5 Surprise Teams of the 2012 College Football Season

5 Surprise Teams of the 2012 College Football Season

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With the majority of teams now having played four games, the 2012 college football season is revealing a number of surprises. Those surprises include teams that have performed better than expected and some that have performed worse. Our list looks at five teams that are currently not where the so-called experts had them with one-third of the season now behind them.

1. Rutgers — Mostly everyone picked Louisville to win the Big East Conference, but Rutgers is making a compelling case for top billing. This team has a new coach, Kurt Flood, and an under-rated quarterback in Gary Nova. Four games in and Rutgers is undefeated and ranked No. 23. They’ve beaten South Florida and Arkansas on the road, two games that some said they wouldn’t win. Among the strengths for this team is its defense, but the 5-touchdown performance of Nova against the Razorbacks has shown us that the Scarlet Knights can put up some points when needed. One worrisome area for Rutgers is its pass defense — against Arkansas it gave up three touchdowns and 303 yards to Cobi Hamilton spread over just 10 catches. Flood will certainly be working diligently to patch up this newly-exposed weakness.

2. Arkansas — Ranked No. 10 in the AP preseason poll, the Razorbacks were expected to start off strong with its first four games at home. Alabama, was expected to be a huge challenge, and the Razorbacks were pummeled 52-0. But, it was the games on either side of the Tide contest that has shown us that Arkansas fans should scratch off a bowl appearance from their calendars this year. Both Louisiana-Monroe and Rutgers were games that a better Arkansas team should have won and the Razorbacks still have the toughest road ahead of them. One wonders, however, if the personal financial problems of coach John L. Smith may have something to do with the way his team has played as he has filed for personal bankruptcy in a bid to wipe away $25.7 million in debt. Is Smith too distracted to coach, perhaps?

3. Oregon State — Two top teams from the state of Oregon and you have the Beaver State rivaling the Golden State for west coast college football supremacy. The Oregon Ducks are ranked No. 2, but the surprise team here is the Oregon State Beavers, a team that last year finished 3-9. This year, the Beavers are 2-0, knocking off ranked teams in successive weeks. The Beavers’ first game of the season, against Nicholls State was postponed, but on Sept. 8 the Beavers took down the Wisconsin Badgers at home 10-7. And if to show us that its opening win was no fluke, Oregon State went on the road to knock off UCLA 27-20. Key to the Beavers’ season has been its rushing defense and its quarterback, Sean Mannion, who has played better than expected.

4. Kansas State — Should we be surprised that Kansas State is ranked No. 7 at this point in the season? Maybe not. The Wildcats were a preseason No. 22 team, one of five Big 12 teams ranked at the start of the season. In its second game the Wildcats sliced and diced the Miami Hurricanes, winning 52-13. This game suggested that the Wildcats had more ammunition than anyone expected, helping K-State get ready for its game this past Saturday against the Oklahoma Sooners. Not expecting the Wildcats to succeed has hurt countless teams through the years, teams that may not have familiarized themselves with K-State’s 16 Goals for Success. Quarterback Collin Klein is the captain of the team — a Heisman hopeful — who has completed more than 70 percent of his passes. K-State has several major challenges ahead of itself this season including an Oct. 20 contest on the road against the West Virginia Mountaineers. That game against Geno Smith may go a long way in determining a Heisman winner. It may also produce the team that will challenge for the Big 12 title and perhaps a place in the BCS game.

5. Michigan — Ranked No. 8 before the season started, the Michigan Wolverines are now 2-2 and no longer a Top 25 team. The problem here is that Michigan’s record at this point of the season shouldn’t be too surprising: they were expected to lose to Alabama to open the season and they did, enduring a 41-14 shellacking. The next two games were expected wins and win they did, but was it realistic for us to think that the Wolverines would beat Notre Dame on the road? The Fighting Irish played “Big D” by holding the Wolverines to two fourth quarter field goals and forcing six Michigan turnovers. Michigan lost to a very good Notre Dame team, but can it still salvage its season? Its strongest tests are against Michigan State, Nebraska and Ohio State with Minnesota and Northwestern offering perhaps greater than expected challenges.

The Coming Weeks

The Big Ten starts its conference play this week and most other teams will also begin the heart of their schedules. Loading up on cream puffs and a few inter-conference challenges is one thing, but how your team performs against the teams that know you best will separate the pretenders from the contenders. Besides our five surprise teams, several teams including Notre Dame and Boise State should continue to move up in the polls while teams such as South Carolina, Stanford and TCU may soon slip.

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