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Michigan and the Softest Remaining Undefeated Teams in College Football

Brian LeighFeatured ColumnistSeptember 23, 2013

Michigan and the Softest Remaining Undefeated Teams in College Football

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    David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

    Week 5 signals the (general) end of nonconference play, and as teams transition into their league schedule, it becomes harder and harder for fraudulent records to survive. 

    A bad or mediocre team can hide itself in the early going, and a handful of them do every year. By scheduling easy and catching a lucky break here or there, they can stay undefeated longer than their skill and coaching merit.

    The cream always—or at least usually—rises, though, and as the season goes on, it tends to leave non-dairy teams like that in the dust.

    One can only fake being good for so long.

Michigan (4-0)

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    David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

    Michigan is the only team on this list that has a quality win, though beating Notre Dame looks less and less impressive by the day.

    Still, that signature victory doesn't offset how bad the Wolverines have looked in the following weeks. After beating the Irish and drumming up all sorts of national support, Michigan has struggled (and been lucky) to beat Akron (at home) and Connecticut.

    For quick reference, Akron's only other road game this year was a 31-point drubbing at Central Florida, and UConn lost at home to FCS Towson in Week 1. Losses in either of those spots would have made Michigan a transitive property nightmare.

    If Devin Gardner keeps doing a Denard Robinson impression—with his arm, that is—and turning the ball over at a high clip, this team might be in for a rude awakening.

Minnesota (4-0)

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    Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

    It's hard not to root for head coach Jerry Kill, and ranking the Gophers here is not meant as a scathing critique of their program.

    This team just isn't very good.

    What Minnesota did in the second half last week was impressive, as the Golden Gophers pounded away at a decent San Jose State team (with a more-than-decent quarterback) and flashed a certified, Grade-A Big Ten ground attack.

    Still, given the dearth of quality opponents the team has faced, its season-long body of work leaves a lot to be desired. As does its track record of starting fast—the Gophers opened 4-0 last year, too—before regressing to the mean in conference play.

    Minnesota starts its Big Ten season with a home game against Iowa, which should prove telling regarding the Gophers' legitimacy. If it doesn't, immediate road games at Michigan and Northwestern will do the trick.

Houston (3-0)

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    Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

    For the time being, the AAC is still a BCS conference. Similarly, for the time being, Houston is still an undefeated team.

    One of those things won't change until the end of the season. The other should change fairly soon.

    The Cougs escaped a neutral-field game against Rice with a five-point win on Saturday, improving their record to 3-0. One week earlier, they beat a hapless Temple team by single digits, too.

    It's not that Houston is "bad," per se, because it's not. In the woeful AAC, it's about as close to quality as you'll find outside Louisville and Central Florida.

    But this team barely beat Rice on a neutral field. Come on. How can the Cougars be discussed in the same sentence as other undefeated squads?

    Look out for the high-powered Texas-San Antonio to pull a potential upset this weekend. If not there, a home game with BYU and a road trip to Rutgers should end Houston's perfect season.

Colorado (2-0)

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    Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

    Colorado's biggest nonconference test, a home game with also undefeated Fresno State, was washed off the schedule (for the time being) by a flood.

    That allowed the Buffaloes to enjoy some extra time among the ranks of the unbeaten, sporting a proud 2-0 record after last year's abysmal 1-11 campaign.

    Fourteen-point wins over Colorado State and Central Arkansas are nothing to write home about, and a road trip to play Oregon State in Corvallis this week will almost certainly yield the Buffs' first loss (the Beavers are 10-point favorites).

    But at least Paul Richardson is awesome.

Arizona (3-0)

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    Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

    Speaking of undefeated Pac-12 teams with no quality wins who travel to a hostile environment on Saturday...

    Arizona travels to Washington this week for a true road game, which the Huskies—if duly motivated—should be able to control from the onset and win. But for now, after victories over Northern Arizona, UNLV and UTSA, the Wildcats are still without a loss.

    The Rich Rodriguez offense has been its usual, high-powered self on the ground this year, and reigning rushing champ Ka'Deem Carey has looked good in his return from suspension.

    But senior quarterback B.J. Denker is not Matt Scott, and his inability to run the passing offense might be this team's undoing. He's averaging just 5.6 yards per pass attempt, and he looked suspiciously bad at UNLV.

Navy (2-0)

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    Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

    The Midshipmen, by virtue of their strict option attack, are always a tricky team to play and an opponent that no team relishes having on its schedule.

    But it's not a team they fear. For quality programs, playing Navy is more of a tedious inconvenience than a genuine threat to their season.

    What Navy was able to do at Indiana, beating the high-octane Hoosiers (that still feels weird to say) in a true road game, looked very impressive at the time.

    But after watching IU get smacked, at home, by Missouri last week, its value takes a slight hit. Navy should still be a bowl team, but two wins does not a season make.

Maryland (4-0)

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    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    This hurts every bone in my big, round, biased, Terp-loving body—but come on. Who has this team beaten?

    West Virginia was supposed to be the litmus test game before ACC play, and if that were wholly the case, Maryland passed with flying colors in a 37-0 rout.

    But watching the game live, it didn't feel like Maryland smothered WVU. It felt more like the Mountaineers offense, by recklessly turning the ball over, punted away the game and made the score as ugly as it was.

    The Terps did well to get that win, and even though the offense struggled, there are still rays of optimism going forward. A road trip to Florida State in two weeks should be a much more telling sign of where they are—and even if the game gets ugly, that's okay.

    After all, FSU is really good.

    Maryland is a solid bowl team, a team capable of saving (if not entrenching) Randy Edsall's job. But right now, it's undefeated out of circumstance more than merit.

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