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The Top Ten Teams You Haven't Paid Attention To, But Probably Should

The official, national media-approved cinderella story of the first half of the 2013 college football season is Tulane. And deservedly so. It's not often the Green Wave wins five of its first seven games and leads the Conference USA West this late into this season.

But Tulane isn't the only off-the-radar team having a quietly successful season. These 10 teams have also won well beyond the spotlight.

1. Oregon State (5-1) - One of three one-loss power conference teams not to be ranked in either poll. The Beavers won at Utah, something Stanford couldn't do, and beat Washington State by a similar margin as the Cardinal. Beavers quarterback Sean Mannion is the nation's leading passer, and wide receiver Brandin Cooks is the nation's top pass catcher through the first half of the year. An October 26 home date with Stanford, after the Cardinal has finished a Washington-Utah-UCLA scheduling trifecta, is a tricky game for both teams. 

2. Michigan State (5-1) - Like Oregon State, the Spartans are a one-loss team BCS team that finds itself unranked. And like Oregon State, Michigan State is among one of college football's very best on one side of the ball. Pat Narduzzi's defense was great last year, and has gotten better in 2013. The Spartans lead the country in total defense on a yardage (228.3 per game) and a per play (3.56) basis. In fact, Michigan State is 0.42 yards per play better than No. 2 Louisville. If sophomore quarterback Connor Cook can play his next six games like his last two (47-of-75 for 512 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions), the Spartans will be tough to deny on the path to Indianapolis.

3. Houston (5-0) - There are 14 undefeated teams left in college football. Thirteen of them are ranked. And then there's Houston, winners of their first five and in 36th place in both the AP and Coaches' Polls. Having already matched last year's win total, Tony Levine's team could easily drop four of their next five, but a return to the postseason is all but guaranteed, and there isn't a major roadblock standing between them and an undefeated showdown with Louisville on November 16 in Houston. And who knows, the Cougars may even be ranked by then. 

4. Duke (4-2) - This wasn't supposed to happen. After losing quarterback Sean Renfree and two of its top three wideouts, the Blue Devils were supposed to fade back into oblivion after their once-a-decade bowl trip, at least until David Cutcliffe could build another senior-laden team. That hasn't happened. Duke has been unquestionably the ACC's best team from North Carolina and claims a greater-than-zero chance of making the first back-to-back bowl trips in school history.

5. Marshall (4-2) - For all the pub Tulane has gotten, they may not even be Conference USA's biggest turnaround. In 2012, Doc Holliday's team won five games thanks to the nation's No. 5 total offense producer Rakeem Cato, and lost seven games thanks to a defense that ranked 101st in yardage and 119th in scoring. Through six games in 2013, Cato's production has dropped about 60 yards per game, but the Thundering Herd defense that's jumped 91 spots in total defense and 99 spots in scoring defense. If the Marshall defense was a Major League Baseball player, we'd be asking it to pee in a cup right now after this kind of improvement.

6. Buffalo (4-2) - The Bulls were predictably bamboozled by Ohio State and Baylor and then struggled to get by Stony Brook - but what MAC team wouldn't be a little woozy after consecutive trips to Columbus and Waco? Since then, Jeff Quinn's team has added to its four-game winning streak by defeating Connecticut, Eastern Michigan and Western Michigan by a combined 116-26. 

7. Wyoming (4-2) - Led by do-everything quarterback Brett Smith (No. 3 nationally in total offense) and the nation's best red zone offense, the Cowboys nearly knocked off Nebraska to open the season and since have found themselves leading the MWC's Mountain Division. Wyoming has been a yo-yo of late, making bowl trips in 2009 and 2011, and missing the postseason in 2008, 2010 and 2012. Tradition demands the Cowboys head back to a bowl this season, and Dave Christensen may have the squad to do it. 

8. Louisiana-Lafayette (3-2) - After trips to Arkansas and Kansas State to open the year, Louisiana-Lafayette has ripped off three straight wins and can take total control of the Sun Belt with victorious Tuesday nights tonight (at Western Kentucky) and next week (at Arkansas State). In his third year at the school, Mark Hudspeth has a chance to surpass the school's entire postseason history (two lower-division playoff trips) with a third straight bowl berth.

9. San Diego State (3-3) - A few weeks ago we maintained Rocky Long's team, who tied with Boise State and Fresno State for the Mountain West title in 2012, was much better than its 0-3 start indicated. Turns out we were right. There are much worse sins than losing to the No. 3 ranked team in the FCS (Eastern Illinois), Ohio State and Oregon State. The Mountain West's third-best total defense and second-best rush defense has the Aztecs tied for first in the MWC West Division with No. 17 Fresno State coming to town on Saturday.

10. UNLV (4-2) - There's no telling where this journey ends for Bobby Hauck and company, but the Rebels' current four-game winning streak represents as many wins as they claimed in their previous 30 games. In fact, UNLV hasn't so much as won four games in an entire season since 2003 and the current streak represents the program's longest run of victories since 2000. Getting to six wins may very well be a struggle, but reaching the program UNLV finds itself in now is an accomplishment.