COACH: Greg McMackin (23-18 in three seasons)
LAST SEASON: 10-4, 7-1 (T-1st in WAC; lost to Tulsa in Hawaii Bowl)
OFFENSE: Hawaii coaches needed a few years to realize what they had in QB Bryant Moniz. The Warriors paid scant attention to him out of high school, though he took Wahiawa (Hawaii) Leilehua to the state title game. When Moniz returned to his home state after junior college, he had to battle for a scholarship and play his way up the depth chart. Good things come to those who wait, apparently. Moniz led the nation with 5,040 passing yards last season, with 39 touchdowns. He also has shown some mobility. Hawaii is looking to him to take a more active leadership role with only one starting receiver back (Royce Pollard). Moniz's top two receivers last season - Greg Salas and Kealoha Pilares - combined for 3,195 yards and 29 touchdowns, but they're gone. The Warriors have high expectations for WR Darius Bright. He adds a dimension of size (6-3/230) to Hawaii's offense; most of the other receivers stand 6 feet or shorter and weigh less than 180 pounds. Last season, Alex Green gave Hawaii a rare second dimension as the Warriors' first 1,000-rusher since 1992. He, too, is gone. The potential running backs, Sterling Jackson (junior college) and Joey Iosefa (a redshirt freshman), were inactive last season. Still, the line is the most pressing question. T Austin Hansen is the only returning starter, and he may not be available. Hansen was suspended for the bowl for an NCAA eligibility issue. He likely will be ineligible for at least the start of the season. His potential replacements are redshirt freshmen. The line could be a work in progress for the entire season.
DEFENSE: Hawaii likely will be hard-pressed to duplicate the ballhawking results of last season. The Warriors' led the nation in forced turnovers with 38. Once a liability, Hawaii's defense has become a top-three unit in the WAC. The Warriors return six defensive starters. LB Corey Paredes is the heart of the defense after making 151 tackles last season. Fellow LB Aaron Brown (83 tackles) returns, too. That duo also combined for seven interceptions. The line is a good one, and Ts Vaughn Meatoga and Kaniela Tuipulotu are a run-stuffing tandem. There is reason for optimism in the secondary. John Hardy-Tuliau is stepping into a full-time cornerback role after playing nickel back last season. He had five tackles for loss and three forced fumbles last season. SS Richard Torres will be a three-year starter.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Hawaii looked to its past to revive its special teams. Former coach Dick Tomey has joined the staff to boost the Warriors' dismal return game (3.8 yards per punt return, 20.2 yards per kickoff return). Hawaii also allowed 14.3 yards and a touchdown on punt returns. P Alex Dunnachie averaged 43 yards per punt. There's a new kicker.
THE BUZZ: Hawaii enjoyed its best season under McMackin and is poised to make another run at the WAC title, which the Warriors shared with Boise State and Nevada last season. The Warriors face fellow contender Fresno State at home, but face Nevada in Reno; those games are in back-to-back weeks. The Wolf Pack will be looking for revenge after Hawaii's 27-21 win in Honolulu spoiled Nevada's undefeated season. Hawaii has its flaws - most notably the offensive line - but the Warriors will have the best quarterback in the WAC and a solid defense. That's enough to be considered the favorite. There are two Pac-12 teams to open the season, but one of those is a struggling Colorado program and the other is a Washington team breaking in a new quarterback. The schedule eases considerably after that, but four of the first six games are on the road.
