This is the 10th part of the annual preseason team countdown, which will wrap up Aug. 16, two weeks before the start of the 2012 season.
We are working backward from the 124th-ranked team, with the teams packaged in groups of five until we get to the top 50; then, each team gets a day to itself.
|80. Miami (Ohio)|
Last season: 4-8 overall, 3-5 in MAC (tied for 4th in MAC East)|
Coach: Don Treadwell (4-8, 2nd season)
Fast fact: Senior QB Zac Dysert has thrown for 8,530 yards in his career, third-most among active players, behind only Oklahoma's Landry Jones (12,379) and USC's Matt Barkley (9,054).
Key players: The running backs. To say Miami's rushing attack was pitiful last season is to be kind. The RedHawks managed just 886 rushing yards, and their per-game average of 73.8 was more than 10 yards fewer than any other team. Burly Justin Semmes (6 feet 2/230 pounds) likely gets first crack at the job; he ran for 100 yards against Akron. Erik Finklea, Dawan Scott (who played wide receiver last season after being recruit as a running back), Spencer Treadwell (the coach's son) and true freshman Jack Snowball (yes, that's his name) are the likely other candidates. Miami needs some semblance of a rushing attack if it wants a winning record.
The good: Dysert is one of the most prolific passers in the nation, and he and WR Nick Harwell form a dangerous pass-catch duo. Harwell had 97 receptions for 1,425 yards and nine TDs last season. Andy Cruse heads the list of solid complementary receivers. The defensive line has the potential to be one of the best in the MAC; it's headed by T Austin Brown. Evan Harris is a solid linebacker, and CB Dayonne Nunley should contend for all-league honors. Miami led the nation in kickoff-return coverage last season.
The bad: The rushing attack has to come around, or there again will be way too much pressure on Dysert, who has thrown 39 interceptions in his career. The offensive line returns four starters, but those guys had trouble making running room and also allowed 47 sacks. Harris is the only proven linebacker. Miami made just two field goals and ranked 117th in net punting last season.
The projection: A potent passing attack should mean Miami is a threat to contend in the MAC East, though it certainly would help if the ground game got in gear. The schedule is tough and includes road games against Boise State, Cincinnati and Ohio State. Still, a 3-2 start looks likely, and back-to-back games against MAC East foes Bowling Green and Ohio in mid-October likely will determine the division winner.
Last season: 3-10 overall, 2-7 in Pac-12 (tied for 5th in Pac-12 South)|
Coach: Jon Embree (3-10, 2nd season)
Fast fact: The Buffaloes have endured six consecutive losing seasons; that's the longest such streak for Colorado since a six-season stretch from 1979-84.
Key player: The quarterback. It seems likely that Connor Wood, a transfer from Texas, will enter fall drills as the starter. The other possibility is sophomore Nick Hirschman, who missed spring practice after having foot surgery, his third in the past year. Hirschman played in six games last season and attempted 35 passes, completing 18.
The good: The offensive line has potential, with Ts David Bakhtiari and Jack Harris a solid set of bookends. Both could be all-league candidates. New starting TB Tony Jones had his moments as a backup last season, including solid outings against Oregon and Utah, and gives hope that the rushing attack could be productive. LBs Douglas Rippy and Jon Major are a nice duo. SS Ray Polk is heading into his third season as the starter and led the team with 69 tackles last season. P Darragh O'Neill should vie for all-league honors.
The bad: There are no proven skill-position players on offense; leading returning receiver Paul Richardson is going to miss the season with a knee injury suffered during the spring. Converted DE Nick Kasa looks like the likely starting tight end. While the offensive line is experienced, it had trouble blocking for the run last season. Freshmen need to make an impact right away on defense, especially along the line and at cornerback. The Buffs had four field goals blocked last season and also need to improve their coverage units.
The projection: There are too many offensive questions to think the Buffs can sniff .500 this fall. Plus, while the defense should make some improvement, it can't get much worse. The defense routinely was eviscerated last season, with the Buffs giving up at least 30 points 10 times; included in that was a stretch in which they allowed at least 42 points and 520 yards in five consecutive games. While the early-season schedule isn't overly difficult, the Buffs play just one of their first four games at home. Still, a 3-0 start is possible, and if they can start 3-0, the Buffs will have hope for a bowl bid.
Last season: 5-7 overall, 1-6 in Big East (tied for 7th in league)|
Coach: Doug Marrone (17-20, 4th season)
Fast fact: This is the last season for the Orange in the Big East, as it is scheduled to move to the ACC next season. Syracuse has finished at the bottom of the Big East standings in six of the past seven seasons.
Key player: QB Ryan Nassib. This will be his third season as the starter, and he is coming off a solid season in which he threw for 2,685 yards and 22 touchdowns. But he'll have to do more this season. With the loss of 1,000-yard rusher Antwon Bailey, the rushing attack isn't likely to be as good as it was last season – and the Orange was only 95th nationally in rush offense in 2011.
