The Washington Times - July 4, 2011, 12:13AM

While inching ever closer to double digits, here’s five more teams coming off tough seasons that could find more struggles in 2011 …

No. 110 BALL STATE

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First up, the Cardinals’ victory totals from each of the last 11 seasons:

5-5-6-4-2-4-5-7-12-2-4

Pretty clearly, there was a happy aberration in Muncie in 2008, one Brady Hoke eagerly capitalized. Barely two years after leading Ball State to a 12-0 regular season, he was introduced as the coach at Michigan (via a stint at San Diego State). Hoke’s successor at Ball State, Stan Parrish, is already out of a job after underperforming even by the Cardinals’ hardly lofty standards from the last decade and a half.

A question often worth asking of any program is “what is a realistic level for a team to achieve on average?” For the Cardinals, it lies somewhere between the launching pad of Hoke’s career rise and the tepid results that ensured Parrish’s rather rapid dispatch to the unemployment line.

Pete Lembo, late of Elon, is the latest to get a crack at the MAC’s lone Hoosier State outpost. He inherits some experience (that’s good) and naturally overhauled some things and installed a no-huddle scheme (that’s … well, what that is will be decided come the fall).

Lembo was quite successful at Elon, a school in the former Division I-AA. How well that translates remains to be seen. He is one of seven coaches who were hired from down a level over the last six offseasons, to varying results:

MAJOR-COLLEGE COACHING HIRES FROM FCS RANKS, POST-2005 SEASON TO PRESENT

David Bailiff, Texas State to Rice (2007-present, 19-30, 1 bowl appearance)
Jim Harbaugh, San Diego to Stanford (2007-10, 29-21, 2 bowl appearances)
Jerry Kill, Southern Illinois to Northern Illinois (2008-10, 23-16, 3 bowl appearances)
Paul Wulff, Eastern Washington to Washington State (2008-present, 5-32)
Rich Ellerson, Cal Poly to Army (2009-present, 12-13, 1 bowl appearance)
Bobby Hauck, Montana to UNLV (2010-present, 2-11)

As well as Harbaugh and Kill fared (they’ve already moved on to better gigs) and as impressive as Ellerson’s work at West Point is, only one of them made a bowl in their first season (Kill’s 6-7 debut in 2008). Lembo will be hard-pressed to get the Cardinals to the postseason this fall.

No. 109 TULANE

What do you know, another team with a seemingly unfixable defense.

While the Green Wave’s offense wasn’t poised to set any particularly welcome records last season, their defense simply didn’t give Tulane much of a chance. All eight of the Green Wave’s losses came by a two-touchdown margin or larger (often much larger), and only twice in those setbacks did an opponent score less than 38 points.

Put another way, Tulane was every bit deserving of its 4-8 record, and its three victories by six points or less would make most folks wonder if the Green Wave was actually worse than its won-loss mark.

That’s not a pleasant thought in New Orleans, where the clock appears to be ticking on Bob Toledo’s coaching tenure. What’s more, Tulane will know quite early how viable its bowl hopes actually are.

In their first five games, the Green Wave face Southeastern Louisiana, Tulsa, UAB, Duke and Army, with three home dates to follow. If the defense can improve enough to get Tulane to that stage with a winning record, the program’s first bowl trip since 2002 is at least plausible. If not, go ahead and bank on an dour press conference on the Green Wave’s campus sometime in November.

No. 108 SAN JOSE STATE

Just as Tulane was a 4-8 team that could easily have been 1-11, the Spartans were a 1-12 outfit that wasn’t far from being 4-9.

Granted, that’s not great praise, but San Jose State wasn’t as abysmal as their record indicated, losing five games by a combined 17 points with a roster that started off short on scholarship players and was further winnowed by injuries as the year progressed.

This is an instance when experience gleaned from dreadful results could mean something better than inferior talent absorbing a taste of what was to come in the future. The defense returns effectively intact, with a mix of juniors and sophomores with starting experience returning to continued extended runs for the Spartans.

