10 College Football Teams That Could Make Late Push Up the Polls

Luke PetkacFeatured ColumnistOctober 3, 2012

10 College Football Teams That Could Make Late Push Up the Polls

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    The college football season is barely a month in, but it's not too soon to start looking ahead. Though familiar faces like Alabama, Oregon and LSU rule the roost for now, there are more than a few teams capable of making a late push up in the polls.

    Thus far, this season has been crazy, and it's bound to get even crazier before the year is up. There's going to be a lot of shuffling among the top teams over the next few weeks and it will be fun to see how everything plays out.

    With that being said, here are 10 teams capable of late rises in the polls.

Oregon State Beavers

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    Believe it or not, some BCS computers actually rank the Oregon State Beavers at No. 1.

    That seems a little extreme, but there's no doubt that the Beavers have both surprised and impressed a lot of people with their play this season.

    Oregon State, led by quarterback Sean Mannion and their fourth-ranked passing game, are at 4-0 and tied with the Oregon Ducks for first place in the Pac-12 North.

    The Beavers still have some kinks to work out, particularly when it comes to their defense, which gave up 545 total yards in a narrow 38-35 victory over Arizona. But there's no questioning that Oregon State (who currently sits at No. 14) is capable of making a run up the polls.

    They're certainly not lacking in confidence. When asked about the team, defensive coordinator Mark Banker said (per The Oregonian's Lindsay Schnell):

    We ARE a contender. We're 3-0. Absolutely our defense is still for real.

    The Beavers have some really tough games coming up, including road games against the No. 23 Washington Huskies and the No. 18 Stanford Cardinals. But the Beavers' most difficult game, a late-season showdown against No. 2 Oregon, is played at home.

    Only time will tell if Oregon State can walk out of those games with a positive record, but if so, they'll be able to vault up in the polls.

Rutgers Scarlet Knights

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    Until this week, the Rutgers Scarlet Knights hadn't ranked in the Top 25 since 2009. But after a road victory against the free-falling Arkansas Razorbacks, they sit at No. 22 and look to be here to stay.

    The Rutgers defense has been absolutely stifling, ranking first in the nation against the run and allowing just 12.8 points per game.

    The unit is led by senior linebacker Khaseem Greene, who has established himself as one of the nation's best tacklers and best defenders against the run. They took a hit when they lost starting nose tackle Ike Holmes for the rest of the season, but they remain a very strong group.

    To be fair, Rutgers hasn't played a really good team yet this year, and their first real test won't come until the end of the season. In their final three games, they'll play Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and Louisville back-to-back-to-back. That's not an easy task.

    The Scarlet Knights really should win their first nine games. It'll be the last three that defines their season, and if the defense can continue to play like it has, they should come out of those games in a great spot.

UCLA Bruins

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    The UCLA Bruins may have disappointed in their 27-20 loss to Oregon State, but they got back on track last week with a 42-14 dismantling of the Colorado Buffaloes.

    The UCLA offense, led by dual-threat quarterback Brett Hundley and running back Johnathan Franklin, poses a lot of problems for Pac-12 defenses. It should be able to carry the Bruins through the majority of their games.

    But the biggest reason that UCLA could make some late season noise is their favorable schedule.

    The Bruins have four genuinely tough games on the horizon and face Arizona State, Arizona, USC and Stanford. But of those games. UCLA will play against only Arizona State on the road. Back-to-back games against USC and Stanford will obviously be a huge challenge, but the Bruins will have a good chance in both games.

    If they manage to outlast those two teams, the Bruins should end up in a great position.

Clemson Tigers

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    The Clemson Tigers took a tough loss to No. 4 Florida State Seminoles a few weeks back, but they rebounded nicely in a win against Boston College and are positioned for a big run.

    Even after their loss, Clemson sits at No. 15 in the polls, and it's hard to imagine them not rising in the weeks ahead.

    The Tigers offense (averaging over 510 yards per game) is lethal, both on the ground and through the air. Quarterback Tajh Boyd has looked great thus far, and his connection with receiver DeAndre Hopkins (who has 42 receptions for 604 yards and six touchdowns) is unparallelled in the ACC.

    Things should only get better for the Tigers when their other star receiver, Sammy Watkins, gets back on track following his two-game suspension for off-the-field issues.

    Clemson only has one game left in the season where they won't be heavily favored—an end of the season showdown against No. 6 South Carolina Gamecocks. The Tigers, provided they don't trip over themselves, should enter that game at 10-1.

    If they can figure out how to move the ball against the stingy Gamecocks defense, the Tigers will fly up the polls.

Louisiana Tech Bulldogs

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    The Bulldogs play in the relatively obscure (at least when it comes to football) Western Athletic Conference.

    However, they recently put themselves on the national radar by outgunning the Illinois Fighting Illini and Virginia Mountaineers and they have a chance to stay there.

    Louisiana Tech boasts a scorching hot offense led by senior quarterback Colby Cameron. Cameron has completed 68 percent of his passes for 1,131 yards and 12 touchdowns, and he has yet to throw an interception this year.

    Head coach Sonny Dykes has tried to cool the mounting buzz surrounding his team, saying (per The Shreveport Times' Jason Pugh):

    We are kind of the old guys that realize that buzz does not really do much except set you up for disaster, really. We have to do a good job of really making sure we close ranks and these guys understand that it does not matter what somebody writes in a newspaper in Sioux City, S.D., or wherever. That is not really relevant to what we are trying to get done around here.

