College football season will be here soon. Just not soon enough.
With the lack of anything better to idle away the next month or so, it's time to roll out the college football countdown earlier than it's been uncorked in recent years.
As a refresher course: All 120 major college teams are included in five-team increments. Some quick math says that means there are 24 installments.
By starting it early, it means it isn't crucial to touch on it every day. But it certainly won't hurt in helping to pass the time.
The problem with this way of doing this is eventually, you'll have to plow through all the bad teams.
And that's what this entry, more than any of the others to follow, will do.
120. EASTERN MICHIGAN
There might not be a program that personifies hopelessness quite like the Eagles, who stumbled to an 0-12 season in Ron English's debut season as head coach. Eastern Michigan, still seeking its first .500 or better year since 1995, managed to finish in the bottom half of every major statistical category tracked by the NCAA except one.
That would be passing defense, with Eastern Michigan actually led the nation in. That, however, might be function of the worst rushing defense in the country. The Eagles were railroaded for an average of 276.8 yards on the ground.
Worst of all, no one was paying attention. Eastern Michigan averaged 5,016 fans for its five home games, less than half of the smallest typical crowd of any other major college program.
There's little reason to believe anything --- the defense, the crowds or the victory total --- will be dramatically better this year. When three wins would be a significant accomplishment, a spot at the bottom of the national rankings isn't unfair in the slightest.
119. WESTERN KENTUCKY
If there's any subset of coaches who should receive some sort of job security guarantee, it's those guys who shepherd teams in divisional transitions. The Hilltoppers, a middle-of-the-road member of the former Division I-AA (and admittedly not as good as they were a decade ago under Jack Harbaugh), made a full-time leap to play with the big boys in 2008.
Western Kentucky responded with a 2-22 flourish, including an 0-22 mark against major college opponents, to earn David Elson the heave-ho. Former Hilltoppers QB Willie Taggart will take over the program with the nation's longest winning streak.
The good news for Western Kentucky is it can't get any worse than last year's 0-12. But that doesn't mean things will go all that well, either --- though recent history suggests by a third season, it's possible to have a decent idea how the adjustment to the sport's top level is going to go in the long run.
Teams with winning/.500 records in Year No. 3: Akron, Boise State, Central Florida, Connecticut, Florida Atlantic, Idaho, Marshall, Middle Tennessee, Nevada, South Florida, Troy
Teams with losing records in Year No. 3: Arkansas State, Buffalo, Florida International, Louisiana-Monroe, North Texas, UAB
It's imperfect, certainly. North Texas enjoyed moderate success in the middle of the last decade, and neither Akron nor Idaho has a particularly illustrious history in the last decade or so.
Nonetheless, there is a divide --- and Western Kentucky will probably land on the wrong side of it by the end of this season.
118. NEW MEXICO STATE
Want a good idea why the Aggies are 14-48 overall and 5-35 in conference since joining the WAC in 2005? Let's look at a crucial category.
WORST TURNOVER MARGIN, 2005-2009
|1. New Mexico State
|2. North Texas
|6. Fresno State
|9t. Washington State
|11. Florida International
|12. N.C. State
To some extent, luck plays a role in turnovers. But when a minus-10 season (as New Mexico State had last year) constitutes better than average, you're just not very good. As a point of fairness, Mumme Ball for the first four seasons of that stretch didn't do the Aggies any favors.
Of course, ditching Hal Mumme did have its drawbacks. New Mexico State ranked last nationally with 229.3 yards total offense. That'll be tougher to fix than the turnovers, and that sort of ineptitude is more than enough to justify this ranking.
117. MIAMI (OHIO)
Another overly generous team, the RedHawks checked in at minus-24 in turnover margin a year ago, and it was a big reason why they wound up 1-11. It was the third 10-loss season in three years for Miami
And that begs a question: What in the name of Travis Prentice is going on just outside Cincinnati?
This isn't a traditionally sad-sack program, but one known for solid (or better) teams and a habit of exporting coaches on to bigger and better things. But Miami has endured four straight losing seasons for the first time since 1939-42, and is staring at only the second run of five straight sub-.500 campaigns in school history. The other was 1897-1901.
Normally, a team returning all five starters on the offensive line would be a prime candidate for big progress. But the RedHawks managed just 70.1 yards a game on the ground --- next-to-last nationally --- last year. Mere "improvement" would still leave Miami a step or two away from competitiveness.
116. NORTH TEXAS
For most teams, yielding 35.6 points a game would be a bad thing.
And, granted, it was for the Mean Green. But it was also a 12-point improvement over 2008, and that has to count for something.
Nonetheless, coach Todd Dodge is 5-31 over the last three seasons since being plucked from the high school ranks. That was an unorthodox move, and unorthodox choices are the kinds that get reversed earlier than ones that made complete sense at the time. Another feeble season might just about spell the end of this experiment.
One good sign going forward for Dodge: North Texas was 0-6 in one-possession games last year. Those close losses --- including the season's final three games --- did little to help last fall, but they are perhaps an indication the Mean Green can move closer to the middle of the Sun Belt in 2010.