BATON ROUGE LA - SEPTEMBER 25: Quarterback Geno Smith #12 of the West Virginia Mountaineers avoids a tackle by Sam Montgomery #99 of the Louisiana State University Tigers at Tiger Stadium on September 25 2010 in Baton Rouge Louisiana. The Tigers defeated the Mountaineers 20-14. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Is West Virginia a national contender again? Here are the five games that matter the most in terms of college football rankings, now with more Vanderbilt.
There are only a handful of important games pitting teams in the college football top 25 in Week 4. Florida State travels to Clemson looking to bounce back from a loss at Oklahoma's hands. Oklahoma State and Texas A&M meet to determine the stalking horse spot in the Big 12. Alabama and Arkansas meet in the SEC's first major clash of 2011.
But would you believe that West Virginia, which hosts LSU in Morgantown, has the most to gain?
No. 2 LSU vs. No. 16 West Virginia, 8:00 p.m. Saturday
If LSU wins: The Tigers stay in prime position to win a national championship by holding serve, and polish off perhaps their only ranked road foe until a November showdown with Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Also, they would have a resume finer than any other, with two wins away from home over ranked teams.
If West Virginia wins: The "Could West Virginia play for the BCS National Championship?" bandwagon is officially up and running. Geno Smith et al. would have the season's second-best win (behind Oklahoma's at Florida State), and a schedule that sets up nicely for a potential undefeated season. (The only team the 'Eers might not be favored over from here on out? USF ... in December.) And an undefeated team from a BCS automatic qualifier conference has only been shut out of the title game once: Auburn's fans can tell you something about 2004.
No. 3 Alabama vs. No. 14 Arkansas, 3:30 p.m. Saturday
If Alabama wins: Nick Saban's defense will have passed its first big test of the year, and the Crimson Tide will be able to move on to a relatively easy October (though the Tide might not be favored at Florida next week) before a wicked November.
If Arkansas wins: The Razorbacks upset the pecking order in the SEC West, and tip over the first domino in a rugged three-week gauntlet that includes this road test in Tuscaloosa and games against future SEC foe Texas A&M and reigning national champion Auburn.
No. 7 Oklahoma State at No. 8 Texas A&M, 3:30 p.m. Saturday
If Oklahoma State wins: The Cowboys get their roughest road game of 2011 out of the way before October even begins. Okie State still must travel to Texas, but it gets Baylor and Oklahoma at home, and if Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon are effective against this tough A&M defense in College Station, they might be devastating throughout Big 12 play.
If Texas A&M wins: Congrats, Aggies: You still have Arkansas next week, Baylor two weeks later, and a November with both Oklahoma and Texas to contend with. Oh, and every Big 12 team knows this is probably its last shot at y'all.
No. 11 Florida State vs. No. 21 Clemson, 3:30 p.m. Saturday
If Florida State wins: You can pencil in the Seminoles as the Atlantic Division's representative in the ACC Championship Game. It won't be safe to ink them in until after October meetings with divisional foes Wake Forest and Maryland, but Clemson's the only Atlantic team in range of the 'Noles' talent, and Florida State will have the head-to-head advantage in its pocket should it drop a game to an underdog in conference play.
If Clemson wins: The Tigers hold serve at home early, but face daunting road games at Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, and South Carolina. And as such, the Tigers wouldn't even necessarily look like the Atlantic Division favorites.
No. 12 South Carolina vs. Vanderbilt, 7:00 p.m. Saturday
If South Carolina wins: The Gamecocks add another W to a 2011 campaign marked by closer-than-expected wins. There's no bonus for beating Vanderbilt as a favorite, after all.
If Vanderbilt wins: The Commodores' outside chance at winning the SEC East stays alive, maybe even through what would have been looked at as certain death at Alabama next week. Vandy would still control its own SEC East destiny, though the 'Dores would need to score road wins over Florida and Tennessee to complete the most improbable journey to Atlanta since at least that Rasheed Wallace trade.