Generally, it’s hard to make big cases for season stunners after teams have played merely a game or two (often against I-AA/FCS squads). Now that we’re past Week Four, though, who do you see emerging as eye-openers amongst the college football landscape?
Here are my picks:
The only negative is a controversial squeaker over weak Washington, but it should be noted the Cougars dominated the stats. That game seemed to wake them up, though, as they’ve since drubbed UCLA and Wyoming by a combined 103-0. BYU is now 4-0 and on the doorstep of the nation’s top 10.
The Commodores are 4-0, including a gritty 24-17 triumph over Steve Spurrier’s Gamecocks, the same winning margin as Georgia. Vandy has a shot at its first winning season since, believe it or not, 1982.
Sure, the schedule hasn’t been exactly daunting. But considering this is same program that was spanked weekly last year on its way to a one-win season, the 4-0 start is somewhat surprising. The manner of handling expected decent squads in Bowling Green and Florida Atlantic is inspiring to Golden Gophers’ fans. Example: Minnesota last year lost to FAU, 42-39, as the secondary was scorched. This year, it got major revenge, 37-3.
Other than versus a strong Wake Forest squad in the opener, the normally dismal Bears have played exceptionally well under new coach Art Briles. One wonders how they would have fared against the Demon Deacons with a more seasoned Robert Griffin. The true freshman quarterback came off the bench in his first collegiate action. Baylor gave unbeaten Connecticut fits on the road last week before finally bowing.
Todd Graham, in his young career as head coach, looks like a winner, and he has the Golden Hurricane playing like it again after guiding it to a 10-win 2007. The 3-0 mark—considering the schedule—isn’t a surprise. But the decisive nature of its wins impresses. Its latest victim, New Mexico, had significantly outplayed Texas A&M in a narrow defeat and then surprised Arizona. But Tulsa brought the Lobos to earth, 56-14.
The Cardinals were expected to be a pretty solid squad, but their 4-0 start is the best in two decades and includes a road whipping of Big Ten rep Indiana, 42-20.
The Buckeyes may be 3-1, but it’s about the most paltry 3-1 possible. It includes a narrow home escape against winless Ohio and recent struggle over Troy, besides the blowout loss to USC. What’s most surprising is Jim Tressel’s squad returned 20 starters from a group that reached the national title game last season. The loss of standout runner Beanie Wells was a first-game blow, but the level of relative mediocrity since is inexcusable.
Any time you change coaches, you know the program is having problems. But few, if any, expected the Mike Sherman regime to begin with a home defeat to Arkansas State (not the Razorbacks), a fortunate win over New Mexico, and a home blowout to Miami.
It’s hard to believe this is the program that was on the brink of a BCS bowl just two years ago, followed by an eight-win season last year. Following decisive defeats to Fresno State and North Carolina, the Scarlet Knights lost to Navy and its new coach, leaving them 0-3 on the year and with many questions.
It’s true that zone-read mastermind Rich Rodriguez left the Mountaineers following yet another highly successful 2007 campaign. But with super quarterback Pat White and seven other offensive starters returning, Phil Steele’s preseason prediction stated, "it should be another highly successful season for the Mountaineers, and they are a legitimate national title contender." After a mediocre win over I-AA/FCS Villanova, West Virginia has dropped both of its games versus "real" opposition, including a decisive 24-3 defeat to East Carolina.