5-0 start looks likely for La. Tech

BY Sam Gardner • September 24, 2012

Everyone likes an underdog, and while this college football season has been ripe with upsets, it hasn’t necessarily been flush with BCS buster candidates.

After four weeks, all but four non-automatic qualifying teams have faced defeat, and most have lost more than once, as 37 non-AQ teams (in a pool of 56) have at least two losses on the year. But of the undefeated teams that are left, there are three that have a legitimate shot at finishing the season that way — and one that most definitely won’t — so it’s still a race worth watching as the season unfolds.

Here’s a closer look at the five remaining contenders that could crash the party, including a one-loss team that, once written off, may have worked its way back into the BCS picture.

The favorites

Notre Dame: Leading up to the start of the season, all of the talk surrounding Notre Dame was about how challenging its schedule would be. But after a 13-6 win over Michigan on Saturday, the Fighting Irish are 4-0, and it’s probably not too early to think that Notre Dame is finally back — though not everyone agrees. The Irish are up to No. 10 in the most recent Associated Press poll. They’re off this week, but they’ll get right back on the horse against Miami on Oct. 6. A win over the Hurricanes would set up a potentially huge meeting with Stanford on Oct. 13 that could have BCS implications for both teams — and certainly will for a Notre Dame team without a conference title to contend for.

Ohio: Last week, after Ohio’s 27-24 win over Marshall, I wrote that the Bobcats couldn’t afford to just sneak by their nonconference opponents. They responded on Saturday with a 44-10 win over Norfolk State despite not having starting quarterback Tyler Tettleton on the field. Ohio is now 4-0 for the first time since 1979 and is unofficially 29th in the latest AP poll. When you consider the Bobcats’ conference performance last year — they lost two regular-season games and the conference championship by a combined seven points — it’s not out of the question to think they could go undefeated. But they’ll have to have Tettleton back to do it.

Louisiana Tech: After allowing an average of 585 yards of total offense the first two weeks, Louisiana Tech (3-0) held Illinois to just 324 yards in a 52-24 rout in Champaign, Ill., on Saturday. The Bulldogs can score with the best of them, averaging 54.7 points per game, but scoring will be more challenging without leading rusher Tevin King (123 yards per game), who will miss the rest of the season with an ACL injury sustained against the Illini. However, if the Bulldogs defense keeps playing at the level it did Saturday, freshman Kenneth Dixon (81.3 yards per game) picks up where King left off at running back and senior quarterback Colby Cameron (11 touchdowns, no interceptions) continues to protect the ball against Virginia and UNLV, Louisiana Tech could very well find itself 5-0 heading into a make-or-break game against Texas A&M on Oct. 13.

Still in the mix (technically)

Texas-San Antonio: Yes, Larry Coker’s Roadrunners are 4-0, and yes, they won 56-3 on Saturday over Northwestern Oklahoma State. But you know who else has routed Northwestern Oklahoma State this year? How about Ouachita Baptist, which won 55-3; Colorado State-Pueblo, which won 41-24; and Truman State, which tripled NWOSU up, 63-21. It’s nice to see a budding program like UTSA get a few cupcake wins for the sake of confidence, but it’ll get a reality check sooner than later — probably against New Mexico State or Rice in the next two weeks.

Back in the fold?

Boise State: After the Broncos lost their season opener against Michigan State, it was tough to picture them bursting the BCS bubble, given that no one-loss, non-automatic qualifying team not named Notre Dame ever has played in a BCS bowl. But Boise State, which moved to 2-1 with its 7-6 win over another ex-BCS buster candidate in BYU, is ranked No. 24 in the latest AP poll. If the Broncos keep winning, they could find themselves moving up the rankings just by virtue of the teams ahead of them losing. I wouldn’t necessarily call an 11-1 Boise State team a lock to play in a BCS bowl — after all, the Broncos have ended up in the Humanitarian Bowl, Fort Worth Bowl, Liberty Bowl, Poinsettia Bowl and Las Vegas Bowl with one-loss and undefeated teams over the past decade. But if their offense comes back to life after not finding the end zone against BYU, a BCS appearance is certainly not out of the question.

You can follow Sam Gardner on Twitter or e-mail him at samgardnerfox@gmail.com.