Forde-Yard Dash: Are these undefeated teams for real or deceiving?

Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (meltdown medicine sold separately in Tallahassee):

[More Dash: Conference rankings | Prove-it games | Bama whining]

SECOND QUARTER

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TEN UNDEFEATED TEAMS — DO YOU BELIEVE OR ARE YOU DECEIVED?

Hey, it’s good to be undefeated in mid-September — beats the alternative, right? But not all 3-0 starts are created equal, which leaves some doubt about which unbeatens are real and which are fraudulent. After all, Indiana was 3-0 at this point last year, on its way to 5-7.

The Dash takes a look at 10 unbeatens and appraises their staying power:

Central Florida (11). Record: 3-0, with wins over Florida A&M, Florida Atlantic and Stanford. Dash rating: Legit.

Does the sport really need to do this again? To spend most of the season refusing to acknowledge that the Knights are a powerhouse? Apparently so, because UCF being ranked No. 15 in one poll and 16 — behind the likes of Michigan and Penn State — is clearly a case of name-brand bias. The Knights absolutely torched Stanford Saturday, lighting up the Cardinal for 38 first-half points behind five scoring drives of at least 62 yards. Doesn’t seem to matter who plays quarterback for UCF — McKenzie Milton, Darriel Mack, Brandon Wimbush, now freshman Dillon Gabriel — the offense rolls. Next: at Pittsburgh Saturday.

Do people really still doubt UCF at this point? Especially after clobbering Stanford? (AP)
Do people really still doubt UCF at this point? Especially after clobbering Stanford? (AP)

Minnesota (12). Record: 3-0, with wins over South Dakota State, Fresno State and Georgia Southern. Dash rating: Counterfeit.

The Dash got on the Gophers’ rowboat early, predicting an 8-0 record heading into November. That’s still in play, but my goodness P.J. Fleck’s team has been shaky so far. Minnesota trailed the FCS Jackrabbits into the final half of the fourth quarter in the opener; needed a touchdown in the final minute of regulation to force overtime against Fresno State; and scored the game-winning touchdown with 13 seconds left against Georgia Southern. That’s simply not sustainable in Big Ten play — even in the West Division, which again looks like a tub of live bait. Next: at Purdue Sept. 28.

Iowa (13). Record: 3-0, with wins over Miami (Ohio), Rutgers and Iowa State. Dash rating: Legit-ish.

Go ahead and circle Nov. 9 as the day the West is won — that’s when the Hawkeyes visit Wisconsin. Even with a largely rebuilt defense that lost its top four tacklers from 2018, Iowa is difficult to run against (15th nationally in rush yards allowed) and score against (10th in scoring defense). And after throwing 10 interceptions in an erratic junior season in 2018, quarterback Nate Stanley has yet to throw a pick in ’19. A plus-five turnover margin on the season to date is a very Kirk Ferentz stat. Next: Middle Tennessee in Iowa City on Sept. 28.

California (14). Record: 3-0, with wins over UC Davis, Washington and North Texas. Dash rating: Counterfeit.

Look, give abundant credit to coach Justin Wilcox for pushing Cal football forward by remaking it into a physical, defense-first program. In 2016, the last year under Sonny Dykes, the Golden Bears gave up 42.6 points per game. Since then: 28.4 in 2017, 20.4 last year and 16.3 this year. And it’s a great thing to have Washington’s number, upsetting the Huskies this year and last. But if Cal wants to record its first winning Pac-12 record in a decade, it will have to figure out how to score some points. Ranking 99th nationally in total offense and yards per play isn’t going to cut it. Next: at Mississippi.

Are Herm Edwards' Sun Devils good enough to win the Pac-12 South? We're not sure yet. (USA Today)
Are Herm Edwards' Sun Devils good enough to win the Pac-12 South? We're not sure yet. (USA Today)

Arizona State (15). Record: 3-0, with wins over Kent State, Sacramento State and Michigan State. Dash rating: Counterfeit-ish.

