College football countdown: Nos. 46-50

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These are all bowl teams. But they’re not necessarily good teams.

That’s not to say there isn’t a nine-win team here. There’s probably one, and maybe even two. But everyone in this interval other than Central Michigan has seen far better days in the last couple years – even if it was just a single day.

Onward…

50. UCLA. There’s a funny thing about hiring a quarterback guru who is well-qualified to run your NCAA tournament pool as your coach and THEN hiring a quarterback guru who is well-qualified to tutor a Heisman winner as your offensive coordinator. You’d better provide with a quarterback to work with.

The Bruins figured to be in decent shape before Patrick Cowan was lost for the season with a torn ACL. Now, ageless wonder Ben Olson is down for two months with a broken foot.

Hiring Rick Neuheisel (who in turn hired Norm Chow) seemed like an all-or-nothing move for UCLA, which was long ago eclipsed as the best team in a 30-mile radius, let alone the Pac-10. There’s no guarantee Neuheisel will make a difference, but the first year shouldn’t be held against him. It’s tough to toss around that pixie dust on a junior college transfer (even if it was a JUCO star like Kevin Craft) and expect above-average results.

49. Arkansas. If the ink is dry on Bobby Petrino’s contract, that means he’s looking for another job.

Chances are, he’ll have to wait a while before he can hopscotch out of Fayetteville, which will not be Hog Heaven with tailbacks Darren McFadden and Felix Jones playing on Sundays this fall.

Petrino will have a hard time in a division loaded with fellow football wanderers. There’s Nick Saban, who has no peer (except maybe Dennis Erickson) among coaching roustabouts. There’s Les Miles, who certainly had plenty of stories of his supposedly wandering eye. There’s Tommy Tuberville, who was not taken from Ole Miss to Auburn in a pine box despite his promises otherwise. And there’s Houston Nutt, who cannot be blamed for scooting out of Arkansas last year for Ole Miss.

The Razorbacks have the talent for a bowl team. But they’ll finish fourth – at best – in their loaded division.

48. Louisville. It was not intended to put Arkansas and Louisville back-to-back, yet here they are. The Cardinals are getting a little benefit of the doubt here. They can’t be as bad as last year, right?

Well, certainly not on defense. And the ‘Ville will be cushioned from a fall into the Big East cellar by the reliable presence of Syracuse. But without quarterback Brian Brohm, the Cardinals probably won’t be much better than a mid-pack Big East team.

Schedules are so important, and all five nonconference games are winnable (the toughies in the bunch: home against Kansas State and Kentucky). Plus, Cincinnati, Connecticut, South Florida and West Virginia all come to Louisville.

A seven- or eight-win season can be attained. If it isn’t, Steve Kragthorpe will enter 2009 on the hot seat.

47. Notre Dame. At least it’s better than last year. Jimmy Clausen’s actually played, the offensive line might be capable of resisting a beanbag chair and September doesn’t look like an extended form of freshman hazing.

The Fighting Irish might not be the 47th best team in the country. But that’s about where they’ll be viewed at the end of the season, simply because they should be able to grind out seven or eight wins against a less fearsome schedule.

That would make new defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta feel right at home. In all six seasons of his seasons at Georgia Tech, Tenuta was part of a team that either won seven games or lost five (and sometimes both). It was usually the fault of an underwheming offense. There might be a sense of deja vu, but this year will still be viewed as progress in the shadow of Touchdown Jesus.

46. Central Michigan. Two players in major-college history have thrown for 3,000 yards and run for 1,000 yards in a season.

One is Vince Young. The other is Dan LeFevour.

So, yes, the Chippewas’ offense is in excellent hands. The defense, well, how to put this? Sculptures made of Play-Doh might have been just as effective as Central Michigan’s defensive backs last year.

The MAC has produced some excellent teams in the last 10 years or so. The Chad Pennington Marshall teams, the Ben Roethlisberger Miami teams, some very sound Bowling Green teams. But you need a semblance of a defense to complement potent offenses. It’s the only element keeping the Chippewas from making more noise, but it’s one heck of a large element.

Patrick Stevens

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