HAGER'S TAKE

Five FBS teams still under the radar

Tom Hager

October 08, 2012 at 3:40 pm.

La, Tech QB Colby Cameron has yet to throw an interception for the Bulldogs in 179 pass attempts. (Troy Taormina-US PRESSWIRE)

With the BCS rankings just one week away, it’s time to really start thinking about how the polls will impact where teams will be playing in January.

As the season continues, the influence of the preseason polls will diminish, but there are still some teams that started off the radar and aren’t getting enough respect. Here is a look at the most underrated teams in the country.

1. Oregon State

The Beavers managed to crack the top 10 in the AP Poll, but in the USA Today/Coaches Poll (the one the BCS actually uses) OSU is ranked just 14, behind six teams that have a loss.

The season has been a huge success for the 4-0 Beavers, who were picked to finish near the cellar of the Pac-12.  Not many teams can boast to ending the Heisman campaigns of two early frontrunners, but Oregon State has done just that to Wisconsin’s Montee Ball and UCLA’s Johnathan Franklin.

In their season opener, the Beavers held Ball and UW’s vaunted running game to just 35 yards, and followed it up by holding Franklin, who was leading the nation in rushing at the time, to just 45 yards in their 27-20 victory in Pasadena.

The offense has been inconsistent at times, but with their defense holding opponents to just 10 of 49 on third downs, the team is finding ways to win games. The defense had perhaps its greatest performance last week against Washington State, when it held another marquee player in check.

OSU limited NFL-bound receiver Marquess Wilson to just four catches, and matched his total by intercepting quarterbacks Jeff Tuel and Connor Halliday four times in a 19-6 victory.

The Beavers have won their games by only a combined 26 points, but with all four victories coming against teams from the six power conferences, the Beavers look primed for a run at the Pac-12 title.

2. Duke

Duke didn’t look too impressive in its 50-13 loss at Stanford in early September, but since then the Blue Devils have won four games in a row, giving them a chance for their first winning season since 1994.  The team went just 10-83 from 2000 through 2007, but they are 5-1 this year and might remain a factor in the ACC Coastal Division.

The Blue Devils are led by the best receiver you’ve never heard of in Conner Vernon, the ACC’s all-time leader in receptions, and they’ll need a big game from him this week when they take on Virginia Tech.

Duke has yet to crack the Top 25 and still trails eight other teams in terms of votes, but a road victory against the Hokies will go a long way toward gaining legitimacy. The Blue Devils are catching Frank Beamer’s club at the right time: Tech has lost three of its last four games, but the experts still don’t believe in Duke, which opened as a 9 1/2 point underdog.

3. Iowa State

The Cyclones made a big statement last Saturday by defeating TCU on the road, ending the nation’s longest winning streak. TCU quarterback Casey Pachall was inactive because of a recent DWI arrest, but Iowa State’s 37-23 victory was nevertheless emphatic.

And yet, despite their identical records, the Cyclones still trail TCU by two spots in the USA Today poll, and find themselves unranked in the AP poll.  All that will quickly change, however, if they can manage to upset seventh-ranked Kansas State this Saturday.

4. Louisiana Tech

West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith has grabbed all the headlines this season with his 24-0 touchdown/interception ratio, but Louisiana Tech quarterback Colby Cameron isn’t bad, either; he has yet to toss a pick through 179 attempts.

Cameron’s smart decision-making has allowed the Bulldogs to average 53.2 points per game, good for third in the country. The voters will find out a lot about the 5-0 Bulldogs this week, when they take on Texas A&M at home. The Aggies haven’t lost since dropping their season opener to Florida, so look for the winner of this game to make a major jump in the polls.

5. Rutgers

You could take your pick of any of the Big East’s three undefeated squads, but the Scarlet Knights have been particularly impressive. They are giving up just 10.8 points per game, good enough for fifth in the country, and their run defense is second in the nation, allowing 60.6 yards per game.

The offense isn’t bad either — quarterback Gary Nova threw for five touchdowns and no interceptions against Arkansas, and running back Jawan Jamison has rushed for 100 yards in six consecutive games, dating to last year.

With Syracuse, Temple, Kent State, and Army on the horizon, it is very possible the Scarlet Knights will be undefeated when they travel to Cincinnati on Nov. 17.

 

 

 

 

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