Three five-star plays highlight Week 4 action and two of them come from the Mountain West Conference, beginning with Thursday night's battle between BYU and Boise State.
The 2-1 Cougars fell from the ranks of the unbeaten when kicker Riley Stephenson missed a game-tying, 36-yard field goal at the end of last week's wacky finish at Utah. The missed attempt resulted in a 24-21 Utes' victory - a game BYU should have won. The difference in the contest was two costly BYU turnovers that led to 10 Utah points.
The Cougars actually outgained Utah by 67 yards while compiling 25 first downs to the Utes' 14. Bronco Mendenhall's club rallied late with two fourth-quarter touchdowns but could not come up with the final three points when the game was on the line.
Prior to that contest, the Cougars blew out Washington State and Weber State. They also have been one of the better road teams in the country, going 24-15 since Mendenhall took over as coach back in 2005.
Boise State lost its opener at Michigan State - a game the Broncos were beaten badly in almost every statistical category except turnovers and points scored. The Spartans outgained Boise State by over 250 yards with the same first-down differential as BYU had over Utah (25-14). However, quarterback Andrew Maxwell threw three interceptions, including one that was returned for a touchdown. In fact, that was the lone touchdown Boise State scored the entire game.
The Broncos got back to their winning ways with a 27-point victory over Miami of Ohio last Saturday. Still, the RedHawks only trailed by six points when the two teams went to their respective locker rooms at halftime.
Running back D.J. Harper had a field day against Miami's defense, rushing for 162 yards on only 16 carries. Nevertheless, it's doubtful he will post similar numbers against a BYU defense that is ranked sixth nationally against the run. If the Cougars can hold Harper to under 100 yards, they have a great chance to not only cover the inflated spread, but also win the game outright.
BYU is averaging over 400 yards of offense per game this year, and don't forget Boise State only has two returning defensive starters from a season ago. We all saw how easy it was for Michigan State to pile up the yardage against the Broncos in Week 1, and if the Spartans were not plagued by the turnover bug, they would have won by double-digits. The formula for this week's contest is simple: the Cougars win the turnover battle, they win the game.
The Broncos are 38-1 straight-up in their last 39 home games, but are 1-7 against-the-spread in their last eight. The Cougars are 4-0 ATS the last four times they were underdogs on the road, with one outright victory and two losses by a single point. The last time these two teams met in 2004, an 11-0 regular-season Boise State squad defeated a 5-6 BYU team at home, 28-27. This time, the result will be slightly different as the Cougars get the victory.
Take BYU plus 7.5 points.
The other MWC five-star play comes from the Nevada-Hawaii matchup.
The Wolf Pack are 1-9 SU the last 10 times they have played in Hawaii, with the lone victory coming by one point over UCF (in overtime) in the 2005 Hawaii Bowl. Nevada has lost seven straight road games to Hawaii with just one cover since 2000
The Wolf Pack's defense has been atrocious this season as it ranks 114th nationally in total defense, allowing 507 yards per game. Opposing offenses are averaging over 5.5 yards per carry on the ground and not a single team has allowed more passing touchdowns.
Given all those numbers, one would think Hawaii would be favored. On the contrary, the Warriors are getting 8.5 points.
Hawaii could not do much in its first game against USC, but there's a big difference between the Trojans and the Wolf Pack. The Warriors bounced back to crush Lamar last week, 54-2, holding the Cardinals to six first downs and 127 total yards. Nevada will give them a much tougher test than Lamar, but the fact this contest is a home game makes all the difference in the world.
Take Hawaii plus the 8.5 points.
The final five-star selection comes out of the Pac-12, where Utah takes on Arizona State in Tempe.
The Sun Devils, who are 1-1 against Football Bowl Subdivision squads, will be playing against their third backup quarterback in as many weeks.
Illinois went with its second- and third-string QBs in Week 2 and the two signal-callers combined to throw for 101 yards with three interceptions. Missouri played without James Franklin the following week and defeated Arizona State by four points. The Sun Devils turned the ball over four times, but trailed 24-7 with one turnover apiece (the final three came later in the game). Moreover, Missouri's kicker missed three field goals throughout the contest.
Jon Hays starts for Utah in place of the retired Jordan Wynn, but at least he has had experience under center. Hays (7-3 as a starter) started nine games in 2011 and last week's game versus BYU.
The key for Utah is the health of running back John White, who missed last week's battle with BYU. Coach Kyle Whittingham has stated his No. 1 running back will be in uniform against Arizona State, so fans of the Utes should not worry about White's availability.
Also back for the Utes will be starting safeties Brian Blechen and Eric Rowe. Blechen returns from a three-game suspension while Rowe missed last week's contest due to an injured hamstring.
Utah has won its last two Pac-12 road games, while Arizona State has lost its last two conference home games. If White is back to his old self, look for the Utes to upset the favored Sun Devils.
Take Utah plus seven points.
Take Clemson +14 (at Florida State) and Michigan +5.5 (at Notre Dame).
Go with Wisconsin -17 (versus UTEP), South Carolina -10 (against Missouri), Maryland +27.5 (at West Virginia), Wyoming +2 (at Idaho), Southern Miss +4.5 points (at Western Kentucky) and Iowa -15.5 (against Central Michigan)
Take Utah State - 12.5 (at Colorado State), Fresno State +5.5 (at Tulsa) and Arizona +24 (at Oregon).