June 26, 2010

Preseason Top 120 Countdown: Nos. 75-71

Here is the 10th part of Rivals.com's 1-120 countdown; today, we look at the teams ranked 71st through 75th.

We're starting at the bottom, and the first two weeks of rankings will be in groups of five; then we'll do a daily countdown from 50th to first, with our No. 1 team to be unveiled Aug. 19 - which is two weeks from the beginning of the season.

The team rankings were compiled by football writers Olin Buchanan, Tom Dienhart, David Fox, Mike Huguenin and Steve Megargee. They look forward to your emails.

Top 120 countdown
75. Iowa State
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
OFFENSE
QB Austen Arnaud (6-4/226, Sr.)
RB Alexander Robinson (5-9/186, Sr.)
WR Sedrick Johnson (6-3/211, Jr.)
WR Jake Williams (6-1/206, Sr.)
WR Darius Darks (6-0/188, Jr.)
TE Collin Franklin (6-5/241, Sr.)
T Kelechi Osemele (6-5/327, Jr.)
T Brayden Burris (6-6/276, Soph.)
G Alex Alvarez (6-2/300, Sr.)
G Scott Haughton (6-3/315, Sr.)
C Ben Lamaak (6-4/315, Sr.)
DEFENSE
E Patrick Neal (6-0/227, Jr.)
NT Bailey Johnson (6-2/279, Sr.)
T Jake McDonough (6-5/270, Soph.)
E Rashawn Parker (6-0/250, Sr.)
LB A.J. Klein (6-1/237, Soph.)
LB Jake Knott (6-2/237, Soph.)
LB Matt Tau'fo'ou (5-10/246, Sr.)
CB Ter'ran Benton (6-0/197, Jr.)
CB
Leonard Johnson (5-10/194, Jr.)
FS Michael O'Connell (5-11/207, Sr.)
SS David Sims (5-9/209, Sr.)
SPECIALISTS
K Grant Mahoney (6-0/168, Jr.)
P Daniel Kuehl (5-11/199, Sr.)
KR Leonard Johnson (5-10/194, Jr.)
PR Josh Lenz (5-11/190, Soph.)
COACH: Paul Rhoads (7-6, second season)
LAST SEASON: 7-6, 3-5 (4th in Big 12 North); beat Minnesota in Insight Bowl
FINAL 2009 RIVALS.COM RANKING: 64th
KEEP AN EYE ON: Iowa State likes to spread the ball around in a short passing game, which is more effective with more targets at receiver. The Cyclones have the numbers if everyone is healthy. Jake Williams is the returning leader, but he will get help if Darius Reynolds and Darius Darks are available all year. Both were injured at times last season.
STRENGTHS: The offense will center on Alexander Robinson, a slippery 5-foot-9 running back who finished last season second in the Big 12 in rushing. Besides running for 1,195 yards and six touchdowns, he also is a good receiver. Robinson will run behind a line that returns four starters. The unit, led by T Kelechi Osemele and C Ben Lamaak, allowed only 16 sacks last season. While other areas on the defense need to improve, Iowa State can feel good about some key spots in the secondary. SS David Sims was the Big 12's defensive newcomer of the year after recording 88 tackles, five interceptions and three forced fumbles. CB Leonard Johnson intercepted two passes, forced two fumbles and broke up seven passes.
WEAKNESSES: With senior QB Austen Arnaud, Iowa State has reason to believe the passing game will improve. But he still has room to grow after throwing 13 interceptions last season (compared to 14 touchdowns) and completing 58.7 percent of his passes. Healthy receivers will help, but Arnaud is the key to Iowa State improving its output of 20.5 points per game last season. The defense ranked next-to-last in the Big 12 last season, a mark that needs to improve. That's a tall task given the loss of its entire starting linebacker corps. The Cyclones are counting on junior college transfer Matt Tau'fo'ou to step in right away at middle linebacker. Lack of depth is an issue in the front seven. K Grant Mahoney is inconsistent, and there is a new punter.
BUZZ: Certainly, Iowa State's five-game improvement was impressive last season, but how much of a role did the Cyclones' easy schedule play in their return to the postseason? Iowa State finds out this season when it visits Texas and Oklahoma, two teams it avoided last season. The non-conference slate includes a trip to rival Iowa (Iowa State lost 35-3 to the Hawkeyes in Ames last season) and a home game against Utah. Returning to a bowl may be difficult given the schedule.

