After only three weeks of college football, upsets and head-to-head battles have reduced the number of undefeated teams in the AP Top 25 to just 16, with nine one-loss teams also ranked. Meanwhile, there are several teams that are undefeated and unranked. We thought we would show them each a little love, and speculate on when they’ll either climb into the polls, or become just another one-loss team. Perhaps a testimonial to either conference depth or a lack of respect, six of the unloved hail from the ACC, and five are from the Pac-12.
Here’s our ranking of the unranked:
Mississippi State (3-0) – Last season, outstanding team chemistry carried another MSU team to a Big Ten title and a Rose Bowl win. This MSU team seems to have the same type of mojo. On Saturday night, we’ll find out how far chemistry can take them when they go into Death Valley, where LSU is an amazing 40-2 under Les Miles on Saturday nights. A win puts the Bulldogs firmly into the Top-25, a loss means waiting. Win or lose, expect the Bulldogs to be ranked at the end of the season.
TCU (2-0) The Horned Frogs face SMU this week, have a bye, and then face Oklahoma and Baylor in successive weeks. The Frogs play outstanding defense , if they win either of those games, they’ll leap into the Top-25.
North Carolina (2-0) Last year, the Tar Heels started out 1-5, and I took some flak for predicting that they would make it to a bowl game. They not only made it, they won big. This Saturday, the Heels take on the East Carolina Pirates, who pillaged Blacksburg and Virginia Tech, and nearly survived a cock-fight. If the Heels win, they’ll make it into the Top-25. If the Pirates win, part of the booty will be the start of discussion about whether they’ll get a playoff spot if they win the Conference USA Championship.
Florida (2-0) As always, the Gators have lots of talent, but a brutal schedule. This year, they have six games against teams currently rated in the Top-25, beginning this Saturday at Alabama. A win establishes the Gators as contenders in the SEC East, but the Crimson Tide is favored by 14.5.
Northern Illinois (3-0) The Huskies have consistently been near the top of Mid-American Conference standings and played in the Orange Bowl just two seasons ago. They are the second-winningest team in the FBS this decade. They’ve had another great start with road wins at Northwestern and UNLV and Saturday night, they play Arkansas in Little Rock. A win in an SEC setting would move the Huskies into the Top-25, and would establish them as a contender for an at-large berth in a College Football Playoff game, as they will likely be favored in the remainder of their games. A loss means that they could win the MAC, but probably won’t break into the Top-25.
Washington (3-0) Another Husky team, the West Coast version has a new coach and a new stadium. The Huskies face four ranked teams in six weeks, beginning September 27 when Stanford comes to Seattle. They’ll also see the Ducks, Sun Devils and Bruins. Those four marquee match-ups and a 13-game season give them a chance to get to 10-wins, and they could be ranked at any time.
Pitt (3-0) This Saturday, the Panthers welcome the Iowa Hawkeyes into Heinz Field for what promises to be a physical, grind-it-out game. If Pitt wins, they’ll be rated, and if the Panthers stay healthy, they could be a 10-win team, and a candidate to appear in the ACC Championship Game. Even though it is a non-conference game, this game is huge for both the Big Ten and ACC.
Penn State (3-0) The Nittany Lions now have something to play for besides their pride and their pride. If they take care of business against UMass this weekend, they should climb into the Top-25. They have great sequencing of games, with bye weeks before big games against Michigan on October 11, and Ohio State on October 25. If they stay healthy, the Nittany Lions could be surprise contenders in the Big Ten East.
Marshall (3-0) The Herd have a solid defense and a great offense led by Quarterback Rakeem Cato. The problem is that they may have the easiest schedule in the NCAA. The Herd are good, they need a chance to show it, and if they keep winning, they’ll crack the Top-25.
Oregon State (2-0) For whatever reason, early season non-conference games against teams from smaller conferences, have damned the Beavers. Since 2000, they’ve lost to Savanah State, Eastern Washington, Boise State (3x), Fresno State (2x), Cincinnati (2x), Louisville and TCU. So far this season the Beavers are 2-0, with a game against San Diego State this Saturday. If they survive that, they travel to USC next Saturday, and if they are undefeated after September 27, they’ll be ranked, perhaps for the rest of the season. The schedule is end-loaded, with games against Arizona State, Washington and Oregon to close the season.
Arizona (2-0) The Wildcats host undefeated Cal Saturday, before travelling to Eugene to face the Ducks. An upset at Oregon would put Arizona on the map and well into the national rankings. With three divisional games against ranked teams later in the season, the Wildcats will have chances to enter the rankings all year.
Utah (2-0) If the Utes can win at Michigan this weekend, they could enter the rankings. It may take more, and they host Washington State the following week. They’ll need to win and get a confidence boost. After that, the Utes enter a stretch of six games that includes five ranked opponents and a trip to Corvallis.
Cal (2-0) The Golden Bears stunned Northwestern to open the season (Check out Mike’s Upset Express in What to Watch this Weekend) and face undefeated Arizona this Saturday. If they can housebreak another bunch of Wildcats, the Golden Bears will be favored the following two games. They need to get in early, the season only gets tougher. They close out with Washington, five games against ranked-teams and a trip to Corvallis.
Duke (3-0) Two years ago, the Blue Devils made it to their first bowl game in nearly 20 years. Last year, they made it to the ACC Championship, and played a thriller against Texas A&M in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. If they beat Tulane this weekend, the Blue Devils will move into the Top-25, and once the Blue Devil is in, it’ll be tough to get him out the rest of the season. This could be another big year, as Duke misses both Florida State and Clemson, and gets rival North Carolina at home.
NC State (3-0) The Wolfpack have beaten three teams that are relatively new to the FBS football. Saturday, they’ll face Presbyterian before traveling to Tallahassee to take on No.1 Florida State, followed by a game against Clemson. It may take an upset for the Wolfpack to get rated, but they are bowl bound this year.
Syracuse (2-0) The yellow light is on for the Orange. This week, they face Maryland, followed by games against Notre Dame, Louisville, Florida State, Wake Forest and Clemson. To become nationally ranked, they’ll need to keep winning, something that will be challenging.
Georgia Tech (3-0) The Yellow Jackets have three straight wins against smaller teams, but the scores have been closer than fans would have liked. They are entering a stretch of five conference games against teams that played in bowl games last year. To make it into the Top-25, they’ll need to keep winning.
Cincinnati (1-0) The Bearcats had byes the first two weeks of the season and have played only one game so far. This week, they are a heavy favorite against Miami (Ohio), and they’ll get Miami (Fla.) a little later in the season. They’ll have the opportunity to make a statement and enter the rankings on September 27, when they go to Columbus to take on Ohio State.