Washington, Idaho among college football's biggest surprises
The Idaho Vandals and Washington Huskies rank among the top surprises so far this season, with Miami No. 1.
Seattle Times colleges reporter
We interrupt the festivity and formlessness of another college football season to bring you this sobering message:
Almost halfway in, it really hasn't been all that chaotic. (Hang on, Huskies and Vandals, we'll give you the floor in a second.)
Look at the polls. Six of the eight highest-ranked teams in the preseason are still there. Only Oklahoma has taken a major dive.
The team that made the most significant ascent in the rankings, unrated-to-eighth Cincinnati, did it modestly — with a blowout win at Rutgers and a fruitful trip to Oregon State. The Bearcats were picked third in the Big East, but it was a very close vote among the leaders.
Upsets? Of course. Brigham Young shocked Oklahoma, Washington stoned USC, Houston stunned Oklahoma State. But none of them could sustain a big run up the polls.
In the absence of wholesale unpredictability, though, there's a worthwhile roster of teams assembling unexpected seasons. Our surprise seven:
1. Miami: The 'Canes (4-1) were picked fourth by media in the ACC Coastal Division. But they went out and surmounted three-fourths of the most wicked September schedule in the country, and ranked at No. 9, can't be counted out of the BCS title chase.
2. Idaho: Honk if you predicted that the Vandals would become bowl-eligible on Oct. 17. That's the prize that awaits Idaho if it can beat Hawaii Saturday in Moscow.
"Their offensive line is terrific," said Dick Tomey, whose San Jose State team just lost a close one to the Vandals. "Many pro scouts think [guard Mike] Iupati is the best offensive lineman coming out this year in the whole country.
"[Quarterback Nick] Enderle didn't play quite as well against us, but he's been outstanding. They lead the league in rush defense. They have a lot of qualities that good teams have."
Tomey and his colleagues in the WAC clearly didn't see it coming. They selected Idaho ninth in a nine-team league.
3. Auburn: A year ago, the offensively challenged Tigers scored 208 points. Under first-year coach Gene Chizik and coordinator Gus Malzahn, they're 5-1 with 230 points. Media picked them fifth in the SEC West.
4. Wyoming: It's apparently a big year for Washington, places where a lot of Washington coaches worked (Idaho), and ex-Washington players are now coaching. Dave Christensen (UW, 1980-82), in his first year off the Missouri staff, has the Cowboys at 2-0 and 4-2 after they were a media choice for last in the MWC.
5. Washington: The Huskies are not only a lot more interesting, they're 3-3 and eminently viable for a bowl berth.
Now what happens? It's unsettling that they allowed 200 yards rushing to Toby Gerhart, 422 passing to Jimmy Clausen and were outgained by more than 200 yards against Arizona. On the other hand, Washington still hasn't played the three worst offenses in the Pac-10 — Arizona State, UCLA and Washington State.
6. Boston College: It would be easier to inflate the Eagles (4-2) if they hadn't just gotten flattened at Virginia Tech. Still, they were a last-place selection by media for the ACC Atlantic Division.
7. Southern Methodist: Best not to overreact to the Ponies' 3-2 (and 2-0) start, since they've had one winning season (6-5 in 1997) in two decades. But they went 2-22 in 2007-08, and they just beat Conference USA division favorite East Carolina. Imagine how they'd feel if they'd held onto a 17-point lead at Washington State before losing.
Call it the Jeff Tedford Syndrome. Early on, you can do no wrong. As football coaches go, you're a candidate for Mensa.
Then, if you hang around long enough, the football gods scramble your headset and people are constantly asking: What happened?
In his second season, Bob Stoops took Oklahoma to the 2000 national title. In the Red River rivalry, he beat Texas five straight from 2000 to 2004, shaming counterpart Mack Brown with scores like 63-14 and 65-13.
What went around, came around. Entering Saturday's date at the Texas State Fair, Stoops has lost five straight BCS bowl games and three of four to the Longhorns. Oklahoma oilmen probably also know that he hasn't covered a spread in any of those four.
The end around
• Similarly in need of a breakthrough is Notre Dame's Charlie Weis against USC Saturday. He's 0-8 since 2006 against ranked teams.
• Hardly any marquee player has taken a nosedive like Ole Miss QB Jevan Snead. He's completing 47 percent, with nine touchdowns and nine interceptions.
• The backup quarterback at Kansas is Kale Pick.
• Bowling Green receiver Freddie Barnes had 22 catches for 278 yards last week in a win over Kent State. Maybe a better gauge was his four catches for 24 yards in a 49-14 loss to Boise State.
• Duke's 49-28 win over North Carolina State was its first ACC victory on the road in almost six years. Thad Lewis threw for 459 yards.
• Back in the day, it wasn't uncommon for coaches to hold down the position of athletic director as well. Now there's one among the big (FBS) schools: Derek Dooley of Louisiana Tech.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or firstname.lastname@example.org
About Bud Withers
Bud Withers gives his take on college sports, with the latest from the Huskies, Cougs, and the rest of the Pac-10.
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