- DAVID FOX

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Top 120 countdown
74. Troy
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
OFFENSE
QB Jamie Hampton (6-1/212, Jr.)
RB DuJuan Harris (5-7/195, Sr.)
WR Jason Bruce (5-9/159, Sr.)
WR Tebiarus Gill (6-1/204, Sr.)
WR Jerrel Jernigan (5-9/184, Sr.)
WR Austin Silvoy (6-2/185, Sr.)
T James Brown (6-4/346, Jr.)
T Kyle Wilborn (6-4/286, Soph.)
G Tyler Graves (6-5/281, Sr.)
G Micah Grimes (6-4/302, Jr.)
C Tyler Clark (6-2/285, Sr.)
DEFENSE
E Mario Addison (6-2/244, Sr.)
T Sidell Corley (6-4/274, Jr.)
T Emanuel Dudley (6-0/286, Jr.)
E Jonathan Massaquoi (6-2/227, Soph.)
LB Donnell Golden (6-0/236, Jr.)
LB Xavier Lamb (5-9/222, Jr.)
LB Daniel Sheffield (6-3/206, Sr.)
CB Jimmie Anderson (5-9/170, Jr.)
CB Bryan Willis (5-9/180, Soph.)
FS Willard Ross (5-11/199, Sr.)
SS Barry Valcin (5-11/184, Sr.)
SPECIALISTS
K Michael Taylor (5-10/206, Jr.)
P Will Goggans (6-0/220, Jr.)
KR Jerrel Jernigan (5-9/184, Sr.)
PR Tebiarus Gill (6-1/204, Sr.)
COACH: Larry Blakeney (153-77-1, 20th season)
LAST SEASON: 9-4, 8-0 (1st in Sun Belt); lost to Central Michigan in GMAC Bowl
FINAL 2009 RIVALS.COM RANKING: 53rd
KEEP AN EYE ON: The offense bears watching, as 4,000-yard passer Levi Brown is gone. The new quarterback should be Jamie Hampton, who was the starter in 2008 before suffering a knee injury midway through the season; Brown stepped in and Hampton became an afterthought until spring drills. Also gone is wunderkind coordinator Neal Brown; Brown, who turned 30 in March, was hired away by new Texas Tech coach Tommy Tuberville to coordinate the Red Raiders' offense. Inside receivers coach Kenny Edenfield was promoted to replace Brown.
STRENGTHS: There are two good tailbacks in former 1,000-yard rusher DuJuan Harris and Shawn Southward ; those two combined for 22 rushing TDs last season. Jerrel Jernigan is one of the best receivers in the Sun Belt, and he is part of a deep receiving corps. Three starting linemen return; the headliner is C Tyler Clark, who moved from guard during spring drills and could be the best player at his new position in the league. Senior Daniel Sheffield is the only returning starter at linebacker, but the Trojans look to be in good shape at the position because of their depth. Sophomore CB Bryan Willis played at a high level as a redshirt freshman last season, and he has the look of a future star. Coaches also can count on junior SS Barry Valcin. Junior P Will Goggans is heading into his third season as the starter. He's adept at dropping the ball inside the 20 and gets good hang time.
WEAKNESSES: Troy usually just re-loads up front defensively, but having four new line starters complicates matters. Junior T Sidell Corley, who began his career at Alabama, is the guy to watch. Troy's pass rush has been a constant, but that aspect bears watching, too. E Mario Addison had 2.5 sacks in a reserve role last season, and he's the Trojans' leading returning sack guy. The return teams were surprisingly pedestrian last season and an upgrade is needed. The kick coverage was shaky, too.
BUZZ: Troy has won at least a portion of four consecutive Sun Belt Conference titles, but for the first time in that span, the Trojans look vulnerable. It's bad enough that 13 starters are gone. Thing is, most of the team's star power is gone, too. Troy should know by the first weekend in October about its league title hopes, as the Trojans have back-to-back games with Arkansas State (at home) and Middle Tennessee (road) in Games 4 and 5. There are two Big Six schools on the schedule - an early-season trip to Oklahoma State and a late-November visit to South Carolina.

