tying 11 wins. However, one of their three losses came against the Tigers and the biggest issue in that game was the offensive line's inability to block Clemson's elite defensive line. The bad news is that most of those guys are back this season and it portends a rough day for quarterback Sam Hartman if he does not have time to throw the ball. Additionally, if the Wake offensive line cannot open up enough running lanes the the offense becomes predictable and creates more opportunities for the likes of Myles Murphy and K.J. Henry to focus on the pass rush. It's a difficult task but even a stalemate here would give the Demon Deacons opportunities to move the football and keep pace with the Tigers

TIGER TALE: Is Clemson's struggling offense a cause for concern?

Is the Florida offense able to keep up with Tennessee?

The Volunteers are going to score. That's been proven through one-plus years with Josh Heupel in charge of the offense. The Gators haven't been particularly explosive in their three opening home games with quarterback Anthony Richardson yet to throw for a touchdown and the passing offense ranking 121st in the country with an average of 141 yards per game. That will have to change Saturday in Knoxville. Yes, Florida can run successfully in this game, however it can't be the only method of moving the ball consistently. And if the Gators are punting too frequently and not keeping the Tennessee offense and quarterback Hendon Hooker off the field, then it is going to be long day and the score could get ugly in a hurry.

Is this the game Graham Mertz finally delivers for Wisconsin?

Heralded as one of the top quarterback recruits in school history, Mertz has yet to have a signature moment where he leads the Badgers to a win against an opponent like Ohio State. Well, here is the opportunity staring him in the face. Now he has to take advantage of it. The Buckeyes will expectedly crowd the line of scrimmage to try and take away Wisconsin's run game that is led by Braelon Allen. That's going to leave openings for Mertz to exploit the OSU secondary. If he can, the Badgers have a good chance at following the model that Notre Dame employed against the Buckeyes in Week 1 by hanging around and slowing down the explosive Ohio State offense led by quarterback C.J. Stroud. Wisconsin has the defense to frustrate Stroud and his receivers. It needs help from the offense, though, to pull off the upset.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: College football's five biggest Week 4 questions include USC, Florida

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