June 18, 2010

Preseason Top 120 Countdown: Nos. 115-111

Here is the second part of Rivals.com's 1-120 countdown. Today, we look at the teams ranked 111th through 115th.

We're starting at the bottom, and the first two weeks of rankings will be in groups of five. Then 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.

The team rankings were compiled by football writers Olin Buchanan, Tom Dienhart, David Fox, Mike Huguenin and Steve Megargee. They look forward to your e-mails.

Top 120 countdown
115. Buffalo
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
OFFENSE
QB Jerry Davis (6-0/194, Soph.)
RB Brandon Thermilus (5-11/224)
WR Terrell Jackson (5-11/183, Jr.)
WR Fred Lee (6-1/193, R-Fr.)
WR Marcus Rivers (6-4/207, Jr.)
TE Michael Marr (6-3/225, Sr.)
T Jordan Jerrold (6-8/260, Sr.)
T Matt Ostrowski (6-7/302, Jr.)
G Peter Bittner (6-4/297, Sr.)
G Gokhan Ozkan (6-7/316, Soph.)
C Josh Violanti (6-2/268, Jr.)
DEFENSE
E Khalil Mack (6-3/239, R-Fr.)
T Jerry Housey (6-0/250, Sr.)
T Richie Smith (6-2/291, Jr.)
E Steven Means (6-3/232, Soph.)
LB Raphael Akobundu (5-11/238, Sr.)
LB John Syty (6-2/200, Jr.)
LB Justin Winters (5-11/212, Sr.)
CB Domonic Cook (5-8/186, Sr.)
CB Josh Thomas (5-10/185, Sr.)
FS Davonte Shannon (6-0/196, Sr.)
SS Issac Baugh (6-1/204, Soph.)
SPECIAL TEAMS
K A.J. Principe (5-8/153, Sr.)
P Peter Fardon (6-1/182, Jr.)
KR Branden Oliver (5-8/195, R-Fr.)
PR Domonic Cook (5-8/186, Sr.)
COACH: Jeff Quinn (first season).
LAST SEASON: 5-7, 3-5 (5th in MAC East)
FINAL 2009 RIVALS.COM RANKING: 93rd.
KEEP AN EYE ON: Turner Gill, who helped this program rise from the dead, left to become coach at Kansas. The new coach is Jeff Quinn, who had been offensive coordinator at Cincinnati and promises that he will have a wide-open attack. But that could be a problem this season. Quinn needs to find a quarterback, a go-to receiver and decide on a running back (senior Ike Nduka or senior Brandon Thermilus, the son of former NFL RB Alonzo Highsmith).
STRENGTHS: The offensive strength is obvious. There are four starting linemen back, including standout G Peter Bittner. LB Justin Winters, FS Davonte Shannon and CB Domonic Cook have all-league potential and headline a defense that could be solid. The secondary, especially, has some talent. The special-teams coverage units did a nice job last season.
WEAKNESSES: The offensive skill positions are a huge question. Sophomore Jerry Davis and redshirt freshman Alex Dennison will vie for the quarterback job after Zach Maynard left the team following Quinn's hiring. The defensive front four is questionable. K A.J. Principe returns, but his longest make was just 36 yards last season. P Peter Fardon is back, but he averaged just 35.6 yards per attempt. Plus, the return teams were bad last season.
BUZZ: Gill did a phenomenal job making Buffalo football relevant, at least in the MAC. Can Quinn maintain that relevance? It could be difficult this season. Maynard's departure hurt; it means the Bulls will have an unproven quarterback heading into the season for the second year in a row. The season-opener is easy, but four of the next five games are on the road -- including two trips to play Big Six-conference schools. Still, good news is that the home schedule in the second half of the season is an easy one. That means Buffalo could have an OK record but really not be that good.

