Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Diminishing Skills 120: The Bottom of the Barrel

Hey there, college football fans!  I have some great news for you!  You know that football season you've been waiting all summer for?  Well, your wait is over, because I've gone through and predicted every single game correctly!  Now all you have to do is follow along with my inaugural rankings of all 120 FBS teams and you can see how each and every school will fare!  Plus, once I'm through with the rankings, I'll let you know how every conference and every bowl turns out, too!  How awesome, right?!!!

On a boring, letting-you-know-what's-going-on note, these rankings are loosely based on the premise of which team I think would win a head-to-head match-up on a neutral field.  Now, some of these don't necessarily fall under this premise, as I have ranked some teams ahead of others that I actually do see beating them during the season.  In those cases, it's just a gut feeling I'm going on, as well as the context of each team's individual season.  As for what I've written about each team, it can range from a musing about a past player or game I recall about a particular team to a micro-in-depth look at how I see a particular team's season playing out, as well as key game for each school.  I've tried my best not to repeat the same game between two schools, and have done my best to avoid listing annual rivalry games, since they are of course key games and don't really need me to point them out.  Also, I lack the computer knowledge to make sidebars, so instead I've just inserted large blocks of text in the middle of the rankings clearly marked *SIDEBAR*.  So read those accordingly.  And as always, enjoy the hell out of yourself, won't you please?

120. Akron (1-11)

Who will they beat? Akron's lone win will come against FCS school VMI, a program that hasn't enjoyed a winning season in 29 years.  Which is worse: losing to an FCS school (as Akron did last season, 37-38 to Gardner-Webb), or beating an FCS school, but failing to beat any FBS schools?  Also, their brand new stadium is empty (as pictured above), which can't be too good for morale.
Fun Fact: Former Zip (and Browns) great Charlie Frye is 4th all-time in MAC career passing yards (11,049) behind only Tim Hiller (Western Michigan), Byron Leftwich (Marshall), and Dan Lefevour (Central Michigan).
Key Game: VMI, September 24
As mentioned above, this is the Zips best shot at avoiding an 0-fer on the year.  And as Gardner-Webb showed last season, that isn't a guarantee just because the opponent is an FCS school.

119. Western Kentucky (2-10)

Who will they beat? The Hilltoppers will conquer Larry Bird's alma-mater Indiana State for the 12th straight time, as well as knock off Sun Belt cohort #114 Florida Atlantic.
Fun Fact: The Hilltoppers won the 2002 FCS National Championship.
Bonus Fun Fact:  The Western Kentucky men's basketball team has the 16th most victories in NCAA history, ahead of programs such as Louisville, Arizona, and UConn.
Key Game: at Florida Atlantic, October 15
This is the Hilltoppers best shot at beating an FBS opponent, and should be a good game regardless (the past three have been decided by a total of 11 points, with last year's ending 17-16).

118. New Mexico State (0-12)

New Mexico State last went win-less in 2005.  The reason the Aggies are ahead of WKU and Akron is that they had the balls not to schedule FCS teams, which I respect.
Were they ever good?  Over the past 50 years, no, as the Aggies tallied only 9 winning seasons over that span (with only 3 after 1967, the last being a 7-5 year in 2002) and zero bowl appearances.  The last time they made a bowl, though, they made it count, rolling to an 11-0 record  and a Sun Bowl victory over Utah State in 1960.
Key Game: Utah State, December 3
With the rest of their beatable opponents on the road (San Jose State, New Mexico), the season finale in Las Cruces against the other Aggies represents these Aggies best shot at notching a W.

117. Louisiana-Lafayette (2-10)

While they may be #117 on my countdown of good college football teams, the Ragin' Cajuns would be #1 on my countdown of awesome mascots.  Louisiana's lone FBS win will come against #119 Western Kentucky.
Biggest Win Ever (I'm assuming): September 4, 1996 Ragin' Cajuns 29 #25 Texas A&M 22  This monumental upset was led by Jake Delhomme, who spent his senior season padding his Louisiana-Lafayette-leading career passing numbers by chucking the ball to #1 Ragin' Cajun career receiving leader, Brandon Stokley.  I have no idea if Stokley actually played in this game, nor if the Ragin' Cajuns finished that season 5-6 due to a slew of 4 INT performances by Delhomme.
Key Game: Florida Atlantic, October 1
Sandwiched between likely losses at FIU and against Troy at home, this match-up with the Owls could go a long way toward determining whether the Ragin' Cajuns will be able to stay afloat in the Sun Belt race deep into the season.  A loss here would likely spell an 0-3 conference hole, and would set the tone for a long season.