    But no matter what he says, it's hard to deny that the Bulldogs are starting to get noticed. They received 37 votes in this week's AP poll, and that number could soon rise.

    Louisiana Tech will face a huge challenge against the 3-1 Texas A&M Aggies in two weeks, but if they can win that game, it's tough to imagine a team in the WAC keeping up with them.

Ohio Bobcats

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    The Ohio Bobcats are in the same boat as Louisiana Tech. Though the Bobcats play in a pretty small time conference (the Mid-American Conference), they sit at 5-0, and it doesn't look as if they'll slow down anytime soon.

    Ohio's biggest win came in their season opener against Penn State. The Bobcats went to Beaver Stadium, one of the hardest places in the nation to play, and walked away with a 24-14 victory. They've won every game since and are actually in a decent position to go undefeated.

    Just three out of Ohio's next seven games will be against winning teams.

    Admittedly, the Bobcats will play all of those games (against Miami of Ohio, Ball State and Kent State) on the road. But if Ohio can win in Happy Valley they can win anywhere, and their top notch run game gives them a chance in any game,

    The Bobcats already received 30 votes in this week's AP poll, and if the wins keep piling up, so too will the votes.

Notre Dame Fighting Irish

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    It seems like the Notre Dame Fighting Irish fail to live up to their hype every year, but they may have finally turned a corner this season.

    The No. 9 Fighting Irish have started the season 4-0 and despite a tough schedule, they look like they could make a real push up the polls.

    The offense has only been so-so to this point, but the Notre Dame defense has looked absolutely fantastic.

    Led by Heisman candidate Manti Te'o, the defense has surrendered under 300 total yards and just nine points per game. That gives the Irish a chance to win any week.

    Again, Notre Dame's schedule is pretty daunting, and they have upcoming games against Stanford and on the road against Oklahoma and USC. But now that both Stanford and Oklahoma have taken a loss, Notre Dame no longer plays against undefeated teams.

    A legitimate chance to run the table is in play for the Irish, a fact that head coach Brian Kelly is trying to downplay. He recently told reporters (per WNDU.com's Angelo Di Carlo):

    We would refer to that as the noise, that's the noise out there. They need to focus on the process and the process for them is every day, the attention to detail—how they go to practice and how they prepare.

    The fact remains that Notre Dame's defense, combined with their opponent's struggles, could put the Fighting Irish in a great position late in this season.



Boise State Broncos

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    The 3-1 Boise State Broncos fell out of the Top 25 after consecutive scares against BYU and New Mexico, but they still have plenty of time to rise in the polls.

    To be honest, Boise State looks good but not great this season.

    The defense has been solid, giving up just 16 points per game, but the offense has been less than stellar, despite facing inferior competition in the Mountain West Conference.

    However, the Broncos still have a lot of talent and they have an pretty easy schedule, so it's not hard to imagine that they could make a late season push.

    Boise State meets just two teams with winning records from here on out—the 3-2 Fresno State Bulldogs and the 4-1 Nevada Wolf Pack. They'll play Fresno State at home in two weeks, and provided they can win that game, they'll have tons of time to work out their issues before heading to Nevada for the final game of the season.

    The Broncos can't afford to fall asleep against anyone, but there just aren't many teams in the Mountain West capable of beating them. They should have no problem finishing the season strong.

Ohio State Buckeyes

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    The 5-0 Ohio State Buckeyes may not be eligible for postseason play, but they can still do well in the polls.

    The Buckeyes are currently ranked No. 11 in the nation, but there aren't many teams positioned better than they are right now.

    Quarterback Braxton Miller has been awesome in head coach Urban Meyer's offense, leading the team in both passing (933 yards) and rushing (577 yards), and the defense has held opponents to just 17 points per game.

    But the real reason that the Buckeyes could rise in the polls is that, quite frankly, the Big Ten is bad.

    There's not a team in the Big Ten that doesn't have serious flaws—Ohio State included. However, the Buckeyes definitely look like the top of the class of the Big Ten to this point, and they'll have the chance to prove it over the next few weeks.

    Ohio State will face No. 21 Nebraska next week, and if they can get through that game, things will get easier. Obviously, there are still teams that could test the Buckeyes (Penn State, Wisconsin and Michigan come to mind), but Ohio State will be favored in every game from here on out.

    It's been a crazy season in the Big Ten, but the Buckeyes have as good a shot as any at climbing up the polls.

West Virginia Mountaineers

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    The West Virginia Mountaineers already sit at No. 8 in the nation, and they have a chance to climb even higher by the end of this season.

    Unless you've been living under a rock for the past week, you've already heard about Geno Smith and his ridiculous numbers, but you really can't overstate how incredible the Mountaineers offense has been.

    They're putting up 53 points per game and give West Virginia a good shot at beating literally anyone.

    Admittedly, they have a really tough schedule and still have to play Texas, Kansas State, TCU and Oklahoma. But the only road game of the bunch is this week against Texas, which sets the Mountaineers up nicely later in the season.

    There's guaranteed to be plenty of shuffling among the top teams (many of whom play each other) throughout the rest of the season. If Geno Smith can keep up his torrid pace, West Virginia is well-positioned to be among those that will be moving up.