Just about halfway done. Onward to the next five…
65. Hawaii. This might even be overrated for the Warriors, who return only nine starters from last year’s Sugar Bowl team.
No Colt Brennan. No June Jones. No prayer of another BCS berth.
Everything lined up perfectly last season. This time through, Hawaii must go to the mainland to play Boise State and Fresno State (not to mention Florida). The Warriors also finish with Cincinnati at home. That’s four top-30-caliber teams, which is at least three more than Hawaii met in the regular season last year.
A 7-6 season and a chance to stay at home for the Hawaii Bowl is definitely plausible. But the case can be made no team lost as much in the offseason as the Warriors.
64. Navy. The few. The proud. The first-year coaches at Navy who have fared well since World War II.
Ken Niumatalolo is looking to become the first Navy head coach to post a winning record in his first season since Gary Tranquill (1982) —- and the first ever to go to a bowl game in his debut year.
With a manageable schedule and a bowl berth assured with six victories, the Midshipmen should fare well as the Niumatalolo Era begins.
63. Texas A&M. Now that the days of noted newsletter editor Dennis Franchione are done in College Station, perhaps forcing out the school’s career victories leader (R.C. Slocum) in 2002 doesn’t look so bright.
The Aggies have moved along to former Green Bay coach Mike Sherman, but the landscape has changed precipitously in the last dozen years. A&M can no longer roll to nine-win seasons like it did in the old Southwest Conference; instead, with Oklahoma and a revitalized Texas to contend with, the Aggies are lucky to win eight games (which has happened only twice this decade).
With the Big 12 South as loaded as ever, the Aggies probably won’t reach that plateau this year, either.
62. Mississippi. Michael Lewis‘ favorite college football team indeed has mammoth left tackle Michael Oher back. But there’s also plenty more talent that could leave the Rebels with the ability to reach .500 for the first time since 2003.
The silver lining of the Crazy Ed Orgeron era was that the man could recruit. And as a result, Houston Nutt could not have found nearly as many places to soft land while fleeing Arkansas than Oxford.
There’s plenty to fix on what was a bad team a year ago. The Rebels couldn’t score, couldn’t stop the run and were overly generous with their turnovers.
But they’re not too far from being a mediocre team. Dodging Georgia and Tennessee this year will help matters, but expectations for a bowl game should be kept in check. The postseason might still be another year away.
61. Washington. Election Day might be in November, but the referendum on coach Ty Willingham could well be decided before then. See, Huskies fans want a clean program filled with classy, well-behaved players they can be proud of (unlike the days of Rick Neuheisel). They also want wins.
Willingham is a maestro in the first category. There might not be anyone better. But he’s 11-25 in three seasons, and time is probably ticking on his tenure at Washington.
It doesn’t matter that Jake Locker should make some huge strides as a sophomore. It doesn’t matter that the bearish schedule begins with Oregon, Brigham Young and Oklahoma. The wins need to come —- now.
And that brings us back to the referendum. It’s quite possible Washington will be 3-3 or 2-4 when it reaches the season’s midpoint, with games still looming against Southern California and Arizona State. But before those conference games, Notre Dame comes to town for the Willingham Bowl II on Oct. 25.
It’ll be one of the most hyped games of the season, even though there’s a decent chance neither team will be ranked and even though the teams met in 2005. But it could very well determine whether or not Willingham gets another year.
Lose this one, and chances are the Huskies will need to win their final three games to become bowl eligible.
Lose this one, and it won’t be hard to guess how Willingham will fare in a referendum with the folks who let their checkbooks do the talking at Washington.
—- Patrick Stevens