The Top 25, Week 4: College football games and players to watch, plus early playoff dark horses

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Welcome to The Top 25, a weekly rundown of the best of college football.

Each week, The Baltimore Sun will break down the top games, players and teams to watch, from the Power Five to the Group of Five. Here’s what to know for Week 4:

Wake Forest quarterback Sam Hartman looks to pass during a game against Liberty on Saturday.

5 games to watch

No. 5 Clemson at No. 21 Wake Forest (Saturday, noon, ABC): Wake Forest quarterback Sam Hartman is back after a blood clot scare to lead one of the best offenses in the country. He’ll be tested by Clemson’s stout defense, but if he can spread the ball around to his top playmakers, quarterback DJ Uiagalelei and a below average group of Tigers wide receivers might not be able to keep up.

No. 20 Florida at No. 11 Tennessee (Saturday, 3:30 p.m., CBS): Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson has shown the good (274 total yards, 3 rushing TDs vs. Utah), the bad (40% completion rate, 2 INTs vs. Kentucky) and the ugly (2 INTs vs. South Florida, including one in the end zone) through three games. If he plays well in Knoxville, the Gators have a chance to pull the upset.


No. 10 Arkansas at No. 23 Texas A&M (Saturday, 7 p.m., ESPN): Quarterback KJ Jefferson and running back Raheim Sanders have been as advertised, but the Razorbacks’ defense has struggled, allowing a nation-worst 352.7 passing yards per game. If the Aggies can finally take advantage of their talented playmakers on offense, this could be a tight one.

Wisconsin at No. 3 Ohio State (Saturday, 7:30 p.m., ABC): The Badgers’ only hope is to win a good old fashioned rock fight. That means relying on star running back Braelon Allen to move the ball efficiently and keep the Buckeyes off the field. Ohio State’s defense has been up to the challenge so far, but it hasn’t been tested by a player like Allen.

No. 7 Southern California at Oregon State (Saturday, 9:30 p.m., Pac-12 Network): If you’re one of the dozens of people subscribed to the Pac-12 Network, this should be a fun one. Behind quarterback Caleb Williams and an explosive offense averaging 50.7 points per game, the Trojans look like legit playoff contenders. But Oregon State is no pushover, having opened 3-0 with wins over Boise State and Fresno State.

Michigan running back Blake Corum carries the ball during a game against Connecticut on Saturday.

5 players to watch

Penn State DE Chop Robinson (vs. Central Michigan): The Maryland transfer sealed the season-opening win over Purdue with a quarterback hit and has lived in the backfield ever since. He has just one sack but is Pro Football Focus’ highest-graded edge defender this season.

Michigan RB Blake Corum (vs. Maryland): The former St. Frances Academy star is averaging 6.9 yards per carry and is tied for the national lead with seven rushing touchdowns. If Maryland’s run defense isn’t ready, Corum could have another big day.

Florida State QB Tate Rodemaker (vs. Boston College): After replacing injured starter Jordan Travis and throwing an early interception against Louisville, Rodemaker responded by tossing two touchdown passes and leading the game-winning drive in the fourth quarter. If he can keep the Seminoles’ offense on schedule, this team could make some noise.

Iowa State QB Hunter Dekkers (vs. No. 17 Baylor): The first-year starter handled Southeast Missouri State and Ohio just fine but struggled against Iowa. Baylor’s defense has been among the nation’s best under coach Dave Aranda and will test Dekkers’ ability to perform under pressure.

Oklahoma WR Marvin Mims (vs. Kansas State): The Sooners’ offense hasn’t missed a beat without coach Lincoln Riley, ranking fifth nationally in efficiency through three games. Mims is a big reason why, averaging 22.1 yards per reception with two touchdowns.


SMU WR Rashee Rice (vs. TCU): Rice has at least 130 receiving yards in all three games this season, including an 11-catch, 193-yard performance in a loss to Maryland. He could have another big day against a TCU defense that ranked 116th in defensive efficiency last year and hasn’t been tested yet.

