Week 4 of the 2023 college football season is one of the most anticipated in recent memory as the schedule is absolutely loaded with teams around the country opening conference play in earnest. But the biggest reason for excitement is that after not having a single ranked matchup in Week 3, there are six games featuring ranked teams squaring off in Week 4, the most on a single day since 2006.
Only one of those six games pits two nonconference foes together as No. 6 Ohio State travels to No. 9 Notre Dame for the backend of a home-and-home series. The Buckeyes beat the Irish 21-10 in Columbus, Ohio, last season, though this year's game should be a much closer affair with major implications on the College Football Playoff race.
No. 19 Colorado is looking to continue the hype-train rolling against No. 10 Oregon during a prominent Saturday for the Pac-12 as a whole. The Buffaloes' showdown with the Ducks is one of three ranked matchups for the league, more than any other conference.
With so much anticipation building ahead of this weekend, let's have a look at one key for each team involved in a ranked matchup. And as a bonus afterwards, we'll also break down the much-anticipated ACC showdown between No. 4 Florida State and Clemson given the recent history between the two programs and their battle for league supremacy. All times below Eastern.
No. 19 Colorado at No. 10 Oregon
3:30 p.m. on ABC
Colorado -- Establish the run game: Freshman running back Dylan Edwards is Colorado's leading rusher, but he's averaging a paltry 45 yards per game. Touted Kentucky transfer Kavosiey Smoke, who averaged over 5 yards per carry in his time with the Wildcats, has one carry on the year. Houston transfer Alton McCaskill is still recovering from a torn ACL and hasn't seen any action, though he could return soon -- perhaps even in time for this matchup, which could serve as a get-right game for Colorado's rushing attack. Oregon has the third-worst rushing defense in the Pac-12, allowing 127 yards per game. Take some of the burden off Shedeur Sanders and try to pound the rock early regardless of who' s available out of the backfield.
Oregon -- Get after Shedeur Sanders: Sanders has shown that he's really hard to rattle. Of the few mistakes he has made this year, most have come under pressure. Colorado's offensive line is very, very susceptible to allowing pressure as the Buffaloes rank 128th nationally -- out of 133 schools -- in pass blocking efficiency with 16 sacks allowed this year. They have given up at least four sacks in all three of Colorado's games. Sanders does need to learn when to bail on a play, though, which is a discussion for another time. Oregon's front, which has six sacks through three games, needs to take advantage of a porous offensive line and try to throw off Sanders.
3:30 p.m. on Fox
UCLA -- Can Dante Moore handle the pressure? This isn't the freshman quarterback's first road start; he got his toes wet in Week 2 at San Diego State in front of 32,017 fans where the Bruins jumped out to a 28-10 halftime lead and took the crowd out of the game early. With all due respect to San Diego State, but Utah's Rice-Eccles Stadium is in an entirely different stratosphere. The Utes haven't lost at home since Nov. 21, 2020, and even then fans weren't allowed to attend the game due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Even with the fantastic year he's put together thus far through his first three career starts, Moore is walking into the lion's den Saturday. UCLA's hopes hinge on how he deals with the atmosphere.
Utah -- How healthy are the Utes? Utah could trot out two drastically different teams on Saturday: one with quarterback Cameron Rising and tight end Brant Kuithe and one without. Both are recovering from ACL tears suffered last season. It should go without saying that Rising's availability is crucial, but Kuithe occupies probably the most important role in Utah's offense outside of quarterback as a hybrid receiving/rushing/run-blocking tight end. The Utes are 3-0 without those two. Nevertheless, UCLA can score better than any team Utah has seen this year, so it might need a fully functional offense to keep pace.
Ole Miss -- Limit Jalen Milroe: Alabama's passing attack is in disarray, the wide receiver talent is a far cry from what it used to be, the offensive line cannot effectively pass block -- five sacks given up against South Florida -- and Milroe has a huge but frustratingly inconsistent arm with a knack for turnovers. What Milroe can do, however, is run the ball extremely well. Alabama has had not problem getting work done on the ground this year, so there's a really good chance the Crimson Tide go full "joyless murderball" and scheme up looks to get Milroe in space while leaning on a talented cadre of running backs. The Rebels need to be wary of this and challenge Alabama to beat them through the air.
Alabama -- Perform better against the passing game: In two games against non-Power Five competition, the Crimson Tide allowed 220 total passing yards and one touchdown while tallying two interceptions. In one game against Quinn Ewers-led Texas, the Crimson Tide got shredded to the tune of 349 yards and three touchdowns through the air without forcing a turnover. Not all of the issues can be laid on the secondary, though. Bama went without a sack in its loss to the Longhorns. Now, the Crimson Tide have to face an Ole Miss team paced by quarterback Jaxson Dart, who's sixth in the SEC with 852 passing yards and seven touchdowns to one interception. The Rebels offense has only given up five sacks all year, as well. Alabama's pass defense needs to be so much better at every level.
