Stadium’s college football Upset Meter is back for Week 4.
Here’s how it works. We’ll go through the Top 25 teams that are in action this weekend and place each game in one of four categories:
(1) It wouldn’t be surprising if they lost
(2) Stranger things have happened
(3) Never say never
(4) (We think) these teams are safe
Each category means we think the ranked teams involved are more likely to win than the ranked teams that are listed in the previous category. The record listed below each heading shows the win/loss record of the teams that were placed in that category in previous weeks.
Last week, the first week of the Upset Meter, two of the four teams we put in the “It wouldn’t be surprising if they lost” category ended up getting losing — USC and Maryland.
And all 12 teams that we said were safe from an upset won their games.
Games between two ranked teams are put in context of the higher-ranked team because ultimately, once the Top 25 rankings in college football switch over from the AP Top 25 poll to the College Football Playoff rankings after Week 10, the higher-ranked team will be viewed by the committee as a better team (and therefore in better position to make the playoff) than the lower-ranked team.
So even though No. 11 Michigan is a 3.5-point underdog on the road to No. 13 Wisconsin in Week 4 (at least at the time this story was written), and a win for the Wolverines would technically be an upset of the Badgers in the eyes of Vegas oddsmakers, we’re defining things from a forward-thinking, playoff perspective.
Without further ado, here’s the Upset Meter for Week 4.
It wouldn’t be surprising if they lost
No. 11 Michigan (+3.5) at No. 13 Wisconsin
The aforementioned Wolverines rank nine (!) spots behind the Badgers in the SP+ rankings — Wisconsin is No. 7, Michigan is No. 16 — after Week 3. That says how unimpressive Michigan has been on offense (No. 74 SP+) because its defense ranks No. 1 nationally.
The Wolverines are lucky that they’re not limping into Madison with a 1-1 record after playing Army in the Big House, and while Wisconsin hasn’t played a Power Five opponent, it has outscored South Florida and Central Michigan 110-0.
Michigan leads the all-time series 51-15-1, but it hasn’t won in Madison since 2001, having lost in its last four trips. Sure, those were different teams and all, but it’s clearly a tough place to play, especially against a Wisconsin team that ranks in the top 16 in SP+ on offense and defense, and has an all-time great running back in Jonathan Taylor who can help eat the clock if the favored Badgers build a lead.
No. 8 Auburn (+3.5) at No. 17 Texas A&M
Call this the third-place game for the SEC West. No. 2 Alabama and No. 4 LSU appear to have the inside track for the division and all that comes with it — an SEC Championship Game appearance and potential playoff berth. But that doesn’t mean Auburn and Texas A&M aren’t good and capable of upsetting the Crimson Tide or Tigers with a complete performance.
Similar to Michigan-Wisconsin, the higher-ranked team is getting 3.5 points in Vegas, but Auburn is ranked nine spots higher in the AP poll thanks to a season-opening win over Oregon, and Texas A&M having to play at No. 1 Clemson in Week 2. In the SP+ rankings, Auburn is No. 9 and Texas A&M is No. 11, with the Tigers’ No. 31 offense ranking just one spot ahead of A&M’s.
This will be the first road start for Auburn’s freshman quarterback Bo Nix, and the Aggies played well at home against good teams last season — lost to No. 2 Clemson 28-26, beat No. 13 Kentucky 20-14 (OT) and beat No. 8 LSU 74-72 (7OT).
No. 23 California (+2.5) at Ole Miss
The Justin Wilcox era looks promising for Cal, which has beaten Washington and cracked the AP Top 25 poll in each of the last two seasons. The Golden Bears’ offense is, uh, shall we say a work in progress, however. It ranks No. 117 in SP+ and the team ranks No. 60 overall — a 37-spot gap between its AP poll ranking and SP+ ranking — so don’t be surprised if there’s a regression for Cal.
That regression could start in Week 4 on the road against an Ole Miss team that ranks No. 38 in SP+. The Rebels have had their own struggles on offense (No. 88 SP+), but the computers like the defense of the SEC West’s sixth-best team just as much as they do the stingy Bears (Cal’s defense ranks No. 15 in SP+, Ole Miss ranks No. 16).
Stranger things have happened
Oklahoma State at No. 12 Texas (-6)
Psst, don’t tell anyone but Oklahoma State ranks eight spots higher in the SP+ rankings than Texas.
The Cowboys’ offense, which is led by national rushing leader Chuba Hubbard (521 yards, 66 more than the next closest player), ranks No. 10, one spot ahead of the Longhorns. Oklahoma State already has two true road wins this season over Oregon State and Tulsa, both of whom rank in the mid-90s in SP+, and neither game was particularly close.
Going into Austin to face Texas will be a different animal, but the Cowboys beat the Longhorns at home last season and the two teams finished the season ranked in similar positions in SP+ (Oklahoma State at No. 22, Texas at No. 32). Oklahoma State’s redshirt freshman quarterback Spencer Sanders (67%, 622 passing yards, 7 TD, 1 INT, 219 rushing yards, 6.4 ypc) has impressed early.
No. 10 Utah (-4) at USC
USC has already beaten one ranked conference foe at home this month, so could lightning strike again?
