Penn State, Mississippi top college football's mysterious unbeatens – USA TODAY

  • September 29, 2022

A win is a win, to be sure, but some wins are more equal than others.
As we near the October portion of the college football calendar, 21 Bowl Subdivision teams have survived the first four full weeks of the season unscathed. Of those, 18 are 4-0 with Oklahoma State, TCU and FBS newcomer James Madison at 3-0. 
Obviously, not everybody can keep their records unblemished. The ranks of the unbeaten are guaranteed to be reduced this weekend.
We know – or at least we think we do – who many of the true contenders are. No. 4 Michigan leaves home for the first time this weekend and could get a push from Iowa’s strong defense, and No. 10 North Carolina State averted disaster at East Carolina in its opener. But for the most part, the teams currently ranked in the top 10 can count at least one quality result.
For numerous other members of the undefeated club, however, it’s fair to wonder just how good they are. Here are the 10 unbeatens we know the least about, and when questions could potentially be answered about them.
The Nittany Lions’ rapid rise from unranked in the preseason to No. 12 in the polls was fueled by the dominant win at Auburn, but that result might be more indicative of the state of affairs with the Tigers. The narrow escape from Purdue in Week 1 might be a more telling indicator that PSU is closer to the middle of the Big Ten than the top.
When we’ll know more: The next two Saturdays won’t tell us much; a home date with Northwestern is followed by a week off. The three after that – at Michigan then Minnesota and Ohio State at home – will define the season.
The 11th-ranked Rebels are the lone SEC squad yet to play a conference game. A shutout win at Georgia Tech tells us little about Ole Miss, but we also shouldn’t make too much of last week’s struggle to put away a pesky Tulsa squad given what lies ahead.
When we’ll know more: If the Rebels can get by Kentucky in Oxford on Saturday, they have an excellent chance to be 7-0 before an Oct. 22 visit to LSU kicks off an extremely tough closing stretch.
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The Bruins had a one-point escape from South Alabama in Week 3, and last week’s rout of hapless Colorado to kick off the Pac-12 slate did little to attract the attention of poll voters. Still, it’s the team’s first 4-0 start since 2015 and first under Chip Kelly.
When we’ll know more: Friday night’s home contest with Washington will tell us a lot more about UCLA’s league prospects. A win would probably earn the Bruins a spot in the Top 25, but it might be short-lived with Utah and at Oregon up next.
Though it was hardly an aesthetic masterpiece, the Seminoles’ win against LSU is looking better. They also have two ACC wins in the bank, though both Louisville and Boston College are in danger of missing the bowl season. You see the progress from previous seasons. But can the momentum continue?
When we’ll know more: Saturday’s home contest with Wake Forest – assuming it takes place – is followed immediately by a trip to North Carolina State and a home clash with Clemson.
The Golden Gophers’ season got off to a soft launch with three easy home wins, including one against Colorado (The poor Buffaloes just keep showing up here, don’t they?), but last week’s demolition of Michigan State in East Lansing got considerably more fanfare.
When we’ll know more: Given the state of the rest of the Big Ten West, Minnesota’s schedule sets up very well. There is an Oct. 22 visit to Penn State, but the Gophers have an excellent chance to be 9-1 when the season-ending clashes with Iowa and Wisconsin roll around.
Three of the 18 members of the 4-0 club have played all of their games to date at home. Washington is one of those three – Ohio State and Michigan are the others. Again, it was the Huskies’ result against Michigan State that got the most attention, so they, like Minnesota, are hoping the Spartans are able to reverse their recent fortunes.
When we’ll know more: Life on the road begins Friday night for Washington in that aforementioned encounter with UCLA. Beyond that, there’s no USC or Utah on the Huskies’ slate, so the Nov. 12 trip to Oregon could be pivotal.
The Jayhawks should arguably be getting more credit than they are, with two true road victories including a conference win already secured. Perhaps because of the program’s less-than-stellar history, and the fact that KU has yet to face any of the perceived Big 12 favorites, poll voters are apparently still taking a wait-and-see approach.
When we’ll know more: KU gets to stay in Lawrence for the next two weeks to face Iowa State and TCU, but then back-to-back trips to Oklahoma and Baylor could serve as a reality check.
The Orange opened with a surprisingly easy romp past Louisville. But Purdue practically gifted Syracuse its third win, and the Orange did their best to give away last week’s game against Virginia. But winning ugly is better than losing, especially with coach Dino Babers needing success to avoid pressure.
When we’ll know more: This week’s home date with FCS member Wagner is followed by an open week, so the Orange will almost certainly be 5-0 on Oct. 15. But that’s when an extremely difficult six-game stretch begins, starting at home against North Carolina State followed immediately by a trip to Clemson.
We know less about the Horned Frogs than we do about Oklahoma State, which is also 3-0 but has more returning talent from last season’s Big 12 runner-up squad. TCU handled its business at Colorado and won its rivalry game against SMU, but it’s still a mystery where the Horned Frogs will land in the wide-open conference under first-year coach Sonny Dykes.
When we’ll know more: It won’t be long. Saturday’s home contest with an angry Oklahoma squad is followed by a trip to Kansas. Home dates with Oklahoma State and Kansas State follow.
Outside of James Madison, which is still transitioning and not yet eligible for the Sun Belt championship, the Chanticleers are the last remaining unbeaten squad in the Group of Five conferences. Unfortunately, they don’t have a Power Five triumph on their resume like several of their SBC brethren. But they do own a victory against Army and began conference play with a road win at Georgia State. Star QB Grayson McCall left that game against the Panthers with an apparent leg injury but is not expected to miss any further action.
When we’ll know more: Getting through the league unscathed will be difficult, starting with this week’s tilt with Georgia Southern. The Chants do have a Power Five opportunity at Virginia on Nov. 19, but it’s the Thursday night clash with Appalachian State on Nov. 3 that should be appointment viewing.