The Washington Times - July 23, 2009, 10:06AM

Moving right along as the top 50 fast approaches. …

No. 55: ARIZONA

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The problem on the front end for the Wildcats: They need to break in a new quarterback to replace Willie Tuitama, who rewrote the school’s passing records and led Arizona to its first bowl in a decade last year.

The problem on the back end for the Wildcats: They finish at California/vs. Oregon/at Arizona State/at Southern California.

That doesn’t even factor in a three-game trip to Iowa, Oregon State and Washington, which is going to spring an upset on somebody in Seattle this year.

Those are some serious quandaries, and it adds up to a .500ish record and a lower-tier bowl – if Arizona is fortunate. And that’s a shame, because the Wildcats have the talent (if not the circumstances) to match last year’s eight-win season.

No. 54: COLORADO

After three losing seasons, a 13-24 record and one bowl berth (an Independence Bowl loss to Alabama in 2007), just what has Dan Hawkins learned about coaching at Colorado?

Well, it’s Division I football. It’s the Big 12. It ain’t intramurals.

Fun rants from coaches in the heartland aside, the Buffaloes should be better and could well be a sneaky division contender if they can survive a brutal early October stretch.

The Buffaloes finally have some experience at quarterback. Their tailback tandem of Rodney Stewart and Darrell Scott is superb. And they get Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri – the three presumptive favorites in the Big 12 North – in Boulder.

If the defense gets better – and not having to contend with Baylor, Oklahoma and Texas Tech for the second straight year won’t hurt in that regard – Colorado might just outdistance the mediocre prognostications it is receiving.

No. 53: TULSA

The starting quarterback is gone. Ditto the top tailback.  And the 1,000-yard receiver.

What does it mean? We’ll find out if coach Todd Graham’s pinball-like system is player-dependent or simply something from the same family as Texas Tech’s offensive scheme.

If it’s a machine that works regardless of cogs, this ranking could be a little low. But probably not a ton.

Remember, the Golden Hurricane lost to probably the two best conference teams that weren’t them – East Carolina and Houston. And they fell by a touchdown to a highly forgettable Arkansas bunch.

That, combined with a so-so defense, prompts some understandable skepticism. The schedule is also more harrowing, with Oklahoma and Boise State both providing stern tests.

Consider Tulsa a Conference USA contender and a near-certain bowl team. Just don’t look for a top 25 appearance this year.

No. 52: MARYLAND

More than enough will be written about the Terrapins here from a local perspective, so it’s not entirely worthwhile to delve too deeply into matters.

That said, the Terps will be extremely dependent upon a youthful offensive line that enters camp with two glaring uncertainties (left guard and right tackle).

If the line turns out to be above average, a 9-3 season isn’t out of the question.

If it stinks, it could be the unwatchable 2004 season all over again.

This ranking – which essentially assumes another 7-5 record – is an attempt to weasel out of making a prediction without possessing all the facts required for an accurate forecast.

But because there has to be something entertaining, how about a guess as to how last year’s wildly inconsistent Bizarro Terps would have fared against this schedule (ignoring, you know, the actual results from last season):

L: at California
W: James Madison
W: Middle Tennessee
W: Rutgers
L: Clemson
W: at Wake Forest
L: Virginia
L: at Duke
W: at N.C. State
W: Virginia Tech
L: at Florida State
W: Boston College
W: vs. Memphis in EagleBank Bowl

No. 51: CONNECTICUT

There is a case to be made that no departed tailback will be missed more by his team this season than the Huskies’ Donald Brown (a case surely exists for Pittsburgh’s LeSean McCoy and Michigan State’s Javon Ringer).

Why? Maybe because Connecticut’s passing game wasn’t too compelling, regardless of which of three quarterbacks served as Brown’s glorified handoff machine when they weren’t throwing interceptions and incompletions.

The Huskies are a tough team to figure. They were incredible fortunate while rolling up nine wins in 2007, and got their comeuppance in the form of a bowl loss to Wake Forest. Then last year, they were unlucky in the second half of the season, only to bounce back with an International Bowl triumph against Buffalo.

Here’s an interesting breakdown of those two seasons:

vs. Louisville, Syracuse and non-BCS schools: 10-0 (5-0 in both 2007 and 2008)
vs. Everyone else: 7-9 (4-4 in 2007, 3-5 in 2008)

The Huskies should again graze on the bad teams on their schedule. And that should be enough for a bowl appearance and a slightly above .500 record.

Patrick Stevens