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How the Top 25 teams have been pleasantly surprised

Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire

There have been plenty of surprises so far this college football season, and not all of them involve upsets or last-second rallies.

In fact, every team in the Top 25 has something to be pleasantly surprised about.


1. Alabama

Don't look now, but Alabama's offense is becoming more well-rounded by the week. The running game has obviously been lethal with Damien Harris, Bo Scarbrough and Najee Harris, among others, but the passing game has held up its end of the bargain, as well. Already, six players have caught touchdown passes, which is only one fewer than all of last season. -- Alex Scarborough


2. Clemson

Dabo Swinney enjoyed a bit of "I told you so" bluster after a win against Boston College, noting that he'd seen his running back group as a strength all offseason despite some outside doubts. Tough to argue, particularly with the emergence of true freshman Travis Etienne, who with just 23 carries leads the Tigers in rushing and is averaging nearly 13 yards per touch. -- David M. Hale


3. Oklahoma

True freshman running back Trey Sermon has given the Sooners a boost off the bench, rushing for 148 yards and two touchdowns -- all in the fourth quarter -- in Oklahoma's win over Baylor. Sermon is now in the top 10 in the Big 12 in rushing, along with starter Abdul Adams. -- Jake Trotter


4. Penn State

We knew the Nittany Lions offense would be good, but how would that defense fare without any proven pass-rushers? Well, so far they are averaging three sacks a game and rank second nationally in scoring defense (8.3 points per game). No one has scored more than 19 against Penn State's defense thus far. -- Dan Murphy


5. USC

The Trojans already knew that they had one of the Pac-12's best backs in Ronald Jones II, but freshman Stephen Carr has really stolen the show at times. Through four games, Carr has rushed for 298 yards with three touchdowns on 47 carries (6.3 YPC). In his short time on the field, Carr has proven to be one of USC's most exciting players to watch. -- Edward Aschoff


6. Washington

Despite losing a host of defensive talent from last year's team, the Huskies haven't seen much of a drop off on that side of the ball. Say what you will about the overall talent the Huskies have played against so far, but they are doing their jobs on defense. So far, teams are averaging just 274 yards and 11.8 points per game. Washington also has 10 takeaways, including eight interceptions. -- Aschoff


7. Georgia

When you lose your starting quarterback less than a game into the season and throw a freshman to the wolves, you're supposed to struggle. Well that's not the case at Georgia, where Jake Fromm has been stellar, completing 43 of 69 passes for 650 yards, seven touchdowns and just one interception. -- Scarborough


8. Michigan

Senior defensive end Chase Winovich currently ranks second in the nation with six sacks through four games. Fellow linemen Rashan Gary and Mo Hurst were supposed to be forces to reckon with in the Wolverine trenches. Winovich's emergence gives Michigan a balanced and dangerous front four. -- Murphy


9. TCU

With Kyle Hicks -- the Horned Frogs' 2016 leading rusher -- being banged up a bit so far this season, sophomore running back Darius Anderson has emerged as a reliable option on the ground. Anderson, a three-star recruit in TCU's 2016 class, is the Big 12's third-leading rusher so far this season, with 422 yards and six touchdowns, including a stellar 160-yard, three-touchdown performance in the Horned Frogs' 44-31 win over then-No. 6 Oklahoma State. -- Sam Khan Jr.


10. Wisconsin

Freshman Jonathan Taylor officially took over the top spot on the Badgers' deep running back depth chart this week. He has done more than enough to earn it by rushing for a Big Ten-best 146 yards per game to start his college career. -- Murphy


11. Ohio State

Speaking of freshman running backs, the Buckeyes haven't missed a beat while 2016 frosh of the year Mike Weber works through an injury. J.K. Dobbins' explosive running style has made up for Weber's absence and helped Ohio State as it struggles to launch its much-discussed, deep-passing attack. -- Murphy


12. Virginia Tech

The buzz surrounding QB Josh Jackson was strong all offseason, but the reality has far exceeded any summer hype. Jackson flourished in the opener against West Virginia, and he has kept up the pace since. His 11 touchdown passes are eighth-most nationally, and his 9.8 yards per pass rank ninth. -- Hale


