This article is part of our Start vs. Sit series.
We're three weeks into the season and early-season oddities are now evolving into trends that could last for the rest of the year. Looking ahead to Week 4, we have a number of great matchups in each conference that are worth targeting, as well as a surplus of matchups to avoid. Without further adieu, let's take a look at who to start and who to sit for Week 4.
PLAYERS TO START
Noel Thomas, WR, Connecticut (vs. Syracuse): Although UConn will be punching up this week and playing an ACC opponent, this still sets up as a great matchup for Thomas. The senior wideout has quietly had a great start to the season, hauling in 26 receptions for 277 yards and a touchdown through the first three games of the year. To be clear, Connecticut doesn't sport the pass-happy attack that other AAC schools do, but Thomas is essentially the only act in town when it comes to the Huskies' receiving corps. He has 19 more catches than Hergy Mayala, who ranks second on the team in that category. What's more, Thomas only has one touchdown on 26 catches, a rate that's almost guaranteed to progress to the mean in due time. Look for Thomas to rack up close to double-digit receptions Saturday and possibly reach the end zone against a defense that has struggled to slow down the opposition through the air.
James Conner, RB, Pittsburgh (@ North Carolina): Conner has been one of the great stories in all of college football this season as he's been able to return after winning his battle with lymphoma. He hasn't just been able to get back on the field, he's been able to recapture his form as one of the premier power running backs in the nation. After a quiet season debut against Villanova, Conner has put together back-to-back weeks with over 110 yards and he's reached pay dirt in every game this year. This week he gets a matchup with a UNC defense that has been gashed on the ground thus far this season, allowing 4.9 yards per carry (105th in FBS). The Tar Heels have also allowed seven touchdowns on the ground, one of the worst marks among Power 5 clubs. Look for Conner to get 20+ carries again as Pitt's workhorse, which should be more than enough work for him to hit the century mark and reach the end zone.
JaMycal Hasty, RB, Baylor (vs. Oklahoma State): This might be a bit of a prisoner-of-the-moment-type play, but Hasty has truly outshined his backfield counterparts through the first three games of the season. He leads the team in yards with 237 despite having 14 fewer carries than Terence Williams. His 8.5 YPC mark is making it increasingly tough on coach Jim Grobe to leave him on the sideline in favor of Williams or Shock Linwood. Even if Hasty barely sees double-digit carries this weekend, he has the potential to still reach the 100-yard mark on an OSU defense that's average at best against the run.
De'Veon Smith, RB, Michigan (vs Penn State): Smith is a player I tend to avoid most weeks because of Michigan's muddled backfield picture where as many as 10 players could see a carry in a given game. However, this week might be different, as I expect the Wolverines to dial in their carry rotation a bit with a conference opponent coming to town. Not only has Penn State struggled to stop the run this season, giving up an average of 176 yards on the ground through three games, but the injury bug has hit hard in Happy Valley. Penn State may be replacing three Week 1 linebackers against Michigan, which makes an already vulnerable defense even easier to pick on. Smith should see upwards of 15 or more carries and should be able to rip off big yardage against an inexperienced front seven.
Dalton Sturm, QB, Texas-San Antonio (@ Old Dominion): Sturm was impressive against Arizona State on Friday as he nearly led the Roadrunners to a program-altering upset of the Sun Devils. Though he only completed 51 percent of his passes, he burned ASU for three touchdowns through the air while doing serious damage with his legs as well (82 yards, 1 TD). This week he should be even better against a less-talented opponent when UTSA tees it up with Old Dominion. This figures to be a high-scoring matchup and Sturm should have plenty of opportunities as both a runner and a passer to put up a strong stat line. Sturm is beginning to look like one of the premier Conference USA quarterbacks and his ownership percentage in season-long formats should certainly be on the rise.
Billy Bahl, QB, Miami (OH) (@ Cincinnati): The Bearcats do have some talented individual pieces on defense, but the unit as a whole is vulnerable. Bahl has quietly been one of the more productive passers in college football to start the season, ranking just outside the top 20 in yards per game at 285.0. He's also averaging a strong 9.3 YPA and has tossed six touchdowns against just one pick. With Cincinnati entering Saturday's game as heavy favorites, Bahl and the RedHawks figure to be going to the air for much of the afternoon. This could be a scenario where Bahl is asked to throw it well over 30 times and although Cincinnati will present a reasonably tough matchup, volume and scheme suggest that the sophomore could be in for a strong showing Saturday.
Kenny Potter, QB, San Jose State (@ Iowa State): Like Bahl and Thomas above, Potter will be facing an opponent from a more prominent conference this week with the Spartans traveling to Ames to face Iowa State. That said, Iowa State has gotten off to one of the rockiest start of any Power 5 club this season, so don't be intimidated to use Potter against a Big 12 opponent. Potter has completed 60 percent of his passes this season with an 8.1 YPA mark to go with five touchdowns. He's also dangerous as a runner, even though that hasn't shown up in his 2016 like it did last year, when he ran for 415 yards and seven touchdowns. Still, Potter has the potential to rack up numbers on the ground, having two rushing touchdowns to his name through three games. This is one of the most favorable non-conference games on San Jose State's schedule, so use Potter with confidence this week.
