College football countdown: Nos. 111-115

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Previously on College Football Countdown: Nos. 116-120

First, a little note for at least one reader who didn’t seem to catch the drift of this little endeavor: This is an inverted ranking. Not to go all biblical or anything, but there’s a “the first shall be last and the last shall be first” quality to it.

So please hold back any belief that teams listed in the first week or so are overrated. It’s near impossible for that to be the case.

Underrated? Well, they’ll get the chance to prove it on the field.

Onto today’s not-so-fabulous five:

115. Western Kentucky. If things go bad – and they most certainly could for a team that went 7-5 last year against a schedule of mostly lower division teams and will now play 10 major-college foes this fall – the Hilltoppers could be the worst team in the country.

Is that harsh? Not really. A transitional team shouldn’t complain about any sort of ranking. It’s the ultimate “Just glad to be here” situation, and things will get more interesting next year when the Hilltoppers join the Sun Belt.

The slate of guarantee games isn’t as painful as it could have been: Indiana, Alabama, Kentucky and Virginia Tech. But that doesn’t mean Western Kentucky will actually win any of them, either.

114. UAB. A defense that gives up 256.8 yards a game is very impressive. A defense that gives up that much on the ground alone is not.

The latter was the case for the Blazers, who return nine starters from that dreadful unit of a year ago. And this year, an influx of junior college transfers suggests the plan is to try a few quick fixes before the program really finds stable footing down the road.

UAB has won five games the last two years, and it won’t add much to that total this year.

But on the bright side, the Blazers have kicker Swayze Waters, who was an all-Conference USA pick last year and is a lock for the national all-name team. Here’s guessing his parents were big fans of “Red Dawn” or “The Outsiders,” since Patrick Swayze’s greatest hits – “Dirty Dancing,” “Ghost” and, lest we forget, “Father Hood” – all probably came after the christening.

113. Northern Illinois. The days of Turner the Burner are long since gone in DeKalb, a town that seems to rise out of the cornfields once you get off the interstate. It really is quite a nice place (and, after stopping there in the middle of a ballpark tour in 2003 to watch Maryland lose to the Huskies in OT, here’s a promise that the corn is delicious as well).

The football these days? Not so much. Longtime coach Joe Novak retired after last season, and Northern Illinois hired Southern Illinois’ Jerry Kill to take over. He did quite well with the Salukis, and there’s plenty of reason to believe the Huskies will be back on the upswing soon enough.

This year? Maybe not too much. This might turn out to be too low a ranking, but it’s tough to envision Northern Illinois making a bowl game this fall.

112. Kent State. There’s one very good reason the Golden Flashes could be much better than this, and his name is Eugene Jarvis. The senior, a 5-foot-5, 170-pound tailback, ran for nearly 1,700 yards last year, and that’s not particularly easy to do on a team that loses three quarterbacks to injury throughout a season.

Trouble is, Kent State doesn’t do anything else particularly well besides hand the ball to Jarvis. The Golden Flashes’ defense is decidedly middle-of-the-pack. Their punting game was horrible. And they committed way too many turnovers.

Kent State went 2-6 in games decided by less than 10 points, which suggests if the turnover problem improves and some luck swings in the other direction, the Golden Flashes will fare better than last year’s 3-9. They’ll need all the help they can muster to aid Jarvis, since it looks like plenty of teams in their division – Bowling Green, Miami (Ohio) and Temple come to mind – should be even better this season.

111. Rice. If you were told there was a team out there that averaged nearly 300 yards passing and yielded more than 500 total yards last year, you’d probably think that would constitute something entertaining. Or, if you’re a traditionalist, an abomination.

Either way, the Owls were something else last year. They gave up at least 34 points in all but two games. They managed to lose twice despite scoring 43 points.

This headline from Rice’s official site for the season-ending 48-43 loss to Tulsa sums it up: “Owls Fall in Shootout; Chase Clement throws for 541 yards but Owls come up short.”

The best (or worst, depending on your point of view) part is Clement and eight other starters (including wideout Jarett Dillard) return on offense, while nine starters return on defense. So unless those defensive players got a whole lot better, another 3-9 and spot close to the bottom nationally is quite possible.

- Patrick Stevens

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