No. 14 Oregon State at No. 21 Washington State
7 p.m. on Fox
Oregon State -- Take better care of the ball: Quarterback DJ Uiagalelei threw two interceptions last week against San Diego State and the Beavers still won 26-9. That's not going to cut it against Washington State. Oregon State will want to slow the game down and keep the ball away from Wazzu's explosive offense. OSU's defense is more than capable of doing that, but the offense needs to take care of the ball to extend drives and keep the defense ahead of schedule.
Washington State -- Let Cameron Ward cook: The fourth-year junior is getting overlooked because this is an insanely good year for quarterbacks, but Ward is putting together a stellar campaign so far. If there's one way to hurt this staunch Oregon State defense, it's through the air. The Beavers surrendered 200-plus passing yards against San Diego State and San Jose State, though neither Mountain West school was able to finish drives. Oregon State is susceptible to rushing quarterbacks as well; not accounting for lost sack yardage, San Diego State's Jalen Mayden and San Jost State's Chevan Cordeiro both led their teams in rushing. Ward is the only player on Washington State's roster with 90-plus rushing yards this season.
No. 6 Ohio State at No. 9 Notre Dame
7:30 p.m. on NBC
Ohio State -- Feed Marvin Harrison Jr. to open up the offense: Yes, Notre Dame is going to key in on Harrison from the moment Ohio State's offense first touches the ball. He isn't a secret -- he's the best wide receiver in college football. But in Ohio State's season opener against Indiana in which the Buckeyes were held to their lowest scoring total against the Hoosiers since 1993, Harrison had just two catches for 18 yards. Ohio State has scored an average of 49 points per game since and Harrison had 100-plus receiving yards in each of the last two contests. That isn't a coincidence. Find ways to get Harrison the ball early and often and other options will open up as the game progresses.
Notre Dame -- Attack Ohio State's inexperienced offensive line: The Buckeyes had to replace both offensive tackles and a three-year starter at center. Their almost entirely new-look offensive line hasn't seen anything like Notre Dame this year, and it hasn't looked great against vastly inferior competition thus far. OSU surrendered two sacks against FCS Youngstown State and two quarterback hurries against Western Kentucky. The Fighting Irish would be wise to do everything they can to cause disarray along the line of scrimmage. Marcus Freeman is a defensive guru, so one can imagine that he's cooking up all kinds of exotic looks and blitz packages to take advantage of an offensive front still trying to find its footing.
No. 24 Iowa at No. 7 Penn State
Iowa -- New offensive playmakers need to step up: Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz announced Tuesday that tight end and leading receiver Luke Lachey as well as running backs Jaziun Patterson and Kaleb Johnson will miss Saturday's game. That's a lot of holes to fill for an offense that wasn't all that great with those players present. Renewing focus on the run game is a good place to start. Penn State is fresh off an Illinois win in which it notched four interceptions, and Iowa really isn't built to expose any secondaries. Iowa junior running back Leshon Williams, the Hawkeyes' leading rusher on just 19 carries through three games, needs to be ready to tote a heavier load.
Penn State -- Take some shots early: Iowa's defense is superb but the crowd will be entirely on Penn State's side. If the Nittany Lions can open up a two-possession lead early -- especially by two touchdowns -- that might just be enough to hold serve the rest of the way. Iowa's offense is horribly shorthanded, and the Hawkeyes are not built to play from behind. Ride the White Out environment and generate some real chunk plays.
Bonus: No. 4 Florida State at Clemson
12 p.m. ET on ABC
Florida State -- Avoid the simple mistakes: The Seminoles held a 31-16 lead late in the third quarter and should have had an easy victory over Boston College last week. Florida State proceeded to fumble a kickoff and give the Eagles the ball at the Seminoles' 26-yard line. Boston College was unable to capitalize, but on Florida State's next offensive possession, the Eagles forced a fumble and returned it for a touchdown. While the Seminoles were able to overcome these errors against Boston College, slipping up like that against Clemson will cost them the game.
Clemson -- Take full advantage of Cade Klubnik's dual-threat ability: This one is pretty straightforward. Klubnik competed in track and field at the high school level and he has shown a decent ability to run the ball throughout his young career. In fact, he has 106 sack-adjusted rushing yards on just 23 carries this season. Florida State's defense just allowed Boston College QB Thomas Castellanos to run all over it for 95 yards and one touchdown. The math here is pretty simple and leads to one answer: Conjure up ways to get Klubnik involved in the run game and you will move the ball.