The march continues into the top 50 continues as the countdown inches closer to a two-day hiatus. …
No. 50 CENTRAL MICHIGAN
Hey, one more go-round of Dan LeFevour fever can’t be too bad, right?
Indeed, the Chippewas return their star quarterback for his senior season, and as a result should be considered the favorites in the MAC.
On paper, you’d look at nearly the entirety of the Central Michigan defense returning and figure that would just about lock it up. But the Chippewas gave up more than 30 points a game last season, so all that “experience” might not be the best of things.
In any case, Central Michigan has an excellent chance at taking the MAC title game and locking up a fourth straight Motor City Bowl.
No. 49: ARKANSAS
Yes, the Razorbacks went 5-7 last season, but they also won those five games by a combined 16 points. There were a couple victories over ranked teams in there, though oddly enough the late defeat of Louisiana State wasn’t one of them.
That’s enough of a look back to a year ago. Nix that, it isn’t.
It was not the best of times for Bobby Petrino (v3.0), but at least he didn’t walk out on the Hogs with a few weeks left in a losing season.
Most gallingly, Arkansas held only four opponents below 150 rushing yards. Is it any wonder the Razorbacks went 2-6 when its run defense didn’t even manage to be mediocre.
There’s a lot to fix, and the SEC isn’t the best neighborhood for trial and error. There’s a four-game homestand in the second half of the season that could provide a cushion, but it’s plenty conceivable the Hogs will be 2-5 by the time that rolls around anyway. This ranking is based on talent, but it would be no shock if there’s another losing season in store in Fayetteville.
No. 48: MICHIGAN
To those who thought there was absolutely no way to screw up Wolverine football, allow me to present the tattered remains of the 2008 season.
The 3-9 record was ghastly, as were the home losses to Utah (not so bad in retrospect) and Toledo (worse in retrospect). And it’s put one Rich Rodriguez very much on the spot to not mess things up again.
He won’t, for a couple reasons.
First, history suggests he’s doing the same thing he did at West Virginia. In 2001, he gave the Mountaineers —- then a functional program, though not a Michigan-like behemoth —- a program-wide colonic after taking over and absorbed a 3-8 season. Sounds familiar, right?
In 2002, West Virginia went 9-4 and has won at least eight games every season since.
Two, the Wolverines will take on as friendly a schedule as possible. All four nonconference games are at home. So, too, are Penn State and Ohio State. The Big Ten’s two worst teams, Indiana and Purdue, also come calling to Ann Arbor.
In short? Michigan probably doesn’t need to beat any of the midpack Big Ten teams on the road to make it back to a bowl. But the Wolverines probably will, and a 7-5 or 8-4 season should be in order after the painful adjustment to the Gridiron Vision of Rich Rodriguez.
No. 47: BAYLOR
Watch Robert Griffin run (and jump). Pretty nifty, huh? Good thing for Baylor this guy happens to be a pretty good quarterback, too.
Indeed, Griffin is a breathtaking talent, a superb player a casual fan might overlook because of the assortment of other QBs in the Big 12. But make no mistake, he’s exceptional, and he’s the reason there is hope in Waco for the program’s first bowl berth since 1994.
Wait, Baylor? A bowl berth? What in the name of Grant Teaff is going on?
Well, the Bears were as pesky a 4-8 bunch as you were going to find last season. True, they were demolished by Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas, but that was no crime in 2008. Much of that team is back, and a second year in coach Art Briles‘ system will make everyone a bit better.
Griffin, though, is the game-changer. Should he and the Bears manage to upend Wake Forest on the road in a fascinating opener, Baylor could be 4-0 heading into an Oct. 10 date at Oklahoma.
Speaking of Wake Forest …
No. 46: WAKE FOREST
What does it say about how far the Demon Deacons have come that they could have their defense wiped out by graduation (notably, Aaron Curry and Alphonso Smith) and still be a legitimate top-50 team.
It’s just another piece of evidence Jim Grobe is one of the 10 best coaches in the country.
You can say it and say it, and it ultimately gets overlooked because (a) Wake Forest isn’t in the national title hunt; (b) Eight-win seasons are reason to celebrate in Winston-Salem; and (c) The ACC usually gets ignored after being on the wrong side of nonconference bloodshed in the first two weeks of September.
But Grobe, whose team is 12-3 against nonconference opponents in the last three seasons, really is that good, and certainly is as valuable to his school as nearly anyone else in the land.
Don’t believe me? Here’s a list of the active coaches who are either own the most wins in school history or rank second in their respective programs’ lore on the victory list:
Joe Paterno, Penn State (381)
Bobby Bowden, Florida State (309)
Chris Ault, Nevada (198)
Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech (177)
Larry Blakeney, Troy (144)
Bill Snyder, Kansas State (136)
Jim Leavitt, South Florida (87)
Howard Schnellenberger, Florida Atlantic (48)
Mack Brown, Texas (115); 52 behind Darrell Royal
Pat Hill, Fresno State (92); 51 behind Jim Sweeney
Mike Leach, Texas Tech (76); 6 behind Spike Dykes
Kirk Ferentz, Iowa (70); 73 behind Hayden Fry
Al Groh, Virginia (56); 78 behind George Welsh
Jim Grobe, Wake Forest (54); 23 behind D.C. Walker
Mario Cristobal, Florida Atlantic (6); 9 behind Don Strock
Leavitt and Schnellenberger are the only coaches their program has ever known. Paterno is the only coach more than half of the Nittany Lions’ fan base has ever known.
(I’d be remiss in pointing out Texas Christian’s Gary Patterson is a victory away from sharing second in the Horned Frogs’ career victory list).
In any case, that list turned out to be longer than I thought it would be. But there’s some pretty good company there for Grobe. Plus, the fact the school’s career victories leader has all of 77 suggests that winning 54 games over eight seasons is a might fine accomplishment indeed.
This could be a down year for the Demon Deacons, but Grobe will help cushion the fall. A 7-5 or 8-4 season and a fourth straight bowl berth sounds about right for Wake this fall.
—- Patrick Stevens