Rivals.com today begins its 2010 countdown, ranking the teams from No. 1 through No. 120.
We're starting at the bottom, and the first two weeks of rankings will be in groups of five. We'll do a daily countdown from 50th to first, with our No. 1 team to be unveiled Aug. 19 -- which is two weeks from the beginning of the season.
After that, you won't see any team rankings from Rivals until early October. The reason: We will wait until enough games have been played so we can legitimately rank the teams.
COACH: Willie Taggart (first season).
LAST SEASON: 0-12, 0-8 (9th in Sun Belt)
FINAL 2009 RIVALS.COM RANKING: 120th
KEEP AN EYE ON: Taggart, who had been running backs coach at Stanford, takes over at his alma mater, which went 0-12 last season. He has installed a West Coast offense, but he doesn't appear to have the personnel to run it all that effectively this season.
STRENGTHS: RB Bobby Rainey has 1,000-yard potential, and he'll run behind a line returning four starters. OTs Wes Jeffries and Preston King have All-Sun Belt potential. Rainey also doubles as a dangerous kick returner. Really, that's it for strengths.
WEAKNESSES: Junior college transfer Matt Pelesasa was the starting quarterback coming out of spring drills. The receivers scare no one. The front seven on defense underwent a shakeup in the spring in an effort to get tougher against the run (244.8 ypg last season). The Hilltoppers managed just six interceptions and eight sacks last season, so new coordinator Clint Bowen -- who had the same title at Kansas last season -- has work to do. The coverage teams need help.
BUZZ: Taggart is a Florida native, and his ties to that state should lead to some recruiting success down the road. The key phrase is "down the road." Western struggled last season, its first as a full-fledged FBS member, and it will do so again this season. All four non-conference games are against Big Six opponents. Four of the first five and five of the first seven games are on the road. Two wins is a legitimate goal.
COACH: Mike MacIntyre (first season).
LAST SEASON: 2-10, 1-7 (T-8th in WAC)
FINAL 2009 RIVALS.COM RANKING: 116th
KEEP AN EYE ON: The new coach is MacIntyre, who had been defensive coordinator at Duke. MacIntyre replaces Dick Tomey, who retired. MacIntyre has installed new schemes on both sides of the ball, but the key will be making sure the team doesn't slide back to the pre-Tomey days. SJSU looks as if it will struggle this season, but Tomey left the program in better shape than he found it. Good performances from the offensive backfield could mean a four- or five-win season.
STRENGTHS: The receiving corps should be the focal point of the offense, and there is some talent there. The offensive line has some big bodies, and more physical play from the group can be expected this season. The secondary has potential, and S Duke Ihenacho has all-league talent. CB Peyton Thompson is another to watch.
WEAKNESSES: The Spartans were awful on the ground (76.7 ypg) last season and improving the rushing attack is the top priority. It doesn't help that the quarterback job won't be decided until fall drills. Incumbent Jordan La Secla is battling junior college transfer Matt Faulkner and redshirt freshman Dasmen Stewart. Until the Spartans prove they can throw the ball, opposing defenses can gang up to stop the run. The defense was awful against the run (259.2 ypg) last season, and MacIntyre has junked the old 4-2-5 set for a 4-3 scheme. The Spartans lack size on defense, and coaches are hoping they can overcome that by getting faster players on the field. The special teams are a mystery. Redshirt freshman Harrison Waid could do double-duty as the kicker and the punter, and the return and coverage teams need an upgrade.
BUZZ: A team that struggles to stop the run plays Alabama and Wisconsin in its first two games? Yeah, that's a good way to start the season. The early season schedule is a monster. While the Spartans have two games against FCS schools in the first five weeks, there also are games against Utah and -- arguably -- the two best teams in the WAC in Nevada and Boise State, both of which run the ball quite well. The Spartans could be too beat up by mid-October to do anything late in the season. If this team wins four games, MacIntyre will have done a phenomenal job. A two-win season is much more likely.
COACH: Bob Toledo (9-27 in three seasons at Tulane; 87-95 in 16 seasons overall).
LAST SEASON: 3-9, 1-7 (6th in C-USA West)
FINAL 2009 RIVALS.COM RANKING: 108th
KEEP AN EYE ON: The offense struggled last season and has lost it two best players -- RB Andre Anderson and WR Jeremy Williams. Conference USA is an offense-minded league, which bodes ill for Tulane because of its lack of proven firepower.
STRENGTHS: QB Ryan Griffin has the tools to develop into a star passer, and WR Casey Robottom should reach 50 catches again. C Andrew Nierman is one of the best offensive linemen in the league, and he heads a line that returns four starters. The Green Wave led the league in pass defense last season, but that may have been fool's gold (more on that in a moment).
WEAKNESSES: Yes, Tulane was stingy against the pass. But it was so easy to run on the Green Wave that some opponents didn't see the need to throw. There is not a lot of size in the front six (Tulane employs a 4-2-5 set), which bodes ill against the run again. Even with Anderson, the Green Wave's rushing attack was anemic, which means Griffin could face defenses geared to shutting down the passing game. The special teams are a huge concern. Redshirt freshman Ryan Rome looks as if he will handle kicking and punting duties, and the return units need help -- and so do the coverage teams.