COACH: Houston Nutt (22-16 in three seasons at Ole Miss; 133-86 in 18 seasons overall)
LAST SEASON: 4-8, 1-7 (6th in SEC West)
OFFENSE: Ole Miss ran the ball effectively last season - 207.6 rushing yards per game, third in the SEC and 18th nationally - and should be able to do so again. There's an OK group of backs, headed by Brandon Bolden. He won't dazzle you with speed, but he can run over people and has a nose for the end zone (14 TDs last season). Backups Enrique Davis and Jeff Scott also will see time; Scott is a 5-foot-7 speedster from Miami who adds a different dimension to the offense. The backs will run behind a mammoth line - mammoth. The five projected starters average 6 feet 6 and 330 pounds. The Rebels might have the best tackle duo in the SEC in Bobby Massie and Bradley Sowell. Four full-time starters return along the line, and Arkansas transfer Matt Hall - all 6-9 and 340 of him - won the vacant starting job at guard during spring drills. Depth looks OK, especially in the interior. The big question about the offense is the passing attack. There is no sure-fire starter at quarterback or a proven go-to receiver. The leading receiver last season was Bolden, with 32 receptions. It's vital that someone on the outside emerge as a playmaker. Melvin Harris, who is 6-6, could be the guy. Expect some freshmen to get into the mix in the fall. West Virginia transfer Barry Brunetti will be the front-runner at quarterback heading into fall drills. Brunetti, a Memphis native, transferred "home" after his freshman season; he gained immediate eligibility because his mother is sick. Brunetti is the best dual-threat quarterback on the roster, and he will be vying with Randall Mackey, a JC transfer who redshirted last season, and Zack Stoudt, a JC transfer who went through spring drills. Stoudt has a nice arm, and Mackey is the best runner of the trio. Quarterback could be an issue all season, as you wonder if one of the three truly can separate himself from the others.
DEFENSE: The Rebels were poor on defense last season, especially against the pass (246.3 ypg). LB D.T. Shackelford tore his anterior cruciate ligament during spring practice and could miss the season, which puts a hurting on a unit that lacks depth. E Kentrell Lockett was granted a sixth season of eligibility, but he missed spring drills while rehabbing from a torn ACL. His presence would be big because of his pass-rushing skills. The Rebels are going to have a fall-off at tackle because of graduation losses, and they need some young guys and JC transfers to come through in the interior. Shackelford's injury leaves the linebacking corps more than a bit underwhelming. Joel Kight is a hard worker, but he is 5 feet 9 and can be physically overpowered. Sophomore Mike Marry showed some flashes as a freshman last season and needs to grow up fast. The secondary needs to get a lot better. New secondary coach Keith Burns, who arrives from Kansas State, promises a more aggressive group this season. The Rebels signed three junior college defensive backs, and S Ivan Nicholas - his brother is Stephen Nicholas, currently a linebacker with the Atlanta Falcons - and CB Wesley Pendleton should see time this fall. Coaches are high on the potential of sophomore CB Charles Sawyer, another former prep star in Miami.
SPECIAL TEAMS: P Tyler Campbell should contend for All-America honors. He has a big leg, as evidenced by his average of 46.4 yards last season. K Bryson Rose lacks a big leg - he didn't attempt any kick longer than 41 yards last season - but he made 16 of his 18 tries last season. Ole Miss will miss return man Jesse Grandy, but the shifty Scott has potential in that role. The coverage teams were horrible last season, especially the punt unit.
THE BUZZ: After back-to-back seasons that ended with Cotton Bowl wins - the first time Ole Miss had won back-to-back January bowls since 1960-61 - the Rebels tumbled a long way last season; they finished last in the SEC West and were 1-7 in league play - which included a home loss to a pitiful Vanderbilt team. On paper, at least, Ole Miss looks like the worst team in the division again. On the positive side, Nutt knows what to do when he has a good line and solid backs, meaning the rushing attack should be quite good. New coordinator David Lee, who was hired off the Miami Dolphins' staff, was brought in to rev up the passing attack, and Gunter Brewer - the son of former Ole Miss coach Billy "Dog" Brewer - arrived from Oklahoma State to be receivers coach; the success of the passing game ultimately will determine whether Ole Miss goes bowling or again is sitting at home for the holidays. Three of the first four and five of the first seven games are at home. But except for a game against FCS member Southern Illinois, those home games are tough (BYU, Georgia, Alabama, Arkansas), and the schedule as a whole is challenging.