- MIKE HUGUENIN

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Top 120 countdown
73. Ohio
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
OFFENSE
QB Boo Jackson (6-0/201, Sr.)
RB Donte Harden (5-11/181, Jr.)
WR LaVon Brazill (5-11/189, Sr.)
WR Steven Goulet (6-2/200, Sr.)
WR Terrence McCrae (6-4/203, Sr.)
TE Jordan Thompson (6-4/245, Soph.)
T Joe Flading (6-4/283, Jr.)
T A.J. Strum (6-5/287, Jr.)
G Vince Carlotta (6-4/278, Soph.)
G Eric Herman (6-4/293, Soph.)
C Skyler Allen (6-3/282, Soph.)
DEFENSE
E Stafford Gatling (6-4/233, Sr.)
T Ernie Hodge (6-2/295, Sr.)
T Marcellis Williamson (6-1/342, Sr.)
E Dak Notestine (6-3/251, Sr.)
LB Noah Keller (6-1/231, Sr.)
LB Alphonso Lewis (6-1/207, Soph.)
LB Jelani Woseley (6-2/199, Soph.)
CB Kenny Jackson (5-9/163, Jr.)
CB Julian Posey (5-11/186, Sr.)
FS Steven Jackson (6-2/198, Sr.)
SS Gerald Moore (6-1/191, Soph.)
SPECIALISTS
K Matt Weller (6-0/201, Soph.)
P Paul Hershey (6-3/190, Jr.)
KR Donte Harden (5-11/181, Jr.)
PR LaVon Brazill (5-11/189, Sr.)
COACH: Frank Solich (32-31, sixth season; 90-50, 12th season overall)
LAST SEASON: 9-5, 7-1 (T-1st in MAC East); lost to Marshall in Little Caesars Pizza Bowl
FINAL 2009 RIVALS.COM RANKING: 56th
KEEP AN EYE ON: QB Theo Scott has graduated, and 2008 starter Boo Jackson suffered a season-ending shoulder injury during the second game last season. Jackson missed spring drills, leaving reps to Tyler Tettleton - the son of former major-league catcher Mickey Tettleton - and Iowa State transfer Phil Bates, a physical talent who could win the job if he shows more accuracy. Ohio should contend for the MAC East crown - as long as it receives consistent quarterback play.
STRENGTHS: The quarterback will benefit from a strong corps of receivers headed by LaVon Brazill, who led the Bobcats with 53 catches for 702 yards and six scores, and Terrence McCrae, who tied a school single-season record with nine touchdown catches last season. The offensive line welcomes back five of its top seven players, led by junior T Joe Flading, but the unit has to become more physical. The d-line should be among the best in the conference, with all four starters back; Ernie Hodge and Dak Notestine are potential all-league candidates. Noah Keller will be one of the MAC's top linebackers after leading the conference and ranking sixth in the nation with an average of 11.1 tackles per game. Sophomore SS Gerald Moore ranked second in the MAC with six picks in 2009. Brazill is an electric punt returner and K Matt Weller is a standout who earned some freshman All-America honors last season. The kickoff-coverage unit was one of the best in the nation.
WEAKNESSES: The Bobcats need to amp up a rushing attack that ranked No. 11 in the MAC (112.0 ypg). The top returning rusher had just 260 yards last season. Two new outside linebackers must be found, and the search also is on for two starting cornerbacks. Can the defense again be as opportunistic as it was in 2009, when it generated a league-high 37 turnovers? Punt coverage was abysmal last season.
BUZZ: Coach Frank Solich has turned Ohio into one of the top programs in the MAC. Last season, he guided the Bobcats to their second MAC East crown in four seasons. Except for a trip to Ohio State, the schedule appears manageable for a Bobcats program that looks bowl-bound again. Still, the unsettled situation in the offensive backfield at quarterback and running back gives some pause.

