The offseason backdrop of a playoff in 2014 and continued conference realignment has kept college football in the news on a daily basis. That shouldn't change once the season begins.
There is a lot to look forward to this fall.
• The SEC will be aiming for its seventh consecutive national title. It couldn't get much better for the SEC after two of its teams, Alabama and LSU, met for the national championship last season. Does anyone want to bet against the league having a team in the title game again?
• Three of the more interesting coaches of the past decade will be back on the sideline, with two of them in the Pac-12. Mike Leach, who turned Texas Tech into a legitimate national program, has taken over at Washington State. Rich Rodriguez, who had West Virginia contending for a national championship before a miserable three-year run at Michigan, is the new coach at Arizona. Finally, Urban Meyer, who won two national titles in his first four seasons at Florida before suffering from burnout, takes the reins of an Ohio State program that is on probation because of NCAA violations that occurred under the watch of predecessor Jim Tressel. In all, there are 28 new coaches, the highest number in FBS history.
• This will be the first fall without Joe Paterno on the Penn State sideline since 1950. He was a Nittany Lions assistant from 1950-65, then became coach before the 1966 season. He was fired last November and died in January at age 85. This offseason also will be remembered for the sexual abuse trial of Jerry Sandusky, a former Nittany Lions assistant under Paterno; allegations surrounding Sandusky were at the root of Paterno's firing.
• Fans had to get used to new conference alignments last fall, and will have to do so again this season. Three of the "Big Six" conferences have been reconfigured: the Big East, Big 12 and SEC. The Big East lost West Virginia to the Big 12, and Temple came aboard from the MAC to replace WVU. The Big 12 also added TCU, which played in the Mountain West last year and was headed to the Big East this fall until it made a U-turn and moved to the Big 12. TCU and WVU are replacing Missouri and Texas A&M in the Big 12; those two schools moved to the SEC, making that league the first "major" conference with 14 members.
• Realignment also hit the MAC, Mountain West, Sun Belt and Western Athletic. While Temple left the MAC, Massachusetts came aboard from the FCS ranks. The Mountain West lost TCU but added Fresno State, Hawaii and Nevada from the WAC. The Sun Belt added South Alabama, which had been a FCS school. Finally, while the WAC lost three teams, it welcomes two new ones: Texas State and UT San Antonio. Both had been FCS programs.
• There had been 120 FBS teams; now, there are 124 with the additions of UMass, UTSA, Texas State and South Alabama.
That serves as a nice segue for the start of the Yahoo! Sports Preseason 1-124 Countdown. We will preview each FBS team in the run-up to the start of the season, working backward from No. 124.
The first set of rankings encompasses teams No. 121-124. After that, we'll look at the teams in groups of five until we get to the top 50; then, each team will be presented separately.
As for the "nice segue," the first four teams in our rankings are the teams new to the FBS ranks. And away we go.
|124. UT San Antonio|
Last season: 4-6 as a FCS member
Coach: Larry Coker (4-6, 2nd season at UTSA; 64-21, 8th season overall)
Fast fact: This will be the Roadrunners' first season as a FBS member and just their second season of football.
Key player: QB Eric Soza. He started every game last season, but he is going to have to increase his production this season (2,148 yards, 14 TDs last season) as UTSA moves up in class.
The good: The passing attack looks good, as there is a deep group of receivers. Nine starters return on defense, which allowed a respectable 338.5 yards per game last season. There is a nice group of defensive tackles. K Sean Ianno has a strong leg.
The bad: The Roadrunners are in just their second season of football, and Coker has a team that lacks depth, speed and size. While it won four games last season, UTSA had only one victory over a FCS foe and has yet to play a FBS opponent. The secondary lacks depth and could get torched regularly.
The projection: As bad as the WAC looks to be this season, it would be a shock if the Roadrunners don't finish last. There's no way UTSA should beat an established FBS team, and the only sure win on the schedule is a matchup with Northwestern Oklahoma State, a NAIA school (its coach is Alan Hall, a former Miami quarterback in the 1990s). UTSA is moving to Conference USA starting in 2013, so growing pains are going to continue for a while.
Last season: 5-6 as a FCS member
Coach: Charley Molnar (1st season)
Fast fact: This will be the Minutemen's first season in the FBS ranks. They won the I-AA (now called FCS) national title in 1999.
Key player: LB Perry McIntyre. He led UMass with 5.5 sacks last season and needs to continue being a big-play guy this season. The defense looks to be much stronger than the offense, and McIntyre might be the Minutemen's best defender.
The good: The Minutemen could have an OK defense, especially in the front seven. QB Kellen Pagel has MAC talent, as he began his career at Bowling Green. The offensive line is experienced and big.
The bad: There basically is no proven skill-position talent on offense except Pagel. The leading returning rusher had 140 yards last season, and the leading returning receiver had 18 receptions in 2011. The schedule includes no FCS foes and four Big Six conference opponents, including a trip to Michigan.
The projection: UMass is playing its home games at Gillette Stadium, also the home of the New England Patriots; the stadium is about 90 miles from campus, and you wonder how many folks will bother making the trek. Molnar had been the offensive coordinator at Notre Dame, though he did not call plays for the Irish. Molnar hired veteran Mike Kruczek as his offensive coordinator, and Kruczek should have an eager pupil in Pagel. Still, it's going to be a long first season as a FBS member because of the overall lack of talent.
|122. Texas State|
Last season: 6-6 as a FCS member
Coach: Dennis Franchione (18-15, 4th season at Texas State; 193-107-2, 27th season overall)
Fast fact: This will be Texas State's first season as a FBS school.
Key player: TB Terence Franks. He ran for 863 yards last season and heads what should be a strong rushing attack.
The good: Franchione generally has had strong ground games, and that should be the case this season. Franks and Marcus Curry are a nice duo at tailback, and QB Shaun Rutherford is a good runner, too. FS Xavier Daniels should contend for All-WAC honors, and he is part of what could be an OK secondary.
The bad: The passing attack was horrible last season, and the Bobcats lack a go-to receiver. The offensive line has to be rebuilt, which means all those rushing threats in the backfield might not have room to run. There is no proven pass rusher, and the linebackers don't look all that good.
The projection: In two games against FBS foes last season, the Bobcats were outscored 95-20. That doesn't exactly bode well for this fall. There is one game against a Big Six opponent, and the Bobcats play host to Texas Tech in that one. The schedule is tough in the first month, but eases after that. Still, getting to even four wins would be a huge achievement.
|121. South Alabama|
Last season: 6-4 as a FCS member
Coach: Joey Jones (23-4, 4th season at South Alabama)
Fast fact: The fourth and final team making the jump to the FBS ranks. This is USA's fourth season of football.
Key player: LB Jake Johnson. He started eight games as a sophomore for Virginia Tech in 2009 before moving on; he led the Jaguars with 83 tackles last season and is the leader of a defense that has some potential.
The good: Johnson and FS B.J. Scott, a former five-star recruit who transferred from Alabama, give the Jags two potential All-Sun Belt players. The defense as a whole should be fine by Sun Belt standards. There is good depth at tailback.
The bad: This was not a good offense last season, and there are going to be seven new starters on that side of the ball, playing against a tougher schedule. New offensive coordinator Robert Matthews, who had been Southern Miss' tight end coach, has installed a variation of the spread, but the passing attack has a long way to go.
The projection: The first two games are eminently winnable (UT San Antonio and FCS member Nicholls State). But then come road games against North Carolina State and Mississippi State, and the Jaguars aren't likely to see the good side of a .500 record again this season. One thing to look forward to: The season ends with a game at Hawaii.
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