We're just about at the halfway point of the 2017 season, and we've been re-evaluating things here at CBSSports.com. Not only did we release ourearlier this week, but we also .
As is the case in any season,, and .
In this week's Friday Five, I'm looking at the surprises. I took a look at the Power Five teams that are currently in the hunt for a division title and tried to figure out which ones have the best chance of finishing the job over the second half of the season. It's one thing to get off to a hot start; it's another to maintain it.
I set some parameters here. To be considered for this exercise, you had to be a team that nobody was picking to win the division before the season began. Now, I can't check every prediction made across the entire internet, so when I say nobody picked them, I mean nobody here at CBSSports.com. I found quite a few teams that qualified because, at this point in the season, a lot of teams are still in their division races. It's just some seem more qualified than others right now, and these five teams are the ones I believe are most capable of getting the job done.
5. Arizona: Yeah, I'm seriously putting Arizona on this list. Before the season began, I wrote a post about dark horse teams in each Power Five conference, and. Now, truth be told, I wasn't a real believer in the possibility. I just needed three teams per conference, and Arizona had the makings of such a squad. Still, I picked them to finish sixth in their division, and only Ben Kercheval had the Wildcats as high as fourth. The Pac-12 preseason media poll had the Cats finishing in last.
While I still don't believe there's a team in the South that can get past USC -- Arizona is on this list, but it's in fifth for a reason -- if there's any team that can, it's the Wildcats. The reason is simple: Khalil Tate. Have you seen him the last couple of weeks? He's been a video game version of Mike Vick in his two starts, and anytime you give Rich Rodriguez a dynamic QB like Tate -- Pat White at West Virginia, Denard Robinson at Michigan -- things can happen.
4. Virginia: You didn't see this coming. Nobody did. Every single college football writer here at CBSSports.com . Not a one of us was daring enough to go out on a limb and pick them to finish sixth. Now we sit here halfway through the regular season, and Virginia is 2-0 in the ACC, and 5-1 overall. It has gone on the road to beat Boise State by three scores, and defeated two divisional foes in Duke and North Carolina.
But can it keep this up?
Well, while the Coastal is historically one of the most open divisions in the Power Five, it's difficult to like Virginia's chances right now. Yes, it's 2-0, and that Boise win was nice, but the Cavs still have to play Georgia Tech, Louisville, Miami and Virginia Tech. This team is going bowling, but the odds of it winning the division are still slim.
3. LSU: Maybe you believe LSU shouldn't be on this list, but it qualifies. Only one of our expertsthis season, and even Jerry Palm would tell you there was a significant gap between first and second in his prediction.
As things stand at the moment, unlike Texas A&M (Auburn doesn't count because Barrett Sallee picked it to win the division), LSU controls its destiny. It beat Auburn, and if it wins out and beats Alabama, it wins the division.
What are the odds of that happening? Well, I don't see it happening myself, but I didn't see LSU beating Auburn last week, either. I'm not buying in, but this is still LSU, so I'm putting it third on this list ahead of a couple of other teams that might have "easier" paths.
2. Washington State: The Cougars lost to California by 34 points, and that's going to alter the way a lot of people perceive your team going forward, but it's not changing mine much. Mike Leach has a senior quarterback and a good offense, and the defense has looked solid this season.
Washington State is a good team. Better than most believed it would be.
It also has the same number of losses as Stanford and Washington, both of whom Wazzu still gets to play this season. Both of whom also have flaws of their own. Maybe you want to write the Cougars off after the Cal loss, but I'm not. This team is still dangerous.
1. NC State: While I struggled a bit to figure out which teams I wanted to put in the other four spots, NC State was the clear No. 1 as soon as I decided this was the Friday Five I wanted to write. The Wolfpack have an advantage on every other team in this list, and it's significant.
NC State is already in first place by itself. It's 4-0 in the ACC and has knocked off two of its primary threats in Florida State and Louisville (threats in preseason prognostications anyway). It only has two significant tests left on the schedule. It gets Notre Dame on the road next week, but it can afford to lose that game since it's not a conference game. The week after is when Clemson comes to Raleigh.
If the Wolfpack figures out a way to get past Clemson, I'm not afraid to say things are a wrap at that point. They'll win the division, and they'll play for an ACC title.
And that's why they're No. 1 on this list.
Honorable Mention: Michigan State, Kentucky, Georgia Tech