College Football Week 4 Recap: Dynasties Falter, Underdogs Thrive

September 27, 2021

College football Week 4 turned out to be the most dramatic stretch of the season yet. A few of the sport’s biggest brands lost, others almost lost, and a handful of games went right down to the wire. Six more ranked teams faltered this weekend, continuing a trend of ranked teams losing at historic rates: 25 in four weeks, according to ESPN Stats & Information.


Aside from the sport’s obvious two best teams, Alabama and Georgia, it has now become unusually difficult to figure out who’s good and who isn’t. But we’ll try anyway: Here’s an attempt to sort out whose stock rose and whose fell during a surprisingly prickly weekend of games.

Winner: Arkansas

The Razorbacks didn’t win an SEC game in 2018 or 2019—the two years they were coached by former SMU boss Chad Morris. When Arkansas hired Georgia offensive line coach Sam Pittman ahead of last season, they handed him the biggest rebuilding job in the SEC. Less than two years in, he’s delivered. Arkansas beat Texas A&M 20–10 on Saturday at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX. The Hogs have beefed up considerably under Pittman, and their defense overwhelmed A&M QB Zach Calzada. Arkansas will probably lose to No. 2 Georgia next weekend, but that shouldn’t detract from the program’s rapid progress.

Loser: Jimbo Fisher

Fisher, A&M’s head coach, was on the losing end of that game. He’s a $9 million-a-year coach who built his career on a reputation as a good offensive schemer and someone who works effectively with quarterbacks. This year, after losing starter Kellen Mond to the NFL, A&M had a preseason battle between redshirt freshman Haynes King and redshirt sophomore Calzada for the starting job. King won, but he was injured in the Aggies’ second game. Since taking over, Calzada simply hasn’t been up to the job: He has a 52.8 percent completion rate, four touchdowns, three interceptions, and a dismal 5.7 yards per throw in parts of four games. A&M’s title hopes boiled down to Fisher finding a QB who could win with an elite defense. So far, he hasn’t been able to do that.

Winner: NC State

Few college football fan bases have known more consistent pain than the Wolfpack. The Pack have not even shared an ACC title since 1979, and the program has never once played in a New Year’s Six or BCS-level bowl game. NC State is usually pretty good but has perpetually failed to get over the hump, especially against Carolina rivals like Clemson. But the Wolfpack beat the Tigers 27–21 in overtime on Saturday for their most triumphant moment in years. Dave Doeren’s defense punished Clemson QB D.J. Uiagalelei all afternoon, and the offense scored a winning TD in overtime after kicker Christopher Dunn missed three field goals in regulation, including one that would’ve ended the game at the buzzer.

Loser: Clemson

The Tigers have two September losses and are out of the College Football Playoff race much earlier than usual. (Every year since 2015, Clemson has at least been in the mix until the end of the regular season.) Clemson has a ton of issues. Five-star QB Uiagalelei looks totally out of sorts and could only manage 111 yards on 26 attempts in Raleigh (a 4.3-yard average). Running back Will Shipley, who’s now one of several key Tigers dealing with potentially serious injuries, has not been able to get rolling behind a lousy offensive line. In addition, the offensive play-calling has looked stale this season. Clemson still plays great defense, but this is Dabo Swinney’s worst team in years, and there’s no clear answer for a turnaround.

Winner: The ACC

Clemson’s struggles leave the door wide open in a conference the Tigers have won each year since 2015. NC State might have both the defense and the QB (Devin Leary) to break through this fall. Boston College, under second-year coach Jeff Halfley, beat Missouri in overtime on Saturday and scored 41 points with a backup QB to move to 4–0. Wake Forest is also unbeaten under the always-solid Dave Clawson and pulverized a pretty decent Virginia team in Charlottesville on Friday by a score of 37–17. Syracuse beat Liberty (and their potential first-round NFL QB Malik Willis) and looks to have a vastly improved defense. Even Pitt, which lost to Western Michigan a week ago, is getting great QB play from Kenny Pickett and still looks like a contender in the league. The ACC has not had this much parity in a long time; it’ll be fun to watch it play out.

Loser: Iowa State

With Oklahoma still unbeaten but struggling badly (including nearly losing to West Virginia at home on Saturday), Iowa State has an opening to make a Big 12 title run this year. The Cyclones didn’t help their cause by losing in dramatic fashion at Baylor, 31–29, over the weekend. ISU QB Brock Purdy, thought to be one of the best players in the conference, has been one of the Big 12’s least effective passers through four games. He is eighth among qualified Big 12 passers in ESPN’s QBR, only ahead of KU’s Jason Bean. Things could be better in Ames.

Winner: UTSA

The Roadrunners, who are only in their 10th season as a major program, are tracking toward their best season ever. They came back from a 21–0 first-quarter deficit at Memphis on Saturday to beat the Tigers 31–28 thanks to a last-second field goal by Hunter Duplessis. Running back Sincere McCormick (three TDs) could be the best offensive player in Conference USA, and head coach Jeff Traylor has UTSA playing with fire on both sides of the ball.

Loser: USC

The Trojans fired Clay Helton, their chronically underachieving head coach, two weeks ago. It appears they still have a long way to go, because Oregon State destroyed them on Friday night, 45–27, in Los Angeles. That should never happen. The game wasn’t even as close as the 18-point margin indicated. OSU was up by that much in the third quarter.

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