Five more teams to ponder on the first day of summer ...
90. TEXAS-EL PASO
Sometimes, problems are incredibly easy to identify.
Take the Miners, who have been absolutely horrendous in one particular area for three years running:
Give coach Mike Price credit. UTEP has its third defensive coordinator in four years and scrapped a 3-3-5 system for a 4-3. The nonconference schedule swaps out Texas, Kansas and Buffalo for Houston, Memphis and Arkansas-Pine Bluff.
The path to six victories is eminently more reachable. But the Miners are going to have to hold someone in check --- especially on the ground --- to make that happen.
The Bobcats return just half their starters from a 9-5 team that is due for a bit of a decline anyway after posting a plus-13 turnover margin a season ago (seventh in the country).
But if you're looking for a wild prediction, how about this: The Bobcats will give Ohio State a headache on Oct. 18.
That's not to say the Bobcats will win. But take a look at this recent history against power conference teams:
2007: Virginia Tech 28, Ohio 7
2008: Ohio State 26, Ohio 14
2008: Northwestern 16, Ohio 8
2009: Connecticut 23, Ohio 16
2009: Tennessee 34, Ohio 23
Needless to say, the Bobcats are a pest. And if they give Ohio State a hard time this year, maybe Tom Osborne can call his old assistant Frank Solich up for advice on how to deal with Big Ten teams.
88. SAN DIEGO STATE
The Aztecs are probably the most inexplicable of the 10 teams with the longest bowl droughts in major college football (UL Monroe, which moved up in 1994, has not played in a bowl).
|New Mexico St.
|San Diego State
So, does San Diego State put an end to the dry spell this year? Possibly.
The Aztecs play Nicholls State, New Mexico State and Utah State in nonconference games, and all are winnable. The bottom half of the Mountain West isn't particularly imposing, and Air Force --- the middle tier of the league pretty much by itself --- pays a visit to San Diego.
It won't matter if the Aztecs can't hold onto the ball (minus-10 turnover margin last year) or establish even a modest running game (held to less 80 yards a game in each of the last two years). As difficult as it is to believe a school nestled in southern California is so far removed from its last postseason appearance, it is easy to figure out what needs to be fixed from the last couple seasons.
There's no better way to sum up the Commodores than this simple record: 2-6.
Somehow, Vanderbilt held eight opponents to 25 points or less, and couldn't come close to winning half of those games.
Certainly, the Commodores could be better against the run, and returning only a couple starters on the front seven won't help that.
But the greater issue here is an offense that simply hasn't been any good at all the last couple seasons.
Vanderbilt somehow overcame that in 2008 and reached a bowl game. Last year, reality set in and the Commodores crashed to 2-10.
Things should be better this year, but maybe not by much. Over the last two years, Vanderbilt has lost games by margins of 17-14, 10-7, 20-10, 15-3, 16-13 and 14-10. If the defense regresses at all, things could get ugly in Nashville once conference play begins in earnest.
A bowl berth for the Black Knights? Don't laugh. Rich Ellerson found a way to get a team that barely averaged 15 points within a game of a bowl berth.
Only four bowl teams from a year ago (Temple, Rutgers, Air Force, Navy) dot Army's schedule, and assuming sophomore quarterback Trent Steelman continues to mature in Ellerson's option scheme, there could be enough to reach the postseason.
The linchpin could wind up being the service academy games, a severe aggravation for Black Knights fans in recent years. Army, after all, has dropped nine straight, 15 of 16 and 20 of 22 to its fellow academies.
And that makes the Aughts (2-18) a decidedly lousy time to be a fan on the banks of the Hudson:
ARMY'S LONGEST LOSING STREAKS vs. SERVICE ACADEMIES
9: 2005-present (Navy 5, Air Force 4)
6: 2002-04 (Air Force 3, Navy 3)
5: 1939-43 (Navy 5)
5: 1999-2001 (Air Force 3, Navy 2)
If beating Air Force or Navy turns out to be the difference in going to a bowl for the first time since 1996, that elusive victory will somehow be even sweeter than anticipated for the Black Knights.