College football countdown: Nos. 106-110

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Had some other things to take care of yesterday, but that just means two installments of the preseason college football countdown today. And that’s especially good if you’re a fan of the Sun Belt, since three-quarters of the league will be unveiled by the end of the afternoon.

Onward:

110. Middle Tennessee: At least for this year, things are not good for the Blue Raiders. They have guarantee games at Louisville, Kentucky and Mississippi State, which isn’t exactly as bad as it could be. But because of lousy Academic Progress Rate numbers, Rick Stockstill’s team will only have 74 scholarship players.

You hear coaches at big schools moan about how 85 scholarships aren’t enough to get the job done. That’s probably a little overblown, and if they ever got themselves the fifth year of eligibility they so crave, they should be forced in return to never complain about how scholarship limits crimp their style.

But if you’re coming from a smaller league and have no serious heritage at the major college level and you’re trying to build and your deck is as short as the Blue Raiders’ is this year, well, a little grumbling might be in order.

Here’s a promise: Few teams will be as susceptible to injury as Middle Tennessee. Matching last year’s 5-7 would be quite an accomplishment.

109. Louisiana-Lafayette:Tyrell Fenroy joins Kent State’s Eugene Jarvis on the two-deep of superb running backs stuck on bad teams.

Fenroy has rolled up three straight 1,000-yard seasons, something only done 14 other times to start a career. If he rolls up another 1,000 – and barring injury, he probably will simply because the Rajin’ Cajuns have virtually no passing game to speak of – he’ll become the seventh man to produce four 1,000-yard rushing seasons.

That company includes two Heisman Trophy winners (Tony Dorsett and Ron Dayne), a former first-round pick you probably don’t want operating your boat (Cedric Benson), North Carolina’s career rushing leader (Amos Lawrence), and a couple of guys who toiled in the Land of Enchantment (New Mexico’s DonTrell Moore and New Mexico State’s Denvis Manns).

And there’s your history lesson for the day.

108. Tulane. Chances are, this is going to be a very Baltimore Orioles-esque year for the Green Wave. No, they’re not going to be in the middle of a steroids maelstrom. Yes, they could lose a lot, but that’s not the point.

It’s a big anniversary season – 10 years since Tulane went 11-0 under Tommy Bowden – and odds are there will be plenty of reminders in place of that great team.

All the better to take minds off another losing season on the field.

The schedule will not help matters. There are visits to Alabama, Louisiana State, Houston and Tulsa. Their cross-division games in Conference USA include East Carolina and Memphis, two teams that should be in the mix for bowl berths this year.

Then there’s the loss of tailback Matt Forte, who helped the Green Wave piece together the nation’s 20th-ranked rushing offense. That figure might dip even with the left side of the offensive line returning.

In short, Tulane is not a good bet to conjure up the glory of 10 years ago.

107. Army. Good football doesn’t seem likely to return to the banks of the Hudson anytime soon, even if the Black Knights are going to embrace the option after an almost a decade’s-long sojourn into the wilderness of modern offenses.

And, really, who thought making such a move back then was such a bright idea?

By the nature of the limitations of being a service academy – that is, both physical readiness rules that limit just how hulking and lumbering a lineman can be and the fact there’s sort of a high-profile military conflict in progress that any player will be required to assist upon graduation – the playing field is uneven.

That’s why some form of the option is a necessity to even the playing field. It can be done with a smart coach and players who know precisely what they’re doing – look at Navy.

Army might be a shade better and could even win an extra game. But it probably won’t beat Navy, and that’s what most fans of the Cadets care about most.

106. New Mexico State. Playing this fall in theaters throughout Las Cruces is “The Mumme 4: No Defense For a Good Offense.” Yes, Hal Mumme is busy scheming away for another season with the Aggies, who will again score often and be scored upon even more often.

New Mexico State gave up 40 points on six occasions last year. Two of their four victories were over Southeastern Louisiana and Arkansas-Pine Bluff, two teams in the former Division I-AA.

Yes, the Aggies have Chase Holbrook, a big quarterback who will put up prodigious numbers in Mumme’s pinball-like system last year. But they still have that defense, even with new coordinator Joe Lee Dunn brought in to replace the retired Woody Widenhofer.

New Mexico State gets WAC doormats Utah State and Idaho on the road. If the Aggies poach those two games, there’s a chance they could approach .500. At a school where winning seasons have been on average a once-a-decade proposition since the Nixon administration (1978, 1992, 1999, 2002), that would constitute progress.

 – Patrick Stevens

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