The win at Michigan State was a big one, but it also was aided by an unflagged penalty at the end that the Pac-12 acknowledged in a midnight Sunday news dump. Fact is, Arizona State is pretty much Cal of the desert — very good defensively and probably not good enough offensively to win its division of the Pac-12. The Sun Devils are the only team in the nation that has played three games to allow no more than seven points in every game thus far, which is nice. They’re also 112th nationally in rushing yards per carry, failing thus far to get star junior running back Eno Benjamin untracked. Next: Colorado in Tempe.

(Cal and Arizona State face off Sept. 27 in Tempe, a game that could elevate the winner from counterfeit to legit.)

Florida (16). Record: 3-0, with wins over Miami, Tennessee-Martin and Kentucky. Dash rating: Semi-legit.

Watching Feleipe Franks’ season end with an ugly injury Saturday night in Lexington was no fun — but it may have actually gotten Florida’s best quarterback off the bench and into the lineup. Kyle Trask was a revelation in a do-or-die situation, Trailing by two scores, Trask led scoring drives of 62 and 66 yards in the fourth quarter. He finished the game 9 of 13 for 126 yards while also contributing a dazzling option pitchout for a touchdown. If Trask can avoid Franks’ penchant for forehead-slapping turnovers, the Gators may be in good hands. Next: Tennessee in Gainesville.

Virginia (17). Record: 3-0, with wins over Pittsburgh, William & Mary and Florida State. Dash rating: Legit enough to win the Coastal.

To watch the Cavaliers flail at the end against Florida State Saturday night was like seeing an old friend that hadn’t changed much over the years. A missed extra point that looked like it might be fatal. Then the astonishing defensive conflagration on the Seminoles’ final drive — four separate 15-yard penalties, enabling a drive that otherwise wasn’t going anywhere. But in the end, the Bronco Mendenhall makeover of Virginia’s historic tendency to self-destruct won out, triggering a field storming. (The catch: Florida State isn’t worth a field storming anymore.) The Cavaliers have a quarterback and a defense, and that may well be enough to win a dismal division. Next: Old Dominion in Charlottesville.

TCU (18). Record: 2-0, with wins over Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Purdue. Dash rating: Insufficient evidence to render a verdict.

The Horned Frogs have beaten an FCS team and a struggling Purdue team that was playing a freshman backup quarterback. That's not enough to go on yet. The injury to Elijah Sindelar fed right into the hands of defensive mastermind Gary Patterson; Purdue mustered just 204 yards total offense. TCU is characteristically good on that side of the ball and has a formidable one-two running back punch — but does it have a quarterback? Freshman Max Duggan has been pedestrian thus far, and Kansas State transfer Alex Delton has similarly failed to inspire. The Frogs will need more from that position in the Big 12 shootouts to come. Next: SMU in Fort Worth.

So far Spencer Sanders and Oklahoma State have looked very on-brand for a Mike Gundy team. (Getty)
So far Spencer Sanders and Oklahoma State have looked very on-brand for a Mike Gundy team. (Getty)

Oklahoma State (19). Record: 3-0, with wins over Oregon State, McNeese State and Tulsa. Dash rating: Legit.

This looks like a very on-brand Mike Gundy team: unheralded preseason and now looking like a problem for the rest of the Big 12. Gundy has plugged in his latest productive quarterback — freshman Spencer Sanders — and let him distribute the ball to a pair of stud skill position players. Receiver Tylan Wallace (15 catches, 390 yards, six touchdowns) and running back Chuba Hubbard (521 rushing yards, seven TDs) lead the nation in rushing and receiving yards per game. Keep them healthy and the Cowboys will be difficult to stop. Next: at Texas Saturday in an early Big 12 biggie.

Appalachian State (20). Record: 2-0, with wins over East Tennessee State and Charlotte. Dash rating: Legit enough to keep an eye on Saturday.

Scott Satterfield left new coach Eliah Drinkwitz a pretty loaded roster, especially on the offensive side of the ball: running back Darrynton Evans, quarterback Zac Thomas, plus a lot of experience at receiver and the offensive line. The App State defense hasn’t been great so far, but it hasn’t needed to be. Next: at North Carolina, in a game where the Tar Heels are on upset alert.

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