This is the sixth 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 Big Ten (6th in Leaders Division) Coach: Kevin Wilson (1-11, 2nd season) Fast fact: The Hoosiers are coming off a one-win season, their worst record since going 0-11 in 1984. Key player: RB Stephen Houston. Houston, a JC transfer, ran for 802 yards and eight TDs last season, and came on strong down the stretch; he had three 100-yard games in the second half of the season. IU has some concerns at quarterback, and it would be a huge boost to the offense if Houston can remain a steady contributor. The good: The receiving corps looks to be a good fit for the spread offense favored by new coordinator Seth Littrell, who had held the same role at Arizona. C Will Matte is a good one. K Mitch Ewald has a nice leg. The bad: Who's the quarterback? Tre Roberson started late last season as a true freshman, but can he pass well enough to run Littrell's offense? JC transfer Cameron Coffman and freshman Nathan Sudfield also will be in the mix. TE Ted Bolser was good as a freshman in 2010 but basically disappeared last season; can he rebound? While Matte is good, the rest of the offensive line is questionable. The defense as a whole was horrendous last season, especially against the run. IU needs three or four JC transfers on defense to make an immediate impact. IU needs a new punter, and kickoff coverage needs a big upgrade. The projection: A lot of newcomers have to come through, and that seems an iffy proposition. There is some talent on hand, but not enough of it. The first three games are eminently winnable (Indiana State, Massachusetts and Ball State). But after that, other than a game against Navy in late October, the Hoosiers look as if they will be in trouble. Thing is, a couple of early-season wins should get Hoosiers fans safely through until mid-October, when basketball practice opens.
Last season: 5-7 overall, 3-4 in WAC (tied for 4th in league) Coach: Mike MacIntyre (6-19, 3rd season) Fast fact: The Spartans' five wins last season came by a combined 24 points. And five of their seven losses came by 10 or fewer points, including three by three or fewer points. Key player: QB David Fales. Fales began his career at Nevada before moving on to a junior college; he signed with San Jose State and had an OK spring. The quarterback was supposed to be Michigan transfer Tate Forcier, but he quit the team in January. Fales has talent around him, especially at wide receiver. He needs to be steady and consistent. The good: TE Ryan Otten, who had 52 receptions last season, is one of the best in the nation at the position. WRs Noel Grigsby and Chandler Jones form a nice tandem on the outside. Jones' dad, Mike, played six seasons in the NFL and also is a former coach in NFL Europe. OT David Quesenberry is an NFL talent. DE Travis Johnson and DT Travis Raciti form the best d-line tandem in the WAC. LB Keith Smith has made 220 tackles in his two seasons and is another all-league candidate. S James Orth is solid, as is P Harrison Waid. The bad: The Spartans need a feature back to emerge; the top candidates are Minnesota transfer DeLeon Eskridge and Washington transfer David Freeman. The offensive line will have three new starters. While there are some all-league types in the front seven, San Jose State's rush defense was horrible last season (204.3 yards per game, 107th nationally) and needs dramatic improvement. The Spartans need a new kicker; Waid may have to do double-duty. The projection: The Spartans made big strides last season, their second under MacIntyre. If the new quarterback comes through, the Spartans could go bowling for the first time since 2006 and just the second time since 1990. There are some tough games early and late, but the middle of the schedule is tissue soft. In a reconfigured WAC, San Jose State figures to make a strong run at second place.
Last season: 2-10 overall, 0-9 in Big 12th (10th in league) Coach: Charlie Weis (1st season at Kansas; 35-27, 6th season overall) Fast fact: KU won 12 games and went to the Orange Bowl in 2007; the Jayhawks have won 18 games in the ensuing four seasons and have just five wins in the past two seasons. Key player: QB Dayne Crist. He was a mega-recruit out of high school in California and signed with Notre Dame when Weis was the Irish's coach. He never came close to living up to his billing. Crist graduated from Notre Dame and has immediate eligibility with KU. Think of it as a final chance for a former can't-miss kid. The good: Not much. T Tanner Hawkinson and G Duane Zlatnick are legit candidates for Big 12 honors. TB Tony Pierson has good speed and can present matchup problems. There's an OK group of receivers, but the Jayhawks need someone to emerge as a deep threat. FS Bradley McDougald is solid. The bad: The Jayhawks better have a potent offense because the defense again could be a disaster area. KU was last in the nation in total defense (516.4 yards per game) and in scoring defense (43.8 points per game) last season. The Jayhawks allowed at least 42 points eight times and at least 59 four times; in addition, just one opponent was held to less than 420 yards and six gained at least 500. KU gave up 7.2 yards per play, almost a half-yard worse than anybody else in the nation. Transfers, both junior college and from four-year schools, and freshmen are expected to fortify the talent level. There could be as many as five new faces in the starting front seven. Other than McDougald, the secondary has a lot to prove. The new coordinator is Dave Campo, the former Dallas Cowboys coach. The projection: Former coach Turner Gill was shown the door after two seasons, and in came Weis. The hire certainly made news. Can a guy who struggled at Notre Dame have success at Kansas? Certainly not this season. The talent level is way down, and Weis has to find a way to get production out of Crist and the rushing attack. The first two games are winnable (FCS member South Dakota State and Rice), but the rest of the schedule is going to be tough to manage. If Weis can get four or five wins out of this team, it will have been an incredible coaching job.