13. Auburn

Everyone wondered what this defense would look like without Carl Lawson and Montravius Adams up front. Well, wonder no longer. Kevin Steele is fielding one of the best defenses in college football, yielding just 11.25 points per game. -- Scarborough


14. Miami

Given the turnover in the secondary, the Hurricanes have to be pleased with the emergence of Malek Young. After starting the final few games of 2016, he has gotten off to a hot start this year, leading the team with 2.5 tackles for loss, and earned ample attention for his interception against Bethune-Cookman that he celebrated by wearing a giant gold chain around his neck. -- Hale


15. Oklahoma State

Tackle DeQuinton Osborne has played like an All-Big 12 defensive lineman at the center of the Oklahoma State defense. He has five tackles for loss and two sacks while giving the Cowboys an impact presence at the point of attack. -- Trotter


16. Washington State

You know what? Being 4-0 for the first time since 2001 is a pretty good accomplishment for the Cougars. Yes, expectations were high coming into the season for Wazzou, but seeing is believing -- especially after losing to FCS opponents in back-to-back openers -- and the Cougars have shown that they are very ready for Friday's marquee matchup with No. 5 USC in Pullman. -- Aschoff


17. Louisville

Running back Malik Williams spent his offseason rehabbing a knee injury but impressed coaches with a strong preseason camp. Now, he is the featured running back for the Cards and taking on a bigger role, averaging 8.3 yards per carry. Getting a running game established with its backs is crucial for Louisville as it moves forward this season. -- Andrea Adelson


18. USF

The Bulls had a veteran secondary returning and were expected to be much improved this season. But what has been surprising is their ability to create turnovers. USF leads the nation with 12 interceptions through four games. Compare that to last season, when the Bulls had 15 interceptions total. Devin Abraham leads with three. -- Adelson


19. San Diego State

Despite losing All-American running back Donnel Pumphrey and his 2,000 rushing yards, San Diego State has found quite the replacement -- well, sort of. Rashaad Penny was Pumphrey's backup last year, but he still managed 1,000 yards. Now, as the full-time starter, he has already registered 716 yards and seven touchdowns in four games, lessening the impact of Pumphrey's departure. -- Aschoff


20. Utah

We knew that former Oregon receiver Darren Carrington was good, but the speed at which he has integrated himself into Utah's offense has been pretty impressive. Carrington arrived at Utah over the summer after being dismissed from Oregon, but he has already grabbed a team-high 30 catches for 485 yards and four touchdowns. -- Aschoff


21. Florida

All Tyrie Cleveland does is make big plays, apparently. The speedy receiver caught a game-winning touchdown against Tennessee and had another pivotal score against Kentucky. He ranks sixth in the SEC in receiving yards (259) and is averaging nearly 20 yards per catch. -- Scarborough


22. Notre Dame

The Irish defense produced only 16 turnovers in all of 2016. It has nine under new defensive coordinator Mike Elko in the first third of the year. Even more impressive? Eight of those nine takeaways have been turned into touchdowns either immediately or during the following possession on offense. -- Murphy


23. West Virginia

After trying to play quarterback again at a juco, David Sills has returned to West Virginia to become Will Grier's go-to guy at receiver. Sills leads the country with seven TD catches to go along with 26 receptions and 396 receiving yards. -- Trotter


24. Mississippi State

For the past two seasons, State's offensive line had been a mess, failing to protect the quarterback or produce running lanes for its tailbacks. Not so anymore. Nick Fitzgerald has emerged as one of the best quarterbacks in the league thanks to his line, and Aeris Williams ranks fourth in the SEC in rushing yards (360). -- Scarborough


25. LSU

Did anyone have a safety leading LSU in sacks? For that matter, did anyone have a player not named Arden Key at the top of the list? Nonetheless, outside linebacker Corey Thompson has been a one-man wrecking crew with four sacks already this season. -- Scarborough