- TOM DIENHART

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Top 120 countdown
72. Baylor
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
OFFENSE
QB Robert Griffin (6-2/210, Soph.)
RB Jay Finley (5-11/210, Sr.)
WR Krys Buerck (5-11/185, Sr.)
WR Lanear Sampson (5-11/200, Sr.)
WR Terrance Williams (6-2/190, Soph.)
WR Kendall Wright (5-10/185, Jr.)
T Ivory Wade (6-3/300, Soph.)
T Danny Watkins (6-4/310, Sr.)
G John Jones (6-3/310, Jr.)
G Cameron Kaufhold (6-4/300, Soph.)
C Philip Blake (6-3/305, Jr.)
DEFENSE
E Gary Mason Jr. (6-4/265, Soph.)
NT Phil Taylor (6-4/355, Sr.)
T Tracy Robertson (6-4/270, Jr.)
E Zac Scotton (6-6/275, Jr.)
LB Elliot Coffey (6-0/220, Jr.)
LB Chris Francis (6-0/235, Sr.)
LB Antonio Johnson (6-0/215, Sr.)
CB Chance Casey (5-11/180, Soph.)
CB Cliff Odom (5-11/170, Sr.)
FS Tim Atchison (6-1/200, Sr.)
SS Byron Landor (6-0/210, Sr.)
SPECIALISTS
K Aaron Jones (6-2/175, R-Fr.)
P Derek Epperson (6-3/235, Sr.)
KR Terrence Williams (6-2,190, Soph.)
PR Krys Buerck (5-11/185, Sr.)
COACH: Art Briles (8-12, third season; 42-44, eighth season overall)
LAST SEASON: 4-8, 1-7 (6th in Big 12 South)
FINAL 2009 RIVALS.COM RANKING: 87th
KEEP AN EYE ON: The secondary could be especially interesting. Both of last season's starting cornerbacks return, but the Bears were mediocre at best in pass coverage. There is an influx of talent with the arrivals of highly regarded freshmen Prince Kent and Ahmad Dixon, the type players Baylor has rarely gotten in recent seasons. But how much can freshmen help? The Bears are going to find out.
STRENGTHS: When healthy, QB Robert Griffin III is one of the nation's fastest players and a big-play threat on every down. But he's coming back from a knee injury that forced him to miss nine games in '09. If fully recovered, he's a dynamic force who gives Baylor upset potential each week. The linebackers are solid, too. Although Antonio Johnson is the only returning starter there, Earl Patin and Chris Francis previously have been productive in backup roles. P Derek Epperson, who averaged nearly 45 yards, is one of the country's best.
WEAKNESSES: A year ago, Baylor allowed 31 sacks (96th in the nation) while managing just over 100 rushing yards per game (108th). Obviously, dramatic improvement is needed on the offensive line. With new starters and position changes, the Bears will go 300-pounds plus from tackle to tackle. The Bears could use a committee approach at tailback because they don't seem to have a feature back. The defensive line and the secondary have a lot to prove. The coverage units need an upgrade, especially on kickoffs. Recent Bears kickers have been erratic, but the hope is redshirt freshman Aaron Jones can bring some consistency.
BUZZ: Even without Robert Griffin III for most of last season, Baylor managed to upset Missouri and threatened Nebraska and Texas Tech. Therefore, the Bears are optimistic they can crawl out of the Big 12 South cellar. The offensive line is bigger and the defense appears faster, but there still are too many issues for Baylor to challenge Texas and Oklahoma in the division. But the Bears have enough ammunition to make a legitimate run at their first bowl appearance since 1995.

