The Washington Times - August 14, 2012, 12:19AM

Another late-night segment …

35. CENTRAL FLORIDA

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Well, after the Knights’ well-documented “Trouble With Tribble,” they were slapped late last month with a one-year bowl ban.

Central Florida is appealing the postseason sanctions, which is what most schools do when they think they have one of their better teams in place. And even though the Knights were 5-7 last year, they probably do.

Plenty of starters are back on both sides of the ball. All of Central Florida’s victories last season came by double-digits. All but one of its losses came by a touchdown or less. With Houston and Southern Mississippi breaking in new coaches and replacing plenty of talent, the Knights are in fine shape to win Conference USA.

Well, assuming (a) The NCAA does not opt to move at breakneck speed to hear the appeal (also known as the Penn State Acceleration) or (b) Central Florida doesn’t drop its appeal. So, yeah, it’s up to the NCAA.

If it acts quickly, Central Florida’s upside becomes a 11-1 jaunt in its final Conference USA season, with 9-3 a more realistic expectation. If not, the Knights could be in the hunt for a dozen wins thanks to a league title game and a bowl opportunity.

34. PITTSBURGH

Know what the best part of the Panthers’ final season in the Big East is?

If you guessed it was because football mercenary Todd Graham will spend it 2,000 miles away, well, it was a noble try. No, it’s that the ACC doesn’t have a tie-in to the Compass Bowl, which means Pitt won’t ship off to Birmingham for the first week of January again any time soon.

That should include this year, as there should be enough in place to do better than 6-7. Put some of that on Graham, whose “high-octane” offense produced rather low-test results.

Certainly, getting better production from erratic quarterback Tino Sunseri would help this year. That’s where new coach Paul Chryst, who had a history at Wisconsin of squeezing plenty of wins out of caretaker quarterbacks, comes in. Sunseri also also has most of his wideouts and his top tailback on hand this year; the offense should be improved.

One of the standbys of the much-maligned Dave Wannstedt years was a more-than-capable defense. It regressed a bit last year, almost entirely against the pass. There are plenty more new faces there, but it shouldn’t stop the Panthers from returning to 8-4 territory on the way out of their home for the last two decades.

33. SOUTH FLORIDA

Hats off to the Bulls for shoving their two bye weeks relatively deep into the season (Oct. 13 and Nov. 10). This is a program in dire need of as many games before the weather gets chilly as it can get.

Remember 2007, when a 6-0 start gave way to a 3-4 finish? Or ‘08, when a 5-0 burst was followed by a 3-5 thud? How about 2009 when the Bulls won their first four and then dropped five of nine?

Last year provided another collapse. A year with much promise – a victory at Notre Dame ignited a 4-0 start – fell to shambles as South Florida stumbled home with seven losses in its last eight contests.

It’s an incredibly flummoxing program, but one that lost five games by a combined 18 points last year. The Bulls weren’t good, but they should have appeared in a middling bowl of some sort.

There’s enough in place for Skip Holtz to take a mulligan and still have a crack at a breakthrough season. All things being equal, South Florida should emerge as one of the Big East’s elite programs thanks to its proximity to talent, and Holtz has a history of knowing what he’s doing. There should be a step forward this fall, perhaps enough of one to challenge Louisville for the league title.

32. N.C. STATE

The baying hounds (or is it howling wolves?) had their day(s) last year, constantly pointing out the absurdity of Wolfpack coach Tom O’Brien’s decision to let Russell Wilson leave for Wisconsin while handing over the offense to Mike Glennon.

O’Brien’s calculus was never exclusively about 2011. Instead, it was a decision to trade Wilson’s 2011 season for Glennon’s 2012 year, since Glennon would have been a prime transfer candidate had he not won the job last year.

Here’s last year’s numbers for both:

WILSON: 225-309, 3175 yards, 33 TD, 4 INT, 338 rushing yards, 6 rushing TD
GLENNON: 283-453, 3054 yards, 31 TD, 12 INT, 1 rushing TD

Yes, Wilson was better, mainly because he was otherworldly at times for the Badgers. Glennon was no slouch; there’s only a few comparisons in which a guy with a 62.5 completion percentage appear overmatched. But Glennon managed 12 TDs and four interceptions after the calendar turned to November, and he is set up to be one of the ACC’s top quarterbacks as a senior.

Now, if Glennon wasn’t around this year? Let’s just say there’s reason to believe the gap between whatever Glennon would have done elsewhere and what N.C. State might have received from the untested Tyler Brosius (who left the program earlier this month) or freshman Manny Stocker.

There will be an onus on keeping Glennon healthy, but if he can make it through the season, the Wolfpack should finish in the 8-4 or 9-3 ballpark – and that will make O’Brien’s much-maligned decision look rather wise in retrospect.

31. BRIGHAM YOUNG

After a year of independence, the Cougars occupy sort of an odd spot (at least from afar with a view from the East Coast).

There’s a good chance they’ll be fairly unimportant on the national stage by the fourth week of the season, especially after facing Utah and Boise State on the road in back-to-back games.

They should be bowl eligible sometime in the vicinity of when the country chooses the occupant of the White House for the next four years, with two or three games to spare.

And aside from when they play Notre Dame, there probably won’t be much talk of Brigham Young over the season’s final two months outside of Utah.

The Cougars will be just fine, as per the usual under Bronco Mendenhall. That will probably mean a 9-4ish season, including a bowl bid. But it is worth wondering if they’ll be noticed all that much unless they spoil Boise State’s season.

Patrick Stevens