With most of college football having reached the quarter pole of their season, it feels like a safe time to take stock of the season. While some teams have overachieved and some are having seasons to remember, there are quite a few that are facing disaster after four weeks.
Like we always do on Thursdays, we’re going to highlight those teams in our "Teams Facing Disaster" roundup.
For those who are new to the concept, here are a few reminders: "Disaster" means something slightly different for every team; some need to avoid a loss to stay in the championship race, others to maintain bowl eligibility, and some to simply gain some amount of respectability. We’ll also that remind you that disaster is ‘relative.’ No one expects Kentucky to beat Alabama, so it can’t be considered ‘disaster’ if the Wildcats lose.
However, there are quite a few teams facing real disaster this weekend. Here are seven.
BYU vs. Toledo (Friday, 10:15 p.m. ET)
No team looks lousier on paper but actually is on the brink of being really good than BYU. The Cougars are just 1-3, but those three losses have come by a combined seven points. Thankfully, they should get a nice, easy home game against Toledo before a brutal road trip to Michigan State next weekend, right? Not exactly.
Toledo is more than a formidable MAC opponent; it is a mid-major force. The Rockets are 3-0, coming off a 10-win season and have plenty of experience picking up big road wins (after defeating Arkansas in Fayetteville last year). That’s also why BYU can’t afford to overlook the Rockets with Michigan State up next. Toledo could easily pull the upset.
With a loss here, simply getting bowl eligible wouldn’t be easy for the Cougars. With games remaining at Michigan State, at Boise State and at Cincinnati, plus Mississippi State at home, this is an absolute must-win for BYU.
Notre Dame vs. Syracuse (at MetLife Stadium, New York) (Saturday, 12 p.m. ET)
The plight of Notre Dame football is well-documented. Sitting at 1-3, the team has been arguably the most disappointing in college football this year, to the point that Brian Kelly fired defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder last week.
Sadly, it doesn’t get any easier for Notre Dame’s defense, which now faces a deceptively potent Syracuse offense. Dino Babers has brought his high-flying attack to snowy upstate New York, and this offense hasn’t disappointed -- averaging 28 points and tallying 497 yards per game (that ranks 25th nationally).
There is never a "good" time to play an offense this talented, but this week is especially bad for the Irish. Kelly is out of scapegoats with VanGorder gone. He’s also out of excuses if the Irish falter.
APCharles Rex Arbogast
Northwestern at Iowa (Saturday, 12 p.m. ET)
The Irish, USC and Oklahoma are on the short list of college football’s most disappointing teams, but Northwestern also belongs in that group. After a 10-win season a year ago, the Wildcats are 1-3, with losses to Western Michigan and Illinois State. Yikes.
The good news for Northwestern is that it has a chance to turn things around against a struggling Iowa team, which nearly lost to Rutgers last week after falling to North Dakota State the week before. The bad news is the Wildcats have no choice but to turn things around, with games remaining at Michigan State, at Ohio State and against Wisconsin.
If Northwestern doesn’t win here, it probably won’t go bowling at the end of the season.
Getty ImagesDavid Banks
Bowling Green vs. Eastern Michigan (Saturday, 3 p.m. ET)
Was it really just a year ago that under Babers, Bowling Green had one of the most explosive offenses in college football? It was, even if it feels like a lifetime ago.
Instead, Bowling Green is 1-3 and has suffered two of the most embarrassing losses in college football this season (losing to Ohio State 77-10 to open the season, followed by a 77-3 shellacking last week to Memphis). Not surprisingly, the Falcons have the worst defense in college football, giving up a cartoon-like 55 points per game. And now they host a surprising 3-1 Eastern Michigan squad this weekend.
At this point, it’s not even about winning this game for Bowling Green; it’s about respectability. If the Falcons give up another 70+ points, not only will it be disastrous, but coach Mike Jinks will start to feel the heat.
Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY SportsJoseph Maiorana
Penn State vs. Minnesota (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET)
The plight of Penn State football also has been well-documented. The Nittany Lions are 2-2 and coming off an embarrassing 49-10 loss at Michigan last week.
Last week's loss is the biggest problem for James Franklin. Prior to the Michigan game, it seemed like this program was making progress. After the Nittany Lions nearly beat Pitt on the road in Week 2 and then had a solid win over Temple, it seemed like things were finally starting to turn in Franklin’s favor. Then came the Michigan loss, and all the progress got washed away.
The Nittany Lions can’t afford to lose to Minnesota at home. Otherwise, Franklin’s job status might be called into question.
Oklahoma at TCU (Saturday, 5 p.m. ET, FOX)
If the struggling Sooners can’t turn it around this week -- refreshed after a bye week -- will they be able to salvage their 2016 seaso?
Probably not, which is why this game is so important. With a win over TCU, Oklahoma will be 1-0 in the Big 12 and in great position to win the league. However, a loss would drop the Sooners to 1-3 and put a Big 12 title virtually out of the picture.
At that point, Oklahoma would be playing for nothing but pride going forward. As for Bob Stoops? I can only imagine how those OU message boards would look come Sunday morning.
Getty ImagesScott Halleran
Oregon at Washington State (Saturday, 9:30 p.m. ET)
The Ducks easily could be 4-0, but are instead 2-2 and coming off a stunning home loss to Colorado. As crazy as this would have sounded two weeks ago, is this matchup against Washington State a “make or break” game for the Ducks?
It feels like it because Oregon still has a brutal stretch to close out the year, with games against Washington, Stanford and at Utah, not to mention difficult matchups at USC and at home against Arizona State.
If Oregon loses this game, it might struggle to get bowl eligible this year. For a that which played for a national title two years ago, that seems inconceivable. But it’s the new reality at Oregon.