Want to know which unranked teams will move up to into the rankings first in 2014?
The answer could be as easy as following a simple, two-part formula: First, preseason ranked teams with wicked opening schedules will fall from the Top 25. Think No. 21 Texas A&M which opens up against No. 9 South Carolina this Thursday night, or No. 16 Clemson which has No. 12 Georgia in the opener and then travels to No. 1 Florida State in Week 4.
The next part is just as simple: Unranked teams with easier opening schedules rise to replace the programs that lose and drop.
What’s crucial to remember is that there is a third part of the equation, only it comes after a multiple-week delay: The schedule gets harder and the preseason unranked teams become unranked again.
To illustrate, think back to 2011 when preseason unranked Illinois busted out to a 6-0 record by beating Arkansas State, FCS South Dakota State, No. 22 Arizona State (17-14), Western Michigan, Northwestern and Indiana. By their Oct. 15 game vs. Ohio State they were ranked No. 16 in the AP poll.
What happened next? Well, Illinois played unranked Ohio State, Purdue, No. 21 Penn State, No. 22 Michigan, No. 15 Wisconsin and Minnesota. They lost all six games and were unranked again by Oct 29.
Here’s a look at teams that could share a similar fate in 2014—unranked, power-five teams that will be undefeated and perhaps ranked by Week 5. If they aren’t really for real, then their fate is already sealed: They’ll fall just like Illinois did in 2011 and Maryland did last season.
It’s all down to the nuances of schedule timing.
Arizona opens up the season by welcoming UNLV to Tucson, travels to UTSA in Week 2, hosts Nevada in Week 3 and then Cal in Week 4. The four opponents combined for a 19-30 record last season.
Unless they get upset by one of the four, the Wildcats ought to be 4-0 and perhaps ranked by the time their Thursday night game at Oregon rolls around on Oct. 2.
What may hurt Arizona’s climb into the Top 25 is that it didn’t receive any votes in the AP preseason poll and only a single vote in the Coaches poll, meaning it has further to go to earn voter confidence.
Even though Duke went 10-4 last season and finished No. 23 in the final AP poll (its first postseason ranking since 1961), the Blue Devils will start 2014 as an unranked team.
The good news is that Duke received 71 votes in the preseason AP (technically making them No. 29), and 41 votes in the Coaches (No. 35).
Even better is the Blue Devils’ first-four weeks of the season, a string of games that sets up as a perfect launch pad into the rankings: The opener vs. FCS Elon, a Week 2 road trip to Troy and then home games in Weeks 3 and 4 with Kansas and Tulane.
The party comes to an end with a Week 5, Sept. 27 road trip to Miami Gardens to face the Hurricanes.
If Duke can manage an upset win there, they have a six-week stretch featuring two byes and games with Georgia Tech, Virginia, Pitt and Syracuse. This could propel the Blue Devils to a seven or eight wins by mid-November.
Much like Duke, Iowa got love in both preseason polls—the Hawkeyes earned 68 votes in the AP (No. 30) and 49 in the Coaches (No. 33).
Unlike the Blue Devils, Iowa’s friendly opening schedule extends through October and well into November. In fact, the Hawkeyes could be 10-0 by the weekend before Thanksgiving.
Iowa opens up the season vs. FCS Northern Iowa, hosts Ball State and Iowa State in back-to-back weekends, travels to Pitt and Purdue in Weeks 5 and 6 and then has a bye in Week 7. Next is a home game with Indiana, a road trip to Maryland and another bye. This sets up a Week 10 visit from Northwestern, a Week 11 road trip to Minnesota and a Week 12 trip to Illinois.
Though Iowa could potentially lose to any of these teams, it’s not the same thing as squaring off with Ohio State, Michigan State or Penn State.
Things get a lot dicier for the Hawkeyes in Weeks 13 and 14 when they host Wisconsin and Nebraska in back-to-back games to close out the season.
The last time NC State was ranked in the Top 25 was in the final AP poll in 2010, when the 9-4 Wolfpack finished at No. 25. After a 3-9 season in 2013, it’s no surprise that they’re not mentioned anywhere in either preseason poll coming into this year.
Though NC State has the perfect four-game opening to the season to get off to a great start, it’s less likely it will slip into the rankings due to the strength of its combined opponents. That said, look for the Wolfpack to at least be on the voters’ radar by the time its Week 5 game with Florida State rolls around.
Here’s NC State’s first four in 2014: Georgia Southern, Old Dominion, at USF and FCS Presbyterian.
If Penn State beats UCF in the opener, it has a realistic shot at being 5-0 by its Week 7 game at Michigan. Though that’s a big if, remember that the Knights aren’t ranked coming into the season and are No. 91 in the FBS in Phil Steele’s experience ratings. So, they aren’t exactly the same squad that finished last season 12-1.
After UCF, the Nittany Lions host Akron in Week 2, travel to Rutgers in Week 3 and then host back-to-back home games with UMass and Northwestern. Next up is a bye in Week 6 followed by the road trip to Ann Arbor to play the Wolverines.
Penn State’s only preseason love came in the form of five votes in the AP poll, but if it goes 5-0, expect a ranking. Think about it this way—you’d rank a 5-0 Penn State team a lot quicker than say a 5-0 Central Michigan.
One new head coach who should get off to an excellent start in 2014 is Wake Forest’s Dave Clawson, a guy who should be able to match his program’s total win mark from last season in the first four weeks of this year.
Wake Forest opens up on the road this Thursday night at ULM, hosts FCS Gardner-Webb in Week 2, travels to Utah State in Week 3 and then is back in Winston-Salem for a game with Army in Week 4.
The real juggernaut in the Demon Deacons first four is Utah State, a team that went 9-5 last season but returns only seven total starters this year. That’s the lowest number in the FBS ranks.
The party is over for Wake in Week 5 when it travels to Louisville. Even if it were to triumph there and hit 5-0, Week 6 means another ACC road trip, this time to Tallahassee to face Florida State.
Not surprisingly, Wake Forest didn’t receive a single preseason vote in either poll. The last time it was ranked was in October 2008 when it was No. 21 in the AP. After a 26-0 loss to unranked Maryland, the Deacons vanished from the Top 25 for good.