Moving along after a bit of a hiatus …
100. COLORADO STATE
The Rams lost their final eight games last to complete their third straight 3-9 season.
Hence, Steve Fairchild was discarded after four seasons and Alabama offensive coordinator Jim McElwain was hired to replace him.
It’s the latest extension of the Nick Saban coaching tree, which has had mixed results so far …
NICK SABAN COACHING TREE (*-current head coach)
|Ex-Assistant||1st year ||Career |
|Bobby Williams ||5-6||16-17|
So there’s a 10-win season, a 10-loss season and a whole lot of .500ish records among the debuts of former Saban staffers.
Colorado State would do well to wind up in the neighborhood of 5-7 this season. Specifically, it will not be easy to quickly solve the woes of a dreadful run defense. Generally, the Rams went 3-18 the last two years against major-college programs not named New Mexico. This is not going to be an instant rebuild.
99. KENT STATE
Brutal doesn’t begin to describe the Golden Flashes’ offense from a year ago – though a triple-digit ranking nationally in average points, rushing yards, passing yards, total yards and passing efficiency offers a substantial enough glimpse. Kent State was even a meager 92nd in the country in sacks allowed.
That’s a lot of bottom quartile, yet the Golden Flashes still wound up at 5-7, winning four straight before missing bowl eligibility with a loss at Temple in their finale. Credit a stout defense and a gaudy plus-12 turnover margin for keeping Kent State somewhat relevant, at least in the bowl picture.
Now, plenty comes on defense (that’s good) and even more comes back on offense (that value is a bit more debatable). Yet after concocting a plus-11 takeaway margin in the second half of the season, it warrants wondering whether Kent State can keep that up.
Loyal readers know there’s a strong “regression/progression to the mean” element here in trying to figure teams out. That means the offense should improve, almost by default, but it’s going to be a bit much to expect another 31 takeaways this season.
So where does that leave the Golden Flashes? Maybe in line for a fourth straight 5-7, though the nonconference schedule (Towson, at Kentucky, at Army, at Rutgers) at least provides some hope of a split. Kent State should be solid enough, but there will need to be substantial strides on offense to contend for a MAC title.
Even with a step back to 3-9 last season, the Black Knights couldn’t be in better hands. Rich Ellerson got Army to a bowl game in his second season, and last year the Black Knights gave Navy its trickiest test in some time.
And, really, everyone knows that’s what matters most. Army has dropped 10 straight to the Midshipmen, but the days of abject humiliation have passed. In former coach Stan Brock’s last game, Navy coasted to a 34-0 victory. The Mids have won the last three meetings by a combined 34 points.
That’s not good enough for Army alums, but the gap is noticeably smaller. The Black Knights both know what they want to do on offense (especially with fabulously named veteran quarterback Trent Steelman and explosive running back Raymond Maples) and can actually pull it off, a stark difference from just a few years ago.
It’s uncertain whether the defense could hold up over time, especially against a schedule littered with potential toss-up games: San Diego State, Northern Illinois, Wake Forest, Boston College, Kent State, Eastern Michigan, Ball State, Air Force, Temple, even Navy.
That leaves a wide range of storylines for the Black Knights. They could be one of the year’s best stories, with a quick start propelling them to spot in the Military Bowl. Or, they could hover around .500 (or worse) and never really distinguish themselves. But odds are, they will be interesting. Like so much else about the program in West Point over the last few years, credit Ellerson for that.
There was a time Norm Chow was rightfully known as something of a quarterback whisperer, churning out great offenses (with capable QBs) at Brigham Young, jump-starting Philip Rivers‘ growth at N.C. State and then presiding over some jaw-dropping collections of talent (including Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart) at Southern California.
The truth is, his results after leaving the Trojans have been underwhelming. He was fired after three years with the Tennessee Titans. He was bought out at UCLA after that program was mired in three seasons of chronic quarterback injuries. Last season, his offense at Utah was just plain middling (except when it dropped 54 points on Brigham Young).
Finally, at age 66, Chow gets the big whistle for the first time. It’s the second straight time the Warriors went with an assistant in his 60s with no major-college heading coaching experience.
Chow’s recent experiences – with the Titans, UCLA and Utah – suggest he’d better have a quarterback ready to run his offense. He has last year’s backup (David Graves) and a transfer from Utah State (Jeremy Higgins) to work with. Oh, and Hawaii upgrades to the Mountain West this season.
The Warriors don’t seem likely to head back to their pre-June Jones levels of incompetence, but they could still be in for a rough season. Don’t bank on the Hawaii Bowl hosting the hometown team this year.
96. UL LAFAYETTE
Sometimes, the numbers don’t quite add up. The Ragin’ Cajuns improved from 3-9 to 9-4 last year without the sort of statistical leaps that would help explain such a massive change.
UL Lafayette surrendered essentially the same yardage on defense but gave up a touchdown a game less than before. Its offense improved by about 45 yards per game and tacked on an extra 10 points a contest. And instead of being a mildly shaky turnover team (minus-3), it was break even.
However they did it, the Ragin’ Cajuns thrived in coach Mark Hudspeth’s first season and wound up earning their first-ever bowl invitation. That’s solid work.
Now, with the bulk of the offense back (including four on the line), UL Lafayette looks like it could be the Sun Belt’s top offense. Not nearly as much is back on defense, and it seems unlikely the Cajuns can win another three games while surrendering more than 30 points.
For certain, this is a team that should finish in the top half of the Sun Belt. Matching last year’s win total won’t be easy.