At long last —- well, four days —- it’s time to just about say goodbye to the triple digits.
And not a moment too soon, even if one of these teams might manage to surprise. After all, three of the teams ranked 100 or worse in last year’s countdown (Troy, Rice and Northern Illinois) went on to reach bowl games.
If you knew those schools played in the New Orleans, Texas and Independence bowls, respectively, give yourself a gold star. But be aware the following programs are probably looking at similarly limited short-term upsides:
No. 105: FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL
It’s an airport! It’s a commodities exchange! It’s … a gradually improving Sun Belt team that’s a whole lot better than it was during wretched 2006 and 2007 seasons.
It’s also a school that’s battlin’ that darn economy, to the point of cutting its marching band and cheerleading squad recently (gracias to Yahoo’s Doc Saturday). Just go ahead and insert an Isiah Thomas joke here, because there’s plenty of directions you can go in.
But on the bright side, this pageantry-less program in Miami is getting better. The Golden Panthers were 5-7 a year ago, and a reputable 4-3 when they weren’t busy going out and filling their coffers so they could afford both a football team and a down-on-his-luck basketball coach collecting millions from the once-proud New York Knicks.
Those barnstorming tendencies will continue as the Golden Panthers hit up Alabama, Rutgers and Florida over the course of the season. Competitively, it isn’t good, since FIU is 0-14 against BCS conference schools and has only played three within 10 points:
2006: @South Florida 21, FIU 20
2006: @Maryland 14, FIU 10
2008: South Florida 17, @FIU 9
With the schedule the way it is, that list probably isn’t getting longer even if the Golden Panthers can contend for a Sun Belt crown —- which, by the way, is probably another year away.
No. 104: WASHINGTON STATE
Meet your 2009 Greg Robinson Trophy winners as the worst projected BCS conference team. Fortunately for Paul Wulff, he has a ways to go before he matches the former Syracuse coach for extended futility.
Short term, though, he might even have Robinson beat with last year’s 2-11 debacle.
It’s tough to find a team that was held to a field goal or less on five occasions AND found a way to yield at least 58 points in six games, yet there the undermanned Cougars were.
Sure, they beat winless in-state rival Washington in the Rotten Apple Cup, but the Cougars typically set a standard of futility that is hard to match.
So, sure Washington State will probably be a bit better. It pretty much has to be. But it doesn’t mean there will be much guessing as to who the Pac-10’s punching bag will be, because the Cougars need help in just about every unit to simply approach respectability.
No. 103: KENT STATE
It doesn’t say much for the Golden Flashes’ program that arguably the school’s most famous alum in the NFL (Antonio Gates) didn’t even play football in college. James Harrison, of course, might quibble with that assertion, but Gates certainly has a case.
It comes as no surprise, then, that Kent State hasn’t been to a bowl game since 1972. And with the loss of shifty quarterback Julian Edelman, things don’t look particularly promising this fall.
The Golden Flashes do bring back tailback Eugene Jarvis, and a veteran offensive line should help him enjoy a solid senior season. But without a capable quarterback, this could easily turn into a run-of-the-mill 4-8 or 5-7 season that MAC mediocrities have a habit of producing.
No. 102: WYOMING
A glance at the Cowboys’ national rankings from a year ago —- and yes, those are some scary numbers —- reveal some ugly truths.
First, Wyoming was 119th —- dead last —- in scoring offense at 12.67 points a game.
Two, the Cowboys passing game —- both in yardage and efficiency —- was a wretched 114th.
And Wyoming found a way to turn it over three times a game, coming up with a -22 margin that was better than only Washington State (-25) nationally.
It would seem like changing quarterbacks would be a good idea, since it would go a long way in fixing the last two problems. But for now, holdovers Karsten Sween and Dax Crum (combined 2 TD/12 INT) could play just as easily as a junior college transfer (Robert Benjamin) or a true freshman (Austyn Carta-Samuels).
Whoever emerges from that mess could have a fun year, since new coach Dave Christensen just arrived after a stint as Missouri’s (read: Chase Daniel‘s) offensive coordinator. But if none of them are adequate, then it’ll be another long year in Laramie.
No. 101: MIDDLE TENNESSEE
Murfreesboro: Home to the Hillbilly Hilton and a team capable of beating a dazed Maryland bunch, gets a return trip to College Park on Sept. 19.
Here’s hoping the Hilton will make the long trek to whatever remote lot Maryland places opposing fans.
As for on-field issues, the Blue Raiders will probably be a bit better than a year ago. With nearly the entire offense returning, they should be capable of contending for their second bowl berth in four seasons.
As for a propensity of upsets (Vanderbilt three times this decade plus Maryland) and near-upsets (Virginia in 2007, Louisville in 2008), go ahead and mark down Oct. 17 as a party day in the ‘Boro.
Middle Tennessee will be coming off its bye week (sort of; it plays Troy on a Tuesday, 11 days earlier), and it will be facing a Mississippi State team that might be the SEC’s weakest outfit.
That also begins a five-of-six-at-home stretch for the Blue Raiders —- a sequence that will go a long way to determining if the program is ready to take a leap this season toward the top of the Sun Belt.
—- Patrick Stevens