-- MIKE HUGUENIN

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Top 120 countdown
114. UAB
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
OFFENSE
QB David Isabelle (6-3/185, Soph.)
RB Pat Shed (5-9/180, Jr.)
WR Nick Adams (6-2/195, Jr.)
WR Roddell Carter (6-3/220, Sr.)
WR Frantrell Forrest (6-2/195, Sr.)
TE Jeffery Anderson (6-3/255, Sr.)
T Chris Hubbard (6-4/270, Soph.)
T Matt McCants (6-7/295, Soph.)
G Greg Calhoun (6-3/300, Jr.)
G Caleb Thomas (6-3/290, Jr.)
C Darion Smith (6-2/280, Jr.)
DEFENSE
E Bryant Turner (6-2/265, Sr.)
T Eliott Henigan (6-4/275, Jr.)
T D.J. Reese (6-4/280, Sr.)
E Daniel White (6-2/225, Soph.)
LB Marvin Burdette (5-11/240, Soph.)
LB Lamanski Ware (6-2/220, Jr.)
LB Darrion Wilson (6-3/220, Sr.)
CB T.J. Ballou (6-0/200, Jr.)
CB Terrell Springs (5-9/175, Jr.)
FS Chase Daniel (6-3/205, Jr.)
SS Jamie Bender (6-0/200, Jr.)
SPECIAL TEAMS
K Josh Zahn (6-0/190, Soph.)
P Trey Ragland (5-11/175, Jr.))
KR Frantrell Forrest (6-2/195, Sr.)
PR Nick Adams (6-2/195, Jr.)
COACH: Neil Callaway (11-25 in three seasons).
LAST SEASON: 5-7, 4-4 (T-4th in C-USA East)
FINAL 2009 RIVALS.COM RANKING: 92nd
KEEP AN EYE ON: Eight offensive starters are back off a team that went 4-4 in Conference USA. Alas, do-everything QB Joe Webb isn't one of them and the Blazers appear poised for a fall. Webb's offensive heroics helped overcome a horrific defense. The defense has made some personnel changes, but it's likely to stand out again for its problems. And that's in a league noted for pitiful defense.
STRENGTHS: WR Frantrell Forrest can be a 50-catch guy, and TE Jeffery Anderson has all sorts of talent. T Matt McCants is the top offensive lineman and a potential all-league guy. Junior DT Eliott Henigan looks to be a star on the rise. K Josh Zahn and P Trey Ragland did solid jobs in their first seasons as starters, and look to be a nice special teams duo.
WEAKNESSES: Webb's loss is huge; the Blazers may miss him more than any other school misses any one player. The new quarterback is David Isabelle, a good runner but an unproven passer. There is no established runner, either; that was Webb's role. The Blazers had the worst pass defense in the nation last season (309.7 ypg, 27 TD passes). Two junior college transfers, CB T.J. Ballou and SS Jamie Bender, won starting jobs in spring ball. The line underwent a shakeup, too, with two returning starters losing their jobs. The special-teams coverage units were bad last season, and the return teams weren't much better.
BUZZ: Webb was a gifted athlete and a reason to watch UAB games. Now he's gone and this is a program in flux. Defensive improvement is a must. UAB plays two Sun Belt teams in the first three weeks of the season, both at home -- but both are teams that could beat the Blazers. The other two non-conference games are against SEC teams. Each of the first three games is against a team that can throw the ball, so the rebuilt secondary will get some early tests. Overall, five of the first eight are on the road, which means growing pains for the offense could be amplified.

-- MIKE HUGUENIN

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Top 120 countdown
No. 113 New Mexico State
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
OFFENSE
QB Jeff Fleming (6-4/200, Jr.)
RB Seth Smith (5-8/207, Sr.)
FB Ronald Opetaia (5-9/226, Jr.)
WR Marcus Allen (6-0/200, Sr.)
WR Todd Lee (5-9/161, Jr.)
TE Kyle Hipp (6-5/250, Sr.)
T Dwayne Barton (6-4/290, Sr.)
T Aundre McGaskey (6-6/305, Jr.)
G Sioeli Fakalata (6-3/321, Sr.)
G Maveu Heimuli (6-4/355, Soph.)
C Mike Grady (6-3/304, Jr.)
DEFENSE
E Pierre Fils (6-3/249, Jr.)
T John Finau (6-1/308, Sr.)
T Kawika Shook (6-3/275, Sr.)
E Donte Savage (6-1/240, Jr.)
LB B.J. Adolpho (5-11/215, Soph.)
LB Boyblue Aoelua (5-10/235, Jr.)
LB Frank Padilla (6-2/248, Jr.)
CB Jonte Green (6-0/185, Jr.)
CB Davon House (6-0/190, Sr.)
FS Ben Bradley (5-10/182, Jr.)
SS Alphonso Powell (5-9/190, Sr.)
SPECIAL TEAMS
K Tyler Stampler (5-10/175, Jr.)
P Kyle Hughes (6-0/200, Jr.)
KR Marcus Allen (6-0/200, Sr.)
PR Todd Lee (5-9/161, Soph.)
COACH: DeWayne Walker (3-10, second season).
LAST SEASON: 3-10, 1-7 (T-8th in WAC)
FINAL 2009 RIVALS.COM RANKING: 114th.
KEEP AN EYE ON: DeWayne Walker's first season as coach was rocky, as expected. New Mexico State's offense was pitiful; the Aggies ranked last nationally in total offense and scoring offense, and Mike Dunbar -- the former coordinator at Minnesota and Northwestern -- was hired to oversee the unit. He has to find a way to get more production out of the passing game, especially.
STRENGTHS: RB Seth Smith ran for 1,016 yards but just one TD. He'll run behind a big, physical line, but one that returns just two starters. The best news defensively is that the Aggies have a solid cornerback duo in Davon House -- who might be the best corner in the WAC -- and Jonte Green. P Kyle Hughes returns after averaging 41.8 yards per boot.
WEAKNESSES: The passing attack needs a huge upgrade (87.8 ypg), and incumbent QB Jeff Fleming will battle junior college transfer Matt Christian for the starting job. The run defense was pitiful last season, and JC transfer Frank Padilla needs to add a physical presence at linebacker, a position with three new starters -- including the sublimely named Boyblue Aoelua. The front four also needs to stiffen against the run and find some guys who can make plays. The Aggies will have two new return men.
BUZZ: Outside of Boise State, everyone in the WAC is vulnerable -- but New Mexico State doesn't look as if it will be good enough to take advantage. The schedule isn't all that difficult, but, again, that really doesn't matter. The passing attack must show vast improvement. The Aggies could again be one-dimensional on offense, and that one dimension isn't all that good, anyway. One negative about the schedule: The Aggies play 12 consecutive weeks.