The good: Nassib should have good weapons on the outside in WRs Alec Lemon and Marcus Sales; Sales missed last season for disciplinary reasons. OT Justin Pugh is the best offensive lineman in the Big East and could vie for All-America honors. The linebacking corps is a good one, assuming Marquis Spruill is recovered from surgery he had in January for a lower body injury. The secondary has potential and should be much tougher than it was last season, when Syracuse ranked 98th in pass defense.
The bad: The lack of a proven tailback hurts a team that prefers to run the ball. Sales needs to show he can be a big-play threat. Is there a consistent pass rusher on the roster? The Orange lost first-round pick Chandler Jones, and even with Jones, Syracuse was last in the league in sacks last season. The special teams could use an upgrade.
The projection: The non-conference schedule includes four Big Six opponents, the most for any team in a "major" conference. Among the opponents: USC and Missouri, along with Northwestern and Minnesota. In addition, there are only five home games, with just three of those coming after Sept. 15. There is one home game after Oct. 19. The lack of playmakers makes one wonder if Syracuse's offense has enough to hang tough against this schedule.
Last season: 9-4 overall, 7-1 in MAC (ties for 1st in MAC West)|
Coach: Matt Campbell (1st season)
Fast fact: Campbell replaces Tim Beckman, who took the Illinois job. Campbell had been the Rockets' offensive coordinator, and at 32, he is the youngest head coach in the FBS ranks.
Key player: RB David Fluellen. Toledo was No. 17 in the nation in rushing last season (213.6 yards per game) but is losing its top two rushers. Fluellen was the No. 3 tailback last season but now will be the feature back. He ran for 493 yards and four TDs last season, and should be expected to at least double those numbers this season.
The good: C Zac Kerin and G Greg Mancz are two of the best offensive linemen in the MAC. The speedy Bernard Reedy seems primed to go from complementary receiver to go-to guy. Toledo has had success with a two-quarterback system of late, and Austin Dantin and Terrance Owens return. They combined to throw for 3,426 yards, with 33 TDs and seven interceptions, last season, and also had a combined 392 rushing yards with three scores. DE T.J. Fatinikun should be one of the best pass rushers in the MAC. LB Dan Molls has made 213 tackles in the past two seasons. The safety tandem of Jermaine Robinson and Mark Singer should be one of the best in the league.
The bad: The offensive line returns only two starters. Can Fluellen handle the every-down role at tailback? There are no fulltime starters returning along the defensive line. The corners are a huge question for the Rockets, who were 105th nationally in pass defense last season. Specials teams are a concern; both coverage units need an upgrade, and the Rockets are searching for new return men and a more consistent punter.
The projection: Despite the questions, the Rockets might just be the team to beat in the MAC West. They were ninth nationally in total offense last season, and though there are some key players gone, they look to have the necessary young talent in place to have another productive season. Defense remains the issue; Toledo gave up 41 points per game in its four losses last season, and issues along the line and at corner should worry the coaches. Toledo opens with back-to-back road games against Arizona and Wyoming, then returns home in Week 3 for a big MAC contest with Bowling Green. Two weeks later, Western Michigan comes to town in a game that could end up determining the MAC West title. Toledo had a plus-16 turnover margin last season; can the Rockets come close to that this season?
Last season: 2-10 overall, 1-7 in ACC (6th in ACC Atlantic)|
Coach: Randy Edsall (2-10, 2nd season at Maryland; 76-80, 14th season overall)
Fast fact: The Terps are coming off just the second 10-loss season in school history. The last time it happened was 2009, and Maryland followed it up with a nine-win season.
Key player: QB C.J. Brown. He played in just one game as a redshirt freshman in 2010 and was expected to be a backup last season. But he moved into the starting role and played OK. He is a good runner (574 yards, five TDs), but needs a lot of improvement as a passer. Look for new offensive coordinator Mike Locksley to continue tweaking the offense to take advantage of Brown's mobility.
The good: The receiving corps is adequate, if Brown can get them the ball. Joe Vellano is one of the best defensive linemen in the ACC; he played tackle last season, when the Terps were a 4-3 team, but has been moved to end now that they plan to use a 3-4 set. LB Demetrius Hartsfield should contend for all-league honors. LB Kenny Tate has a ton of talent, but he had trouble adjusting after moving from safety before last season; he also missed the last eight games with an injury. If he is healthy and fully vested at the position, the Terps' linebacker corps will be one of the best in the ACC. SS Eric McDougle is active and makes a lot of tackles.
The bad: Can Brown throw the ball effectively? And who is the feature back? Brown is the leading returning rusher, by 300 yards. The offensive line struggled last season and has just two starters back. The run defense was horrible last season (219.8 yards per game, 111th nationally), and the hope is that by switching to a 3-4 scheme, the Terps will get more speed on the field in their front seven. Cornerback is a potential trouble spot because of a lack of experience. Kickoff coverage was an embarrassment last season, with the Terps ranking 119th in the nation in that category. Depth is a concern, as upward of 20 players have transferred out since Edsall took over in January 2011.
The projection: The Terps endured a mighty fall last season, going from nine wins in 2010 under Ralph Friedgen to two wins last season in Edsall's first campaign. Hiring Locksley is going to be a boost to recruiting, but this season could be another long one. The early-season schedule isn't that taxing, but more than four wins would be a surprise.
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