The Washington Times - August 7, 2008, 09:21AM

Getting a bit closer to the midpoint of this little project, and there is a little local flavor – at least soon enough, anyway….

75. Southern Mississippi. Some decisions just boggle the mind. It’s one thing if a football titan forces out a coach winning eight games every year as, say, Ohio State did with John Cooper. It doesn’t mean it’s right, and it doesn’t mean it isn’t indicative of absurdly high standards. But at programs that big, it can happen.

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But at Southern Mississippi. No offense, but really? Jeff Bower produced 14 straight winning seasons and 10 bowl berths in 11 years, and the monied folk in Hattiesburg wanted a change? Don’t think that would be acceptable for the people of Oxford or Starkville?

As the always entertaining Gregg Easterbrook might say, the football gods might seek vengeance for such hubris.

Larry Fedora might turn out to be a great coach, and chances are he’s a swell dude. But the Golden Eagles’ powers-that-be are due a karmic payback, and with only 10 starters back and an overhauled system, it could happen this fall.

If it does, no doubt the football gods will chortle.

74. Virginia. The Cavaliers aren’t down here because they lost two superb defensive ends. They’re not down here because of an unflinching ability to encounter Johnny Law.

They’re down here because their offense is highly questionable and because they can’t possibly win as many close games this year as last.

Here’s a look at Virginia’s record in games decided by a touchdown or less under Al Groh:

2001: 4-2

2002: 4-1

2003: 2-2

2004: 0-1

2005: 3-1

2006: 2-2

2007: 6-2

Overall, 21-11 is better than I would have guessed. But it doesn’t change the fact a slightly less talented Virginia team could easily have gone 5-7 rather than 9-4 last year. The Cavaliers might just discover that this fall.

73. Central Florida. George O’Leary wasn’t talking to the Orlando Sentinel until recently.

Of course, there isn’t that much to say about the Golden Knights.

They lost star tailback Kevin Smith to the NFL a year early. Their offense was hit hard by graduation as well.

And that means they will probably not win Conference USA again. A bowl berth, though, remains likely.

72. Iowa. Fool me once, shame on you.

Fool me twice, shame on me.

Fool me three times, hey, shouldn’t you be on the hot seat?

The utterly underwhelming Hawkeyes seemed allergic to the end zone last year, and their anemic offense send them reeling down the Big Ten standings. All the sudden, a program that was standing toe to toe with Michigan and Ohio State after back-to-back 10-win seasons is making friends with Minnesota and Northwestern at the other end of the standings.

Remember those days when Kirk Ferentz was a hot coaching property? They seem like a long time ago. That’s what going 19-18 over the last three years will do. Toss on another 7-5 or 6-6 this year, barring a huge surprise in Iowa City.

71. Nevada. The best thing going for the Wolf Pack is residence in a league weighted down by poor-to-mediocre teams.

And that’s why they’ll go to a bowl for the fourth straight year.

But Nevada won’t make for must-see TV, even with coach Chris Ault’s pistol offense at work. Unless, of course, there’s nothing else on TV.

Even then, be careful. I still have nightmares about the defense-optional Nevada-New Mexico State game I watched during a road trip last year.

Bottom line: Nevada will score plenty of points and give up a lot as well. The kings of the four-hour game might well be rewarded with a trip to Hawaii or Boise for their trouble.

 – Patrick Stevens