This is the second 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 1-11 overall, 0-8 in MAC (6th in MAC East) Coach Terry Bowden (1st season at Akron; 140-62-2, 19th season overall) Fast fact The Zips have won a total of five games in the past three seasons. Bowden, who hasn’t coached in the FBS ranks since 1998, replaces Rob Ianello, who was on the job for just two seasons. Key player TB Jawan Chisholm. He ran for 961 yards and five TDs as a redshirt freshman last season and looks to be a good fit for the Zips’ new spread attack. He ran for 133 yards in a loss to Cincinnati and had 188 against FCS member VMI in the Zips’ only win last season. The good Chisholm gives the new coaching staff someone to build around. WR Keith Sconiers should be a solid weapon on the outside. LB Troy Gilmer looks to be the Zips’ best defender and is solid against the run. The bad Skill-position depth is lacking, as is overall team speed. Bowden had better skill-position players and more speed last season at North Alabama, a Division II school. Who is the quarterback? How good is the offensive line? Are there any playmakers on defense? The Zips had just two interceptions and 11 sacks last season. There are way too many questions for this to be even a .500 season. The projection If the Zips don’t beat FCS member Morgan State on Sept. 15, they could finish winless; they also get FBS newcomer UMass at home, which is a positive. The MAC is going to be down compared to last season, but Akron still is going to struggle because of the overall lack of talent.
Last season 1-11 overall, 0-8 in Sun Belt (9th in league) Coach Carl Pelini (1st season) Fast fact This will be the first season without program founder/longtime coach Howard Schnellenberger. It’s going to be a long one. Key player LB David Hinds. He made 110 tackles as a junior last season, his first as a starter. The defense has a chance to be OK but needs Hinds to play at a high level. The good Hinds and Randell Johnson are a nice duo at linebacker; they combined for 202 tackles last season. Junior E Cory Hinds has some pass-rushing ability. The Owls’ cornerbacks are solid and headline what should be a good secondary. The offensive line has potential. The bad Quarterback is a giant question mark. The Owls were last in the nation in total offense last season, and that was with TB Alfred Morris, who ran for 1,186 yards and was a sixth-round pick of the Washington Redskins. Morris is gone and there is no proven talent at tailback, quarterback or wide receiver. The defensive front four is undersized, even by Sun Belt standards, and opposing teams had success running right at the Owls last season. The projection Pelini was a somewhat surprising selection as coach, as he has no ties to Florida, which is where FAU gets 95 percent of its players. The offense looks to be another disaster waiting to happen. The defense should be OK. But at some point you have to score, and that is going to be problematic for the Owls. The opener is against FCS member Wagner, but that matchup and another against South Alabama in mid-October look to be the only winnable games on the schedule. FAU plays at Georgia and at Alabama in back-to-back weeks in September. Have fun, Coach Pelini.
Last season 2-10 overall, 1-6 in WAC (8th in league) Coach Robb Akey (19-43, 6th season) Fast fact The Vandals won eight games and went to a bowl in 2009; they have won eight games total the past two seasons and have finished with a losing record in 11 of the past 12 seasons. Key player LB Robert Siavii. He is the best player on the team and should be a first-team All-WAC pick. He missed last season with a knee injury, but if he picks up where he left off in 2010, the Vandals’ defense will get a huge boost. The good P Bobby Cowan is one of the nation’s best; he averaged 46.4 yards per punt last season and his career average is 45.2 yards. Siavii and FS Gary Walker should be among the best in the league at their positions. The defensive line has some potential. The bad We’ve mentioned the defense and special teams, but not the offense. Simply, it could be awful, even worse than it was last season, when Idaho was 111th nationally in total offense. There are questions at quarterback, running back, wide receiver and along the line – which sort of says it all. TB Ryan Bass, a former four-star recruit who began his career at Arizona State, was bothered by injuries last season; now a senior, this is his last chance to live up to the high school hype. The projection Akey led the Vandals to a bowl in 2009, but he’s now on the hot seat. His defense could be OK, but the offense must come around. JC transfer Dominique Blackman (6-5/255) could be the new starting quarterback; he signed with Washington out of high school in the L.A. area but ended up at a junior college. He signed with Old Dominion in 2010 out of junior college but redshirted that fall and transferred to Idaho in 2011. The early schedule is tough, including the opener against FCS power Eastern Washington. Still, there are some winnable games on the schedule, for sure, if the offense comes on.
Last season 2-10 overall, 1-7 in Conference USA (6th in C-USA East) Coach Justin Fuente (1st season) Fast fact The Tigers have won a combined five games in the past three seasons. Key player QB Jacob Karam. He’s a junior who transferred from Texas Tech, where he didn’t play a down in two seasons. He heads into fall drills as the starter. Memphis has three quarterbacks on the roster, and none has taken a snap in a college game. The good Not much. P Tom Hornsey, an Australian, is a good one; he likely will be busy this fall. WR Marcus Rucker had a strong sophomore season in 2010 (41 receptions, eight TDs), but was injured for much of last season. He could be productive in the Tigers’ new offense. LB Akeem Davis is a productive player. The bad The offensive backfield could be a disaster area if Karam doesn’t come through. Will there be a rushing attack? There is no proven tailback, and the line is nothing special. The defensive line is all new, and the pass defense was the worst in the nation last season. Outside of Hornsey, the special teams were poor last season. The projection Fuente had been the co-offensive coordinator at TCU, calling plays for the Horned Frogs. He will try to inject some spice into the Tigers’ offense, but the talent level is lacking. The schedule isn’t that difficult, but then again, it wasn’t tough last season, either, and Memphis went 1-11. A four-win season is an admirable goal. It also might be an unattainable goal.
Last season 1-11 overall, 1-6 in Mountain West (tied for 6th in league) Coach Bob Davie (1st season at New Mexico; 35-25, 6th season overall) Fast fact Davie hasn’t coached since 2001, when he was at Notre Dame, and he takes over a program that has won one game in each of the past three seasons. Key player QB B.R. Holbrook. Holbrook, a senior, is the only experienced quarterback on the roster, and he’ll be asked to run the Lobos’ version of the "Pistol" offense. The new coordinator is Bob DeBesse, who served in that same role last season at FCS runner-up Sam Houston State. The good Davie has instilled a new mindset after three seasons of the misbegotten Mike Locksley era. Sadly for Davie, there isn’t that much talent on hand; the Lobos are way under the scholarship limits (some reports have them 15 players shy of the 85-man limit). DLs Reggie Ellis and Ugo Uzodinma should be better-suited to the Lobos’ new 3-4 defense. TE Lucas Reed is talented, as is OT Dillon Farrell. The bad Though the tailbacks looked OK in the spring, none is proven. Can Holbrook run the ball well enough to handle the "Pistol"? The run defense was horrible last season; is the 3-4 defense the answer? The secondary is suspect, as are the special teams. The projection At some point this season, it seems a safe bet to think that Davie will ask himself why he left the broadcast booth. The Lobos have been pitiful the past few seasons, so Davie has a lot of rebuilding to do. The talent is lacking, both in quantity and quality. Still, the first half of the schedule isn’t all that daunting. New Mexico isn’t going to beat Texas, Texas Tech or Boise State, but every other game in September and October is at least somewhat winnable. If the Lobos can get to three wins, it will have been a successful season.