Underdog U: Four Non-Power Five Teams That Will Crush The Top-25 In 2017
by 2 September 2017, 12:44 PM
Underdog U is back. Find out which teams are poised to jump into the Top-25 this season.
In 2014, SQ College Football started a series entitled Underdog U to put a spotlight on teams that didn’t quite get the recognition they deserved. The purpose of this series was to give these teams their due respect, showing our readers that not all of the best teams are in the Power Five conferences. And, while the series has enjoyed a lengthy hiatus, we felt like it was the right time to bring it back. To kickstart the series, here are four non-Power Five teams that will crash the Top-25 by season’s end.
The Broncos have become a household name in college football thanks to the job that former head coach Chris Petersen did. And, while Boise State has continued to win under new coach Bryan Harsin, the team has only finished in the Top-25 once in his three seasons at the helm. Losing a bunch of starters from last year’s team presents an interesting challenge this season, but returning quarterback Brett Rypien along with a handful of young talent will make reloading a lot easier.
Rypien led the conference’s best passing attack, throwing for 3,646 yards and 24 touchdowns while averaging 14.94 yards per completion in 2016. The junior’s continued development is needed as the Broncos will have a good chance early on to make a jump into the Top-25 with the non-conference portion of its schedule. Boise State will take on Troy and Virginia at home, then having to hit the road in their games against Washington State and BYU. It’s not exactly the toughest starting schedule, but if the Broncos can come out of this stretch season unscathed or with just one loss, they will almost certainly be back in the Top-25.
Playing in the MAC, it’s often very difficult to crack the Top-25. However, Toledo is a team that has seen glimpses of the Top-25 in recent years, making appearances in the AP Poll in 2012 (23) and 2015 (19). The Rockets are one of the most well-rounded teams on this list, offering an experienced defense and an offense that can keep up with just about anyone.
Head coach Jason Candle’s offense looked impressive in its first game of the 2017 season, putting up 47 points and 553 yards of total offense against Elon. However, the defense looked even better, allowing just 175 total yards and an average of 3.24 yards per play.
Toledo is the early favorite to win the MAC, and according to ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI), the Rockets are favored to win 10 of their next 11 games. The one game they are not favored to win is a non-conference tilt at Miami. Toledo might not be currently favored to beat the Hurricanes, but don’t count out the Rockets just yet, as this team upset 18th ranked Arkansas in 2015. Other non-conference games against Nevada and Tulsa offer resume-building opportunities that should help Candle’s team reach the Top-25 once again.
Scott Frost has been the savior for a UCF program that went 0-12 in 2015. Implementing an offense with a bit of an Oregon-style flair to it, Frost brought the Knights back from obscurity last season. UCF may have finished with a record of 6-7, but getting back to a bowl game was a big step in the right direction for this program. This season, Frost has even higher aspirations for the Knights and wants more than just a bowl appearance.
The defense lost a couple key players from a season ago, but retains a core group of players that includes last year’s American Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year, Shaquem Griffin. Meanwhile, UCF’s continued development on offense will be the key to taking the next step this season. In the first game of the season, UCF’s offense showed it has big play potential when it lit up FIU’s defense for eight plays of 20+ yards.
After its dominant performance in its first game, UCF is now favored by ESPN’s FPI to win the rest of its games. It’s unlikely that the Knights will go undefeated, but even toss-up games like Memphis, Georgia Tech, and USF could fall into UCF’s favor since they get those games at home. If the Knights continue their hot start, it wouldn’t be hard to believe that they could jump into the Top-25 by the end of September.
San Diego State
San Diego State dominated the Mountain West last season, and if it has its way it’ll do the same in 2017. Head coach Rocky Long has gone 21-3 in his last 24 games, dating back to 2015. The Aztecs are now expected to win when they take the field, as opposed to just having a chance at getting a win. Last season saw San Diego win 11 games along with a Mountain West title, finishing 25th in both the AP and Coaches Poll. This coming season could offer much of the same for the Aztecs.
Despite losing College Football’s most productive running back ever in Donnel Pumphrey, Long has recruited well enough that the depth chart is still full of talent. Running back Rashaad Penny played mostly in Pumphrey’s shadow last season but had a remarkable season himself, totaling 1,018 yards on the ground while averaging 7.49 yards per carry. Needless to say, the offense is going to revolve around him this season. The schedule sets up for the Aztecs to reach double digit wins yet again. And with two games against PAC-12 teams Arizona State and Stanford, San Diego State could be a Top-25 team sooner rather later.
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- Boise State
- Air Force
- San Diego State