College Football Countdown: Nos. 96-100

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After a Sunday hiatus on the countdown, here’s five more teams to consider for a season that’s less than two months away …

No. 100: IOWA STATE

This time last year (or about this time last year), it was clear the Cyclones had a chance – albeit a slim one – to get off to a good start thanks to a favorable nonconference schedule.

And so they did, winning the first two … before dropping 10 straight to end an abysmal season.

Iowa State was fortunate that “5-19 GeneChizik suddenly found his services in demand down on the Plains, and the school effectively turned it into a trade with the hire of former Auburn assistant Paul Rhoads to take over a less-than-flattering situation in Ames.

The schedule is equally favorable early, and the Cyclones don’t have to deal with Oklahoma, Texas and Texas Tech, which is swell. But this is still the core of a bad team, playing in a new system and dealing with only three home games in Big 12 play (the Kansas State game will be in Kansas City).

Iowa State could progress to a three- or four-win team this year, but it’s asking too much to expect more with an overhaul of a system and the general struggles of recent seasons.

No. 99: BALL STATE

Nate Davis – gone.

Brady Hoke – gone.

Half the starters of a team that went 12-0 to start last season – gone.

New coach Stan Parrish has himself in quite a little pickle, but the man’s seen worse; he was the head coach at Kansas State in the 1980s, right before Bill Snyder Era 1.0

The Cardinals won’t be anywhere near as good on offense, but have a chance to be just as good on defense thanks to a veteran line.

Last year was a happy aberration for Ball State, which had rolled up between four and seven victories in all but one season this decade prior to perhaps the best season in school history.

The Cardinals should regress back to their normal selves this year, but that doesn’t mean a bowl berth is out of the question.

No. 98: SAN JOSE STATE

One of 2008’s most quiet collapses came in the Bay Area, where the Spartans ran out of middling-to-bad teams to play and lost their last three games by an average of almost 20 points.

A win in any of them would have clinched a winning record, which probably would have ensured a postseason appearance. Instead, that will have to wait until this year – if not later.

San Jose State is not far removed from doormat status, and veteran coach Dick Tomey warrants credit for elevating the program above the flotsam and jetsam circulating at the bottom of the WAC.

That needs to continue this fall, since the Spartans open with Southern California, Utah and Stanford, followed by a credible lower-division opponent in Cal Poly.

The Spartans might be better than a year ago, but that doesn’t mean they might not hold the unenviable crown of “Best 0-4 team” when September comes to a close.

No. 97: OHIO

A cautionary tale on the value of turnovers, the Bobcats’ offense in 2008 was about the same as its ‘07 version and its defense was better. Yet Ohio still regressed from 6-6 to 4-8 in large part because of a -12 turnover margin.

There’s probably a decent chance of a snap back to an average (or better) season.

Two things are going in the Bobcats’ favor. First, the first month of the season is immensely friendlier, with a home opener against Connecticut and meetings with North Texas and Cal Poly. Last year was an 0-4 waiting to happen – and it did even as the Bobcats tested everyone (including Ohio State) in September.

Second, the MAC’s East Division is not a terribly scary neighborhood. Can Buffalo sustain its success? How will Bowling Green do with a new coach? Is Temple a legit bowl team? And so on.

For the most part, the Bobcats didn’t embarrass themselves last year (even if they did shoot themselves in the foot). This is one of those rankings that has a chance to look foolish in retrospect, but there still is the matter of going out and winning games of significance.

No. 96: INDIANA

The Hoosiers didn’t have the goods to contend for a MAC title last year (losses to Ball State and Central Michigan), let alone rise up in the Big Ten while seeking back-to-back bowl berths for the first time since 1990-91.

It’s tough to see that getting any better this year, even with all the “experience” returning on defense.

The Hoosiers could well be proof of the D1scourse Experience Theorem, which stipulates that not all experience is good experience.

For example, giving up 55 points to a scuffling Illinois team, 55 points to a desperate and reeling Wisconsin bunch and 62 points to one of Purdue’s worst outfits in quite some time means that bringing back a bunch of starters from that defense doesn’t mean things will be better this fall.

Indiana has questions at quarterback and running back, and obviously there are problems with a defense ranked in triple digits in most major categories (scoring, passing, total and pass efficiency).

It’s a bad combination, and makes it hard to see Indiana climbing too far out of the conference cellar. Hoosiers fans better have the Big Ten Network at the ready this fall – or just be eager for what should be an improved basketball team come November.

Patrick Stevens

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