116. Memphis (1-11)

Memphis will only beat FCS opponent Austin Peay.  What happened to the fun days of DeAngelo Williams and Danny Wimprine?
Let's just remember how awesome DeAngelo Williams was (video):

Key Game: at Middle Tennessee, October 1
The Tigers have dropped 4 straight in Murfreesboro, and if head coach Larry Porter wants to start turning things around in Memphis, he's going to need to start by beating his in-state rivals.

115. UNLV (1-11)

FCS school Southern Utah will be the only victim to fall the Runnin' Rebels this year.  They open at Wisconsin, where they actually won in 2003.  That '03 squad was the last to finish with a non-losing record (6-6, no bowl), as UNLV has won exactly 2 games 5 of the last 7 years (they finished 5-7 in '08 and '09).
Famous Alum: Randall Cunningham played from 1982-84, leading the Rebels to 11-2 record and California Bowl win his senior season.  The bowl appearance was one of only 3 in UNLV's history (also the 1994 and 2000 Las Vegas Bowls), but at least they make the most of their limited opportunities, winning all three times.
Key Game: at New Mexico, November 12
The Rebels have won 3 straight against the Lobos, and a 4th straight win this year might be UNLV's only FBS victory.

114. Florida Atlantic (2-10)

2-10 would be the Owls' worst record ever (previous worst 2-9 in 2005).  The loss of Rusty Smith (pictured) following the '09 season is proving too great to overcome.
Key Game: at North Texas, October 8
If the Owls can pull out a win in the Green Machine's new stadium (FAU is 4-0 all-time at North Texas), they could be set up nicely for a 3-0 conference start, with games at Louisiana-Lafayette and home versus Western Kentucky book-ending their trip to Texas.

113. Ball State (2-10)

Michigan fans can only hope and pray that Brady Hoke can coax the magic out of Denard Robinson that he did out of Nate Davis in 2008.  Unfortunately for the Cardinals, there is no Davis or Hoke in Muncie (but Jerry is surely vacationing there).
Key Game: Buffalo, September 17
Ball State has never lost a regular season game to the Bulls (7-1; the only loss came in the 2008 MAC Championship Game), and continuing that trend here would get the Cardinals off to a 1-0 MAC start for the second straight year (31-17 at Central Michigan).
112. Eastern Michigan (4-8)

I blame Eastern Michigan for causing me to swear off NCAA Football for life.  I chose them in last year's version of the game, hoping I could resurrect their moribund program as I had previously done with the likes of Kent, Akron, Temple, Buffalo, and Florida Atlantic, only to be force to trade the game back into Gamestop before I punched a hole in my TV.  Videogames are supposed to be fun, not losing to FCS Southeast and having the 120th ranked recruiting class in the country!  Screw you, Eastern Michigan.  Also, where is this school located, Iceland?  Surely no town in God's America would go by the name Ypsilanti.
Key Game: Akron, October 1
The Eagles have dropped 3 straight to the Zips; a 3rd straight would be one of the most humiliating defeats ever for a program rich in past humiliation.
111. San Jose State (1-11)

San Jose probably isn't 1-11 bad, but they play a wicked non-conference slate (at #5 Stanford, at #56 UCLA, at #80 Colorado State, at #26 BYU, #55 Navy), and Utah State--a very beatable opponent--is on the road, in November, most likely in the snow.  This is the first team where the record isn't all that indicative of how good they really are.
Fertile grounds: San Jose State has actually been a bit of a hotbed for NFL talent recently, producing WRs James Jones and John Broussard in 2006, CB Dwight Lowery in 2007, and DT Jarron Gilbert and CBs Coye Francies and Chris Owens in 2008.  Gilbert, of course, got drafted because he could do this (video):

Key Game: New Mexico State, September 24
The Spartans will try to avoid back-to-back losses to the Aggies, and at the same time avoid the WAC basement.

