6 College Football Teams That Are Overachieving After Week 9
Even with a couple of these overachievers falling from the ranks of the unbeaten last week, 2013 has been a banner year for lightly regarded teams to make plenty of noise.
Teams like Duke and Minnesota surged to respectability with big upsets last weekend, and the nation continues to take notice of others that are proving their fast starts weren't just flashes in the pan.
It has indeed been the year of the upset in college football, and while the usual suspects are still at the top of the polls, some names few expected aren't far behind.
From a couple of programs surging under new coaches to one playing for a coach who is battling back from health issues, there are some great stories. Three other veteran coaches have their squads overachieving as well.
Let's take a look at six teams overachieving in this year's college ranks.
A year after winning zero SEC games, the Auburn Tigers are surging toward an Iron Bowl showdown with Alabama that could determine the West division.
Despite being picked fifth in the West to start the season, Gus Malzahn's Tigers have revitalized the Plains behind a running game that is averaging a league-best 315.4 yards per game, according to ESPN.com.
A shocking road win at Texas A&M two weekends ago turned Auburn from a nice little early season story to a legitimate threat to contend with the top-ranked Crimson Tide.
Toss in the fact that junior-college transfer quarterback Nick Marshall has done a quality job running Malzahn's spread, and defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson has drastically improved the Tigers defense from a year ago, and Auburn is one of the biggest surprises in the country.
The only blemish on their schedule is a loss to LSU. Auburn still has a rugged stretch in the SEC (road trips to Arkansas and Tennessee and home against Georgia) before the game against Alabama, but the Tigers should be favored in all three.
At times, the massive rebuilding job David Cutcliffe took on at Duke has probably seemed insurmountable.
Since taking over in 2008, the Blue Devils have gone 4-8, 5-7, 3-9, 3-9 and 6-7 and finally made it to a bowl game (the Belk Bowl) last year. Still, that gradual turnaround received its biggest boost last weekend with a shocking 13-10 win on the road at No. 19 Virginia Tech.
The victory got Duke bowl-eligible at 6-2 before basketball season. According to USA Today's Nick Schwartz, the Blue Devils are eligible to go to back-to-back bowls for the first time in program history.
Cutcliffe is known for his offensive genius, but it was Duke's defense that led to the win over Tech. The Blue Devils didn't complete a pass the entire second half.
With struggling programs like N.C. State, Wake Forest and North Carolina remaining on their schedule, it could be a banner year in Durham.
With Minnesota coach Jerry Kill's epilepsy keeping him off the sideline for part of this season, the Golden Gophers have endured their share of off-the-field distractions.
They've used that as motivation to win for Kill, who watched from an assistant coaching box last weekend as Minnesota upset Nebraska to end a 16-game losing streak to the Cornhuskers and get the Gophers bowl eligible at 6-2, according to Dave Campbell of The Associated Press.
Quarterback Philip Nelson told Campbell:
You dream about being able to switch this thing around. That's just the path that our recruiting class took, because we kind of took a blind leap of faith in this program. The way coach Kill runs his programs, we knew that we were going to have success and it was just a matter of time before we really started rolling.
The Gophers feasted on a run of cupcakes early, and when they lost 42-13 at Michigan, they looked like the same old Big Ten doormat. But in consecutive weeks, they've upset Northwestern 20-17 in Evanston, Ill., and now Nebraska.
That certainly qualifies as overachieving considering the Gophers were picked to finish last in the Legends Division in the preseason media poll, according to The Plain Dealer's Doug Lesmerises. They're already eligible for their second straight bowl appearance.
Considering the Golden Knights upset Penn State 34-31 earlier in the season and then upstaged top-10 Louisville 38-35 on the road, it's a bit puzzling that UCF still sits behind the Cardinals in the Bowl Championship Series rankings.
Even so, it's not puzzling to see how the Knights are 6-1 if you watch them in action. They're a scant four points from being undefeated (thanks to a 28-25 loss to South Carolina), but their offense is stout by anybody's definition.
Few would have picked them to beat PSU and Louisville before the season, but George O'Leary's team is legit.
Former Miami transfer running back Storm Johnson has 592 rushing yards and nine touchdowns. Quarterback Blake Bortles is cementing himself as an NFL prospect with his performance, having completed 67.2 percent of his passes for 1,870 yards, 15 touchdowns and just four interceptions.
Bortles' numbers brought the Orlando Sentinel's to question whether or not he was snubbed when he wasn't listed as a Maxwell Award semifinalist this week.
The Knights kept rolling with a 62-17 win over Connecticut last week, and they'll take on high-scoring Houston next Saturday after a bye.
Take a long look at the Red Raiders' place on the hierarchy of overachievers. They're going to have a long, tough road to stay on the list.
There's still no doubt that Kliff Kingsbury's team can still be considered as a team that has out-kicked its coverage this year at 7-1, especially after being picked seventh in the Big 12 at the season's start. Even after suffering a crushing 38-30 loss to Oklahoma last week, it's impressive what they've done with a pair of freshmen quarterbacks.
But they haven't played a very tough slate thus far.
All that is about to change with the brutal upcoming schedule. Following last weekend's showdown with the Sooners in Norman, TTU now returns home to play Oklahoma State and Kansas State in Lubbock.
Then, they'll play the high-octane Baylor Bears in Arlington before closing the season in Austin against a much improved Texas squad.
With a schedule that tough, if the Raiders finish with nine or more wins, it's a wildly successful season.
Gary Pinkel's Tigers are trying to regroup after blowing a 17-point lead and clanking a game-tying, second-overtime field goal off the upright in a 27-24 loss to South Carolina.
That was Mizzou's first loss of the season, but it still controls its own destiny in representing the SEC East division in the SEC Championship Game, which would be a monumental accomplishment in just its second year in the league.
The Tigers were picked sixth in the SEC East before the season.
Though the Tigers are still hurting from the Carolina loss, they have a very winnable home game against Tennessee looming this weekend, and according to The Kansas City Star's Tod Palmer, they are getting closer to having their offensive leader return in senior quarterback James Franklin.
Franklin sprained his shoulder against Georgia, but Maty Mauk entered and has been more than serviceable in a backup role.
Once Franklin returns, he'll join a club that has one of the nation's most opportunistic defenses, and Mizzou could pose problems for teams down the stretch as they try to get to a BCS bowl. They'll go on the road for games against Kentucky and Ole Miss before ending the season at Texas A&M.