FOX Sports South brainstorms seven unsung college teams -- currently outside the Associated Press Top 15 poll -- that could have claimed the up-for-grabs SEC East this season ... if these highly competitive schools actually belonged to one of college football's wackiest divisions. (Photos: Charles LeClaire/Beth Hall/Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports)
Marshall Thundering Herd
RANKING: 25 ... RECORD: 6-0 (2-0 in Conference USA) ... REASONS TO BELIEVE: 1) The Thundering Herd, the nation's No. 2 scoring team, have notched at least 42 points in every game. 2) Of its six outings to date, Marshall has an absurd victory margin of 30.5 points. 3) The Herd defense ranks 8th nationally, allowing only 17.2 points per game. 4) QB Rakeem Cato (above -- 1,698 yards, 15 TDs) is a viable Heisman contender ... assuming his team keeps bludgeonong the competition. ... REASON TO BE WEARY: It's not Marshall's fault, per se, but of its schedule to date ... only Akron currently has a winning record.
Minnesota Golden Gophers
RANKING: Unranked ... RECORD: 5-1 (2-0 in Big Ten) ... REASONS TO BELIEVE: 1) Minnesota and Iowa are the lone unbeatens in the Big Ten's West division. 2) Tailback David Cobb (above -- 912 total yards, 4 TDs) headlines a Golden Gophers backfield that's averaging 212 rushing yards per game (30th nationally). Cobb already has a pair of 200-yard-rushing outings this season (Middle Tennessee, San Jose State). 3) Iowa and Ohio State, arguably the two best teams left on the Gophers' regular-season schedule, travel to Minnesota on consecutive Saturdays in November. 4) For its five wins, Minnesota has an average victory margin of 14.6 points. REASON TO BE WEARY: Losing to No. 12 TCU is/was no shame for Minnesota. But the 23-point spread certainly hurt the Gophers' national perception.
Colorado State Rams
RANKING: Unranked ... RECORD: 5-1 (1-1 in Mountain West) ... REASONS TO BELIEVE: 1) From a name perspective, Colorado State already owns quality victories over Colorado, Boston College, Nevada and Tulsa. 2) The Rams have scored at least 24 points in every game. 3) The Colorado State passing attack, which currently ranks 16th nationally (319 yards per game), boasts one of college football's best QB-WR duos in Garrett Grayson (1,823 yards passing, 16 TDs) and receiver Rashard Higgins (above -- 44 catches, 776 yards, 10 TDs). 4) The Rams' two most daunting games on their schedule occur at home -- with Utah State (Saturday) and Wyoming (Oct. 25) visiting Fort Collins over the next eight days.
Isaiah J. Downing
East Carolina Pirates
RANKING: 18 ... RECORD: 5-1 (2-0 in American Athletic) ... REASONS TO BELIEVE: 1) The Pirates have been a prodigious outfit this season, ranking 15th nationally in scoring (41.0 points per game). 2) East Carolina has tremendous offensive balance, averaging 193 rushing yards and 371 passing yards per outing. 3) QB Shane Carden (above -- 2,129 yards passing, 16 TDs) has already tallied five games of 300 yards passing and/or three touchdowns. 4) ECU knocked off No. 17 Virginia Tech on Sept. 13 -- the week after the Hokies shocked Ohio State on the road. 5) The Pirates should feel no shame with their lone defeat -- a close-shave road loss to South Carolina on Sept. 6.
RANKING: Unranked ... RECORD: 3-3 (0-3 in SEC) ... REASONS TO BELIEVE: 1) The Hogs (winless in SEC play) are clearly knocking on the victory door. In conference play, Arkansas boasts a one-point loss to No. 7 Alabama, an overtime defeat to No. 6 Texas A&M and a season-opening loss to No. 6 Auburn -- where the Tigers and Razorbacks were once tied at 21-all. 2) Arkansas' dynamic running duo of Alex Collins (above) and Jonathan Williams have already combined for 1,200 rushing yards and 15 TDs this season. 3) The SEC West currently holds a 26-0 national record outside the division ... including a spotless 4-0 mark against the SEC East. 4) For its East-West showdown with Georgia on Saturday, Arkansas won't have to contend with Georgia RB Todd Gurley, a former Heisman candidate (suspension).
RANKING: 20 ... RECORD: 5-1 (2-1 in Pac-12) ... REASONS TO BELIEVE: 1) Arizona, Arizona State and Stanford were also considered here. But we most favor Utah amongst the Pac-12's second wave. 2) Through mid-October, Utah already owns road victories against Michigan, Oregon State and UCLA. 3) The Utes, led by Devontae Booker (above -- 820 total yards, 7 TDs), are averaging 211 rushing yards per game. (Booker notched 229 yards/3 TDs against Oregon State.) 4) Utah hasn't surrendered more than 28 points in any game. 5) Yes, losing to Washington State at home is never a good thing -- in terms of national perception. However, citing that low-scoring defeat, Utah's defense would undoubtedly travel well in the SEC East.
West Virginia Mountaineers
RANKING: Unranked ... RECORD: 4-2 (2-1 in Big 12) ... REASONS TO BELIEVE: 1) West Virginia has two highly respectable losses to date, suffering a pair of closer-than-the-score-indicated defeats to Alabama and Oklahoma -- both ranked in the top 5 at the time. 2) The Mountaineers have demonstrated rock-solid offensive balance, averaging 184 rushing yards per game and ranking 7th nationally in passing (369 yards per outing). 3) Senior QB Clint Trickett (above -- 2,203 yards passing, 12 TDs) has eclipsed 300 yards passing in every game. 4) WVU might join the ranks of the top 15 in just a few days ... if it can catch No. 4 Baylor in a proverbial "trap" game at home on Saturday. 5) Speaking of which, the Mountaineers have remaining home tilts against Baylor, TCU and Kansas State.