BUZZ: The Green Wave open with a gimme, then face three consecutive bowl teams from last season, which doesn't give them much time to get a balanced offense established. Tulane's line play was weak last season, especially on defense. Until that improves, the Green Wave are going to inhabit the bottom half of the C-USA West Division. It's one thing to have a bad defense, which are prevalent in the league. But a weak offense, too? Toledo looks as if he will be coaching for his job in 2010.
COACH: Ron English (0-12 in one season).
LAST SEASON: 0-12, 0-8 (6th in MAC West)
FINAL 2009 RIVALS.COM RANKING: 110th
KEEP AN EYE ON: The defense as a whole was a disaster last season, which had to eat at English, a former defensive coordinator at Michigan. Until the defense becomes even mediocre, any kind of success is going to be hard to come by. English brought in new assistants at every spot on defense, signed four junior college defensive linemen and isn't averse to tinkering with the lineup. One thing English is proud of is a new indoor practice facility.
STRENGTHS: English would like to be able to run the ball to control the clock and lessen the pressure on his defense. Three starters return on the line, giving hope that the rushing attack could be productive. Plus, former starting T Bridger Buche returns after missing last season with an injury. Keep an eye on redshirt freshman TB Ben Axon, who has the most potential of any back on the roster. Axon is a former all-state player in Florida who originally signed with South Carolina, but he wasn't allowed to enroll after some off-field issues. Axon and senior Dwayne Priest give the Eagles some hope at tailback. The safety tandem of Ryan Downard and Louisville transfer Latarrius Thomas has a chance to be one of the best in the MAC.
WEAKNESSES: The receiving corps is a huge mystery. So is the quarterback spot. Sophomore Alex Gillett and redshirt freshman Devontae Payne will battle in fall drills to be the QB. The defensive staff was overhauled in the offseason after the Eagles surrendered 276.8 rushing yards per game. Until they toughen up against the run, nothing else matters. Each of the projected starters in the front seven is an upperclassman, so perhaps experience will pay off. EMU needs some playmakers to emerge on the line and in the secondary. Special teams don't look all that good, either. Thomas Baertschi could handle kicking and punting duties, and the return men will be new.
BUZZ: The Eagles play three Big Six opponents -- all on the road -- but while a trip to Ohio State is daunting, visits to Virginia and Vanderbilt aren't all that overwhelming. A key to how the season is going to progress is a Game 2 visit to Miami (Ohio), which also was awful last season. If the running game comes around, the Eagles actually have a shot at a .500 record. But given this program's recent history -- no more than four wins in any season since 1995 -- it's hard to predict good things for EMU.
COACH: Todd Berry (first season; 5-36 in four seasons overall).
LAST SEASON: 6-6, 5-3 (T-3rd in Sun Belt)
FINAL 2009 RIVALS.COM RANKING: 94th
KEEP AN EYE ON: Despite two 6-6 records in the past three seasons, ULM officials saw fit to dismiss coach Charlie Weatherbie. A 6-6 mark may not seem like much, but this is ULM, not LSU. Berry, the new coach, will be under pressure to deliver even better results. ULM has been a run-oriented team the past few seasons, and TB Frank Goodin is a nice building block for Berry. But defensive issues may hamstring the Warhawks this season. Building for the long haul can be difficult in a league such as the Sun Belt.
STRENGTHS: Goodin ran for 1,000 yards last season, but he'll be running behind a line with three new starters this season. WR Luther Ambrose finished third in the NCAA outdoor meet in the 100-meter dash and has blazing speed, but can he handle being the go-to receiver? DE Troy Evans has all-league potential and also has a shot at leading the Sun Belt in sacks. CB Nate Brown is another player who is a potential all-league guy.
WEAKNESSES: Quarterback play bears watching; redshirt freshman Kolton Browning beat out incumbent starter Trey Revell during spring practice, but a controversy could develop. The top two receivers are gone. Only four defensive starters return. The Warhawks run a 3-3-5 set, and there will be five new starters in the back eight, including two of the three safeties. Special teams could be an issue for Berry. K Radi Jabour has a strong leg, but he's inconsistent (9-for-16 between 20 and 39 yards last season). Redshirt freshman Thomas Giddens is the new punter. Ambrose obviously has the speed to be a dangerous return man, but the coverage teams need a huge upgrade.
BUZZ: ULM administrators rolled the dice a bit by getting rid of Weatherbie, and Berry may be in for a rough first season. Three of ULM's four non-conference games are against SEC schools, and five of the first seven games are on the road. In addition, ULM plays 12 weeks in a row without a bye. Plus, four of the first five league games are against teams picked to finish in the upper half of the conference. A .500 record in league play would be a great first season for Berry, but this looks like a team that is going to need some luck to win as many as three league games.