The Washington Times - August 4, 2008, 08:21AM

Let the countdown continue…..

90. Duke. The single most evident change first-year David Cutcliffe has brought to the Blue Devils (besides weight loss) is an emphasis to be quiet and earn respect rather than whine about how no one will give it. But really, what has Duke done to earn any sort of respect in football in the last 13 seasons?

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Pretty much nothing. And the Blue Devils still have a long way to go if they’re going to comport themselves like a major college football team.

It’s nice Duke is suddenly a modest player in recruiting. And it certainly is a good sign Cutcliffe was given the money to go hire a staff of his choosing. But this is a massive reconstruction, and if somehow Wallace Wade Stadium can be turned into even a late-20th century edifice along the way, so much the better.

The Blue Devils have a better-than-you-think quarterback in Thaddeus Lewis, and that’s a good start. But it’s hard to envision more than three wins this season. After all, it still is Duke, and that tag won’t change overnight.

89. Minnesota. A friend of mine familiar with both the Big Ten and the capricious ways of college athletics has asked me multiple times, “What was the matter with Minnesota winning seven or eight games and going to a lower-tier bowl every year under Glen Mason?”

Golden Gophers fans were probably asking the same thing last year, their first after Mason was ousted in favor of Tim Brewster. The bottom fell out, Minnesota couldn’t stop a Pop Warner team (the defense yielded 518.7 yards a game) and it led to a 1-11 finish – the Gophers’ lowest win total since 1983.

It’s far too early to judge Brewster, who certainly merits a mulligan for one year. But a snazzy (read: costly) new on-campus stadium is opening next year, and someone is going to want results before long in Minneapolis.

Don’t expect them this year. In fact, if the Golden Gophers lose at Bowling Green on Sept. 6 (and they lost to the Falcons at home last year), don’t consider it an upset. At this point, Minnesota wouldn’t win the MAC, let alone finish near the top of the Big Ten.

88. Texas-El Paso. From one bad defensive team to another. The Miners gave up 504.7 yards a game last year, better than only two teams nationally.

Really, what do you say to your offense when it scores 30 points in five different losses? Ultimately, Mike Price decided to install a 3-3-5 and see what happened.

Trouble is, UTEP has fallen behind some of the top teams in Conference USA in the last couple years, and another losing season would make three in a row. It wasn’t that long ago it looked like Price would enjoy a nice little run to close out his career in El Paso; it wouldn’t be Alabama, but it would be good enough.

This very well might be a crossroads season at UTEP, which had one winning record in 15 years before Price arrived in 2004. It makes the Miners one of the more interesting teams in the group unlikely to scrounge up more than six wins.

87. Louisiana Tech. Ah, Ruston, the landing place for a dropback passer escaping the triple option. Louisiana Tech is indeed the new home of ex-Georgia Tech quarterback Taylor Bennett, which is an interesting twist for a team chronically stuck in the middle of the WAC.

The Bulldogs were 5-7 last year, but the reason for optimism is they didn’t mess up and lose to one of the WAC’s bottom feeders. They nearly beat Hawaii early in the season, almost tripping up the Warriors on one of their trips to the mainland.

There’s a lot to be said for beating who you’re supposed to. Bennett wasn’t particularly overwhelming last year, but neither was then-Georgia Tech coach Chan Gailey’s overall scheme. Bennett might have goods to help the Bulldogs improve by a game or two, and that would be solid progress under second-year coach Derek Dooley.

86. Memphis. The Tigers have won seven games in four of the last five seasons. Before that, Memphis’ last seven-win season came in 1976.

Obviously, coach Tommy West is faring far better in his second act as a major college coach than in his first (Clemson). Certainly, former tailback DeAngelo Williams helped for part of that stretch. But in 2 A.D. (After DeAngelo), the Tigers went 7-5 and reached a bowl game and could be headed back again.

The schedule falls nicely. Memphis draws Rice, Southern Methodist and Tulane from the other division of Conference USA, and seven starters return from a pretty good offense. There’s even a chance to poach a victory over a BCS conference opponent; the Tigers visit Mississippi to start and also get a shot at Louisville at home.

Memphis won’t remind anyone of a ranked team this year, but it will still be practicing in December. A lot of teams ranked higher than this will be envious.

Patrick Stevens