COACH: Larry Fedora (22-17 in three seasons)
LAST SEASON: 8-5, 5-3 (T-2nd in C-USA East; lost to Louisville in Beef 'O'Brady's Bowl)
OFFENSE: The Golden Eagles ranked 18th nationally in total offense and 15th in scoring offense last season, and this season's unit should be at least as good. Senior QB Austin Davis is a great fit for what offense-minded coach Larry Fedora wants to do. Davis threw for 3,103 yards and 20 TDs, and ran for another 452 yards and 10 scores. Kendrick Hardy and Desmond Johnson form a nice tandem at tailback; they combined for 1,514 yards and 15 TDs last season. They'll get to run behind what should be one of the best lines in Conference USA. Southern Miss will miss all-league C Cameron Zipp, but T Lamar Holmes has all-league potential and T Jason Weaver looks healthy after missing the final nine games last season with a knee injury. There is no elite receiver, but there is a solid group of pass-catchers and senior Kelvin Bolden should be the go-to guy. Fedora likes to throw to his tight end, and the Golden Eagles will miss Johdrick Morris, who was the team's leading receiver last season. Johnson is a solid receiver out of the backfield and could get more opportunities in that regard this fall.
DEFENSE: In their five losses last season, the Golden Eagles surrendered an average of 44.4 points. The run defense was good, but the secondary too often looked like a sieve. E Cordarro Law and LB Korey Williams have all-league talent, and need to consistently show it this season for new co-coordinators Dan Disch and David Duggan. Disch comes from Illinois, where he had been secondary coach, and Duggan was promoted from linebacker coach; they replace Todd Bradford, who left to become linebacker coach at Maryland. Southern Miss is going to a 4-2-5 scheme, with features a hybrid linebacker/end (Jamie Collins) and a nickelback of sorts (Jerrion Johnson). While Southern Miss had 16 interceptions last season, it also allowed 28 TD passes, and the secondary has to tighten up this season.
SPECIAL TEAMS: K Danny Hrapmann is one of the best in the nation. He was 26-of-31 last season, including 8-of-11 from at least 40 yards. His longest was a 54-yarder. He began his career at FCS member Southeastern Louisiana, which is Southern Miss' opponent on Sept. 17. P Peter Boehme also returns after averaging 39.2 yards per attempt. Backup WR Tracy Lampley is a dangerous return man who has returned one kickoff and one punt for a score in his career. Backup CB Reggie Hunt is another possibility on kickoff returns. Punt coverage was good last season, but kickoff coverage was atrocious; the Golden Eagles allowed 24.5 yards per return and surrendered three TDs.
THE BUZZ: The offense is good enough for Southern Miss to win the Conference USA title. The defense is the question. While the Golden Eagles won eight games last season, they only beat one team with a winning record (UCF), and too often the pass defense gave up too many big plays. Other than a game at Navy, this season's non-conference schedule is navigable and the two toughest league games (UCF and SMU) are at home. In addition, the crossover division opponents are SMU, Rice and UTEP ; while SMU is strong, Rice and UTEP are two of the weakest teams in the league. The Nov. 12 game with UCF likely will determine the C-USA title. A bowl looks to be a given; the question is whether Southern Miss can get to nine or 10 wins - or finish with seven or eight.
COACH: Mike Riley (69-54 in 10 seasons)
LAST SEASON: 5-7, 4-5 (T-5th in Pac-10)
OFFENSE: During the past three seasons, the Beavers were heavily dependent on the Rodgers brothers. Now, they may not have either. RB Jacquizz Rodgers left early for the NFL and WR James Rodgers' status is somewhat uncertain because of a knee injury that forced him to miss most of last season and all of spring drills. On the positive side, QB Ryan Katz is entering his second season as the Beavers' starter. Typically, quarterbacks have flourished in their second year in Riley's system. The Beavers' top three receivers from 2010 return, including Markus Wheaton, who has star potential. Four starters along the line are back, but the line as a whole underachieved last season. A tailback who can adequately replace Jacquizz is desperately needed. The Beavers have produced a 1,000-yard rusher in six consecutive seasons. Increasing that total to seven likely will rest on the shoulders of either sophomore Jovan Stevenson, who missed last season with a shoulder injury, or senior Ryan McCants, who also has had injury issues. McCants rushed for 337 yards and two TDs as a backup as a redshirt freshman in 2008, but he has managed just 39 yards and zero scores in the past two seasons.
