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College football countdown: Nos. 96-100

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It’s the weekend – a final weekend of rest before things crank up – but here’s the first of several posts over the next couple days, anyway.

It’s not time to get into the good teams just yet, but many of these programs have interesting subplots nonetheless.

100. Troy.  The Trojans were an absolute anachronism last year: A major-college program that didn’t go to a bowl game despite owning a winning record. Bumped from the New Orleans Bowl with a season-ending loss to Florida Atlantic, Troy was the only team with seven-plus wins not to play in the postseason.

Instead, the highlight of the season was a 41-23 rout of visiting Oklahoma State that wasn’t remotely that close. That, in turn, led to one of the nation’s top moments last year – Cowboys coach Mike Gundy’s famous rant about a column based partially on quarterback Bobby Reid’s actions after that loss.

The Sun Belt secured some backup bowl tie-ins in case other conferences can’t fill their postseason allotments. That should help the Trojans, who will again be atop the league with Florida Atlantic.

99. Toledo. The Rockets are sort of the Mid-American Conference version of Marshall, a historically above-average program mired in a downturn. Toledo’s great history (35 straight wins over three unbeaten seasons between 1969 and 1971) is a bit further in the past, but it is still coming off back-to-back losing seasons for the first time since 1975-78.

The reason the Rockets faded last year? Defense. No one should have to score 35 points to win, but the Rockets reached that plateau in all five of their wins and actually needed to in three of them. There were a lot of blowout losses on the ledger and three wins by a combined five points. Toledo wa fortunate to finish 5-7.

A defense that surrendered 39.2 points a game should be better this season. If not, the Rockets might not avoid the MAC West cellar.

98. Syracuse. A short history of Syracuse athletics over the last five years, viewed through the prism of the school’s three major occupants of the Carrier Dome:

2003-Jim Boeheim’s basketball team wins its elusive national title with more than a little help from Carmelo Anthony; John Desko’s lacrosse program reaches the final four as it usually does; the football program goes 6-6 and misses a bowl invitation for the third time in four years; Syracuse flirts with joining the ACC, but the league ultimately takes Miami and Virginia Tech and, later, Boston College.

2004-Basketball tosses up a 23-8 and a regional semifinal appearance; Lacrosse wins its ninth national title in 22 years; Athletic director Jake Crouthamel announces he’ll retire the next year;  Daryl Gross is hired as Crouthamel’s replacement; Football goes 6-6 and is demolished in the Champs Sports Bowl; Football coach Paul Pasqualoni is ousted after 14 years and the Gross-led search turns up Texas co-defensive coordinator Greg Robinson.

2005-Basketball produces a 27-7 season, wins the Big East tournament and loses to Vermont in the first round of the NCAA tournament; Lacrosse misses the final four for the first time since 1982; The Robinson Era debuts with a 1-10 start.

2006-Gerry McNamara leads the basketball team off the bubble and to its second straight Big East tournament title … the Orange then lose to Texas A&M in the first round of the NCAA tournament; Lacrosse rebounds from a 1-4 start to reach the final four; Football goes 4-8 but doesn’t look particularly good doing it.

2007-Boeheim is aghast when his team goes 10-6 in the Big East but is left out of the NCAA tournament, a punishment perhaps for not leaving the Empire State until Jan. 7; The lacrosse team stumbles through its first losing season since 1975; Football’s win total is halved from four to two.

2008-Another NIT berth for Boeheim; Lacrosse wins its 10th national title.

Finally, some good news for Syracuse after four years of diminishing returns. But guess what? Football won’t do its part this fall. The Orange will occupy the cellar of the Big East, and Gross will have every reason to jettison Robinson. But he didn’t last year despite a 7-28 record over three seasons.

That has to create a little fretfulness among ‘Cuse supporters, who could make a case they are the most forlorn fanbase at a BCS conference school over the last four years. They don’t need fretfulness. They need wins. Just don’t expect them at the Dome this fall.

97. UNLV. Mike Sanford is probably a swell guy, but he’s only won six games in three seasons with the Rebels. There’s little reason to think UNLV will be that much better this season, and it shouldn’t climb too far from the Mountain West basement.

Unfortunately, that places Sanford squarely on the list of coaches most likely not to have their current job a year from now. He’s a better bet than Purdue’s Joe Tiller, who has already announced his retirement at season’s end. And that might be about it.

Making matters worse: The Rebels plays Utah and Arizona State in the season’s first three weeks. That could be a disaster waiting to happen.

96. Ohio. Frank Solich probably wasn’t the problem at Nebraska earlier this decade when he was sent packing a few years after his team played for the national title. Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s the solution for the Bobcats, either.

He might be, and his 19-18 record over three seasons is good by Ohio standards. The trouble is, there is virtually no way for his team not to find itself in a serious hole early this season – and chances are, the Bobcats’ record will decline for the second straight year.

Ohio plays six of its first eight on the road. They’ll pay some bills going to Wyoming, Ohio State and Northwestern, but there is the trouble of facing three straight league road games in mid-October. It wouldn’t be a stretch to project Ohio as a 2-6 team with no leeway heading into a three-game homestand.

Scheduling can mean so much. On paper, it looks like it will force the Bobcats to be especially resilient this season.

 – Patrick Stevens

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