The Washington Times - August 14, 2008, 11:12AM

Five teams to consider on this Thursday.

40. Tulsa. Meet the nation’s leader in total offense last year. And nine starters return on that side of the ball for the Golden Hurricane.

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Just not quarterback Paul Smith.

So Smith’s departure and a porous defense that forced Tulsa to roll up a lot of yards remain worrisome.

The Golden Hurricane should win Conference USA and maybe even collect 10 wins again. But they probably aren’t at the point of cracking the top 25 just yet.

39. Nebraska. The interregnum between the Devaney/Osborne era (and its acolytes) and the Osborne-as-AD era is in the books. And that means the Cornhuskers can get back to building a dynamite program under Bo Pelini.

At least that’s what everyone hopes.

The reality is, Nebraska was always sort of anomaly among elite college football powers. No large, in-state recruiting base, no neighboring state to go raid with ease, no enviable weather to permit outdoor activity nearly year-round.

Just a rabid fan base, great coaching and a tradition that built on top of itself.

The Huskers aren’t going to be back in the national title picture this year. But Pelini might be able to coax eight wins and a top-25 finish out of this bunch.

38. Purdue. A great curiosity will be to see what Joe Tiller’s legacy is at Purdue.

The Boilermakers had one winning season from 1981 to 1996. Tiller’s had just one losing year in 11 seasons, and has 10 bowl berths to show for his trouble.

Those postseason apparances include three Sun Bowls, two Alamo Bowls, and single trips to Outback, Capital One, Champs Sports, Motor City and Rose bowls.

Yeah, there’s a Rose Bowl in there, but only two other New Year’s Day dates. While the Boilermakers were consistently good, they never could consistently overtake the Ohio States and Michigans and Wisconsins for control of the Big Ten.

Tiller, who will retire at season’s end, shouldn’t be ripped for this. He’ll leave West Lafayette about 30 games over .500, and do it after another bowl trip. That’s a lot more than you can say for many of his predecessors in the last four decades.

37. South Carolina. The Gamecocks are just sort of there, regardless of who’s coaching them. And they’ll just sort of get to seven or eight wins this year, but never be a serious threat to win the SEC.

Which means the projection this year is about the same as the last seven seasons.

36. California. It is difficult to forget the Golden Bears’ freefall last year after a 5-0 start. From national title contenders to a trip to Fort Worth, Texas, on New Year’s Eve to play Air Force. It can be a funny game, sometimes.

Cal has two intriguing games early in the season worth monitoring: A visit from Michigan State and a trip to Maryland. Win those games against teams of comparable talent, and things suddenly look up. Lose them, and that 7-6 last year doesn’t look like a blip anymore.

In reality, the Golden Bears will probably split them, then beat who they should in the Pac-10 and perhaps land in the Emerald Bowl across the bay for the holidays. It won’t be a terribly interesting season, but will still be good compared to what Cal fans were used to before Jeff Tedford arrived.

Patrick Stevens