8 college football teams you do not want to play right now

Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (chill pills sold separately in the state of Michigan, where the squabbling Spartans and Wolverines were “bush league” all Saturday, and haven’t stopped talking about it since):

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SECOND QUARTER

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EIGHT HOT TEAMS YOU DO NOT WANT TO PLAY

They all lost early — most of them more than once. But every team on this list is playing good football now and could be very hard to beat over the next month.

Purdue. Started: 0-3, with losses to Northwestern, Eastern Michigan and Missouri. Now: 4-3, with wins over Boston College, Nebraska, Illinois and Ohio State. What changed: Coach Jeff Brohm has said repeatedly that he needed to get back to his free-wheeling, aggressive game-management style — bold play calls, fake kicks, etc. He’s clearly done that and gotten good results. But he also went back to senior quarterback David Blough and stayed with him, putting the bigger arm (but more questionable decision-making) of junior Elijah Sindelar on the bench. Blough has played great over the last five games, and not coincidentally, the Boilermakers have scored 30 or more points every game in that stretch.

Utah (11). Started: 2-2, with wins over Weber State and Northern Illinois, and losses to Washington and Washington State. Now: 5-2, with wins over Stanford, Arizona and USC. The Utes haven’t just won three in a row; they’ve won three in a row easily. Average margin of victory during this winning streak: 21.3 points. What changed: Utah has cranked up its big-play capability, especially in the passing game. During the current winning streak the Utes have hit passes of 68, 58, 57, 49, 46, 39 and 30 yards. That’s helped quarterback Tyler Huntley record his three best pass efficiency ratings of the season in these three games: 176.3 against Stanford, 186.8 against Arizona and 220.2 against USC. Hopes of a first-ever berth in the Pac-12 title game are alive in Salt Lake City.

Utah quarterback Tyler Huntley (R) carries the ball in for a touchdown against USC on Saturday. (AP)
Utah quarterback Tyler Huntley (R) carries the ball in for a touchdown against USC on Saturday. (AP)

Texas Tech (12). Started: 3-2, with wins over Lamar, Houston and Oklahoma State, and losses to Mississippi and West Virginia. Now: 5-2, with wins over TCU and Kansas. What changed: A defense with 10 returning starters from 2017 got its act together — first holding Oklahoma State to 17 points, then holding TCU to 14 and Kansas to 16. In September games, Texas Tech was last in the Big 12 in total defense; in October games, the Red Raiders are second in the league — and first in scoring defense at 15 points allowed per game. This defense is on pace to be Tech’s best since 2009.

Iowa State (13). Started: 1-3, with a win over Akron and losses to Iowa, Oklahoma and TCU. Now: 3-3, with wins over Oklahoma State and West Virginia. What changed: The starting quarterback, as coach Matt Campbell conjured up third-string magic for the second straight season. Last year Iowa State’s season turned when third stringer Kyle Kempt took over; this year Kempt got hurt in the first game and backup Zeb Noland was benched early against the Cowboys — and then it became Brock Purdy Time. In two games the freshman has completed 75 percent of his passes for seven touchdowns and two interceptions, and run for 123 yards. (One hot team will be cooled off Saturday, because Texas Tech visits Iowa State.)

Virginia (14). Started: 3-2, with wins over Richmond, Ohio and Louisville, and losses to Indiana and North Carolina State. Now: 5-2, with wins over Miami and Duke. What changed: third-year coach Bronco Mendenhall is a defensive guy, and his defense has been very good lately. The Cavaliers limited Miami to 13 points and Duke to 14, the first time Virginia has held consecutive ACC opponents to fewer than 15 points since October 2006. Both the Hurricanes and Blue Devils registered season-low pass efficiency numbers against the Cavs. Virginia now has three straight home games against 1-5 North Carolina, 3-4 Pittsburgh and 4-3 Liberty. It’s possible that the rivalry game against Virginia Tech to end the regular season will decide who wins the ACC Coastal.