- OLIN BUCHANAN

ROSTER | STATS | SCHEDULE
Top 120 countdown
71. Wyoming
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
OFFENSE
QB Austyn Carta-Samuels (6-2/216, Soph.)
RB Alvester Alexander (5-11/208, Soph.)
WR Zach Bolger (5-10/185, Sr.)
WR David Leonard (6-4/203, Sr.)
WR Chris McNeill (6-1/175, Soph.)
WR David Tooley (6-5/203, Soph.)
T Clayton Kirven (6-6/305, Jr.)
T Josh Leonard (6-4/296, Soph.)
G Sam Sterner (6-4/302, Sr.)
G Jack Tennant (6-4/305, Sr.)
C Nick Carlson (6-4/290, Soph.)
DEFENSE
E Josh Biezuns (6-2/247, Jr.)
T Mike Purcell (6-3/279, Soph.)
T Alex Stover (6-3/287, Jr.)
E Gabe Knapton (6-3/248, Jr.)
LB Brian Hendricks (6-1/228, Jr.)
LB Keith Lewis (5-11/213, Sr.)
LB Ghaali Muhammad (6-0/225, Soph.)
CB Marcus Gipson (5-10/189, Sr.)
CB Tashaun Gipson (6-0/203, Jr.)
FS Chris Prosinski (6-1/210, Sr.)
SS Shamiel Gary (6-1/210, Soph.)
SPECIALISTS
K Ian Watts (6-3/187, Soph.)
P Austin McCoy (6-3/202, Jr.)
KR Alvester Alexander (5-11/208, Soph.)
PR David Leonard (6-4/203, Sr.)
COACH: Dave Christensen (7-6, second season)
LAST SEASON: 7-6, 4-4 (5th in Mountain West); beat Fresno State in New Mexico Bowl
FINAL 2009 RIVALS.COM RANKING: 72nd
KEEP AN EYE ON: Wyoming is making a scheme change on defense, from a 3-4 to a 4-3. As a result, LBs Gabe Knapton (128 tackles) and Josh Biezuns (65 tackles) will move to end. Despite moving that duo to the line, Wyoming coaches expect to have enough depth to make up for those losses at linebacker.
STRENGTHS: It might be odd to call quarterback a strength on a team that ranked 104th nationally in passing and 107th in total offense, but Wyoming is set for a few years with Austyn Carta-Samuels. As a true freshman, Carta-Samuels helped Wyoming improve its turnover margin from minus-22 to plus-eight. His performance in the New Mexico Bowl against Fresno State (201 yards passing, three touchdowns, 71 yards rushing) may be a sign of things to come as he grows more familiar with Dave Christensen's offense. David Leonard should be one of the best receivers in the Mountain West. Coaches are hoping for a breakthrough season from sophomore RB Alvester Alexander, who rushed for 640 yards and seven touchdowns last season despite starting just four games. OT Clayton Kirven has all-league potential. All four starters in the secondary return. The Cowboys are particularly strong at safety with the return of FS Chris Prosinksi and SS Shamiel Gray. Prosinski earned second-team all-conference honors after leading Wyoming with 140 tackles. Gray had three interceptions as a freshman. K Ian Watts and P Austin McCoy are solid.
WEAKNESSES: Other than Leonard, no receiver stands out, and developing a No. 2 and even No. 3 guys is important. While three starting offensive linemen return, the unit must get more physical; the Cowboys allowed 2.9 sacks per game (105th nationally) last season. The defensive line is in flux, and not just because of the scheme change; all three starters from last season are gone. The linebackers bear watching, too, because of position changes. One aspect of the special teams that must improve is the kickoff coverage.
BUZZ: Christensen made a major impact in his first season by guiding an offensively challenged team to a bowl. Getting back to the postseason could be difficult with this schedule. The Cowboys have two brutal three-game stretches. In September, Wyoming will go to Texas before playing host to Boise State and Air Force. In October, Wyoming will be at TCU, at home against Utah and at BYU.

- DAVID FOX

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