All right, now we’re getting somewhere.
The flotsam and jetsam of major college football isn’t entirely in the rear-view mirror yet, but a lot of the teams looming on the countdown at least have a prayer of either (a) Finishing in the middle of their respective leagues and/or (b) Earning a bowl invite.
That doesn’t mean they will. After all, they’re ranked where they are for a reason. But if these teams can make a push, they’ll be sure to be mentioned at the end of the season when these picks are dug up for purposes of accountability.
95. San Diego State. Cool fact about the Aztecs: They’ll spend two days this week practicing at Camp Pendleton, a Marine base located outside of San Diego.
Sort-of-cool fact about the Aztecs: They’ll receive some serious national TV exposure Sept. 6 when they visit Notre Dame, a game naturally televised by N(D)BC.
Not-so-cool fact about the Aztecs: They haven’t reached a bowl game since 1998.
Even less cool fact about the Aztecs: Quarterback Kevin O’Connell was a third-round draft selection in April, and his departure will hinder an already one-dimensional offense that barely cracked 100 yards rushing a game last year.
94. San Jose State. How does a team that can’t run the ball, has serious issues in its punting game (dead last in net punting nationally last year) and is utterly unremarkable on defense go 5-7? By conjuring up a +13 turnover margin, partially. So doing much better than last year with 12 starters back? Doesn’t seem like a sure thing.
But this is where it’s worth pointing out the Spartans are fortunate their program wasn’t shut down like a couple other California schools (Long Beach State, Pacific) in the last couple decades.
The bottom of the WAC is fairly soft, and there are three nonconference games (UC Davis, San Diego State, at Stanford) that San Jose State should have a chance to win. If the Spartans sweep those games, it might be time to think about a second bowl berth in three years.
93. Buffalo. Entrenched below the 10th percentile of major college teams in its decade or so at the highest level, Buffalo broke out for five wins last year and finished with a winning record in Mid-American Conference play.
And the best part is, 18 starters are back to try to build on last year’s success.
Sometimes the whole “returning starters” thing can be overplayed. It’s especially true of really good teams. But in this situation, where the Bulls actually get to bring back a lot of players who helped the team match its win total from the three previous seasons combined.
The only question here is how long Turner Gill sticks around if the Bulls keep climbing. If the former Nebraska quarterback can win at this outpost, his success and name recognition will probably land him a bigger gig before long.
92. Colorado State. What’s the old chestnut about following a legend? You’d much rather follow the guy who followed the legend.
Steve Fairchild doesn’t have much of a choice in the matter at this juncture. He’s taken over the Rams after the uneasy retirement/ouster of Sonny Lubick last fall.
Make no mistake, Lubick is a legend in Fort Collins. Before he arrived, the Rams had reached one bowl game, and only one of his nine predecessors left with a winning record. Lubick went 108-74 over 15 years, went to nine bowl games and produced four 10-win seasons. Colorado State plays on Sonny Lubick Field for a reason.
Trouble is, Lubick’s last two years were forgettable and it places Fairchild in charge of a rebuilding project. Anything better than 4-8 will be a bonus in his first season.
91. Washington State. Perhaps the long-term will look good for the Cougars under first-year coach Paul Wulff.
The short-term most certainly does not.
The Cougars were arguably the BCS conference football program slammed the hardest by the NCAA’s Academic Progress Rate penalities, losing eight scholarships. Quarterback Alex Brink, who rewrote the career record books at a school that has produced some decent college QBs over the years (Mark Rypien, Timm Rosenbach, Drew Bledsoe, Ryan Leaf) was a late-round draft pick.
Wazzu didn’t beat a team that finished with a winning record last season, and it’s tough to see that reversing much this year. The Pac-10 has a chance to be a rough place to rumble this year, and heading into it with a new coach, new coordinators, new schemes, a new quarterback and down nearly 10 percent of your scholarships isn’t the way to thrive.