Mizzou, Texas Tech, Houston are unlikely unbeatens
At this moment, Missouri has a better chance to play for the national championship than Georgia.
Being undefeated, even after only five games, has its advantages.
The newly 25th-ranked Tigers (5-0) play at No. 7 Georgia on Saturday, so the fun could be over soon for Missouri fans. But just short of the halfway mark of the season, the Tigers are among the 17 undefeated teams in major college football. No more than eight can finish that way.
So go ahead Missouri, think big. Same goes for you, No. 20 Texas Tech (5-0). Houston, too. The Cougars (4-0) are not only the sole unbeaten team that is unranked, but they didn’t even receive a vote in the latest AP Top 25.
A look at the three most unlikely unbeatens and their chances to stay that way.
You might be tempted to write off the fast start as a soft-schedule mirage for a team that went 5-7 last year, its first season in the Southeastern Conference. Not so fast. The Tigers have no marquee victories but they’ve played four decent teams (Toledo, Indiana, Arkansas State, Vanderbilt), two on the road, and won by a margin of 175-95. They also have the best running game in the SEC, with three backs (Russell Hansbrough, Henry Josey and Marcus Murphy) and quarterback James Franklin all having more than 250 yards rushing. An offensive line torn apart by injuries last season, is healthy and leading the way. And the defense has playmakers in cornerback E.J. Gaines and defensive end Michael Sam. If Missouri really is a contender in the SEC East, we’ll know in three weeks. The Tigers next three games are at Georgia, home for Florida and home for South Carolina. At the very least, all the talk about coach Gary Pinkel being on the hot seat has been tabled.
Kliff Kingsbury’s return to Lubbock has revitalized the program much faster than most expected. The former Red Raiders quarterback has turned walk-on freshman Baker Mayfield into the latest star passer at Texas Tech. But we knew Kingsbury was an offensive whiz. The surprise is on the defensive side. Texas Tech is second in the Big 12 in yards allowed per play (4.50) and 16th in the nation. Defensive end Kerry Hyder and linebacker Will Smith have led the way. “The defense has really carried us,” Kingsbury said. “Special teams has been a strong point. If the offense can get caught up, we’ll feel pretty good.” The Red Raiders can lock up bowl eligibility this week by beating Iowa State on homecoming. The rest of the conference slate is back-loaded, but then again the conference isn’t looking all that tough beyond No. 12 Oklahoma and No. 15 Baylor.
One of the new members of the American Athletic Conference, the Cougars have the most to prove of the unbeatens. Their best win came against a pretty good Rice team. But after a disappointing first season under coach Tony Levine, the Cougars have some confidence and a promising new quarterback. Freshman John O’Korn has thrown for 10 touchdowns, with only one interception. And despite the loss of star running back Charles Sims, who transferred after spring practice, the Cougars have the top running game in the American behind tailback Ryan Jackson. The Cougars face an improving — but still 1-3 — Memphis team at home on Saturday, and then come the real tests, starting with BYU at home. The schedule does the Cougars no favors with games against Rutgers, UCF and Louisville, all on the road.
HEISMAN WATCH: Now that October is here, the Heisman Trophy race can be talked about with some degree of seriousness. And there is a very real chance another freshman could win it.
Florida State’s Jameis Winston, a redshirt freshman like Johnny Manziel was last year when he was the first freshman to win the Heisman, has been even better than advertised for the Seminoles. He is second in the nation in passer efficiency rating (213.9), with 17 touchdown passes and two interceptions. He is a bigger more mobile version of Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater.
The sixth-ranked Seminoles are off this week before playing at No. 3 Clemson on Oct. 19 in the biggest Atlantic Coast Conference game in recent memory. If Winston can keep up with Clemson quarterback and Heisman contender Tajh Boyd, he can practically book a trip to New York for the trophy ceremony in December.
— Washington coach Steve Sarkisian said he thought Stanford’s defense was faking injuries to slow down the Huskies’ no-huddle offense after Saturday’s game. Cardinal players defended themselves on Twitter, but Sarkisian didn’t back off Monday: “We saw what we saw, and I’m going to leave it at that.”
— It’s only speculation at this point, but former Kansas coach and current Liberty coach Turner Gill is a name that comes up a lot in connection to the Connecticut job. Before two terrible seasons at Kansas, Gill did a nice job at Buffalo working for current UConn AD Warde Manuel.
— Georgia tailback Todd Gurley (ankle) did not practice Monday. The Bulldogs have been beset by injuries, especially at receiver. Also, Gurley’s star running mate, Keith Marshall (knee) is out for the season.
UNDER-THE-RADAR GAME OF THE WEEK
Oregon State at Washington State. Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion leads the nation in total offense (390 ypg). Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday threw for 521 yards in last week’s victory against California. Mike Leach’s Cougars (4-2) have nothing but tough games left. If they want to get to bow-eligibility, they will need to beat the Beavers at home.
Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP