Handicapping the Remaining Unbeatens in College Football
by Trevor Whenham - 10/14/2014
Through seven weeks of the college football season there are just six teams that have yet to suffer a loss. By this time next week we are going to be down to no more than five because Notre Dame and Florida State meet. If the two surprise schools from Mississippi make it through 11 games without a loss - which is far from a certainty in both cases - then one will lose their season-ending showdown that could cause the entire state to implode. That means that the most undefeated teams we could have are four. And yet a lot of people were worried before the season that the playoff would be in trouble in the first year because there would be more unbeatens than available spots. We are well behind where we have been at in recent years. Last year at this point there were still 14 teams without a blemish, and the year before that it was an even dozen.
So, are we going to have four unbeatens? Which teams will they be? Let's take a look at the six remaining candidates:
Notre Dame: It's a good thing style points don't count for anything, or this team wouldn't be undefeated. They just barely squeaked past Stanford 17-14 two weeks ago. Last week they found it far harder than they should have to beat North Carolina 50-43. Outside of Stanford their schedule has been very weak, so it is hard to really get a sense of how good the team is - or if the ugly wins are a sign of bigger issues or is just how they like to play. There is also the issue of the five players suspended for academic issues. We don't officially know their status, but reports are that at least one is out for the year and that the others could be as well. That could have a big lasting impact. The schedule the rest of the way is as tough as it usually is for the Irish, too. Aside from the trip to Florida State this week they also face tough trips to Arizona State and USC as well as their always-pesky rivals from Navy. They also host a Northwestern team that has found form, and they play Louisville for the first time. They keep winning, but given how scary their wins have been lately I find it hard to imagine them going 12-0. Of course, I would have said the same thing two years ago, and they wound up 12-0 and in the National Championship Game. Still, this looks much more like a 10-win team to me than a 12-win one.
Florida State: It all comes down to Jameis Winston. With him they are obviously a much better team than without him. He is facing a disciplinary hearing for his 2012 rape accusation, and there are also reports he is being investigated for taking money from an autograph dealer. At the very least it's a big distraction. If Winston is available all year then this team is in good shape to stay undefeated. They have not played close to their best yet this year, so there is plenty of upside. They also have a very manageable schedule. Notre Dame is their toughest opponent, and that game is at home. Then all that is left is trips to Louisville and Miami and home games against Virginia, Boston College and Florida. There is no particular reason to think that the Seminoles couldn't beat any of those teams.
Ole Miss: It is going to be very tough for this team to win at LSU and against Auburn in consecutive weeks. Of course, both of those teams have shown more cracks than the Rebels have this year, and this is the team that just beat Alabama and the Aggies in two weeks. They have been playing very good defense, and their offense has been good enough as well. They are young but very talented. That big game against Mississippi State looms, though, and the pressure is only going to mount as the season progresses. As much as I like this team, I expect at least one loss.
Mississippi State: The Bulldogs have a very well-timed bye week to recover after an incredible three-week run - wins at LSU and at home against the Aggies and Auburn. After the break they face a tricky game at surprisingly-strong Kentucky, a trip to Alabama, and that trip to Ole Miss. The three home games aren't nearly as scary. Remember, this is a team that started the season unranked and is now at No. 1. That's a remarkable story - the kind that smart bettors know doesn't last far more often than it does. I respect the defense, the grittiness, the coaching and especially Dak Prescott immensely, but I would bet heavily against this team remaining undefeated.
Baylor: The Bears have played precisely one real game , and they only barely beat the Horned Frogs, 61-58. It was a crazy game - needless to say. As incredible as the offense has been, it's hard to know how good they really are given the rest of their opponents. While Kansas and Texas Tech are reasonably easy games, the other four are tougher. A trip to West Virginia will be a huge shootout, and Oklahoma is a brutal place to play, too. Oklahoma State and Kansas State can also score plenty and don't mind beating good teams. This is a very popular team right now, but they haven't yet proven anything to me, and I am cautiously skeptical.
Marshall: Marshall have won all six of their games easily. The six teams they have remaining are averaging just over three wins each so far. With the very impressive Rakeem Cato at the helm, this team is very well-positioned to go unbeaten - and yet no one will take them seriously. Their schedule is a joke, and they have not had a chance to make a single statement in a win. It's like an impressive yet invisible season.
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