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Top playoff contenders -- especially in the Pac-12 -- hit the road
espn.com their take on the upcoming weekend games
Don't get comfortable, UCLA.
It's Week 4, and it's time to hit the road.
Some of the top playoff contenders will have to travel this week -- including UCLA, TCU and LSU -- but no game is more meaningful right now than the Bruins' trip to Arizona. The Pac-12 will take center stage, as UCLA and Arizona, two of the league's four undefeated teams, will face each other in a game that will go a long way in shaping the South race -- and in turn the playoff picture.
Here's a look at the most important road trips that will help shape the playoff race, ranked in order of biggest impact:
1. UCLA at Arizona Considering both teams still have to play at Stanford and USC, neither team is expected to survive the rest of the season undefeated, which is why winning this game is so important. ESPN's FPI projects the loser on Saturday will have three losses because it predicts both UCLA and Arizona will lose to Stanford and USC. Right now, UCLA is the league's top-ranked team and its best hope for one of the top four spots, but it just lost standout linebacker Myles Jack to a season-ending injury. That's the third notable season-ending injury on the Bruins' defense (DLEddie Vanderdoes and DB Fabian Moreau). The pressure is on UCLA to stay on top with a freshman quarterback and depleted defense.
2. Utah at Oregon Utah is undefeated, and Oregon QBVernon Adams Jr. is trying to play with a broken finger. The Ducks are already playing from behind because of their loss at Michigan State, but that can be overcome if they go on to win the Pac-12. A loss this weekend, though, would put their playoff hopes in serious jeopardy. FPI is predicting Oregon will lose to USC and Stanford. If that's the case, Oregon can't afford to lose at home before the toughest stretch of the season even begins.
3. TCU at Texas Tech Don't underestimate the importance of this one to the playoff picture. TCU could be in trouble. Revenge is on the Red Raiders' minds. They got it last week against Arkansas; now they're looking to derail TCU's playoff hopes, motivated by last year's 82-27 shellacking. TCU struggled to beat SMU last week with seven defensive starters sidelined. Safety Derrick Kindred is the only defensive starter from last season who is guaranteed to start on Saturday, and he's been playing through injury. If Texas Tech can pull off this upset, it would be 4-0 and hosting Baylor next week, while TCU would need some serious help to get back into the conversation.
4. LSU at Syracuse The Tigers have back-to-back wins over SEC West opponents, including a road victory in their opener against Mississippi State. LSU has been one constant in a league of chaos, but it still can't afford to trip up against a Syracuse team looking for its first 4-0 start since 1991. There's no hint of an upset brewing, especially with Leonard Fournette averaging an astonishing 8.2 yards per carry and 193 yards per game. In spite of the road trip, ESPN's FPI gives LSU a 93.8 percent chance of winning.
5. Stanford at Oregon State Could Stanford be this season's Ohio State, surviving an early nonconference loss only to go on to win the league? After back-to-back wins in which the offense appears to be rejuvenated, it's certainly possible. If the Cardinal just won at USC, you'd think they could handle a trip to Corvallis, Oregon. FPI gives Stanford a 91 percent chance to win on the road this week. There's no room for an upset -- Arizona and UCLA are up next.
The Pac-12 could be in a precarious position, according to ESPN's Football Power Index, which gives the league an 84 percent chance of having a league champion with two losses. That's the highest percentage of any Power 5 conference. There have been only two national champions with two or more losses -- Minnesota (1960) and LSU (2007).
TCU has already lost five defensive starters, now UCLA has lost three. Notre Dame has suffered enough injuries for the entire season. Maybe this year's playoff race isn't about who is the best team, rather which contender will remain the healthiest.
On the rebound: Georgia Tech, BYU. Georgia Tech has to shake off a disappointing loss to Notre Dame and refocus on its goal of winning the Coastal Division, starting with a road trip to Duke. BYU came oh-so-close to knocking off UCLA, but it can still have a special season and needs to rebound at Michigan.
Player in the spotlight: UCLA QB Josh Rosen. He's making his first start on the road against a ranked opponent and has struggled in the past two games, particularly on third down. Last week against BYU, Rosen completed 1 of 7 attempts with one interception and no touchdowns on third down.
Don't forget about: Western Michigan at Ohio State. The CFP selection committee compares common opponents, and Michigan State also played Western Michigan. Before Ohio State and Michigan State play on Nov. 21, when the head-to-head result will determine the better team, their results against common opponents will be a part of the evaluation. The Broncos weren't an easy out for Sparty. Will the Buckeyes find a way to get their offense moving against lesser competition?
Under the radar: Texas A&M vs. Arkansas. Both teams need a win for different reasons. Arkansas needs to avoid a third straight home loss, and the Aggies need to keep the momentum rolling from their 3-0 start.
Cupcake game: UMass at Notre Dame. The 0-2 Minutemen made the "Bottom 10" this week after squandering a lead over Temple in the final minute. The Irish should be 4-0 heading into Clemson.
Upset watch: Utah at Oregon. The health of both starting quarterbacks remains a question, but Utah's defense could be the difference in the game. Utah is allowing 105.7 rushing yards per game, and Oregon is 1-6 since Mark Helfrich's first season as the offensive coordinator at Oregon (2009) when it has been held to fewer than 140 rushing yards, including the Ducks' loss to Michigan State in Week 2.
Matchup to watch: TCU defense vs. Texas Tech QB Patrick Mahomes. The Horned Frogs' depleted defense struggled to slow down SMU last week, and Mahomes, who also plays baseball for the Red Raiders, ranks third in the country in total offense (1,029 passing yards, 129 rushing yards). He's a big reason for the 3-0 start and has already been named Big 12 Offensive Player of the Week twice.
Can't-miss game: UCLA at Arizona. Arizona has beaten a top-10 program in each of the past three seasons under Rich Rodriguez, but he's 0-3 against the Bruins.
GAMES OF THE WEEK
TCU at Texas Tech (Fox, 4:45 p.m. ET)
Pregame matchup quality: 87.6
• TCU: 68 percent predicted win percentage (6.5 predicted point differential)
• Texas Tech: ranks 2nd in offensive efficiency (94.8) and TCU ranks 11th (82.4)
Tennessee at Florida (CBS, 3:30 p.m. ET)Texas A&M vs Arkansas (ESPN, 7 p.m. ET)
Pregame matchup quality: 83.9
• Texas A&M: 73 percent predicted win percentage (8.3 predicted point differential)
• Arkansas: 75 percent to miss a bowl game after beginning the year 18th in the Preseason AP Top 25
Pregame matchup quality: 83.4
• Tennessee: 56 percent predicted win percentage (1.9 predicted point differential)
• Florida: leads the SEC in defensive efficiency through three weeks
USC at Arizona State (ESPN, 10:30 p.m. ET)
Pregame matchup quality: 81.1
• USC: 81 percent predicted win percentage (12.3 predicted point differential)
• USC: 51 percent chance to win the Pac-12 South
UCLA at Arizona (ABC, 8 p.m. ET)
Pregame matchup quality: 78.2
• UCLA: 58 percent predicted win percentage (2.6 predicted point differential)
• Josh Rosen: 91.2 Total QBR in his debut; 21.0 QBR since