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College Football’s Most Surprising Starts


After three weeks of the college football season, we haven’t seen much movement in the Top 25. Oregon and Florida State have a loss, but both of those defeats were to other Top 10 teams. Notre Dame losing twice in games the Irish should have won was interesting, and TCU losing at Baylor was not shocking. However there have been some great stories a little below the radar.

Most surprising 3-0 start?

Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
Iowa State
is the most surprising 3–0 team in the nation in large part because the Cyclones have faced so much adversity in each game. They have trailed on 10 different occasions in their three games — three times in a 20–19 win over Northern Iowa, five times in a triple-overtime win over Iowa and twice in last Friday’s night’s 24–20 victory at UConn. Iowa State could easily have lost any (or even all) of the three games, but Paul Rhoads’ team has had a knack for making the big play at the key moment. And it’s important to note that ISU is one of the few 3–0 teams that has already defeated two BCS conference opponents, joining North Carolina, USC, Vanderbilt, Stanford and LSU. We obviously don’t know what is in store for this team as the season progresses, but Steele Jantz and the Cyclones are showing signs early that they could surprise in the Big 12.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
I’m going to go a little off the national radar with my pick and take FIU. I thought the Golden Panthers would be Sun Belt title contenders, but did not expect them to start the year 3-0. FIU has an impressive road win over Louisville and beat UCF 17-10 last Saturday. The Golden Panthers have been solid on defense this season, holding opponents to 14 points a game. The offense is led by receiver T.Y. Hilton – one of the top all-purpose threats in college football – and former Mississippi State quarterback Wesley Carroll. The schedule sets up favorably for FIU in the next couple of weeks and there’s another chance for a BCS conference win with Duke on Oct. 1. The Sun Belt doesn’t get much attention, but coach Mario Cristobal has done a great job building the program and they could finish in the bottom half of the top 25 at the end of the season.

Nathan Rush
The Vanderbilt Commodores are 3-0? With a first-year coach? That’s impressive. Coach James Franklin talked the talk all offseason, then went out and walked the walk — with a statement SEC win over Ole Miss, a BCS conference win over Connecticut and a cupcake win over Elon in the opener. The 'Dores defense has been especially impressive, scoring a TD in each of the first three games and logging an SEC-best 10 INTs — led by cornerback Trey Wilson’s three picks and two TDs. Back-to-back road trips at South Carolina and Alabama will bring VU back down to Earth. But after the first three games, there’s already bowl talk in Nashville. I didn’t see that coming.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
Iowa State is probably the most surprising 3-0, but I wanted to give a tip of the cap to San Diego State. It’s not shocking that Ronnie Hillman and crew won their first three games individually, but the surprise is in the fact that the Aztecs’ program just does not do this very often. The last time SDSU started 3-0 was 1981, when coach Doug Scovil led the Aztecs to a sixth-place finish in the WAC. New coach Rocky Long and his defense had to face completely different challenges in running quarterback Trent Steelman of Army (in an early east coast game) and then the passing game of Marshall Lobbestael and Washington State. It will get tougher this week when the Aztecs face former coach Brady Hoke and Michigan, but SDSU deserves some credit for the solid start.