Jake Browning, QB, Washington (@ Arizona): On the off chance that you're on the fence about starting Browning, don't overthink it. The true sophomore is establishing himself as one of the premier quarterbacks in the Pac-12 and the country, having thrown for 744 yards and 12 touchdowns through the first three games of the season while completing 71 percent of his throws at a 10.1 YPA clip. In fairness, those video game numbers have come against weaker opponents, but the fact remains that Browning is approaching must-start status in all formats. He has a litany of weapons at his disposal with John Ross and Chico McClatcher toasting opposing defenses for four touchdowns apiece. The final factor here is the matchup; Arizona's defense has been one of the worst in the country this season and a matchup against Washington is not going to cure that. Browning should be able to make quick work of the Wildcats' secondary Saturday.
Bryan Edwards, WR, South Carolina (@ Kentucky): The Wildcats have been one of the biggest disasters across college football through the first three weeks, and although South Carolina hasn't been a ton better by any means, Kentucky presents a matchup that you need to exploit. Kentucky ranks in the bottom 20 in the nation in both passing yards and rushing yards allowed per game despite playing Conference USA and Sun Belt opponents in two of its first three games. The Wildcats even had to survive a shootout against New Mexico State this weekend, and the Aggies didn't even have their best player. Enter Edwards and South Carolina, who should be able to rack up the points on Kentucky. Edwards has been one of the most impressive freshman receivers in the country, leading the Gamecocks in receiving with 15 grabs for 207 yards. He hasn't reached the end zone yet, but that should change Saturday in a soft in-conference matchup.
Jordan Chunn, RB, Troy (vs. New Mexico State): Troy is heavily favored coming into Saturday, giving 20 points at home to the Aggies. With that, Troy's expected to build an early lead and turn to the run game to keep the clock moving. Chunn checks all the boxes, not only in workload (21.3 carries/game), but also in production with 127 yards per game. The opposition doesn't figure to offer up much resistance, either, as the Aggies are allowing some of the gaudiest rushing numbers in the country and giving up an average of 4.95 points per possession when their opponent gets inside their 40. The Aggies have given up 11 touchdowns on the ground this season and Chunn should be able to add to that total Saturday.
PLAYERS TO SIT
Philip Nelson, QB, East Carolina (@ Virginia Tech): The Pirates have gone toe to toe with Power 5 opponents the last two weeks and Nelson in particular has risen to the challenge, throwing for 697 yards while completing over 75 percent of his passes against North Carolina State and South Carolina. He's approaching must-start status, but this week's showdown with the Hokies should make you explore outside options. Virginia Tech is allowing just 80.3 yards per game through the air this season, which is the best mark in the nation. Granted, the Hokies have played some run-heavy teams to start the year, but holding teams to a 3.2 YPA is impressive nonetheless. Nelson will likely be letting it fly upwards of 40 times Saturday, but Virginia Tech's stingy and opportunistic defense makes this a matchup to avoid.
Wayne Gallman, RB, Clemson (@ Georgia Tech): Generally, Georgia Tech isn't really a team you want to avoid, but Clemson has had an oddly tough time with the Yellow Jackets on the road in recent years, as the Tigers have lost five straight at Bobby Dodd Stadium while posting just four touchdowns against 15 turnovers. That's some bad juju. When it comes to empirical evidence, Gallman hasn't lived up to his lofty billing this season, averaging just 4.3 yards per carry with two touchdowns. Given Clemson's slow start to the season, it's not entirely out of the question that Georgia Tech will be able to hang with the Tigers, which would mean more pass plays from Deshaun Watson and less designed run plays for Gallman. In all, Gallman's slow start to the season coupled with a tough matchup this week make him a player I'd try to avoid.
Skyler Howard, QB, West Virginia (vs. BYU): Howard has gotten off to a strong start this season, averaging 9.4 YPA while completing 63.2 percent of his passes. However, most of his production, including all five of his touchdowns, came Week 2 against Youngstown State. He was a bit more pedestrian against Missouri in the season opener and he'll be facing another strong defense this week with BYU coming to FedEx Field for a neutral-site showdown. The BYU defense has been opportunistic this season with six picks in three games while allowing a mere three touchdowns. Howard should be able to move the ball on BYU, but things could get tough once the field shortens up in the red zone. He has struggled in the red area this season, completing just three out of eight passes for 18 yards. Obviously that's a small sample size, but it indicates he might not be as sharp in the red zone as he is in other areas of the field. Howard will have to be extremely careful with the ball Saturday and I'm just not sold that he'll be able to avoid one or two killer mistakes.