Texas A&M (15). Started: 2-2, with wins over Northwestern State and Louisiana-Monroe, and losses to Clemson and Alabama. Now: 5-2, with wins over Arkansas, Kentucky and South Carolina. Really, the Aggies have been pretty solid all along — losing respectably to No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Clemson is no shame. What changed: Although all three games were close on the final scoreboard, A&M dominated statistically against the Razorbacks, Wildcats and Gamecocks, outgunning them by a combined 490 yards. The defense is drastically improved under first-year coordinator Mike Elko, on pace to allow the fewest points per game by the Aggies since 2006.

Texas A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher has the Aggies in decent shape in his first season at the helm. (AP)
Texas A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher has the Aggies in decent shape in his first season at the helm. (AP)

Temple (16). Started: 2-3, with losses to Villanova, Buffalo and Boston College, and wins over Maryland and Tulsa. Now: 5-3, with wins over East Carolina, Navy and Cincinnati. What changed: The Owls have found ways to win close games. After losing their first two to ‘Nova and Buffalo by a combined nine points, they’ve won their last two by a touchdown apiece — most recently taking down previously undefeated Cincinnati in overtime. Redshirt freshman quarterback Anthony Russo stepped into the starting role in the third game due to injury, and he hasn’t relinquished the position. Russo has led the Owls to comeback victories twice in a row. Temple is 4-0 in the AAC East and could stake its claim to winning that division if it can upset Central Florida on Saturday night in Orlando.

Utah State (17). Started: 0-1, with a loss to Michigan State. Now: 6-1, with wins over New Mexico State, Tennessee Tech, Air Force, BYU, UNLV and Wyoming. What changed: The schedule got easier, after an opening trip to East Lansing. But the Aggies also have been one of the most explosive teams in the country, averaging 47.7 points per game and leading the Mountain West in yards per play and yards per rush. They’ve also scored four touchdowns on special teams. The MWC Mountain Division title could come down to Utah State at Boise State on Nov. 24.

UP OFF THE MAT … AND DANGEROUS?

Remember how bad these teams with new coaches looked in September? Well, that may be changing. There are signs of progress. Three teams that finally figured out how to win, and what it might mean going forward:

Nebraska (18). The Cornhuskers were historically bad, starting 0-6 and extending their losing streak to a program-record 10 straight games. Then they broke through Saturday, routing Minnesota 53-28. That came a week after an agonizing loss to Northwestern that showed Nebraska was close. Now, with consecutive strides taken, the Huskers host FCS Bethune-Cookman in an 11th-hour makeup game to replace the canceled contest against Akron. That’s another confidence builder. A Nov. 3 game at Ohio State might not be pretty for a team that can’t stop anyone, but Nebraska then returns home to play Illinois and Michigan State, and finishes the season at Iowa. By the time all is said and done, Scott Frost’s first season in Lincoln could upgrade itself from complete disaster to merely bad, with hope for the future.

UCLA (19). Chip Kelly inherited little, radically remade the program’s offense and experienced a predictably ugly start — the Bruins were 0-5 and averaged just 17 points per game in September. They scored 24 in a competitive loss to Washington, then broke through by routing California 37-7 and followed that up with a 31-30 win over Arizona. That’s the first time UCLA has won consecutive Pac-12 games in three years. The October scoring average to date: 33 points a game. And a UCLA defense that had five takeaways in the first five games produced eight in the last two. The Bruins may not be favored in any of their remaining five games against pretty stout competition, but they will have several chances to impact who wins the conference — starting with a big Pac-12 South spoiler opportunity Friday night at home against Utah.

Arkansas (20). Saying the Razorbacks are off the mat after beating one-win Tulsa is an admitted stretch — but it beats another loss, and the schedule provides some intriguing advantages going forward. The 23-0 beating of the Golden Hurricane was Arkansas’ first shutout in four years, and it follows a close loss to Mississippi. Considering where this team was three weeks into the season, with a loss to woeful Colorado State and an embarrassing home rout at the hands of North Texas, there is demonstrable improvement. Next comes a home game against Vanderbilt on Saturday, with the Commodores playing their second straight game on the road. After that, Arkansas hosts LSU on Nov. 10 — with the Hogs coming off an open date while the Tigers are coming off a showdown with Alabama. Similar deal Nov. 17 — Arkansas catches Mississippi State coming off a game against the Crimson Tide the previous week. These Hogs are by no means good, but they do catch three consecutive breaks with the schedule that give them a chance.

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