Kansas quarterback Jalon Daniels throws a pass during a game against Houston on Saturday.

5 undefeated teams to watch

Kansas (vs. Duke): Kansas and Duke are a combined 6-0, and we’re not talking about basketball. Led by star quarterback Jalon Daniels and coach Lance Leipold, the Jayhawks could make their first bowl game appearance since 2008.

Minnesota (at Michigan State): In a wide-open Big Ten West, the Golden Gophers might need to be considered the favorites. They’ve dominated weak competition so far, but a road matchup against a Spartans team coming off a tough loss at Washington should be revealing.

James Madison (at Appalachian State): In case you forgot, this is the Dukes’ first season at the FBS level after winning two national titles in the FCS. They dominated Middle Tennessee and Norfolk State, but now they meet an Appalachian State team riding the emotional high of hosting “College GameDay” and shocking Troy with a last-second Hail Mary.

Rutgers (vs. Iowa): It’s time to consider Rutgers a competent team under coach Greg Schiano. The Scarlet Knights have struggled to move the ball without injured quarterback Noah Vedral, but the defense has been stingy. If they can hold their own against Iowa, they could be competitive in the Big Ten.

North Carolina (vs. Notre Dame): Quarterback Drake Maye has thrown for 930 yards and 11 touchdowns to lead a high-powered North Carolina offense, but the defense has allowed 37.6 points per game. If coordinator Gene Chizik’s unit can just be average, the Tar Heels could win the ACC.

Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo reacts during a season-opening loss to Delaware.

5 teams that really need a win

Auburn (vs. Missouri): Coach Bryan Harsin was already on thin ice, and then the Tigers got blown out at home by Penn State. A loss to Missouri would all but ensure Harsin is fired before the season is over.

Georgia Tech (at Central Florida): Nobody expected the Yellow Jackets to compete for an ACC title, but they shouldn’t be one of the worst teams in the Power Five. Well, that’s what they looked like in a 42-0 loss to Ole Miss. Another dud might signal the end for coach Geoff Collins.

Navy (at East Carolina): In ESPN’s SP+ metric, a tempo- and opponent-adjusted measure of efficiency, Navy’s offense ranks 122nd of 131 FBS teams. Coach Ken Niumatalolo needs to find a way to right the ship against the Pirates.

Northwestern (vs. Miami-Ohio): A season-opening win over Nebraska was followed by losses to Duke and FCS Southern Illinois. Coach Pat Fitzgerald’s job is secure, but this looks like yet another down year. The Wildcats have gone 3-9 in two of the past three seasons.

Colorado (vs. UCLA): Coach Karl Dorrell’s reported $11 million buyout probably means he’s safe for now, but it’s hard to find a reason for optimism. Colorado ranks 112th in SP+, the lowest of any school in the Power Five.

Tennessee running back Jaylen Wright (20) celebrates after a touchdown alongside quarterback Hendon Hooker (5) and wide receiver Cedric Tillman (4) during a game against Akron on Saturday.

5 early College Football Playoff dark horses

No. 8 Kentucky: The Wildcats haven’t been dominant, but they have a star quarterback in Will Levis and a tough defense. They have to get through the SEC East — including No. 1 Georgia — but their schedule is favorable.


No. 11 Tennessee: The Volunteers rank fourth in the country in scoring (52 points per game), but they haven’t been tested outside of an overtime win over Pittsburgh. Upcoming games against Florida, LSU and Alabama will be revealing.

No. 12 NC State: Is this finally the year? The Wolfpack have won double-digit games just once in their history, going 11-3 in 2002. Quarterback Devin Leary will need to live up to his potential for NC State to meet unusually high expectations.

No. 16 Ole Miss: Coach Lane Kiffin’s offense is always going to score, but the improvement of the defense has been eye-opening. The Rebels have to get past Alabama, but they’ve done it before.

No. 18 Washington: Why can’t Washington win the Pac-12? The way the Huskies dominated Michigan State behind four touchdown passes from Indiana transfer Michael Penix Jr. is proof that coach Kalen DeBoer’s team is dangerous.