Published September 12, 2013
| Sports Network
Philadelphia, PA – It's still early in the season. Only two weeks have been ripped off the college football regular season calendar.
In fact, at this point, some teams have only gotten on the field once.
Even so, there are some teams that have gotten off to fast starts. Programs like Alabama, Clemson and Louisville were expected to have a 2-0 next to their names in the standings at this point. However, there are a number of teams, many in BCS conferences, that have posted two wins in two weeks and aren't boasting a spot in the national rankings.
Some of those teams will fall off as the schedule toughens, but others have made strong cases as to why they might be making noise past the first few weeks of September.
Perhaps the most-impressive team to be 2-0 and still unranked is, not surprisingly, a team from the SEC. The Auburn Tigers are just three years removed from the magical national title run with Cam Newton. However, the Tigers really plummeted once Newton went on to the NFL. With just 11 wins in the past two seasons, Gene Chizik was fired and replaced by former offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn.
Malzahn didn't need much time to reacclimate himself. He has made running the ball a priority once again for the Tigers. It is a strategy he used to great success as coordinator from 2009-11. During those three seasons, the Tigers ranked among the top 15 teams in the country in rush offense twice, including a fifth-place finish during the 2010 national championship run.
Led by the backfield duo of Corey Grant (186 yards, two touchdowns) and Tre Mason (172 yards, two TDs), along with dual-threat quarterback Nick Marshall, the Tigers currently rank 15th in the country in rushing yards per game (298).
Auburn hasn't done so against a pair of cupcakes, either. Their wins came against an improved Washington State squad and a dangerous Arkansas State unit, which, coincidentally, was where Malzahn coached a year ago.
While Auburn is running over teams, the Texas Tech Red Raiders have been doing what they do best: throw the ball. First-year head coach and former Red Raiders quarterback Kliff Kingsbury has come in and cleaned up the mess left by Tommy Tuberville.
Kingsbury has done so by instilling the same relentless pass attack that the Red Raiders had when they were dominating under Mike Leach. Texas Tech is second in the country in passing offense (453.5 ypg) and may have found a star in quarterback Baker Mayfield.
Though he is just a freshman, Mayfield is completing better than 70 percent of his pass attempts and has yet to throw an interception. Unlike past Red Raiders, Mayfield brings a dual-threat element because he has the speed and fearlessness to tuck the ball and run.
"Any time you have a true freshman in a new system, who didn't get here too long ago, come in and move the ball like he's moved it, that's exciting," Kingsbury said of Mayfield, who has received some early comparisons to a certain other quarterback in the state who thrilled as a freshman.
Another team at 2-0 that is flying under the radar, while lighting it up on offense, is Maryland. It was just last year that the Terps were forced to go through not one, not two, not three, but four players at quarterback. One of those options was a practice squad linebacker.
C.J. Brown is no practice squad linebacker. The senior quarterback has rebounded well from the knee injury that kept him out last season by completing 75.6 percent of his passes for 556 yards, while adding four rushing touchdowns.
"I think he's one of those guys that feel like he's got something to prove after what happened to him with the injury," Maryland head coach Paul Edsall said.
Add in the speedy Stefon Diggs (385 all-purpose yards) and Maryland has the offensive weapons to give teams like Florida State, Clemson and Miami (Fla.) a run for their money in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
The only real knock against the Terps is that their two wins have come against Florida International and Old Dominion, an FCS program headed to the FBS next year. However, the Terps won both of those games by a combined 90-20. Perhaps it wasn't a challenging opening slate, but the Terps did what good teams should do and routed lesser competition.
While Maryland, Auburn and Texas Tech have enjoyed nice starts thanks to offense, Michigan State has been doing so on the other side of the ball. The Spartans have been fixtures in the AP Top 25 in the last few seasons, but weren't on the list coming into this season. That could soon change.
Though their competition in the first two games is a combined 0-4, Michigan State's defense has been otherworldly. The Spartans are third in the country in total defense (179.5 ypg) while leading the nation in yards allowed per play (2.64). It helps that the Spartans have eight sacks and 15 tackles for loss already.
"You have to look at things at the end of the year, not at the beginning. But on the onset, you would certainly say it's right up there with the top ones," Michigan State head coach Mike Dantonio said of his defense. "We have guys playing at a rapid pace, running to the football. It's so much easier to play this game when you have confidence. Our confidence is at a very high level."
Even more terrifying for opposing offenses is how dangerous the Spartans have been making plays on the ball. Their defense has scored four touchdowns off turnovers already and produced six total takeaways. Kurtis Drummond has been the breakout star on the unit with his one-handed interception against Western Michigan likely to be replayed on highlight shows into January.
The Spartans may have the toughest challenge of keeping their success sustainable. Their offense has been rather weak (281 ypg) and defensive touchdowns are not a reliable source of points, even for a team loaded in that area.
There are a host of other teams that have gotten out to 2-0 starts as well. Squads like Penn State, Illinois, Arizona and Utah are all hungry to prove they are not flukes. Luckily, there is still plenty of season for any, and all of these teams, to do so.