110. Bowling Green (3-9)

I was shocked to find that Omar Jacobs isn't in the top 3 in passing yards on the Falcons' career passing leaderboard.  His 2004 season remains amazing: 4002 yards, 67 C%, 41 TD, 4 INT, 300 yards rushing, 4 rushing TD.  There is no Omar Jacobs on this year's squad (or in this year's MAC, for that matter; what happened to the stud QBs the MAC used to produce?)
Key Game: at Kent State, October 29
BG hasn't lost back-to-back games against Kent since 1972-73, with only 5 losses total against the Flashes since 1974 (against 31 wins).  A win in venerable Dix Stadium would go along way of determining which school will plant itself firmly in the middle of the MAC East Division, which is surely one of the loftiest positions in the nation.

109. Buffalo (3-9)

Buffalo saved Akron the indignity of going win-less last season by mailing in their final game of the season.  An ending like that doesn't really build much momentum for the following year, and I see the Bulls struggling to stay out of the MAC East basement.  (Although I do see them exacting some big-time revenge on Akron November 19.)
Key Game: Akron, November 19
If the Bulls don't blow Akron out, I'm calling for Jeff Quinn's head (and I could care less about Buffalo).  After giving the Zips their only win last season by mailing it in for the last game, Buffalo needs to come out with some vengeance in mind.

108. North Texas (3-9)

I don't know if North Texas had scholarship restrictions placed on them for recruiting violations or what, but their transformation from Sun Belt powerhouse (four straight conference championships from 2001-04) to doormat (seasons of 2, 3, 2, 1, 2, and 3 wins since their last league championship) is startling.  Yes, they lost career rushing leader Patrick Cobbs, but one player (or, more specifically, one running back) doesn't make or break a dynasty.  Besides, Cobbs actually missed most of the 2004 season, and the Mean Green still won the league title.  It really is baffling, especially when you add in that at 36,000 students, North Texas is the 2nd largest school in the conference (behind FIU), which should mean more resources available to build a better program.  Those resources will be put to use starting this season as the Green Wave move into a brand new stadium, which they have to hope also means a new string of championship seasons.
Key Game: Houston, September 10
The Green Machine have almost no hope of beating 10th-year senior Case Keenum and the Cougars, but a respectable showing is a must in the first game played in new Mean Green Stadium.  A good effort in front of a (hopefully) sold out crowd would go a long way to making sure all 30,000 seats are filled (which could be a struggle, since they only drew 17,000 a game last season).

*SIDEBAR #1: The MAC and The Sun Belt Suck*

 You may have noticed that there a lot of teams from the MAC and the Sun Belt in the bottom 20, and I assure you, that is no coincidence.  Not a single team from either conference will defeat a BCS opponent this season,  and they will only combine for 7 non-conference FBS wins between them (excluding games played against each other).

Here are the seven winning non-conference FBS matchups I predict for the MAC and Sun Belt, and see if you notice anything:

  1. Northern Illinois over Army, September 3
  2. Ohio over New Mexico State, September 3
  3. Ohio over Marshall, September 17
  4. Temple over Army, November 19
  5. Miami, OH over Army, October 8
  6. Middle Tennessee over Memphis, October 1
  7. Arkansas State over Memphis, September 10
Did you catch that?  That's right.  All seven wins come against teams that appear in my bottom 20!