One major problem is quarterback; the holdovers at the position own a combined 41 career passes. Alas, coach Mike MacIntyre is not quite the quarterback whisperer as his old boss at Mississippi and Duke (David Cutcliffe), and odds are San Jose State’s offense will be erratic with such uncertainty under center.

Still, this bunch should do better than one victory this season. Winnable dates against New Mexico State and Idaho are at home, and the Spartans played Utah State and Louisiana Tech tough a year ago. San Jose State fans – however many of them actually exist – shouldn’t start booking hotels for a bowl game, but leapfrogging a couple teams in the WAC cannot be counted out.

No. 107 UNLV

Another team that earned its ugly record in 2010, UNLV went 2-11 with each of its losses absorbed bt 15 points or more.

It should come as little surprise, then, that the Rebels ranked better than 77th in just two of the 17 categories tracked by the NCAA – kickoff returns (28th) and turnover margin (tied for 63rd).

One of those non-weaknesses usually only comes into play when a team gives up points. The other is an often variable category that in this case limits a regression to the mean because UNLV (which was minus-1 on turnovers in 2010) is already there.

In short, second-year coach Bobby Hauck must work on fixing nearly everything in some way or another. And he’d best hurry; Boise State, Air Force, San Diego State and Texas Christian all await UNLV after Nov. 1, thus placing great significance on the first half of the season.

The smartest thing to get cracking on, though, is line play. The Rebels were one of three teams in 2010 to rank in the bottom 10 percent nationally, in both rushing offense and rushing defense. Regardless of a difficult schedule (which UNLV did indeed contend with), those numbers need to change if the Rebels are to finally make some noise in the evolving Mountain West.

No. 106 BOWLING GREEN

Go back and read that last paragraph about UNLV. That part about there being three teams in the bottom 10 percentile in both rushing offense and rushing defense? Bowling Green was another one (Washington State was the third).

And make no mistake, the Falcons were a dreadful rushing team on offense; perhaps not an all-timer, but certainly not good:

WORST MAJOR-COLLEGE RUSHING OFFENSES, SINCE 2000 (YARDS/GAME)

40.2: Baylor, 2006 (4-8)
41.4: Southern Methodist, 2008 (1-11)
43.8: Arizona, 2002 (4-8)
45.9: Kent State, 2005 (1-10)

51.7: Rutgers, 2002 (1-11)
52.3: New Mexico State, 2008 (3-9)
53.7: Temple, 2006 (1-11)
56.8: Florida International, 2006 (0-12)
57.5: UL Monroe, 2000 (1-10)
57.6: Texas-El Paso, 2006 (5-7)
59.3: Texas Tech, 2008 (11-2)

61.2: UL Lafayette, 2002 (3-9)
62.8: Bowling Green, 2010 (2-10)
62.8: Syracuse, 2007 (2-10)
63.5: Duke, 2009 (5-7)
63.5: Army, 2003 (0-13)
64.0: Duke, 2007 (1-11)
65.1: Stanford, 2006 (1-11)
66.9: Texas Tech, 2000 (7-6)
67.7: Nevada, 2000 (2-10)

That’s a list of 20 teams. Not counting last year’s Bowling Green outfit and 2009 Duke, only three of them made a bowl in the two seasons after their abysmal rushing performances: 2000 and 2008 Texas Tech and 2008 Southern Methodist. Considering the pass-happy architects of those offenses – Mike Leach and June Jones – it’s more accurate to consider those running games to be low-wattage by design.

The point here is history is staring straight at second-year Falcons coach Dave Clawson, and it has an exceptionally sour, Mr. Yuk-esque expression. The cratering of a ground game – even when pass-oriented spread offenses are all the rage – is a difficult event to fully recover from.

A bounceback of some form is possible if Bowling Green cobbles together something resembling a decent offensive line. The Falcons were 1-4 in games decided by single digits in 2010, so a correction of luck combined with modest improvement could double the team’s win total. Anticipating much more, though, is pushing it.

Patrick Stevens