College Football Handicapping: Unranked Teams That Could Finish Strong
by Trevor Whenham - 10/22/2009
We have now made it through seven weeks of the current college football season. We probably feel like we have a pretty good sense of which teams are for real and which ones are pretenders by now. History tells us that that's not the case, though. There were nine teams ranked in the AP Top 25 after seven weeks last year that were not still ranked by the time the final poll came out. There is a very good chance again this year - almost a certainty - that several currently ranked teams will fall from grace before the end of the season. With nine teams falling out of the rankings last year there were obviously nine teams that made it into the rankings after Week 7. Here's a look at six teams that aren't currently ranked, but which have the capability to play their way into the rankings by the end of the year:
South Florida - The Bulls were ranked No. 21 last week, but were dumped from the polls after being overrun by Cincinnati. They were undefeated before the loss, though, and they had an impressive win over Florida State to their credit. They have a number of tough games upcoming - Pitt, West Virginia, and Miami. If they can win two of those three games and then win their other games as well, then that should certainly be enough to get them back into the polls. The Bulls have some national credibility and visibility because of their play over the last few years, so that will help them get the attention they need to become ranked again.
Central Michigan - The Chippewas should really be ranked already. They have just one loss, have a nice non-conference win over Michigan State, and have been dominant in MAC play so far. They have the capability to easily handle the rest of their MAC schedule. That should definitely be enough to get them ranked. They also have a looming non-conference game against Boston College in two weeks. If they win that then they will be 7-1 with two BCS conference wins so they should be ranked right then. An 11-1 or 10-2 Central Michigan team would be impossible to leave unranked.
Nebraska - The Huskers were probably overranked when they were 15th going into their last game - a lopsided loss to Texas Tech. They were definitely punished too harshly when they were dropped from the polls after that loss. Nebraska has four more games remaining that they are very likely to win. That leaves games against Kansas and Oklahoma. The way Nebraska has been playing it certainly seems reasonable that they would win at least one of those games. At 9-3 with a couple of nice conference wins and the feel-good story of a return to respectability for an esteemed program, Nebraska would be very hard to ignore for pollsters.
Notre Dame - I don't think that the Irish deserve a whole lot of respect right now, and I really don't think that Charlie Weis deserves to keep his job. Despite that, it's hard to dispute that the Irish will find their way in the season-ending poll. Notre Dame has four games left that they are very likely to win. That leaves Boston College and Pittsburgh. Notre Dame could win either of those games, and if they did then they would be 9-3 and a lock for the poll. There is a good chance that they will win out. That would vault them into the top half of the poll.
Idaho - The Vandals are a hard-luck program - they have bounced around conferences and divisions with little meaningful success. They are at 6-1 right now, though, and they are playing the best football they have ever played as a program. They have a remaining game against Boise State that they are almost sure to lose. All of their other games are winnable. If the team can remain hot to end of the year then they absolutely deserve to be rewarded with recognition in the poll.
Missouri - The Tigers have fallen out of favor after losing two games in a row. That streak is likely to extend to three games this week when the Tigers play the Longhorns. If Missouri pulled off the upset there then they would very likely return to the polls right away. Even if they don't, though, they stand a good chance of finishing the season with a five-game conference wining streak. Voters notice that kind of thing - especially if it is accompanied by the explosive offense that Missouri is capable of.
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