The Washington Times - July 27, 2012, 11:43AM

There’s a solid midwestern feel to this segment, aside from the inclusion of a certain team from Charlottesville. …

55. TULSA

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There’s something re-assuring about teams that go out and do, more or less, what they’re supposed to do. And that’s exactly what the Golden Hurricane has done the last two seasons.

Tulsa is 18-8 in that span. When it is favored, it has gone 14-1, with the only setback a two-point setback at East Carolina to open 2010. While an underdog, the Golden Hurricane is 4-7, with the following “upsets”:

2010: 28-27 at Notre Dame as an 8 1/2-point underdog
2010: 28-25 at Houston as a 2 1/2-point underdog
2010: 62-35 at Hawaii as a 10-point underdog
2011: 24-17 at Central Florida as a 1 1/2-point underdog

With that in mind, Tulsa could be pretty good this season. Maybe even a Conference USA champion if decent quarterback play can be found after the departure of three-year starter G.J. Kinne.

Tulsa won’t have the sort of pinball offense its enjoyed for much of football mercenary Todd Graham’s tenure. But its defense should be better, both through the conventional wisdom of more experience and the more reality-based approach of not facing four quarterbacks (Landry Jones, Case Keenum, Kellen Moore and Brandon Weeden) seriously mentioned as Heisman Trophy candidates at some point or another.

Instead, the schedule is highly manageable until November arrives, and an 8-0 start is not out of the question. If Tulsa stays predictable, it will be right around 7-1 and unbeaten in league play entering its closing stretch. Bank on the Golden Hurricane being a factor in the C-USA race and an uptick from last year’s 8-5.

54. IOWA STATE

You can’t help but to respect Paul Rhoads, whose three Cyclone teams have remained curiously competitive (18-20) despite an array of statistical reasons why they shouldn’t be.

Consider:

* All three of Rhoads’ teams have been outgained by 40 yards a game or more.

* The Cyclones’ 44 sacks easily ranks last in the Big 12 over the last three years, less than even Kansas (54).

* Iowa State has played 13 of its 25 games over the last two years against ranked teams, winning only three. Two of the victories came against eventual 5-7 teams (2010 Texas and 2011 Texas Tech)

But there the Cyclones were, spoiling Oklahoma State’s season last November to clinch bowl eligibility. This despite what wound up as a minus-11 turnover margin (to counter the combined plus-10 from the previous two seasons).

Then you look at the record in one-possession games: 9-5, including 5-1 last season. Maybe a bit of that is luck. But after three years, Rhoads has come close to maximizing what he has pretty much every season. It’s enough to provide Iowa State with a slight preseason rankings bump to anticipate the same thing unfolding this fall.

53. HOUSTON

How about this as an early candidate for quote of the year:

“We decided as a staff that we’ll have a quarterback this season.” – Tony Levine, presumably after being asked how Houston will replace its departed star under center

Levine is the Cougars’ new coach, and he does face the task of breaking in a successor to Case Keenum, who merely set the NCAA career passing record (19,217 yards) and had a ridiculous 48 touchdowns against five interceptions last season.

The good news? The new starter (David Piland) started for much of the 2010 season when Keenum was injured and led Conference USA in passing. Some of that’s on him. Some of that’s on a potent offensive scheme.

There will be a regression, though Houston probably wasn’t really one of the top 15 teams in the country at any point last year, rankings be damned. But the offense will work and there’s an established offensive line in place. The Cougars figure to contend for a second straight division title even with Keenum’s departure.

52. VIRGINIA

The Cavaliers arrived a year ahead of schedule under Mike London, so much so that they got to get their clocks cleaned by Auburn in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl rather than wind up in a more winnable lower-tier bowl game.

No matter. After three straight losing seasons, there is optimism about football again at Virginia. And if London doesn’t watch it, there might be some fans with soaring expectations for the immediate future.

All this for a team that won five games by a combined 15 points. All this for a program that could see last year’s starting quarterback (Michael Rocco) eventually nudged aside for Alabama transfer Phillip Sims, who won’t have to sit out this season after leaving Tuscaloosa.

And all this for a defense featuring a secondary almost exclusively freshmen and sophomores, a scary thought for the early stages of the season.

There are a lot of reliables going for Virginia: Tackle Oday Aboushi, tailback Perry Jones, linebackers Steve Greer and LaRoy Reynolds. The Cavaliers don’t face either Clemson or Florida State, and they should get to six wins somehow. But an 8-5 rerun is not guaranteed.

51. TEXAS TECH

The Red Raiders’ defense was 10 kinds of terrible last season – one for each game they gave up 30 points. They ranked last in the country in rushing defense and yielded a pair of 66-spots. Opponents managed 500 yards in five of the last six weeks, with Missouri’s 490-yard effort the lone outlier.

In a not-so-shocking development, Texas Tech has a new defensive coordinator, a new scheme, some new band-aids from the junior college ranks and maybe some new hope. After all, the Red Raiders can’t be any worse than last season.

It doesn’t mean they’ll be particularly good, though. It won’t show in the first three weeks – Northwestern State, Texas State and New Mexico – and maybe not in the Big 12 opener (at Iowa State). But a gauntlet awaits once October arrives.

The good news? Texas Tech still can score and move the ball at nearly the same levels as it did under Mike Leach. There isn’t as potent a passing game, but it’s still excellent. There is a semblance of a running game, though not otherworldly. It’s enough to think the Red Raiders can win a couple shootouts.

And that’s what will happen this year. This has the look of a 6-6 or 7-5 team, entirely capable of a bowl bid and one magnificent performance somewhere along the way (like at Nebraska in 2009, at home against Missouri in 2010 and at Oklahoma last season) but probably not much else.

Patrick Stevens