- The real tests are ahead for these unbeaten teams that have shown signs of real promise in the face of middling expectations.
Entering this weekend, there are 34 undefeated teams left in the FBS, and by the time November rolls around, that number should be cut down much closer to single digits. But as this young season unfolds, a few teams that weren’t on many people’s preseason radar have remained among the ranks of the unbeaten long enough to be noticed.
None of these teams listed below have a signature win to date as conference play heats up, but that doesn’t mean that they should be ignored. Will any of the teams win a conference title this season? That may be too much to ask, but we’ve seen enough from them so far that opponents should be cautious.
It’s understandable why Oregon would not be on many people’s radar this early in the season. The Ducks have a new coach in Mario Cristobal, their non-conference schedule could be generously described as soft and they appeared to be buried in the Pac-12 North race behind two playoff hopefuls in Washington and Stanford. (Saturday’s primetime game against Stanford should serve as a measuring stick to that end.) But a few things are working for the Ducks early on.
They have an NFL-caliber quarterback in Justin Herbert, who has flashed big-time potential even as his junior season has gotten off to an inaccurate start, with sub-50% completion rates in both of his games against FBS competition. Oregon leads the Pac-12 in total offense, rushing offense, scoring offense and is the conference’s most efficient team throwing the ball.
Those numbers, of course, came against the likes of Bowling Green, Portland State and San Jose State, which isn’t exactly a Murderers’ Row of defenses. Oregon will better sense of its chances of contention in the next three weeks with games against the Cardinal, who have won the last two meetings, Cal and Washington.
Another Pac-12 team with more questions than answers at 3–0. The Buffaloes finished last in the Pac-12 South in 2017, but their offense has taken opponents by surprise, and in a division with three new coaches (Kevin Sumlin, Chip Kelly and Herman Edwards) who have gone a combined 3–6 so far, bowl eligibility is now squarely on the table in Boulder.
While those coaches go through growing pains, the steady hand of senior quarterback Steven Montez and a productive running back by committee approach have found consistent success. Colorado only returned 10 starters from last year’s squad that went 5–7, and no one would have blamed Mike MacIntyre if he would have treated 2018 as a rebuilding year. But Montez has formed a connection with sophomore receiver Laviska Shenault Jr., who leads the nation in receiving yards per game, and linebacker Nate Landman, who consistently wreaks havoc in the backfield.
The Buffaloes have allowed nine sacks in 99 passing attempts, and the defense, which has newcomers at every level, has been repeatedly been burned by big plays. Even with those issues, expect Colorado to be in the thick of the South race at season’s end.
There are some happy Hoosiers in Bloomington, as the football team has won the first three games of the season for the first time in a decade. If Indiana beats Michigan State at home on Saturday, it will have just its second 4–0 start since 1991.
Head coach Tom Allen prides himself on defense, but if Indiana is going anywhere this season, it hinges on more production from its offense, which has only six passing plays over 20 yards or more through three weeks.
The Hoosiers are methodical about the way they handle their business on that side of the ball and are led by upperclassmen across the offensive line. Sophomore quarterback Peyton Ramsey is completing an efficient 74% of his passes but is averaging only a shade under nine yards per completion, which ranks in the bottom third of the NCAA, and has not thrown for over 200 yards in any game this season.
Ramsey’s legs also can pose a threat when needed, as he is the team’s second leading rusher behind Stevie Scott. Scott, a 230-pound freshman who blends his skills as a battering ram with some speed, racked up 204 yards in the win over Virginia and will be relied on heavily throughout the season.
If the Hoosiers can hold serve at home—starting with Saturday night’s visit from Michigan State—and steal a game or two on the road, an eight-win season could be a real possibility.
The Eagles are ranked in the AP Poll for the first time since 2008 and can legitimately do some damage in ACC Atlantic Division, sticking with head coach Steve Addazio’s tried-and-true formula of physicality in the trenches and stout defense.
It all starts with sophomore running back AJ Dillon, who sits fifth nationally with 432 rushing yards, averages seven yards a pop and already has three runs of 40 yards or more. In the 10 games Dillon has started since taking over the job in the middle of last season, he has run for 1,688 yards and 16 touchdowns, with eight 100-yard games.
Defenses that stack the box to stop Dillon are doing so at their own peril. Wake Forest found out the hard way when quarterback Anthony Brown continuously burned the Demon Deacons’ defense with play-action passes that set up deep shots down the field. Brown finished 16-of-25 with 305 yards and five touchdowns, a stat line BC fans aren’t used to seeing from their triggermen.
The defense is predictably formidable, led by end Wyatt Ray, who set the school record for sacks in a game with four against Wake Forest and is among the nation’s leaders in tackles for loss with six. Conference favorite Clemson might have an even tougher time pulling away from the Eagles than it did last fall in Death Valley.