Week Four of the 2020 college football season is in the books, and I dare say it felt far more “normal” than the three that came before it. With the SEC becoming the sixth FBS conference to kickoff its season and the Big Ten, Pac-12, Mountain West, and Conference USA set to join them in the coming weeks, last weekend’s slate of college games was far more robust than what fans have been blessed with thus far. College football lovers were treated to high-flying Big 12 offenses, hard-hitting SEC slugfests, and the wacky and unpredictable upsets that have come to define the sport. One could almost watch these games and forget that they were in the midst of a global pandemic. Almost.
Several of the SEC’s heavy-weights appear to have picked up exactly where they left off at the end of the 2020 season, with the notable exception of defending national champion LSU who was dispatched by Mississippi State 44-34 on the backs of a record-setting 623 yard performance from Bulldogs QB K.J. Costello. Florida head coach Dan Mullen finally seems to have established the type of high-powered scoring attack that will remind Gator fans more of the glory days of Meyer and Spurrier than the offensive ineptitude that characterized the Will Muschamp and Jim McElwain eras. Auburn’s sophomore quarterback Bo Nix looked composed and far more comfortable in Gus Malzahn’s offense than he did during his freshman campaign, making plays with both his arm (233 passing yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions) and legs (a team-leading 34 rushing yards on five carries) in Auburn’s 29-13 win over #23 Kentucky. Nick Saban’s Alabama machine looked poised to once again stay in the thick of the SEC and national title chases in the Tide’s 38-19 win over Missouri, and while Georgia took a while to find its footing, the Dawgs may have found their replacement for Jacob Fromm at quarterback in former walk-on Stetson Bennett (at least until USC transfer JT Daniels is fully recovered from his knee injury).
Meanwhile, the Big 12 proved that it remains as wild, unpredictable, and allergic to playing defense as ever. The same Kansas State team that fell to Arkansas State in its opener and is in the midst of a full-on coronavirus outbreak managed to storm back from 24 points down to shock the #3 Oklahoma Sooners who clearly thought the game had ended after the first forty minutes of play. The Sooners seem to be suffering from the same defensive woes that have plagued them for the past several seasons, but without the superstar quarterback and the incredible depth of elite skill-position talent they’ve been blessed with in recent years, Lincoln Riley’s team appears more vulnerable than fans are used to seeing. A few poor first-half decisions by Oklahoma QB Spencer Rattler prevented Oklahoma from putting the game completely out of reach, while some truly porous defense allowed the Wildcats to claw their way back into the game. Speaking of an inability to hold a lead, Texas Tech wilted in a thrilling 63-56 overtime game against Texas in which Longhorn quarterback Sam Ehlinger showed why he deserves to be a legitimate contender for the Heisman Trophy. Finally, TCU’s inability to stop Iowa State running back Breece Hall helped Iowa State gut out a 37-34 road win despite Cyclone quarterback Brock Purdy making one of the worst single plays I’ve ever seen in college football.
But week four had more great action for college football die-hards to devour. Iowa State’s former nemesis the Louisiana Ragin Cajuns proved why they’ve earned their status as my second favorite college football team by defeating Georgia Southern on a last-second field goal, #14 Cincinnati posted an impressive 24-14 win over a dangerous Army team, and the 3-0 Pittsburgh Panthers’ pass defense put on a clinic in their 23-20 win against a very capable Louisville offense which will hopefully not be without Malik Cunningham for too long after he was knocked out of the game late in the contest.
It was also great to see Virginia Tech finally take the field. The Hokies had twice delayed their season opener due to coronavirus concerns, but Justin Fuente’s team proved that patience is a virtue by cleanly dispatching of NC State once they were finally able to suit up. The Hokies were forced to play without 23 athletes and four coaches, including their starting QB and defensive coordinator, but didn’t miss a beat and quickly jumped out to a 17-0 lead. Virginia Tech’s elation at being able to finally play football again was both apparent and infectious, and one can only hope that the Hawkeyes are able to channel a similar level of passion when they return to the gridiron on October 24.