- There are four teams outside the AP top four that remain undefeated on the season, but their roads to a perfect year aren't easy.
If not for a field goal with two seconds remaining in one game, or botched clock management in another, maybe we wouldn’t be having this discussion. But South Florida beat Tulsa 25–24 last week when Coby Weiss made a 22-yard field goal with no time left, and UCF kept its 19-game winning streak alive when Memphis let a strong lead slip into a 31–30 loss, and now we have quite a few under-the-radar teams undefeated heading into the final half of this college football season.
UCF and USF aren’t the only teams with perfect records ranked outside the top four. NC State is quietly hunting for control of the ACC Atlantic Division, while Cincinnati is defying expectations at 6–0.
How many of these teams have legitimate chances of keeping their perfect seasons intact, and for how long?
No. 10 UCF
The AAC’s No. 1 QB, McKenzie Milton, threw for 296 yards and ran for the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter as the Knights overcame a 16-point deficit to beat Memphis 31–30 last weekend. Now UCF can regroup with its 19-game winning streak in hand before a tough final two weeks of the regular season: This stretch includes matchups against league unbeatens Cincinnati (Nov. 17) and USF (Nov. 23).
UCF was the darling of college football a year ago when it went undefeated but was left out of the College Football Playoff in favor of one-loss Power 5 teams. The program declared itself national champions anyway, and is en route to a similar-looking season now. Milton isn’t as efficient as he was a year ago, completing 59.5% of his passes compared to 67.1%, but he’s still scored 22 touchdowns and leads the nation’s third-best offense, which averages 555.5 yards per game.
No. 16 NC State
Ryan Finley leads the ACC and is sixth nationally in passing yards per game (324.2) and is completing nearly 70% of his throws, making the passing game the Wolfpack’s strength. He has quite the lineup of receivers, which includes veterans Kelvin Harmon and Jakobi Meyers (who have combined for 63 catches, 853 yards and three touchdowns), sophomore Emeka Emezie (20 catches this season for two scores), and freshman Thayer Thomas (16 catches for two TD).
NC State had an intriguing September matchup against West Virginia canceled due to Hurricane Florence—which would have taught us a lot about this team—but a big test awaits this weekend in Death Valley against fellow undefeated ACC foe Clemson. This is anyone’s game, especially since NC State has been close the last two seasons, losing by one possession both times. Maybe this is the year Dave Doeren’s team pulls the upset and keeps the third-ranked Tigers out of the conference title game.
If NC State can pull it off, the rest of its schedule is a clear path to the playoff with Syracuse being the only remaining opponent with a winning record.
No. 20 Cincinnati
It’s never easy to go undefeated, but Cincinnati’s six wins have come against teams that are a combined 13–25. So if any team on this list is in jeopardy of not finishing with a perfect record, it’s the Bearcats. But don’t forget they opened the season with a win over UCLA, exposing Chip Kelly’s Bruins early.
It’s probably not surprising that Luke Fickell, the former Ohio State defensive coordinator, has one of the best defenses in the country. As a unit, Cincinnati is ranked fourth nationally, limiting opponents to 274.3 yards and 13.7 points per game, has allowed only 10 touchdowns, and has also been stifling on third downs, allowing teams to convert just 28% of the time.
The Bearcats have a tough stretch coming up though with Navy, South Florida and a road trip to UCF in consecutive weekends to start November.
No. 21 USF
You could say Charlie Strong’s team nearly lost to Tulsa last week, or you could say USF is a resilient group that won a close conference road game. Either way, the Bulls are also undefeated with a chance to keep it that way, win the league and represent the Group of Five in a New Year’s Six bowl game. USF vs. Texas in the Charlie Strong Bowl, err, Fiesta Bowl, anybody?
The Bulls are having a strong season thanks to transfers like former four-star prospect Blake Barnett, who is third in the conference in passing yards per game (258.3), and running back Jordan Cronkite, who broke the school’s single-game rushing record by running for 302 yards on 23 carries against UMass.
USF’s path to a perfect season still has to go through UConn, Houston, Tulane, Cincinnati, Temple and UCF.