College Football Countdown: Nos. 76-80

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Moving along in the countdown, which is now more than a third of the way complete. …

No. 80: TEXAS-EL PASO

There are certain nuances that writers and fans simply won’t appreciate or fully comprehend as well as coaches. It’s an occupational hazard, and it’s best to acknowledge there are probably mitigating circumstances at play nearly all the time.

But sometimes, it doesn’t take a Ph.D. from Pigskin Prep to know what is gumming up the works.

Texas-El Paso has yielded more than 37 points a game the last two years. The Miners have yielded either almost or more than 200 yards rushing a game in both of those seasons.

It doesn’t matter how many starters are coming back, or what sort of crafty scheme is in place or what’s on the schedule. There’s only so much improvement on the horizon.

And that’s why a fourth straight losing season would come as no surprise for Mike Price’s team this fall.

No. 79: TEMPLE

Slowly but surely, Al Golden’s rebuilding project is starting to look more than reputable.

The Owls have improved their record in each of Golden’s three seasons, and five of their seven losses were by a touchdown or less last fall. Two happened to be in overtime, including a stunning collapse at Navy.

All those expectations of ending years of futility came up a bit short a year ago. But few teams anywhere have reason to smile at their schedule as much as the Owls.

First, their nonconference schedule is at least splittable – home games with Villanova and Army, trips to Penn State and Navy. Second, Temple doesn’t have to deal with Central Michigan, Northern Illinois and Western Michigan, arguably the MAC Western’s top teams.

Golden’s defense is, for the most part, respectable, and the offense was competent more often than not. Temple will break in a new quarterback and a couple new starting offensive linemen. If those questions are answered, the Owls have a chance at stalking down a MAC title.

No. 78 LOUISIANA TECH

As nice as it was for the Bulldogs to secure their first bowl berth since 2001 (and first postseason victory since 1977), consider me skeptical. Yes, a whole lot of players from that team return, but it’s not like Louisiana Tech have Tim Rattay and Troy Edwards to work with going forward.

Instead, it’s the bulk of a team that got outgained for the season, lost to Army and edged WAC bottom feeders New Mexico State and Utah State by a combined 11 points late in the season.

Frankly, an 8-5 season last year was about as good as could be expected, and a 6-1 record inside the state line certainly helped matters.

That’s probably the upside this season, but with seven road games on the schedule, chances are the Bulldogs experience a bit of slippage but wind up solidly on the WAC’s second tier behind Boise State and Nevada.

No. 77: KANSAS STATE

Fox Animation Domination meets college football – coach Bill Snyder is brought out of cryogenic freeze and finds himself in a strange world.

Kansas State football is on an extended slide. There sure are a lot of JUCO players around. And no one expects the Wildcats to amount to much of anything.

Actually, it’s pretty similar to the situation Snyder (who was in retirement, not receiving the Ted Williams treatment) inherited in the late 1980s. And whether by coincidence or deft orders, there’s already a pair of Division I-AA teams on the schedule.

Like so many other garden spots in the Big 12, improving the defense is a priority. Kansas State had half-a-hundred hung on it four times a season ago – or $800,000 per wallop if you wish to apply the payout of former coach Ron Prince’s “secret agreement” to the proceedings.

The good news for the Wildcats and Snyder is climbing the Big 12 North is a substantially easier thing to do than usurping the top of the opposite division from Oklahoma and Texas.

That means a bowl berth is doable, and if the defense is modestly better with a pair of former ACC coordinators (Vic Koenning and Chris Cosh) and the Wildcats find someone competent to take over for Josh Freeman at quarterback, it may well happen.

No. 76: PURDUE

Danny Hope is one of two head coaches in waiting to take over (Oregon’s Chip Kelly is the other), and it’s appropriate the first true barometer of Hope’s tenure will come during a game against the Ducks.

That, it turns out, is arguably the nastiest bit of scheduling the Boilermakers must contend with. Ohio State, Michigan State and Illinois come to West Lafayette. Iowa and Penn State aren’t even on the schedule at all. The ingredients are there for a bounceback from 4-8.

Of course, Purdue lost nearly all of its relevant offensive skill players, so a reasonably stable line will be protecting and making room for some unknown quantities. That could lead to all sorts of interesting outcomes.

Other than the trip to Oregon – a likely loss – and the visit from Ohio State, the Boilermakers face a ton of what in late July look like tossup games. Chances are, things will even out over time, and Purdue will land in the 5-7/6-6 range that might or might not net a bowl berth but probably won’t result in an especially memorable season.

Patrick Stevens

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