This is the 12th part of our annual preseason team countdown, which will wrap up Aug. 16, two weeks before the start of the 2012 season.
We are working backward from our 124th-ranked team, with the teams packaged in groups of five until we get to our top 50; then, each team gets a day to itself.
Last season 5-7 overall, 3-4 in Big East (6th in league) Coach Paul Pasqualoni (5-7, 2nd season at UConn; 140-79-1, 21st season overall) Fast fact Only once in the past seven seasons has UConn averaged more than 195 passing yards per game. The Huskies averaged 216.5 yards per game in 2009. Four times in that seven-season span, they've averaged 151.1 or fewer yards per game. Key player The quarterback. Incumbent starter Jonny McEntee will vie with JC transfer Chandler Whitmer for the starting job in fall drills. Whitmer arrived in time for spring ball and outperformed McEntee. Improving the passing attack has to be the highest priority for the offensive staff. The good TB Lyle McCombs ran for 1,151 yards and seven TDs as a redshirt freshman last season. He'll run behind what should be a physical line. TE Ryan Griffin is the best at his position in the Big East. DE Trevardo Williams had 12.5 sacks last season to lead the league; he and Jesse Joseph form a solid duo at end. As usual, UConn has good linebackers; the best is Sio Moore, who has made 196 tackles in the past two seasons. The secondary looks strong, and if he can stay healthy, CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson should contend for all-league honors. Cole Wagner is a good punter. The bad The passing attack is a huge question. Quarterback is a concern, and there are no proven wide receivers on the roster. Depth behind McCombs is iffy. While the offensive line has potential, UConn allowed 41 sacks last season, tied for sixth-most nationally. Both starting defensive tackles are new. UConn also needs a new kicker and must improve kickoff coverage. The projection Even with two new starters at tackle, the defense should be fine. The secondary had its issues last season, but with three senior starters returning, the issues shouldn't crop up again. The offense, though, remains a big mystery. McCombs can only do so much (and he scored four of his seven TDs in the opener last season). Will the passing attack help him out? The quarterback, whoever it is, may not get much help from the pedestrian receiving corps. UConn opens the season with an easy game, then welcomes in North Carolina State in Week 2 and travels to Maryland in Week 3. The Huskies need to start at least 2-1 to harbor legitimate bowl hopes.
Last season 8-5 overall, 7-1 in Conference USA (2nd in C-USA West) Coach Bill Blankenship (8-5, 2nd season) Fast fact Tulsa has the lowest enrollment of any FBS school (4,300). Key player QB Cody Green. Green, a Nebraska transfer who started four times in two seasons for the Huskers, will open fall drills atop the depth chart as Tulsa looks to replace three-year starter G.J. Kinne. Green is a big guy (6 feet 4/247 pounds) with mobility, a needed element in Tulsa's spread offense. Green's passing ability is a question. The good Tulsa has experienced and talented skill-position players. TBs Ja'Terian Douglas and Trey Watts combined to rush for 1,764 yards and seven TDs last season; short-yardage back Alex Singleton, a 260-pounder, rushed for eight TDs. Three of the top four wide receivers are back, headed by Willie Carter, who plays a hybrid tight end/wide receiver position. C Trent Dupy is one of the best offensive linemen in the league. The safety duo of Dexter McCoil and Marco Nelson is the league's best. DE Cory Dorris and LB Shawn Jackson have all-league potential. The bad Will Green get the job done at quarterback? The offensive line has three new starters, including two on the left side. Jackson is the only experienced linebacker. While three starters are back in the secondary, Tulsa was 117th in the nation in pass defense (286.3 yards per game). The Golden Hurricane needs a new kicker. The projection The schedule is backloaded and a good start seems assured, even if the quarterback play is spotty. But unless Green is playing at a high level, Tulsa could lose each of its final four regular-season games: at Arkansas, at Houston, vs. UCF and at SMU. If everything breaks right, the Golden Hurricane could win the West Division; at worst, it will finish third in the division, and a bowl bid seems likely.
