The Washington Times - July 30, 2009, 01:10PM

Where do last year’s disappointments, a potential breakout team and a few teams hyped by previous performance belong? How about on the outskirts of the top 25. …

No. 30: N.C. STATE

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Oh, the caveats with this one.

If linebacker Nate Irving can return for, say, the second half of the season after his June car wreck, this ranking will have a decent chance of holding up.

And there’s also that matter of quarterback Russell Wilson remaining an option.

Yes, Mike Glennon awaits in the wings after redshirting, but the Wolfpack would still rather have Wilson at their disposal all season. When Wilson played last year, the N.C. State offense was something like a classic Mustang. Without him, the Wolfpack resembled a Ford Pinto with four flat tires.

Make no mistake, Wilson needs to stay in one piece. Still, coach Tom O’Brien has reshaped the Wolfpack from the ACC’s least disciplined team to a bunch that won’t stop themselves. Sounds a bit like his Boston College teams, huh?

The pieces are there for a stealth run at the Atlantic Division title. They just need to keep those pieces together for a dozen games to make it happen.

No. 29: BRIGHAM YOUNG

A note of caution from Y Mountain: The Cougars have fewer career starts returning on their offensive line.

In short – danger, Bronco Mendenhall, danger!

Brigham Young turned out to be one of last season’s most overhyped teams, its early defeats of Washington and UCLA dramatically losing their luster over time.

The Cougars were hammered at Utah, hammered at Texas Christian and lost by 10 points to Arizona while making their fourth straight Las Vegas Bowl appearance.

Unlike the annual postseason destination, what happens in Provo doesn’t stay in Provo – unless it happens to be a whole bunch of crucial games. After getting taken behind the woodshed by Oklahoma at the Dallas Cowboys’ new palace, Brigham Young gets Florida State, Air Force, Colorado State, Texas Christian and Utah all at home – where its won 18 straight.

The offensive scheme works and the defense should be better. The Cougars might be, too, but let someone else fall into the trap of overrating them until they prove themselves this fall.

No. 28: IOWA

Home is where the heart is, especially in the heartland.

Road is where the losses are, especially for Iowa in Big Ten play.

The Hawkeyes generated a fair bit of buzz after last year’s motley 9-4 (which was bereft of a date with Ohio State). But this year, things will be harder.

Iowa must visit:

* Ohio State, where the Hawkeyes haven’t won since 1991
* Michigan State, where the Hawkeyes haven’t won since 1995.
* Penn State, where the Hawkeyes haven’t won since 2004 (the illustrious 6-4 game)

Those, you might have intuited based on the remaining teams in the countdown, are the likely contenders in the Big Ten.

The Hawkeyes could crack that first tier; their chances are better than Michigan and Wisconsin (the latter whom Iowa must also visit). But it looks like a borderline top-25, with plenty of scrumptious Big Ten midpack opponents and also-rans to feast upon at Kinnick Stadium.

Eight wins looks about right for this bunch.

No. 27: WEST VIRGINIA

For years to come, they’ll ignite couches with pride in Morgantown while remembering the theatrics of Pat White, a man who ranks both second in passing and rushing yards in school history.

But now comes the tough part: Moving on.

Maybe it won’t be so bad. Jarrett Brown has a chance to be a more-than-adequate quarterback (not quite as good as White) and he’ll have Noel Devine to hand it off to. It isn’t as bad a situation as you’d guess.

Still, the Mountaineers must visit South Florida, Cincinnati and Rutgers, and the Backyard Brawl against Pittsburgh should be an imposing task again. Maybe West Virginia splits those four games; if not, Bill Stewart’s second season probably won’t end with a top-25 ranking.

No. 26: CLEMSON

Ah, Clemson. Your zany antics with a pair of great running backs and an offensive line incapable of stopping defenders from greeting them created quite the sideshow last season.

So, too, did an offensive coordinator whose team rolled up 200 or so yards rushing in the first half against Maryland and then veered away from the run in what turned out to be a season-changing loss.

But whenever Clemson seems to go away, they unexpectedly come back.

The question at quarterback needs to be answered with Cullen Harper’s graduation, but equally important is figuring out the value of that experience from last year’s 7-6 ride that cost Tommy Bowden his job and led to the hiring of probably the first guy named Dabo (Swinney) in the sport’s history.

If last year was merely growing pains, then tailback C.J. Spiller could be a stealth candidate to finish in the top five of the Heisman voting. If the debacle is indicative of overall talent, then the Tigers won’t continue their schizophrenic vacillation between conference contender and eternal disappointment.

It’s Clemson’s turn to surprise. The offense beyond Spiller will determine whether that happens.

Patrick Stevens