Last season: 3-9 overall, 2-6 in Sun Belt (7th in league) Coach: Larry Blakeney (164-91-1, 23rd season) Fast fact: Troy is coming off a losing season, its first since 2005. The Trojans haven't had back-to-back losing seasons since 1988 and '89. Key player: DT Xavier Melton. The Trojans were unexpectedly awful against the run last season, allowing 203.6 rushing yards per game (105th nationally). Both defensive tackles will be new starters, and it's expected that Melton, a junior college transfer, will be one of them. He signed with Purdue out of high school in Lakeland, Fla., but ended up transferring to a junior college. He must provide a presence in the middle against the run. The good: QB Corey Robinson is in line for a big season. He has thrown for 7,137 yards with 49 touchdowns and 30 interceptions in his two seasons as the starter. The receiving corps is a deep one; it is headed by all-league candidate Eric Thomas and should be bolstered by the return of Chip Reeves and Jamel Johnson, both of whom missed last season with academic issues. G Kyle Wilborn heads what should be a solid offensive line. Brannon Bryan heads a nice group of linebackers. There is a good tandem at safety with FS Barry Valcin and SS Brandyn Trawick. The bad: The rushing attack was a big problem last season and could be again this fall; while there are numerous players to choose from at tailback, none seem to have the "it" factor. The defensive line is a huge concern. If Melton struggles, the interior again could be overrun by opposing rushing attacks. The corners are underwhelming. Troy will have a new kicker and a new punter. The projection: Troy is used to winning, so last season's debacle was a shock; the Trojans had won or shared each of the previous five league titles. The offense should be OK; it has a chance to be the best in the league if the rushing attack comes around. The defense is another matter. Teams ran at will on the Trojans last season, something that hadn't happened in a while. The defensive line has to play a lot better this season if Troy is going to finish in the upper half of the league. The schedule is an advantage, as the Sun Belt's best teams have to play at Troy. The second game of the season, a visit from Louisiana-Lafayette, is huge for both teams. It's not inconceivable that Troy opens 4-1. If that happens, a bowl bid beckons. But if the run defense doesn't get better, Troy is going to suffer through another losing season.
Last season: 3-9 overall, 1-7 in ACC (6th in Coastal Division) Coach: David Cutcliffe (15-33, 5th season; 59-62, 11th season overall) Fast fact: Duke hasn't been to a bowl since the 1994 season and has made just two postseason appearances since the 1960 season. Key player: RB Desmond Scott. Or should it be RB Juwan Thompson? Whoever starts at tailback needs to produce. Duke's rushing attack has been a joke of late; the Blue Devils haven't averaged more than 110 rushing yards per game since 2005 and haven't averaged 100 yards in four of the past six seasons. The good: QB Sean Renfree, a senior, is heading into his third season as the starter; he has a nice arm and understands the offense. Connor Vernon (198 catches in three seasons) is one of the best wide receivers in the ACC. G Laken Tomlinson is talented. The same goes for CB Russ Cockrell (56 tackles, nine pass breakups). DE Kenny Anunike showed some pass-rushing ability before suffering a season-ending knee injury in Game 5. The bad: We mentioned the anemic rushing attack; can Duke ever run the ball effectively? Renfree is talented, but he also has 32 TD passes and 30 picks in his career. Kelby Brown, the Blue Devils' best linebacker, seems likely to miss the season with a torn ACL suffered in spring practice. Outside of Anunike, no one on the roster has shown an ability to rush the passer. There will be a new kicker and a new punter. The projection: Duke has been bad for a while now in football, and it's tough to see this team breaking through this season. There are too many questions, most notably about the rushing offense and the defense as a whole. Still, the September schedule isn't all that difficult except for a trip to Stanford, and if the Blue Devils can somehow come out of the month with three or even four wins, a bowl bid would be a possibility. Don't count on it, though.
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