College Football Countdown: Nos. 56-60

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Probably time to size up where things are in the countdown, since half the teams have already been unveiled.

So what’s left in the top half?

There’s 10 ACC teams, and 10 more from the SEC. The Big 12 still has nine teams to go, and the Big Ten checks in with eight teams still on the board.

Then there’s six from the Pac-10, six more from the Big East.

That leaves 11 teams from everywhere else – including Conference USA (four), the Mountain West (three), the Mid-American (two), the Western Athletic (one) and the independent ranks (one).

So that’s the reset at the halfway point. Time to peel five more teams off the list.

No. 60: BOSTON COLLEGE

Loyal readers know I’m not especially sold on the Eagles, what with their tumultuous offseason and their reliance on defensive and special teams scores to win the ACC’s Atlantic Division last season.

That said, the Eagles should be able to run. A lot.

With center Matt Tennant and left tackle Anthony Costanzo anchoring a strong offensive line, Boston College has a chance to do an excellent impression of a 1970s Big Ten team in Frank Spaziani’s first season.

And as for that headache of unknowns at quarterback? Since when did tumult at that position stop someone from winning the ACC?

2008: Virginia Tech’s Tyrod Taylor was set to redshirt before Frank Beamer abandoned that plan a week into the season

2007: Taylor replaced Sean Glennon early in the season, but Taylor’s injuries opened the door for Glennon to lead the Hokies to a league title.

2006:Ben Mauk, not Riley Skinner, started the opener for Wake Forest. But he suffered a broken arm in that first game, Skinner took over and the Demon Deacons collected a conference title.

The last wire-to-wire starter at QB for an ACC champ? None other than Florida State’s Drew Weatherford in 2005.

BC has a lot to overcome. If everything is solved except quarterback, though, the Eagles could fit in quite well in the Land of 8-4 Teams.

No. 59: SOUTHERN MISSISSIPPI

According to the career lists provided in Phil Steele’s preview magazine, only two active tailbacks enter the season as their school’s all-time leader in rushing yards.

One is Buffalo’s James Starks, who is 37 yards clear of second-place.

The other is Southern Mississippi’s Damion Fletcher, who already has a 692-yard edge entering his senior season.

Fletcher, by the way, just had a suspension lifted and is good to go for the Golden Eagles’ Sept. 5 opener against Alcorn State.

And that makes the Eagles an intriguing possibility to usurp the Conference USA East Division crown from East Carolina.

No. 58: VANDERBILT

Here’s a puzzler: How do you average 256 yards a game – worse than all but two teams in major-college football – and still wind up with your first bowl victory since 1955.

Go ask the Commodores, because that’s exactly what happened last season.

Vanderbilt scored more than 16 points just once in its last nine games. Unsurprisingly, the Commodores were 3-6 in that stretch.

A lot of folks seem to like Vanderbilt, and certainly a strong defense that brings back a whole lot has to make you believe a minor bowl is possible.

But all those offensive returnees mean there is some serious doubt whether any more ‘Dores to the postseason will happened to open this fall, regardless of how well the perennially woebegone program is coached.

No. 57: AUBURN

Of the last 11 head coaches with at least a full season to their name hired on the Plains, exactly one – Terry Bowden – enjoyed a winning season in Year One.

Not Shug Jordan. Not Pat Dye. Not Tommy Tuberville.

So why on Earth would anyone believe “5-19 Gene” Chizik – far and away the most dubious hire of the offseason after somehow making Iowa State worse over two years – will do any better?

Well, some leftover talent will help, even if the Tigers demonstrated a remarkable allergy to the end zone last season when a classic smashmouth team was unwisely transformed into a more wide-open bunch.

The nonconference schedule brings four opponents to Jordan-Hare, so that helps. And the Tigers don’t have to deal with the Blessed Tebow, so that helps, too.

But things still aren’t easy, and the Tigers are going to have to average more than a couple touchdowns against eventual bowl teams (98 points in seven such games last year) if they’re going to do any better than 6-6.

No. 56: WESTERN MICHIGAN

Two interesting streaks collide on Sept. 5.

The first: Western Michigan has defeated a a BCS conference school three years running – Virginia in 2006, Iowa in 2007 and Illinois in 2008.

The second: Michigan has lost its opener in back-to-back years – Appalachian State in 2007, Utah in 2008, both at home.

Game on in Ann Arbor.

As for the rest of the season, the Broncos have a defense to rebuild and an offense to maintain. The latter is critical, lest Western slip back below .500 like it has after its last two bowl appearance (1988 and 2006).

The Broncos should be a solid outfit, but they’ll lag behind league favorite Central Michigan even though the teams’ showdown is in Kalamazoo on Oct. 17.

Patrick Stevens

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