It's nearly time to get the weekend started, but before Saturday hits there's a host of teams sitting undefeated. Some of which we've expected, others not so much.
Surprise teams like Iowa State, Northwestern, Arizona, UCLA, Mississippi State, and Florida all are sparking debate. Sure, they all are standing here after three weeks and haven't lost a game, but can we label any of these teams as true contenders for conference honors?
On the docket this week will be those unexpected undefeated teams and unlike last week we're promising full answers as to which teams are actual contenders and which ones are pretenders moving into the majority of conference play.
But, because we've got so many teams on the docket, we're skipping right to the verdicts and reasons why, no debating this time around. The CBR court has all the information we need to render our verdicts without the debates. So, let's get into those verdicts, shall we?
Florida: They seemed to find a quarterback in Jeff Driskol last week against rival Tennessee. That game was supposed to be the Vols coming out party and expose the issues the Gators had. Instead it turned into a completely dominating performance for Florida. They certainly could be the 2nd or 3rd best team in the SEC East at this point and with the back to back games against South Carolina and Georgia they could take destiny into their own hands quickly in the division. They have the tools defensively to keep up and that's important in this division.
UCLA: The Bruins proved they were for real by not only surviving against Nebraska, but beating them at home. They also have done good work in games against Rice and Houston. What's been most impressive is that they've found an identity as a team so quickly. They are a team that will pound the ball on you - something not seen a lot in the high flying Pac-12 these days and it's working for them to the tune of 311 yards rushing a game as a team. Oh, and if you sleep on their passing game you're making a mistake, they are also averaging over 300 yards passing a game. They are a serious challenger to cross-town rivals USC right now.
Northwestern: Welcome to the only team to have played 3 BCS schools so far this year and they've managed to win all of their games. Over at Delany's Dozen I talked extensively as to why they are a contender but the gist of it is that they've won at home, on the road, at night, and during the day against teams from BCS conferences. It's a better resume than anyone can pull out at the moment. The other impressive part is that they are finally getting some defense to match the production from their offense. This team has the hallmark of a championship worthy Northwestern team - no one expected anything from them in the preseason and they just go out and beat everyone by anyway they can.
Iowa State: This is perhaps the one that surprised you the most, huh? They were home underdogs to Tulsa and road underdogs to Iowa and won both games. They've also done it doing something that isn't often heard of in the Big 12... Defense. They have given up only 6 points in each of their past two games and while it's true that Iowa isn't an offensive juggernaut and Western Illinois is an FCS school it's the way they've played defense that matters. Mainly causing chaos and causing turnovers. Giving your offense a short field always helps and that's what this team is good for. Now, do they have the easiest route to become contenders? No, but that's because unlike the rest of these schools they actually have to play everyone else in conference and that means playing the likes of Oklahoma, Texas, K-State, and West Virginia, but they've also proven they can play with anyone in the Paul Rhoads era.
Mississippi State: Yes, they got the monkey off their back last week - beating an SEC West foe not named Ole Miss for the first time in the Dan Mullen era. However, it was against a terrible Auburn football team that couldn't score if you gave them the old ole defense all game long. Outside of that game against Auburn they haven't shown anything that says they are ready to beat or even compete on the same level as the likes of Alabama, Arkansas, or LSU and that means they aren't contenders at all.
Arizona: This team probably has one of the most impressive resumes of the 3-0 teams so far. They have played a very underrated Toledo team and smacked around Oklahoma State the next week. The one thing that's showed is this team is quickly taking on the identity of it's coach, Rich Rodriguez, and that's a good thing for the Wildcats. The guy can coach with the right kind of talent and the right kind of support behind him. However, this verdict comes down to simply one thing - their schedule. It's simply brutal. They have four games remaining against current Top 25 teams (Oregon, Stanford, USC, and UCLA) not to mention having to also play an improving Oregon State and Washington as well. Asking them to find ways to win out versus that schedule right now is a bit too much if you ask me.
If you put Mississippi State up against Northwestern or Iowa State on a neutral field, I'm taking Mississippi State. It won't be a blow out but I think they are a better team.
If you put up Mississippi State up against Northwester or Iowa State on a neutral field, what you definitely will have is 30,000 empty seats.