College football countdown: Nos. 26-30

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Just missing the top 25 … for now…

30. Boise State. Can you believe Ian Johnson is still playing for the Broncos. He’s definitely the starting tailback on the “They’ve-Been-In-College-Forever” team, circa 2008.

There is one huge red flag with this program that is alleviated a little by the relative weakness of the WAC. Four offensive line starters are gone, and no one rolls up 42.4 points a game without a superior offensive line.

Boise State’s run over the last nine years is nothing short of extraordinary. The Broncos have 96 wins in that span, with only one season devoid of a postseason berth.

It’ll be a “down” year, which is Potato Land now consistitutes nine wins and a trip to the hometown Humanitarian Bowl. But with a day-after-Thanksgiving finale against Fresno State on the Smurf Turf, there’s no reason the Broncos can’t win the WAC anyway.

29. Rutgers. Much like Boise State, the Scarlet Knights have offensive line issues to square away. Replacing three starters there is far more vital than figuring out how to cope with the loss of tailback Ray Rice to the NFL.

This pick might look overly optimistic a few months down the road, but these rankings have Rutgers pegged to only finish fourth in the Big East. If quarterback Mike Teel can take over the starring role on offense – and stay upright – the Scarlet Knights will be fine.

They’ll find out soon enough: Fresno State and North Carolina visit the Garden State to open the season.

28. Alabama. Go ahead and look up “Fulmer Cup.” No time? OK, allow me. The current year leader in criminal behavior is none other than the Crimson Tide.

Among the offenses: Armed robbery, disorderly conduct, public intoxication and more.

Nick Saban’s Bad Boyz of the Gridiron have built up a pretty good lead over the rest of college football. But the question with this team isn’t whether it will maintain that edge. Rather, it’s whether they can build up any leads on Auburn or Clemson or Georgia or Louisiana State or Tennessee in any on-the-field competitions.

Those look like about four losses (three minimum) at the start of the season, especially with only Auburn actually coming to Bryant-Denny. Better hold off building that Saban statue just yet, Bama fans – unless you want to award it to the Tuscaloosa police department’s employee of the month.

27. Texas Christian. The best defense you never get to see because not nearly enough cable companies carry either CBS College Sports or The Mtn. hails from Fort Worth, Texas. The Horned Frogs will be especially nasty this season and join Utah as the Mountain West teams most likely to derail Brigham Young this season.

An intriguing early-season game: A late-September trip to Oklahoma, where the Horned Frogs pulled off a 17-10 upset in 2005. It doesn’t rate as a sure-fire upset, but it certainly bears monitoring.

26. Penn State. Stunningly, State Penn is languishing in eighth place in the Fulmer Cup standings despite its best efforts to win the title of “Most Tawdry, Out-of-Control Program” this season. This after a solid second-place showing in last year’s competition.

As for the actual on-field product, the Nittany Lions won’t be as good as Ohio State and probably won’t be at the level of Wisconsin or Illinois. That should mean a nice eight- or nine-win season.

But the fact is, no one is going to remember much about these mid-to-late Aughts Penn State teams because the most compelling storyline is figuring out when Joe Paterno will call it a career.

Really, I sort of think fans should get to decide how this will play out, sort of like one of those Choose Your Own Adventure books from elementary school. How do these options sound?

* If you want Paterno to resign effective the end of the season to fulfill his lifelong dream of becoming the State College chief of police “because I always liked the cut of that young whipper-snapper Andy Griffith’s jib,” turn to page 76.

* If you want Paterno to receive a contract extension and inch ever closer to becoming the sport’s first nonagenarian coach, turn to page 52.

* If you want Paterno to be unceremoniously forced out after nearly six decades of service to Penn State, turn to page 129.

* If you want Paterno to reveal he’s really a cyborg and all these questions about his age for the last 20 years have been patently ridiculous, turn to page 93.

Two of them sound like a realistic finish to this season, although it’s tempting to wonder about the cyborg scenario. If Paterno is given an extension, I’ll be able to re-use this preview next year. If he’s ousted or “voluntarily retires,” someone will have the unenviable task of replacing a man who will have won 380ish games by the time the season is over.

Patrick Stevens

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