Landing right in the middle of the countdown —- as these five teams all do —- isn’t entirely bad.
It basically projects to bowl eligibility, if not an actual postseason invite. And if you’re not in the BCS title game, then essentially you’re in a boat with 65 other teams that get to practice in December and visit a sunny destination.
A few —- if not all —- of this bunch could do just that this season.
No. 65: STANFORD
After the back-to-back Buddy Teevens and Walt Harris fiascos, the Cardinal has climbed from complete dreg status to borderline bowl team. And credit certainly goes to Jim Harbaugh for that.
It also goes in some measure to the Washington schools falling off a cliff and Stanford beating San Jose State like it should the last couple seasons.
Let’s be clear: All the indicators (yardage, scoring, turnovers, experience) suggested Stanford was a slightly below .500 team. And sure enough, the Cardinal went 5-7.
The experience is still there, forged over two obvious rebuilding seasons that both featured a startling upset (Southern California in 2007, Oregon State last year).
And so it comes to a basic question: Can Stanford gain just enough ground to consistently crack into a group featuring Arizona, Arizona State and UCLA while staying clear of the rebuilding schools in the north?
It’s possible, and if the Cardinal can steal one on the road from Wake Forest early, Harbaugh might be guiding the nation’s most surprising 5-0 team into the jaws of the Pac-10 schedule.
No. 64: UCLA
It’s a D1scourse mantra: Every BCS league has a team that just finds some way to mess things up, and it’s just a matter of waiting for it to happen.
Clemson and Texas A&M demonstrated it in spades last year. Pittsburgh and Michigan State, not to much. South Carolina was stuck in its usual Catch-22.
That leaves the Bruins, who deservedly receive a mulligan for last season’s offensive fiasco. They beat the Washington schools, sent Tennessee reeling and toppled Stanford.
Otherwise, they lost in mostly uninteresting fashion (the 59-0 loss to Brigham Young a glaring exception).
Their quarterback showed an unsettling affinity for throwing to opposite-colored jerseys, which is why incumbent Kevin Craft and his 20 interceptions will begind the fall behind redshirt freshman Kevin Prince.
Not everything was Craft’s fault, not when his offensive line wasn’t all that sturdy. Truthfully, Rick Neuheisel and Norm Chow haven’t acquired all their ingredients (to use the Bill Parcells analogy). Is it any wonder they made Ramen noodles in 2008?
The Bruins will be better, in large part because their offense can’t be too much worse. This isn’t an upper-echelon Pac-10 team, but a bowl berth sure seems doable.
No. 63: KENTUCKY
I really want to like the Wildcats. They’ve built their program the right way, and given all those fans who traditionally were biding their time until basketball season started something to be happy about —- and even a bowl game to go to the last three years.
There’s also a schedule devoid of Louisiana State and Mississippi, which is just about as fortunate as anyone’s going to get in the SEC. And there’s a friendly nonconference slate that could yield four wins.
But there’s stuff not to like. Such as an offense that managed 43 points in four SEC road games last year. And a defense that took a severe graduation hit (plus recent supplemental draft choice Jeremy Jarmon).
The Wildcats swept through the nonconference, scuffled in the SEC and then beat a solid East Carolina team in a lower-tier bowl. A similar fate would be neither surprising nor shameful in what does not look like a season with a ton of upside.
No. 62: NAVY
Since this is a D.C.-area blog, there will be plenty of time to dissect the Ricky Dobbs Phenomenon, which sounds like it would be a pretty cool name for a band.
Dobbs has a decent chance of becoming Navy’s first leading passer since Jim Kubiak (1994) to complete more than 100 passes in a season.
Granted, Ken Niumatalolo isn’t going to go all Mike Leach any time soon, but if you’ve got a quarterback who can throw (and Dobbs can), it’d be sort of silly not to utilize that weapon even if you’re less than a year removed from running on every offensive snap in a game (as the Mids did against Southern Methodist).
Either way, Dobbs’ first year as a starter will draw predictable comparisons. Quarterback performance has a way of summoning that. But if Navy rolls off its seventh straight eight-win season, the analysis won’t be too severe.
It’s a doable goal, given the schedule and Navy’s Texas Bowl tie-in. Navy, by the way, won eight games just seven times post-World War II before this streak.
Now, they’re one of 12 teams in the country to boast a half-dozen consecutive eight-win seasons:
11: Virginia Tech
10: Boise State
9: Louisiana State
8: Boston College
7: Ohio State
7: Southern California
7: Texas Tech
7: West Virginia
Not bad company at all —- and one the Mids could easily remain in if the RDP is as good as expected.
No. 61: NEVADA
Maryland has topped 40 points precisely three times in its last 42 games.
One was against Boston College in 2007 in an impressively inspired performance. One was against perennial doormat Eastern Michigan last fall.
And the third was against Nevada in the Humanitarian Bowl. Having witnessed all 42 of those games, let’s just say I’m not going to heap tons of praise on any defense so shredded by the Terrapins.
Then again, that woefulness helps make quarterback Colin Kaepernick arguably the top college fantasy football option in the country —- or at least this side of the Blessed Tebow.
After all, he ran for 1,000 yards and threw for nearly 3,000 yards last year. Kaepernick accounted for 39 touchdowns, and figures to improve at least modestly as a junior.
Oh, and since his defense so flat-out impotent against the pass, teams averaged more yards through the air than the number denoting a perfect game in bowling. That’s really hard to do.
In short, the fourth quarter is rarely garbage time in Reno.
That’s why Kaepernick is worth a No. 1 pick in fantasy ball and a big chunk of the reason the Wolf Pack can’t be counted out of any game —- including an intriguing opener at Notre Dame that could serve as a long-term springboard that has really muddled through the last two seasons.
—- Patrick Stevens