Devine Redding, RB, Indiana (vs Wake Forest): It's early and their schedule has been soft, but Wake Forest has been stout as a run defense to this point in the season. They Demon Deacons are allowing just 2.4 yards per carry, which places them in the top 10 nationally in that category. With that, Redding may have a difficult time finding room to run Saturday, so his streak of games without a touchdown could continue. He only has four red-zone touches this season as Indiana tends to throw it in that area, and Wake Forest's run defense will likely deter the Hoosiers from changing that tendency. Redding should still see excellent volume Saturday, but his yards per carry could take a hit and his scoring chances could be non-existent.
Austin Duke, WR, UNC Charlotte (@ Temple): This matchup just has trouble written all over it for Duke and the rest of the Charlotte receiving corps. Sure, the spread (Temple -27) suggests that Charlotte will need to be throwing it early and often throughout the day Saturday, but the Owls have had one of the best pass defenses in the nation through the first few weeks of the season, holding opponents to just 128.7 yards per game and only one touchdown through the air. Duke may lead the 49ers in targets Saturday, but the quality of cornerbacks that will be challenging him throughout the day might make his owners want to look elsewhere at receiver.
Jamauri Bogan, RB, Western Michigan (vs. Georgia Southern): Leaving a runner like Bogan, who has torched the opposition for 423 yards and four touchdowns through three games this season, on the bench is a really tough call. However, this week's matchup against Georgia Southern might call for it. The Eagles' defense sports the ninth-best "Stuff Rate," a metric from Bill Connolly that measures the percentage of runs where the back is tackled at or behind the line of scrimmage. This does not bode well for Bogan, who may have trouble finding room to run if his line is unable to slow the Georgia Southern front. If Bogan is the best running back on your roster, you can probably survive leaving him in your lineup; however, if you have some other options on your bench, you may want to consider swapping him out this time around.
Colorado State running backs (@ Minnesota): Although the Rams are starting a freshman quarterback and running the ball more as a result, it's still best to stay away from their running backs this week on the road against Minnesota. Not only is the matchup a tough one, but the Rams' pecking order for carries is muddled right now. Freshman Marvin Kinsey had his breakout game Saturday with 18 carries for 97 yards and a touchdown, but that has to be taken with a grain of salt as that was against Northern Colorado. Conversely, Minnesota has been stingy against the run, holding opponents to 3.0 YPC while not surrendering a touchdown on the ground in either of its first two games. Kinsey will be a player to monitor as Colorado State gets into the Mountain West portion of its schedule, but this is a tough matchup for him and there's no guarantee that coach Mike Bobo won't switch things up and lean on Izzy Matthews against Minnesota.
Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA (vs. Stanford): There are a number of obvious Pac-12 matchups to avoid this week, including using Sam Darnold against Utah in his first start or using any Oregon State player against Boise State. Rosen is a less-obvious choice, but he's the right choice nonetheless. UCLA has asked a lot of Rosen this season, as the sophomore quarterback is 11th in the nation in pass attempts per game with 41.3. He has risen to the challenge, completing over 60 percent of those passes for 917 yards. However, he's been turnover prone as he's tossed four interceptions. Although he'll be at home, moving the ball on a Stanford defense is always a tough task. He threw a pair of picks against the Cardinal last season and he could be in line for another long night Saturday. Furthermore, if running back Soso Jamabo is held out again, Stanford will be able to further key in on stopping Rosen.
Jalen Hurd, RB, Tennessee (vs. Florida): Yes, the Volunteers carry a higher ranking than the Gators heading into Saturday and they're favored by almost a full touchdown at home. These are the facts, but there are some other facts working against the Vols. Florida has quantifiably one of the best defenses in the nation, having allowed just 14 total points through the first three weeks of the season. The Gators have also been particularly suffocating against the run, stuffing opposing running backs on 29.6 percent of their carries according to Connolly. Hurd was able to find some success against Florida last season, reaching the century mark against the Gators, but he has not looked particularly sharp or elusive this season as he's averaged a pedestrian 4.2 yards per carry. Hurd should see plenty of carries Saturday, but Florida's defense will be up to the challenge, which should result in one of his lowest rushing outputs of the season.
Matt Breida, RB, Georgia Southern (@ Western Michigan): Last week, I recommended Breida in the start section and noted that he had never gone three games without reaching the 100-yard mark. Well, he mustered just 73 yards on 3.8 yards per carry against Louisiana-Monroe and he was kept out of the end zone yet again. It's unclear whether Breida is dealing with an undisclosed injury of some sort or whether the new coaching staff feels more comfortable feeding freshman Wesley Fields the rock, but either way, Breida should be left on the bench this week. Yes, he did see his biggest workload of the season last week and could be in line for a good number of carries Saturday, but he's not producing at the level we've come to expect from him over the years when he's averaged close to 8.0 YPC over the course of an entire season. Until Breida shows signs of getting things turned around, he can be left on the bench.