The Washington Times - June 27, 2012, 11:44AM

Continuing the bottom-to-top look at the season to come …

120. TEXAS STATE

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Stop the presses! Dennis Franchione is back in college football’s top division.

The former College Station newsletter impresario resurfaced last season with the Bobcats, who make the leap into the Western Athletic Conference this season (before skedaddling from the WAC’s charred remains over to the Sun Belt in 2013). Publishing forays aside, Franchione won to some degree everywhere he went.

He also won at the end, even when the endings weren’t smooth. In seven previous gigs, his average number of victories in his last season was 9.1. Even at Texas A&M, it was a 7-5 team that got him jettisoned.

All of which is to say the Bobcats probably have the right guy leading them through their transition, assuming the 61-year-old Franchione’s nomadic tendencies don’t kick in again. Texas State was 6-6 a year ago, and brings back enough of that team to have a shot at a few victories in their first year in the former Division I-A.

The Bobcats probably won’t be good this year, but Franchione’s presence, the inherent Lone Star State geographical advantages in recruiting and a landing spot in the right league next season means their short-to-medium-term outlook is probably the best of the four FBS newcomers. That might not be high praise and it certainly doesn’t assure success a decade from now, but far less qualified schools have made the leap in the last two decades.

119. AKRON

Under normal circumstances, you’d ask a new coach just what they’d gotten themselves into taking over the Zips. Why?

LONGEST ACTIVE LOSING STREAKS TO FBS FOES

11: Akron
11: Indiana

10: Kansas
10: Maryland
10: Tulane

8: Colorado State

These aren’t normal circumstances, though. Sure, the Zips are massively untalented and will likely occupy the same place at the bottom of the Mid-American Conference that they did in both seasons of Rob Ianello’s abbreviated 2-22 tenure. But at least things will be interesting.

That, ultimately, is what former Auburn coach Terry Bowden brings with him to Akron. There is some sort of curiosity about the Zips, who have endured six straight losing seasons since making the only bowl appearance in school history in 2005.

Bowden spent much of the last decade or so in pigskin exile, either in a television studio or Division II (though there are far worse places for a coach to ply his trade than at North Alabama, where Bowden worked the last three years).

Along for the ride is former N.C. State coach Chuck Amato, who will serve as Bowden’s defensive coordinator. Also on staff: Erstwhile Florida State offensive coordinator Jeff Bowden, a lightning rod in Tallahassee in the middle of the last decade.

There will be no shortage of personality in Akron, but bank on a dearth of victories. The Zips are a lot further away from being intriguing on the field than they are off it.

118. NEW MEXICO

Speaking of coaches returning from a broadcast booth exile, the Lobos hired Bob Davie a few weeks shy of a decade after Notre Dame discarded him after a 35-25 run over five seasons.

There’s not much need to rehash what happened over the last three years in Albuquerque. New Mexico brought in Mike Locksley and his stellar recruiting reputation and got a 2-26 record and an assortment of headlines for off-the-field foible before a midseason firing last fall.

It’s easy to harp on lawsuits (which were dropped) and fisticuffs and the like, but that big stack of losses will follow Locksley and the Lobos for some time. New Mexico is 3-33 over the last three years, with the victories coming by a combined 12 points and only six of the losses absorbed by single digits. That’s terrible by any measure.

Not much should be expected from Davie, at least not beyond perhaps winning the opener against Southern. The Lobos face Texas, Texas Tech and Boise State before September is through, and it would be an upset if they don’t absorb some bludgeonings along the way.

There’s little New Mexico can do but improve, but that might come in only small increments. Davie inherited a team a year removed from an Orange Bowl bid his first time around as a head coach. His second gig comes at the opposite end of the spectrum.

117. MEMPHIS

Among the myriad issues associated with Larry Porter’s two-year stint with the Tigers, one stands out from afar:

MEMPHIS RUSHING OFFENSE, 2010-11

2010: 91.58 ypg (116th nationally)
2011: 84.00 ypg (119th nationally)

What in the name of DeAngelo Williams happened here? The Tigers were one of two teams nationally to average less than 100 yards on the ground in both of the last two seasons (Miami-Ohio is the other), and even the pass-happy proclivities of Conference USA can’t mask Memphis’ systemic problems.

In fairness to Porter, he inherited a 2-10 team when Tommy West reached the inevitable end for nearly every Memphis football coach (read: a firing). What’s also a fair assessment is Porter made things worse.

This will be an unmitigated rebuilding year under former Texas Christian assistant Justin Fuente. Next year probably will be, too. That’s just realistic.

By then, the Tigers will be in a new-look Big East, with a bit of a step up in overall competition. Even a modest turnaround could take quite a while.

116. BUFFALO

Give the Bulls this much: They knew who their best offensive weapon was a year ago and looked to him as much as possible:

2011 FBS LEADERS IN RUSHING ATTEMPTS (*-returning in 2012)

369: Bobby Rainey, Western Kentucky
329: Robbie Rouse*, Fresno State
316: John White*, Utah
317: Collin Klein*, Kansas State
311: Ronnie Hillman, San Diego State
307: Montee Ball*, Wisconsin
306: Branden Oliver*, Buffalo

Oliver rushed for a school record 1,395 yards last season, impressive considering (a) the career James Starks had for the Bulls between 2006 and 2008 and (b) he was an obvious first option for a struggling team.

Assuming he stays healthy – not always a certainty for a guy averaging 25+ carries the previous season – he’ll again be the centerpiece of Buffalo’s offense. It’s a unit that will need to be a bit more productive, and not just to do better than last fall’s 3-9 record.

It’s coach Jeff Quinn’s third year, and he’s 5-19 to date since taking over for Turner Gill (who, coincidentally, produced the same mark in two years at Kansas and was fired). He might need a step forward, perhaps even to .500, to pick up a fourth season at one of the sport’s more difficult outposts.

Patrick Stevens