After only two weeks, much of what we think we know about the 2017 college football season is still based on preseason projections. At this point in the season, it's hard to know what any win or loss really means until we get more data about how good teams truly are.
However, it's possible to get an early inkling of who we might have underappreciated just a bit in the preseason. These teams aren't going to win conference championships, but after getting little preseason love and being marked down as probable wins for top teams, they could end up being more dangerous than expected. That means they could play a role in title races by providing trap games for championship frontrunners.
These teams from each conference -- none of whom are currently in the AP top 25 -- won't win their conference, but keep an eye out for them wrecking the chances of another team that is aiming for a championship.
In other words: Put their opponents on upset watch now, because they're probably going to beat somebody they're not expected to beat.
Reasons to be scared of the Blue Devils: David Cutcliffe has a quarterback. After a lay-up opening win over North Carolina Central, Duke hosted Northwestern last Saturday and showed substantial improvement over last year, when it sunk back to the bottom of the ACC. Daniel Jones, a sophomore, built on a solid freshman season with a blistering performance against the Wildcats. While he averaged only 6.8 yards per pass attempt, he threw for 305 yards and two TDs and rushed for 108 yards and two TDs in a 41-17 win. Five of the seven ACC Coastal teams are breaking in new quarterbacks this year; Duke did that last year, when it slipped from four straight bowls -- after an 18-year drought -- back down to 4-8. Duke played teams like Louisville and Virginia Tech tough despite the rough season, and Cutcliffe has shown numerous times at Duke that he can exceed expectations to build a team capable of punching above its weight. In a Coastal Division with good teams but no sure things, Duke could pick off somebody.
Why contenders shouldn't worry: Duke is coming off a 1-7 ACC season, and it's possible that Northwestern -- which was shorthanded on defense, too -- is en route to a mediocre season. Jones also needs more help; passing or running 61 times in one game is an enormous number, for a quarterback who has shown a ton of promise but averages 6.7 yards per attempt in his career. The Blue Devils are far behind top teams in the conference in recruiting and aren't deep defensively.
Games to watch: Miami (Sept. 29), Florida State (Oct. 24), at Virginia Tech (Oct. 28)
Big 12: Iowa State
Reasons to be scared of the Cyclones: It's tough to pick somebody out of the Big 12. Four of 10 teams are ranked; the only unranked team that's undefeated is 1-0 Texas Tech, which has yet to play an FBS opponent or prove that its defense is improved. So let's go with a team coming off a loss: Iowa State, which scored 41 points in an overtime defeat to Iowa. Quarterback Jacob Park -- originally a four-star recruit at Georgia -- threw for 347 yards and four TDs and has a star receiver in Allen Lazard. David Montgomery gives the Cyclones a solid tailback, and there's some talent in the back seven defensively. In Matt Campbell's first year, the Cyclones played Baylor, Oklahoma State, Kansas State and Oklahoma close (total margin of defeat: 25), and expected Year 2 improvement can lead to a 2017 upset.
Why contenders shouldn't worry: Iowa State just gave up 333 passing yards and five touchdown passes to Iowa. Big 12 passing games await …
Games to watch: Texas (Sept. 28), at Oklahoma (Oct. 7), Oklahoma State (Nov. 11)
Big Ten: Maryland
Reasons to be scared of the Terrapins: Second-year coach D.J. Durkin is earning respect with his recruiting efforts, and Maryland opened this season by spoiling Tom Herman's Texas debut with a 51-41 win in Austin. Durkin is a proven defensive coach, and this Maryland offense has enticing explosiveness led by junior tailback Ty Johnson, who has 256 rushing yards on just 17 carries and averages 9.3 yards per rush in his career. Maryland is improved on the offensive line, and even though inexperience and injuries have been a question at quarterback (Week 1 starter Tyrrell Pigrome is out for the year and UNC transfer Caleb Henderson dealt with a preseason injury), true freshman Kasim Hill is an intriguing four-star recruit who has been excellent so far -- although his one start came against Towson.
