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Which college football team has been the biggest surprise?

September 20, 2012
  • Virginia Tech Coach Frank Beamer can't look during the fourth quarter of the Hokies' 35-17 loss to Pittsburgh on Saturday.
Virginia Tech Coach Frank Beamer can't look during the fourth quarter… (Keith Srakocic / Associated…)

Writers from around the Tribune Co. will discuss the teams that have been the biggest surprises in college football so far this season. Feel free to join the discussion with a comment of your own.

Desmond Conner, Hartford Courant

The Virginia Tech Hokies.

They lost to Pittsburgh last week.

The end.

Virginia Tech was a 10 1/2-point favorite against an 0-2 team that embarrassingly lost its season opener to Youngstown State and, subsequently, looked awful in its loss to Cincinnati.

We aren't so surprised about Pitt losing to Youngstown State or starting out 0-2 as much as we are about a Virginia Tech team that has some serious weapons but fell behind Pitt, 21-0, and lost, 35-17.

You know what happened. Everybody does. The Hokies looked at a bad Pitt team and took the game lightly. You deserve what you get when that happens. The real surprise is that a Frank Beamer-coached team took an opponent lightly.

That almost never happens, and as a result the Hokies fell from grace, No. 13 in the AP poll, and landed outside of it altogether.

Teddy Greenstein, Chicago Tribune

It’s tough to pick against Wisconsin, even though it’s now easy to pick against Wisconsin. The Badgers would be 1-2 if Utah State’s John Thompson had not missed from 37 yards Saturday. Sports Illustrated ranked the Badgers sixth in the preseason, and everyone outside West Lafayette and Champaign penciled them into the Big Ten title game.

And yet Wisconsin’s offense has fallen from 14th (469.9 yards per game) in the nation to 119th (276.0). The NFL departures of Russell Wilson and O-linemen Kevin Zeitler and Peter Konz explain some of that. And you can look at the drain in receiving talent, thanks to Nick Toon’s graduation and Jarred Abbrederis’ injury. But still …

Wisconsin won’t dig out of this mess without better quarterback play. But Coach Bret Bielema hasn’t said which QB will get the first shot Saturday against UTEP – the turnover-prone Danny O’Brien or former walk-on Joel Stave.

[Updated at 12:22 p.m. Sept. 20:

Iliana Limón Romero, Orlando Sentinel

After star quarterback Andrew Luck departed to the NFL, Stanford should have taken a significant step back. While the Cardinal will surely hit some bumps along the way, the team is off to an impressive 3-0 start. The season-opening 20-17 win over San Jose State was a little too close for comfort and seemed to be an early sign of a slide, but a decisive 50-3 win over improving Duke was a step in the right direction.

And nothing shook up the college football landscape more than Saturday’s  21-14 win over then-No. 2 USC, a team many favored to win the national championship. Forget the BCS title, the Trojans may have trouble winning the Pac-12 after Stanford’s defense ran a clinic against rival USC. Stanford illustrated exactly how to frustrate and contain star quarterback Matt Barkley, potentially shattering his Heisman Trophy hopes and a bit of his confidence along the way.]

[Updated at 1:08 p.m. Sept. 20:

Chris Dufresne, Los Angeles Times

UCLA and Notre Dame are off to surprising starts, but those schools are supposed to be good. I'm hooked on the Louisiana Monroe Warhawks, who have split two overtime games with the mighty Southeastern Conference. Louisiana Monroe, a Sun Belt team which has never had a winning record at the major college level, shocked No. 8 Arkansas in Little Rock and then, a week later, took Auburn to overtime. 

ULM won outright as 30-point underdogs, covered the spread last week, yet are still a seven-point underdog Friday night at home against Baylor. When will people start to believe? With Robert Griffin III in the NFL, the best quarterback on the field will be ULM's Kolton Browning, who has completed 62% of his passes and leads the team in rushing. Can the mighty Warhawks continue to surprise?

Those programming geniuses at ESPN somehow saw this coming and put this game in its Friday night slot. There goes my Bingo night.]

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