Posted by ESPN.com's Graham Watson
True to form, college football has been full of surprises this season, but there's been no bigger surprise than the battle that is beginning to rage in the MAC. For two consecutive seasons, Central Michigan has been the class of the conference, but now teams such as Western Michigan and Ball State are attempting to upset what's been a minor dynasty.
I think many thought Ball State would be there, but Western Michigan, a team that finished 5-7 last year, was a bit of a shocker. I'm not sure many thought the Broncos would be 4-1 at this point and locked in a 2-0 logjam at the top of the MAC West with the Chippewas and Cardinals.
Conference USA is providing an equally crazy battle because it seems as though any team can beat any other team at any time. Tulsa remains the only unbeaten in the conference, but it hasn't seen the meat of its schedule yet. Its game against Rice this weekend will test its staying power, as Rice has proven to be an up-and-comer after a terrible season last year. The shine is off East Carolina and Central Florida, but those two teams still could be players in the East. But right now, the West not only looks like the stronger side of league, but also the most offensively proficient. There's been no shortage of scoring between teams such as Tulsa, Rice, Houston and SMU.
The Mountain West is shaking out the way many expected, however, the middle and the bottom of the Mountain West have created some intrigue. Teams such as UNLV, Air Force and Colorado State have won big games and could be factors in the championship. While the top of the conference will belong to BYU, Utah or TCU, the rise of the rest of the conference means that no game is a gimme. Any of the top teams could be in danger on any given weekend.
The WAC hasn't played as many conference games as some of the other non-BCS leagues, but it's clear that Boise State and Fresno State will be the teams to beat. However, Louisiana Tech, San Jose State and even a depleted Nevada squad are making things interesting. I think the Spartans will be the team to watch here. They've played better than many thought, and though they haven't been a major player in WAC play during the last couple years, they might sneak up on a couple teams.
The Sun Belt has been difficult to read so far. Each week a different team takes the spotlight and then relinquishes it in a disappointing fashion. Troy and Arkansas State are probably the best the league has to offer so far, but I'm not sure either team is on pace with where Florida Atlantic finished a year ago.
Speaking of the Owls, few teams have been more disappointing this season. Yes, the schedule is more difficult, but the Owls' numbers are down across the board. Quarterback Rusty Smith came into the season with more hype than any other Sun Belt quarterback and hasn't lived up.
Arkansas State is the only team with a winning record, Troy is 2-2 and the rest of the league is either 1-3 or 0-4. Not quite the conference on the upswing that many predicted it to be.
As far as Independents go, Notre Dame is doing exactly what it should be doing. Maybe not what people expected the Irish to do, but with their talent and schedule, they should be 3-1 so far. The most pleasant surprise of the Independents is Navy. The Midshipmen have dealt with major injuries and setbacks, but have continued fighting. Wins over Rutgers and Wake Forest are huge in coach Ken Niumatalolo's quest for keeping this team on par with Paul Johnson's teams of the past.