Why contenders shouldn't worry: Maryland went to a bowl in Durkin's first season, but it lost to all five regular-season opponents with a winning record by at least 21 points each, including a 59-3 loss at Michigan and a 62-3 loss at Ohio State. Now, Maryland is breaking in a true freshman quarterback against a tough schedule that includes all the top Big Ten East teams, plus road trips to Wisconsin and Minnesota. Has the gap closed enough for Maryland to spring an upset? The win over Texas was fantastic, but it's hard to know just yet how impressive beating the Longhorns is in 2017.
Games to watch: at Ohio State (Oct. 7), at Wisconsin (Oct. 21), Michigan (Nov. 11), Penn State (Nov. 25)
Reasons to be scared of the Buffaloes: Despite losing defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt and nine of its top 13 tacklers, Colorado has given up a total of six points in two games against Colorado State and Texas State. Giving up only a field goal to Texas State isn't much to brag about; holding Colorado State's offense to three points was highly impressive, as it snapped the Rams' seven-game streak of scoring at least 37 points (including 58 in an opening win over Oregon State). The defense is especially strong in the secondary, led by cornerback Isaiah Oliver, and there's a lot to like about this experienced offense, with a stellar line, a deep receiving corps and a proven standout tailback in Phillip Lindsay. Colorado actually won the Pac-12 South last year, so maybe it's inappropriate to refer to it as a sleeper or potential trap, but with so much defensive attrition and so little recruiting success, it was widely projected for significant regression. The Buffaloes aren't going to match what they did last year -- especially with USC re-emerging -- but they may still be dangerous enough to play a role in the title race.
Why contenders shouldn't worry: The reasons mentioned above. Colorado is one of the worst Power Five recruiters, and it lost so many key pieces of its defense. Even in the win over Colorado State, the Buffaloes scored only 17 points with 345 total yards, and this team was blown out in its last two games of 2016 against Washington and Oklahoma State.
Games to watch: Washington (Sept. 23), at UCLA (Sept. 30), at Washington State (Oct. 21), USC (Nov. 11)
SEC: South Carolina
Reasons to be scared of the Gamecocks: It may sound impossible to believe, given what happened at Florida, but: Will Muschamp probably has the highest approval rating among SEC East coaches right now. The Gamecocks got back to a bowl game last year, and now they're 2-0 against Power Five opponents with a somewhat surprising win over N.C. State and a 31-13 win at Missouri. Muschamp found a quarterback in sophomore Jake Bentley, a rising star with pro tools who is the best pure passer in the SEC East -- a significant advantage in what's been a quarterback-starved division in recent years. And receiver Deebo Samuel is one of the nation's most dangerous all-purpose weapons, with a 97-yard kick return TD in each game.
Why contenders shouldn't worry: Statistically, the Gamecocks haven't been especially impressive in either game, averaging 4.9 yards per play against N.C. State and 5.3 yards per play against Missouri. Samuel is a tremendous player, but South Carolina has relied on turnovers and special teams plays thus far. The questions about this team remain the same as they were in the preseason: offensive line and defensive depth.
Games to watch: at Tennessee (Oct. 14), at Georgia (Nov. 4), Florida (Nov. 11), Clemson (Nov. 25)
Reasons to be scared of the Mustangs: Chad Morris inherited a mess from June Jones, but he clearly made strides in his first two years, going from 2-10 to 5-7. This year's team has scored 112 points in two wins over Stephen F. Austin and North Texas (in 2014, the Mustangs scored 12 points in the first four games). Courtland Sutton is a potential first-round draft pick at wide receiver, and sophomore QB Ben Hicks is coming off a big game against the Mean Green. Plus, while this team went only 5-7 last year, it beat Houston, took Tulsa to overtime and pushed USF.
Why contenders shouldn't worry: Only five starters are back on a defense that gave up 75 points to Navy last November and 40-plus points to four other opponents.