Last season 6-7 overall, 5-3 in ACC (tied for 2nd in ACC Atlantic) Coach Jim Grobe (68-67, 12th season at Wake; 101-100-1, 18th season overall) Fast fact Wake is coming off a bowl appearance, its fifth under Grobe. The Demon Deacons had been to five bowls in their history before Grobe arrived. Key player RB Josh Harris. He ran for 720 yards and seven TDs as a redshirt freshman in 2010 and looked to be a star on the rise. But he suffered through an injury-plagued sophomore season (he gained just 20 yards over the final eight games) and likely will end up sharing time with Orville Reynolds. At his best, Harris is a strong between-the-tackles runner who also has the speed to be a breakaway threat. He can be an every-down back, which isn't the case with Reynolds. The good QB Tanner Price played well as a sophomore last season, throwing for 3,017 yards and 20 TDs (against just six interceptions). WR Michael Campanaro has 80-catch potential. Undersized NT Nikita Whitlock (5-11/260) is disruptive in the middle of the line. CB Merrill Noel led the nation with 19 pass breakups last season. There's a solid group of experienced linebackers, which bodes well for Wake's 3-4 set. K Jimmy Newman is a good one. The bad There is no proven deep threat with Chris Givens' early departure to the NFL. The offensive line, which struggled last season, has just one starter back; there are just three starters back on the offense as a whole. Is there a pass rusher on the roster? Wake had just 11 sacks last season. There will be two new starting safeties. Depth is a problem along both lines. The projection The Demon Deacons run a 3-4 defense, and the back eight has potential. But a playmaker needs to emerge at end. The offensive line is a huge issue, as well. Wake is counting on guys who didn't play that much last season, when the now-departed linemen weren't all that good. The Demon Deacons get Liberty, Army and Duke at home in September and play Maryland in the first week of October. Thus, while there also are September games against Florida State and North Carolina, a 4-2 start looks possible even with all the issues. But can Wake get to six wins with questionable lines?
Last season 8-5 overall, 5-2 in Mountain West (3rd in league) Coach Dave Christensen (18-20, 4th season) Fast fact Last season's bowl appearance was the second in three seasons but just the third since 1993. Key player The tailbacks. QB Brett Smith was the Cowboys' leading rusher last season, and coaches don't want that to happen again. TB Alvester Alexander surprisingly turned pro a year early (he wasn't drafted), so Kody Sutton and Brandon Miller likely will share the job. The Cowboys were a solid rushing team last season (33rd nationally), but the team will be better off if a tailback is the leading rusher. The good Smith was pressed into duty as a true freshman and responded well. He is athletic and has a nice arm, throwing for 2,622 yards and 20 touchdowns. He has a nice receiving corps, headed by Chris McNeill. C Nick Carlson should contend for all-league honors. T Mike Purcell and FS Luke Ruff are the key defenders on a unit that returns eight starters. The bad The offensive line returns just two starters. And while there are eight starters back on defense, the Cowboys were horrible against the run last season (232.0 yards per game, 115th nationally). The pass rush also could be a problem. The projection This looks as if it could be a good season for the Cowboys, but line play is going to be big. Will a rebuilt offensive line provide enough running room? And will the defensive line hold up against the run? Outside of the opener against Texas and a visit from Boise State, the schedule isn't overly taxing. Four league games in October are going to determine whether this turns into a great season. The Cowboys haven't made back-to-back bowl appearances since 1987-88, but chances look good this season.
Last season 7-6 overall, 5-2 in WAC (tied for second in league) Coach Chris Ault (226-103-1, 28th season) Fast fact This is the Wolf Pack's first season in the Mountain West. Nevada had been in the WAC since 2000 and was in the now-defunct Big West from 1992-99. Key player QB Cody Fajardo. He started eight games last season as a redshirt freshman and did a nice job. Fajardo ran for 694 yards and 11 scores and threw for 1,707 yards and six touchdowns. He obviously needs to get better as a passer, which might be one reason Nick Rolovich is the Wolf Pack's new offensive coordinator. Rolovich had been coordinator at Hawaii, which ran a variation of the run-and-shoot offense. Nevada has used the "Pistol" of late. Rolovich was brought in to rev up the passing attack. The good G Chris Barker and T Joe Nady should be two of the best offensive linemen in the Mountain West. There looks to be a good group of tailbacks, and Nevada seems likely to use a committee approach at the position. The back seven on defense looks fine, with LB Jeremiah Green and SS Duke Williams the standouts. The bad None of the tailbacks is proven, and given this team's history of running the ball, that has to be bothersome to Ault. Who's the go-to receiver? Rishard Matthews' graduation leaves the Wolf Pack wanting in that category. There is just one returning starter in the defensive line, and the Wolf Pack signed two JC transfers to help at tackle. Special teams are an issue. There will be a new punter, the coverage units were bad last season and Matthews will be missed as a punt returner. The projection The Wolf Pack have been to bowls in seven consecutive seasons and should make it eight. But there are some concerns. For one, top to bottom, the Mountain West is better than the WAC. Second is that the Wolf Pack open with back-to-back games against Big Six foes: California and USF. But there are two sure wins on the schedule (FCS school Northwestern and FBS newcomer Texas State) and the toughest league games (Wyoming, San Diego State, Fresno State, Boise State) are at home. Nevada should finish in the top three in the MWC this season, and the future looks good, too.
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