We don’t think so, even though Utah is only favored by four points, because Stanford (USC’s last ranked victim) might end up walking the fine line of bowl eligibility this season, while the Utes could have the offensive/defensive balance and the schedule required to join the playoff conversation in late October.
Utah ranks No. 19 in SP+, so the Utes might be currently overvalued by the AP poll voters, but they already won handily at BYU, 30-12, whereas the Trojans just lost 30-27 in Provo. That’s as clean of a transitive property win as possible, given the recency and the fact that both teams played on the road.
Utah running back Zack Moss (57 carries for 373 yards, 4 TD) has been an absolute workhorse, and he’s tied for 19th nationally with 12 plays from scrimmage that have gone for at least 10 yards.
No. 22 Washington (-6.5) at BYU
BYU has already beaten a ranked Pac-12 team at home and Washington has already lost to an arguably worse team than BYU (California is No. 60 in SP+, BYU is No. 46), so this upset is definitely on the table.
Washington is strong in all three phases — No. 19 offense, No. 27 defense and No. 17 special teams in SP+ — so the most likely path to a Cougars win might be the BYU defense making Jacob Eason’s day miserable like Cal did (18-for-30 passing, 162 yards, 1 interception) while its own quarterback, Zach Wilson, has another 200-plus-yard passing performance while avoiding sacks.
He was sacked a combined seven times by Tennessee and USC, which limited him to a combined four rushing yards on 15 attempts.
Colorado at No. 24 Arizona State (-7.5)
Herm Edwards has now steered Arizona State into the AP Top 25 two years in a row and even if the Sun Devils aren’t truly a Top 25 team — they’re No. 45 in SP+ — their defense is legitimately good, if not great (No. 8 SP+). Surely playing Michigan State’s dismal offense helps those computer numbers, but it sets up an intriguing clash with Colorado’s top-15 offense.
Never say never
No. 15 UCF (-12) at Pittsburgh
Penn State ranks four spots higher than UCF in the SP+ rankings, and Pitt held the Nittany Lions to just 17 points in a seven-point road defeat. The Panthers’ defense ranks No. 20 in the SP+, so they should put up a tougher fight than the Stanford defense that surrendered 28 points to UCF in the first quarter in Orlando last week. UCF beat Pitt by 31 points last season, and this feels like it’ll be another multiple-touchdown margin of victory for the Knights, especially after the performance that freshman quarterback Dillon Gabriel had in Week 3.
No. 16 Oregon (-10) at Stanford
Stanford won in overtime at No. 20 Oregon last year and for the sake of national interest in the Pac-12 (and the conference’s playoff hopes), the Ducks better pray it doesn’t happen again.
The Cardinal is riding a two-game losing streak after falling at USC and at UCF, leaving Stanford ranked No. 57 in the SP+ rankings — 40 spots behind No. 17 Oregon. The Ducks, especially their defense (No. 12 SP+), have looked good the last two weeks as they’ve beaten up on Nevada and Montana.
Air Force at No. 20 Boise State (-8.5)
Air Force won in overtime at Colorado last week, so the Falcons shouldn’t be overlooked as they check in at a respectable No. 63 in the SP+ rankings after Week 3 (higher than 13 Power Five teams).
But Boise State might be the best non-UCF Group of Five team in the country and even though freshman quarterback Hank Bachmeier has gotten a lot of attention, especially after the team’s win at Florida State, it’s the Broncos’ defense (No. 21 SP+) that has been their best unit.
SMU at No. 25 TCU (-9.5)
SMU is ranked just behind Northwestern and Vanderbilt in the SP+ rankings, so the Mustangs are the quality of a lower-end Power Five team, just for reference. But the Horned Frogs are fresh off of housing Purdue on the road 34-13 despite completing just 8-of-24 passes for 75 yards.
TCU will likely have a better day through the air against SMU’s defense (No. 92 in SP+) and its rushing attack, which ran for a service-academy-esque 346 yards, six yards per carry and three touchdowns, should be able to control the clock.
Tennessee at No. 9 Florida (-14)
Florida will be starting backup quarterback Kyle Trask after Feleipe Franks’ season-ending ankle injury, which could make some Volunteer fans optimistic about this weekend, but Trask looked more than adequate against Kentucky, completing 9-of-13 passes for 126 yards.
Even if Florida potentially feels over-ranked at No. 9, the SP+ rankings support that ranking as the Gators are at No. 8 in SP+. A win in Gainesville would turn Tennessee’s season around in a hurry, but is a team that lost at home to Georgia State and BYU really capable of beating a top team on the road?
The answer might be an overwhelming “No.”
No. 7 Notre Dame at No. 3 Georgia (-14)
Notre Dame ranks in the top 10 in offense and special teams in the SP+ rankings, but Georgia ranks in the top seven in all three phases, checking in at No. 2 overall. The Bulldogs haven’t lost at home since their season finale in 2016, and they have the more talented roster. Georgia needed a late touchdown to win by one point in South Bend when these two teams met two years ago, and we don’t think it will be nearly that close this time.
(We think) these teams are safe
Charlotte at No. 1 Clemson (-41.5)
Southern Miss at No. 2 Alabama (-38.5)
No. 4 LSU (-23.5) at Vanderbilt
Miami (OH) at No. 6 Ohio State (-39.5)
UCLA at No. 19 Washington State (-18.5)
Old Dominion at No. 21 Virginia (-30)