Games to watch: at TCU (Sept. 16), at Houston (Oct. 7), Tulsa (Oct. 27), UCF (Nov. 4), at Navy (Nov. 11), at Memphis (Nov. 18)
Conference USA: UAB
Reasons to be scared of the Blazers: This team is a complete wild card, having not competed in live game action since 2014. Thus far, the Blazers are 1-1 with a 38-7 win over Alabama A&M, an FCS team, and a 51-31 loss to Ball State. Losing to Ball State is rough, but the Blazers actually averaged over two more yards per play than the Cardinals in the game. Ball State broke the game open on a kick return TD in the third quarter, and the Blazers' effort was marred by two turnovers and nine penalties. Bill Clark is an excellent coach, and the Blazers may be dangerous enough to topple somebody -- especially with players like 235-pound freshman tailback Spencer Brown, who ran for 151 yards in the loss.
Why contenders shouldn't worry: UAB just gave up 51 points to Ball State and is still a collection of players who mostly haven't played together, so the miscues may not go away.
Games to watch: Louisiana Tech (Oct. 7), Middle Tennessee (Oct. 14), at Southern Miss (Oct. 28), at UTSA (Nov. 11)
MAC: Eastern Michigan
Reasons to be scared of the Eagles: This isn't the old Eastern Michigan. Beating Rutgers on the road isn't necessarily impressive without context, but this is Eastern Michigan, a program that had never defeated a power conference opponent before. Chris Creighton has engineered an impressive turnaround that resulted in the Eagles' first bowl bid in 29 years last season. Those seven wins included solid opponents like Wyoming and Ohio. Much of that team is back, and now the Eagles are 2-0 against FBS opponents, matching or beating their season win total from six of the past eight years already.
Why contenders shouldn't worry: The Eagles were 5-2 in games decided by a touchdown or less last season, they haven't finished with a winning record in the MAC since 1995 and they've scored a total of 40 points in their two wins thus far.
Games to watch: Ohio (Sept. 23), at Kentucky (Sept. 30), at Toledo (Oct. 7), Western Michigan (Oct. 21), at Northern Illinois (Oct. 26), at Miami of Ohio (Nov. 15)
Mountain West: Air Force
Reasons to be scared of the Falcons: High-profile quarterbacks -- Wyoming's Josh Allen, Boise State's Brett Rypien, Colorado State's Nick Stevens -- got all of the preseason love in the Mountain Division, but all have had early-season hiccups. Allen struggled in a 24-3 loss at Iowa, Stevens and Colorado State lost 17-3 to Colorado and Rypien was injured in Boise State's loss at Washington State. Air Force is still an unknown, having merely defeated VMI 62-0, but things are about to get a whole lot tougher with Michigan and San Diego State the next two weeks. It's strange to ever overlook the Falcons, who will, as always, be strong in the running game and have gone 28-12 the past three years. Ken Niumatalolo deservedly gets a ton of national respect for what he's accomplished at Navy, but with a couple exceptions, Calhoun almost always has Air Force competitive, too.
Why contenders shouldn't worry: This is nearly an entirely new defense, with 12 of the top 13 tacklers gone, and Air Force also lost top rusher Jacobi Owens and top receiver Jalen Robinette.
Games to watch: San Diego State (Sept. 23), at Colorado State (Oct. 28), Wyoming (Nov. 11), at Boise State (Nov. 18)
Sun Belt: New Mexico State
Reasons to be scared of the Aggies: The Sun Belt has had a rough start to the season, but that's not true for New Mexico State, one of the two teams (along with Idaho) that is getting kicked out of the conference at the end of this season. The Aggies out-gained Arizona State 549 to 400 in a 37-31 loss in Tempe, and they beat rival New Mexico 30-28. RB Larry Rose III was the Sun Belt offensive player of the year in 2015, and QB Tyler Rogers has passed for 790 yards and seven TDs in two games. They could win some Sun Belt shootouts as they try to do some damage to contenders before they're relegated to independence in 2018.
Why contenders shouldn't worry: New Mexico State is one of college football's most historically inept programs, as it has not been to a bowl since 1960 and hasn't won more than four games in a season since 2004. Last year's team was easily handled by conference frontrunners Troy, Arkansas State and Appalachian State.
Games to watch: Troy (Sept. 16), at Appalachian State (Oct. 7), Arkansas State (Oct. 28)