107. Tulane (3-9)

Since Shaun King led the Green Wave to a 12-0 record and #7 finish in the AP poll in 1998, Tulane has had only 2 winning seasons, with the last coming in 2002 (8-5) on the backs of J.P. Losman and Mwelde Moore. Despite having Matt Forte from 2004 to 2007 (when he managed a staggering 2409 yards from scrimmage (2127 rushing) and 23 total TDs), the best Tulane finished was 5-7.  Head coach Bob Toledo has failed to find any of the success he had at UCLA, and after 4 seasons of subpar football, he may be on the way out.
Key Game: Memphis, October 22
Tulane has dropped 5 straight to the Tigers, which needs to stop if the Green Wave are ever going to become competitive in C-USA again.  Plus, it's homecoming, and nothing ruins a dance like the football team getting creamed by the conference cupcake.
106. Utah State (3-9)
105. Arkansas State (7-5)

These are two schools that would be rated much higher if they dropped "State" off the end of their names.  Utah State is probably in for a vicious beatdown September 30 at BYU as the Cougars will certainly be looking for revenge for last year's shocking 31-16 undressing at the hands of the Aggies. Arkansas State's new head coach is named Hugh Freeze, which is a pretty awesome name.
Key Game (Utah State): Wyoming, October 8
If the Aggies want to move up in the WAC, the first obstacle they need to get past is the Cowboys.  Utah State has dropped 4 straight in the series.
Key Game (Arkansas State): at Middle Tennessee, November 19
Arkansas State has never won in Munfreesboro.  If they want to compete for the Sun Belt title, they're going to have to end that skid.

104. Marshall (2-10)

Marshall should have never left the MAC.  After joining the league in 1997, the Thundering Herd immediately won 5 straight championships, adding a sixth in 2002 after losing to Toledo in the championship game in 2001.  In 2005 they left for the greener pastures of C-USA, and it has been nothing like the warm welcome they received in the MAC.  Since the switch, Marshall has only one winning season (2008, 7-6), and has never finished higher than 3rd in the East division.  2-10 would be Marshall's worst record since 1974 (1-10) and the aftermath of the whole "We Are Marshall" tragedy, but I just feel like this is the year the bottom finally falls out.
Key Game: at Ohio, September 17
Marshall has won 5 straight against the Bobcats, and a 6th straight would be a welcome sight in Huntington among likely early season losses at West Virginia, Southern Miss, Virginia Tech, at Louisville, and at UCF.

103. Army (3-9)

Army is coming off their first winning season and bowl appearance since 1996, but since West Point is a service academy (at least it was the last time I checked), roster turnover is high, with 11 starters and 41 lettermen returning.  Head coach Rich Ellerson has done well to achieve a 12-12 record through his first two seasons, and it would not surprise me at all if his option attack befuddles enough teams to have the Black Knights in contention for another bowl appearance (which would be Army's first back-to-back bowl appearances since 1984-85).
Key Game: at  Ball State, September 24
A win here could propel the Black Knights on a nice mid-season win streak (following Ball State, Army plays Tulane, at Miami, OH, at Vanderbilt, and Fordham) that could propel them to that rare second consecutive bowl appearance.

102. New Mexico (3-9)

Head coach Mike Locksley, perhaps feeling pressure following back-to-back 1-11 seasons, has decided to take the mercenary approach this offseason, bringing in a couple of transfers from high-profile programs (WR Lamaar Thomas from Ohio State and WR Deon Long from West Virginia) to try to ignite his program.  Considering three wins would outpace his two-year total, Locksley should consider his gambit a success and hope that his bosses feel the same way.
Key Game: Colorado State, September 3
Per the awesome Phil Steele, New Mexico hasn't scored a touchdown in a season opener since 2005.  A touchdown, or--even better--a win in this year's opener would set Locksley's quick-fix effort off on the right foot.

101. Middle Tennessee (7-5)

Middle Tennessee has no business winning seven games, but hosting Memphis and playing in a conference with only two other "quality" teams means that even a mediocre outfit like the Blue Raiders can enjoy a winning season.  A bowl appearance would extend their program-best streak to three years in a row.
Fun Fact: #3 all-time Blue Raider passer Kelly Holcomb (7,064 yards) made his starting debut at #1 Florida State in 1991, going 20-28 for 188 yards, which isn't too shabby.  I don't know the score, but my gut tells me Florida State overcame Holcomb's performance and pulled out the win.
Key Game: at Troy, September 24
I know it's kind of cliche to name this a key game, but it really is.  In order to end Troy's stranglehold on the Sun Belt, the Blue Raiders are going to have to beat them eventually, which is something they haven't done since 2005.

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