Most of the talk in college football is geared towards the "Automatic Qualifier" conferences (ACC, Big East, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC). We are guilty of that as well but there are some good stories out there this year from teams that have performed above expectations so far this year that aren't in the major conferences.
I'm not talking about Boise State (6-0) or Houston (6-0) or even Southern Miss (5-1) as those are all teams we had on our Pre-Season radar. Let's take a look at some of the most suprising teams so far this year in the non-AQ sector of the FBS:
#1 SMU Mustangs (5-1, 3-0)
SMU got slaughtered in their opener against Texas A&M as they lost by the tune of 46-14. SMU starting QB Kyle Padron threw two interceptions on the first two Mustang drives and he was replaced by J.J. McDermott. McDermott has gone on to throw for over 1,800 yards and 10 TDs so far this season and has led the Mustangs to five straight wins. SMU took small steps at first as they won games against UTEP, Northwestern State and Memphis. They were expected to win those games. Then they pulled off an upset of of #20 TCU in OT and after that they topped the defending Conference USA Champions UCF by three TDs. SMU has Southern Miss on deck this week and undefeated Houston later in the year. It will be a task for June Jones to keep the Mustangs riding high but if any coach in C-USA can do it, it's him.
What's Next for SMU? 10/22 at Southern Miss (5-1, 1-1)
#2 Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns (6-1, 4-0)
Last year this team started out 2-5 in their first seven and had losses to Western Kentucky and Middle Tennessee. This year they have a new coach, Mark Hudspeth, and he's got them headed in the right direction. In Rickey Bustle's nine years as Head Coach of UL, the most games the Ragin' Cajuns won was six. Hudspeth has already achieved that in his very first year. The last time they won more than six games? In 1993 they went 8-3. The next two weeks they get the chance to avenge 2010 losses to Western Kentucky and Middle Tennessee. Junior QB Blaine Gautier has led the Ragin Cajuns as he passed for over 1,000 yards and has an impressive TD:INT ratio of 10:1. Look out for Hudspeth's team as the schedule sets up nicely for the rest of the year. The big question is if they will be able to keep him after the year is over.
What's Next for Louisiana? 10/22 at Western Kentucky (2-4, 2-1)
#3 Temple Owls (5-2, 3-1)
There were a lot of questions when the Owls made the hire of Steve Adazzio as their new Head Coach after Al Golden left for Coral Gables. In my opinion, so far it's been a big success. Yes, they slipped up big time against Toledo (lost 36-13) but besides that they've taken care of business as their only other loss was by four points to the Big Ten's Penn State. The most impressive game was their 38-7 manhandling of Maryland in College Park. Add that to the fact that Temple has outscored it's last two opponents by the score of 76-0 (yes you read that right- 76-0!). Right now Temple is 3-1 in conference and they control their own destiny as they play the only other team in the MAC East (Miami, OH) that has one loss.
What's Next for Temple? 10/22 @ Bowling Green (3-4, 1-2)
#4 Arkansas State Red Wolves (4-2, 2-0)
Last year the Red Wolves started off their schedule going 1-5. This year they've had a great turnaround under first year coach Hugh Freeze (he's the third first year coach on this list). Arkansas State hasn't exactly beaten a who's who of college football (Memphis, Central Arkansas, Western Kentucky, UL Monroe) but they did avenge last years loss to WKU and their only two losses have come to teams that reside in BCS Auto-Qualifier Conferences (Illinois and Virginia Tech). FIU is next up for the Red Wolves and then it's two very winnable games against North Texas and FAU. The last time the Red Wolves won more than six games was 1987 when they went 8-4-1 and made it to the Quarterfinals of the 1-AA Playoffs. That was a long time ago, will this be the year the Red Wolves get over the six win hump?
What's Next for Arkansas State? 10/18 vs FIU (4-2, 1-1)
#5 Eastern Michigan Eagles (4-3, 2-1)
Sure they got rolled by Toledo but the other two losses on their record are to Michigan and Penn State. Phil Steele picked these guys to finish dead last in the MAC West but they already have a victory over Central Michigan which resides in their side of the conference. Oh yeah, did I mention that this is a team that has gone 2-22 over the last two years. So they've doubled their win total from the past two seasons in just 7 games so far this year. No matter how you look at it...that's improvement.
What's Next for EMU? 10/22 vs Western Michigan (4-3, 2-1)