Why Michigan will start 7-0
Wolverines, four other unranked teams primed for an undefeated run
Last season six different teams -- Baylor, Texas Tech, Miami (Fla.), Missouri, Fresno State and Northern Illinois -- started the season 7-0 despite being unranked in the preseason AP poll.
While many of these teams were underestimated, they also benefited from favorable early-season schedules. In the first seven games, only one of those six teams played an FBS opponent that finished the season with more than eight wins (Missouri faced a nine-win Vanderbilt team in Week 6).
So which team that's not ranked in the 2014 preseason AP poll has the talent to win and the favorable schedule to start fast?
Using ESPN's Football Power Index (FPI), we projected every game of the season, and based on those projections, these unranked teams had the highest percent chance of starting 7-0.
Schedule: at Miami (Ohio), vs. Rhode Island, vs. Ohio, at Akron, at Old Dominion, vs. Middle Tennessee, at FIU
Chance of starting 7-0: 29 percent
Toughest test (according to FPI): at Old Dominion
According to FPI's strength of schedule rankings, Marshall has the easiest path of any FBS team through its first seven games -- and throughout the entire season. The Thundering Herd should be favored in every game that they play, including as heavy favorites in their first two matchups against Miami and Rhode Island. Marshall's toughest test will likely come in Week 6 at Old Dominion, a team that went 1-4 and lost by an average margin of 20 points in its five games against FBS opponents last season.
Quarterback Rakeem Cato should put up some impressive numbers, considering the competition. He is the most experienced QB in the FBS (35 starts) and has already thrown for more than 10,000 yards and 90 touchdowns in his career. If Cato can pass for a touchdown in each of Marshall's first seven games, he will set the NCAA record for consecutive games with a touchdown pass (currently held by Russell Wilson) and could give legs to the Heisman campaign Marshall launched for him.
FPI gives the Thundering Herd a 29 percent chance to start the season 7-0, the fourth-best chance of any team -- ranked or unranked -- in the FBS. So if you're looking for an early pick to be the first-ever "playoff buster," Marshall's not a bad choice.
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