Risers…Teams that have a good chance of earning a higher-ranked bowl game invitation than originally expected…
California…New Head Coach Justin Wilcox appears to be a great fit in Berkley. Give him a few recruiting cycles and the Bears should be a formidable team.
Central Florida…Even though Maryland was down to their fourth-string quarterback, the Knights handled their own business in a key resume-building win at a Power-5 school. They’re still my pick to win the AAC.
Duke…We’ll find out tomorrow night if the Blue Devils are for real. So far this looks like the best team since their Coastal Division Championship season in 2013. The continued development of sophomore QB Daniel Jones will answer that question.
E Michigan…A first-half pick-six against QB Brogan Roback cost the Eagles a chance to beat Ohio in regulation. Even though they tied the game late, they couldn’t pull it out in overtime. But as long as Chris Creighton roams their sidelines, Eastern Michigan football will no longer be the laughing stock of the MAC. Their season will be decided over the next five weeks starting this week with consecutive road games at Kentucky, Toledo and Army.
Iowa…Even though they lost to Penn State, the Hawkeyes proved in their last second loss just how much better they are than anyone originally anticipated. Led by senior linebacker Josey Jewell, if they can regroup quickly on the road this week in East Lansing, they’ll have a good shot at hanging in the Big 10 West race all season.
Louisiana Monroe…Second-year Head Coach Matt Viator is building the Warhawks into a Sun Belt sleeper this season. Viator found his quarterback late last season when freshman Caleb Evans took over the reins. Evans is coming off a career-game in a 56-50 overtime win last week over rival Louisiana by going 28-34 for 343 yards and one passing TD, including 129 yards rushing and five scores.
Minnesota…Head Coach PJ Fleck has already stamped his name on the program with several convincing wins to start the year. The schedule will be very kind over the next month which should help the Gophers with a chance to get even better before they take on some much tougher competition starting with Iowa on October 28th. There is a very good probability Minnesota could end up as Wisconsin’s primary challenger in the Big 10 West race when they meet in Minneapolis on November 25th to end the regular season.
Mississippi State…If the Bulldogs can rebound this week at Auburn and challenge the Tigers, it will go a long way in determining whether they can prove the LSU blowout win wasn’t a fluke.
Navy…With Central & South Florida in the AAC East, the Middies are looking good enough to win the West. Junior QB Zach Abey doesn’t have the passing skills like his predecessors Will Worth and Keenan Reynolds, but he’s very adapt at running the Middies triple-option rushing attack which always gives them a chance at success.
New Mexico State…Another Sun Belt sleeper that is further along than Monroe. Led by senior QB Tyler Rogers and senior RB Larry Rose, the Aggies are playing their best ball in years coming off close losses to Arizona State and Troy as well as a big rivalry win over New Mexico. If they can continue to play like this all season, look for them to go bowling for the first time since 1960!
NC State…The Wolfpack’s win in Tallahassee should serve notice to Clemson that when they battle it out on November 4th in Raleigh, maybe NC State can finish the job they squandered in overtime last season at Death Valley. Junior QB Ryan Finley is a very efficient leader and he has good talent to work with including senior jack-of-all-trades Jaylen Samuels. The defense is stout up front led by four top seniors including star edge rusher Bradley Chubb, a potential 2018 first-round pick. Head Coach Dave Doeren has been steady here the past three seasons (22-17), but this is clearly his best team yet and it’s time for the results to prove it. Beating Florida State last week is a great start.
Purdue…The Boilermakers are going bowling for the first time since 2012. Another great effort against Michigan proves they’re on the rise.
Wake Forest…Dual-threat senior QB John Wolford has grown by leaps and bounds so far this season. He entered the year with a career 30/35 TD to INT ratio, but has taken much better care of the ball after four games this season with eight TDs and no picks. Wolford also leads a balanced rushing attack with 269 yards and three scores. The Deacons aren’t going to the win the ACC Championship and the rest of the schedule gets much tougher, but as long as they can keep battling I expect them make it to a second straight bowl game for the first time in 10 years.