They are at .500 or below against FBS competition, but they are good nonetheless.
I am not a proponent of the line “Team X is the best 3-3 team in the country” because comments like that are too generalized. Undefeated teams are easier to differentiate because they are indeed on top of the college football world. Teams with multiple losses should not be considered the best of anything.
One Sirius/XM radio commentator actually said that California was the “best 1-4 team in the nation” before the Golden Bears won 31-17 at Washington State last weekend. I almost had to pull over before I lost control of my car.
What I do believe in is giving a team that has more than two or three losses its due if it is playing respectably. By that, I mean that the team has played a rigorous schedule and has nothing to be ashamed about for its overall performance.
The five teams listed below fall into this category. Sure, they have stumbled hard, such as Arizona in its 49-0 loss at Oregon and Washington in its 41-3 setback at LSU, but, for the most part, they have held their own in the midst of a very difficult schedule.
1. Arizona (3-3 overall, 2-3 vs. FBS competition): The Wildcats have played three of the best teams in the Pac-12 — Oregon, Oregon State and Stanford — and a game against an Oklahoma State team that was still charged from last season’s Fiesta Bowl victory. Their record in those four games — which included matchups at Oregon and Stanford — is 1-3 but they lost on the last possession against the Cardinal (54-48 in overtime) and the unbeaten Beavers (38-35 with Oregon State scoring in the last minute). Arizona outscored Oklahoma State 59-38 after trailing 14-0 in the first quarter. The Wildcats, led by senior quarterback Matt Scott (who leads the Pac-12 in total offense with 386.8 yards per game), have also defeated a Toledo team that is 5-1.
2. Washington (3-3 overall, 2-3 vs. FBS competition): The difficulty of the Huskies’ conference and non-conference schedule mirrors that of Arizona. They are 1-3 against LSU, Stanford, Oregon and USC. The difference is Washington was not as competitive in all of its losses like the Wildcats. The losses at LSU and Oregon and against the Trojans at home were by 10 points or more. The Huskies’ strength is their pass defense, which ranks 12th nationally, allowing only 172.7 yards per game. Washington’s matchup this weekend with Arizona — which has the No. 5 passing offense in the country (368.3 yards per game) — is one of the more interesting games nobody is talking about.
3. Vanderbilt (2-4 overall, 1-4 vs. FBS competition): The Commodores lost to Florida, the No. 2-ranked team in the BCS standings, but they hung tough throughout. Vandy drew to within a touchdown with 2:35 left in the game before Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel busted free for a 70-yard touchdown run to give the Gators a 31-17 victory. The Commodores also lost a close one at home to South Carolina, 21-17, to start the season. The most difficult part of the schedule is out of the way, and the Commodores could conceivably run the table against Auburn, UMass, Kentucky, Ole Miss, Tennessee and Wake Forest. The Commodores also have one of the best receivers in the nation — junior Jordan Matthews, who leads the SEC with 7.2 receptions per game.
4. Fresno State (4-3 overall, 3-3 vs. FBS competition): The Bulldogs are invincible at home and just cannot quite get over the hump on the road. Led by potential future NFL players Derek Carr at quarterback, Robbie Rouse at running back and Phillip Thomas at safety, Fresno State was competitive at Oregon, Tulsa and Boise State — all quality teams — and came up short. The Bulldogs outscored the Ducks 22-7 in the second half before losing 42-25 and they took Tulsa (27-26 loss) and Boise State (20-10) to the wire. They have taken care of business at home, averaging 52.7 points in victories over Weber State (an FCS school), Colorado and San Diego State. The Bulldogs, improving under first-year coach Tim DeRuyter, stand a decent chance of winning the rest of their games (Wyoming, Hawaii and Air Force at home, and New Mexico and Nevada on the road).
5. Tennessee (3-3 overall and vs. FBS competition): Coach Derek Dooley is feeling the heat, but the strength of schedule must be factored into the equation. Tennessee has played one of the most difficult schedules in the nation with games against North Carolina State, Florida, Georgia and Mississippi State. The Vols are 1-3 in those games, which includes an impressive 35-21 win over the Wolfpack in Atlanta to start the season. North Carolina State derailed Florida State’s national-title hopes. The Volunteers lost to Florida 37-20 at home but trailed only 27-20 entering the fourth quarter. They lost at Georgia (51-44) and Mississippi State (41-31) in the last couple of weeks but were competitive in each. Games in the next two weeks against Alabama and South Carolina can spell doom for Dooley if the Volunteers are blown out. Cordarrelle Patterson, a wide receiver/returner, and cornerback Byron Moore are two of the best athletes in the nation, and quarterback Tyler Bray is averaging 286.5 yards of total offense per game.