DEFENSE: Slowing opposing running games was a major problem for Oregon State a year ago - and that was with stud T Stephen Paea in the lineup. Although senior T Kevin Frahm looked good this spring, the interior of the line remains an area of concern. An effective starter needs to emerge at middle linebacker, but the Beavers could be downright nasty at the outside spots with Michael Doctor and Cameron Collins. CB Brandon Hardin and FS Lance Mitchell are returning starters in the secondary. Mitchell has all-league talent, and Hardin was strong in run support last season.
SPECIAL TEAMS: If James Rodgers is back at full speed, he gives Oregon State one of the most lethal threats in the nation on kick returns. He averaged 28.7 yards on kickoff returns and 18.3 on punts last season before his injury. P Johnny Hekker averaged 41.7 yards in '10, but a reliable kicker must surface. Overall, the coverage teams have been sound, but the Beavers need to get better on kickoffs.
THE BUZZ: The 5-7 finish in 2010 was the third losing season Oregon State has endured since 2000, and the Beavers bounced back strong from the other two. For that trend to continue, Katz will need to keep another trend intact - Oregon State quarterbacks have excellent years in their second seasons as starters. Improvement is needed on defense; the Beavers allowed at least 28 points in eight games last season. Oregon State typically plays an ambitious non-conference schedule and this season won't be any different with Wisconsin and BYU on the slate. Four of the first six games are at home, which means four of the final six are on the road. A fast start in league play - the Beavers' first four conference games are against UCLA, Arizona State, Arizona and Washington State - is a must if the Beavers want to go bowling again.
COACH: Steve Sarkisian (12-13 in two seasons)
LAST SEASON: 7-6, 5-4 (T-3rd in Pac-10; beat Nebraska in Holiday Bowl)
OFFENSE: Sophomore Keith Price, who played sparingly in place of Jake Locker last season, is expected to be the new quarterback over redshirt freshman Nick Montana, Joe's son. Price has some talented guys with which to work. RB Chris Polk has rushed for more than 1,000 yards in each of the past two seasons and has the speed to score from anywhere on the field. He was second in the Pac-10 in rushing last season with 1,415 yards. Meanwhile, the receiving corps is led by Jermaine Kearse, a deep threat who has caught 20 touchdown passes in the past two seasons. He tied for the league lead with 12 receiving TDs last season. There also is excitement about the potential of freshman TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who figures to make an immediate impact. But only two starters return along the line, which means all that skill-position talent might not have room to operate.
DEFENSE: Although CBs Desmond Trufant and Quinton Richardson are back, the secondary is questionable. Yet those doubts should pale in comparison to the Huskies' run defense and anemic pass rush. Big T Alameda Ta'amu can wreak havoc up front, but redshirt freshmen T Lawrence Lagafuaina and E Josh Shirley, who had good showings in the spring, need to make significant contributions this fall. Cort Dennison is steady at middle linebacker, though two linebacker starters must be replaced, including All-Pac-10 standout Mason Foster. Junior college transfer Thomas Tutogi and sophomore Garret Gilliland could land starting jobs. Both showed flashes in the spring but were inconsistent overall.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Twice, K Erik Folk has beaten USC with late field goals, and he has the leg to hit from beyond 50 yards. But he's also unreliable from beyond 40 yards. P Kiel Rasp is coming off a good season in which he averaged 43.8 yards. The Huskies' return teams could use some work, but their coverage teams need more. They were 102nd in the country in kickoff coverage last season.
THE BUZZ: Usually, the departure of an oft-injured quarterback with a losing record, a 53.9 career completion percentage and no all-conference credentials would not be cause for angst. But at Washington, Locker's departure has created an atmosphere of uncertainty. Can the Huskies continue a climb under third-year coach Sarkisian? Or are they destined to take a step back after ending an eight-year postseason drought last season? If Price proves to be a capable replacement for Locker, the Huskies could improve on last season's total of seven wins. If not, they will face a season of growing pains. The first two games are eminently winnable, but the schedule toughens considerably after that, with games against Nebraska, California and Utah in weeks three through five. Washington isn't going to finish first or second in the Pac-12 North, but third place is a possibility. That's why the game against Cal could set the trend for the season.