Reaching the quarter pole of the countdown (yep, already) while trying to decide if it’s worth rolling the dice in a few weeks at No. 1. Plenty of time to finalize that, though; on to five more teams for the day. …
No. 95 AKRON
Short of another Faustian bargain, there really should be much compelling about a mid-pack MAC team like the Zips.
Yet like Ohio (which checked in at No. 97 in yesterday’s installment), there’s reason to hope.
The Zips are finally out of the dilapidated Rubber Bowl and into a sparkling on-campus stadium. They have a quarterback (Chris Jacquemain) who threw for more touchdowns than picks last year and nearly the entire offensive line back.
Akron was 5-7 a year ago, with four of the losses by a touchdown or less (Wisconsin and Ball State handled the Zips with relative ease).
The preview mags don’t seem quite so optimistic about Akron’s prognosis. And to be sure, coach J.D. Brookhart might not survive a fourth straight losing season —- especially with a gleaming new facility.
But again, the MAC East is just about anyone’s ballgame, and the Zips’ nonconference schedule could yield three victories (the opener at Penn State does not look promising). It wouldn’t be a surprise if Akron rolled up an 8-4 season.
No. 94: MARSHALL
Not to go all Cliff Clavin, but here’s a little-known fact about college athletics at the highest level.
If you join a conference and you can’t be all that competitive in at least one of the two revenue-producing sports (football and men’s basketball), then you’ve got yourself a problem.
And Marshall seems to have a bit of a problem. Its basketball team is decidedly midpack in Conference USA, and its football team checks in at 16-31 (13-19 in C-USA) since joining the league in 2005.
Basketball isn’t the problem, which should come as no surprise since this is a football rundown. But remember, this was a program that was among the two best programs in Division I-AA in the 1990s and then instantly dominated the MAC upon moving up a level.
Maybe it’s coaching. Maybe it’s a talent drain. It could be any number of things. But for the first time in a long while, the Thundering Herd has a veteran team that doesn’t look like a good bet to go too far.
What would help is a road win from time to time; in coach Mark Snyder’s four years, Marshall is 3-21 away from Huntington.
No. 93: HAWAII
For the second straight season, the Warriors have to make multiple nonconference trips to the mainland.
Why is this relevant? Maybe because Hawaii has violent home/road splits, seeing as how it’s a pain to the make the trip from anywhere to Honolulu. It’s not like anyone can take a short flight, and it goes without saying the sunny suggestions of the Great Recession —- i.e. “take a bus” —- wouldn’t go very far.
The situation is exacerbated by the fact some good teams —- Boise State, Navy and Wisconsin —- will make their way to Honolulu.
And given that the the offensive stars of the ‘07 Sugar Bowl team are long gone, and that bunch’s defensive standouts mostly departed after last season, Hawaii will have a really hard time securing the seven wins its needs to become bowl eligible.
It certainly could happen, and the Warriors will get an extra home game disguised as a bowl as a result. But June Jones isn’t walking back through that door, and Hawaii will be most unremarkable as a result.
No. 92: FLORIDA ATLANTIC
From having no team at the start of the decade to back-to-back bowl victories at the tail end of it, the Owls are at the very least an inspiration to the rest of the Sun Belt and a model for how to build a program without the benefit of a Big East life preserver.
There’s a lot to like this season, too. Quarterback Rusty Smith, who was the league player of the year as a sophomore, had 24 touchdowns passes in what constituted a down season last fall. Most of the offensive options around him will also be back.
Oh, and then there’s football survivor Howard Schnellenberger, whose continued presence on the sideline has a way of making the sport a little bit richer.
On paper, Troy and arguably Arkansas State have a better claim to the Sun Belt title than Florida Atlantic. But it wouldn’t be a shock if the Owls are in the hunt for a New Orleans Bowl deep into the season.
No. 91: NEW MEXICO
Former Maryland (and Florida and Illinois) assistant Mike Locksley‘s first head coaching gig comes in a place with equal parts good and bad facets.
The Lobos were bowl eligible for seven straight seasons before last year, so the infrastricture for an at least respectable program is in place.
But they weren’t last year, stumbling to 4-8 and then losing the bulk of a more than adequate defense. New Mexico didn’t yielded just 15.9 points in its last seven games —- and never more than 27 in a single week —- yet went 2-5 down the stretch, which doubled as the guts of league play.
So the defense wasn’t the problem, not was it typically under former coach Rocky Long. Instead, the quarterbacks were a headache, with a motley assortment of options combining for just four touchdown passes (fewer than everyone in major college football except Army) and 14 interceptions.
By a highly unofficial rundown of Maryland’s coaching history, Locksley is the first ex-Terps assistant to earn a major-college coaching job since Mike Gundy took over Oklahoma State in 2005. Locksley might not have an “I’m a man! I’m 40” speech in him, but it wouldn’t be surprising if there’s a few moments this season that cause him some consternation.
The Lobos can be good and Locksley can recruit, so he’s got that going for him. Neither one might matter all that much this fall.
—- Patrick Stevens