-- MIKE HUGUENIN

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Top 120 countdown
No. 112 New Mexico
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
OFFENSE
QB B.R. Holbrook (6-3/181, Soph.)
RB Demond Dennis (5-9/196, Soph.)
WR Chris Hernandez (6-3/184, Sr.)
WR Ty Kirk (6-1/181, Soph.)
WR Bryant Williams (5-11/205, Sr.)
TE Lucas Reed (6-6/215, Soph.)
T Byron Bell (6-5/330, Jr.)
T Maurice Mears (6-4/295, Sr.)
G Mike Cannon (6-4/299, Sr.)
G Karlin Givens (6-4/299, Sr.)
C Dillon Farrell (6-5/272, R-Fr.)
DEFENSE
E Jaymar Latchison (6-3/251, Jr.)
T Peter Gardner (6-4/289, Sr.)
T Ugo Uzodinma (6-4/260, Soph.)
E Johnathan Rainey (6-2/242, Jr.)
LB Spencer Merritt (6-2/220, Soph.)
LB Carmen Messina (6-2/222, Jr.)
LB Joe Stoner (5-10/224, Soph.)
CB Anthony Hooks (5-11/175, Jr.)
CB Emmanuel McPhearson (5-10/184, Soph.)
FS Freddy Young (6-1/195, Soph.)
SS Bubba Forrest (6-1/205, Jr.)
SPECIAL TEAMS
K James Aho (5-10/191, Jr.)
P Ben Skaer (6-0/185, R-Fr.)
KR Kasey Carrier (5-9/175, Soph.)
PR Ty Kirk (6-1/181, Soph.)
COACH: Mike Locksley (1-11, second season).
LAST SEASON: 1-11, 1-7 (8th in Mountain West)
FINAL 2009 RIVALS.COM RANKING: 117th.
KEEP AN EYE ON: Last season was a nightmare for new coach Mike Locksley. The Lobos were horrible on the field, and Locksley was suspended for one game by the school for getting into a fight with his wide receiver coach. Locksley is known as a big-time recruiter, but you have to wonder if he will be given enough time to get enough talent on campus. Another one-win season -- coupled with all the turmoil that went on last season -- might mean he will be shown the door.
STRENGTHS: There is talent at running back with Demond Dennis leading a quartet who could see time. Offensive tackle Byron Bell is a good one. Last season, LB Carmen Messina led the nation with 162 tackles and E Johnathan Rainey had 9.5 sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss. They are good building blocks for a unit that, thanks to some newcomers, has some potential. Junior K James Aho has 31 career field goals.
WEAKNESSES: The Lobos will have a new quarterback, and that new quarterback will need to find a go-to receiver. The defense was bad last season, but there is hope it can get into at least the middle of the pack in the Mountain West this season. Newcomers such as Illinois transfers Ugo Uzodinma and Reggie Ellis and true freshman Calvin Smith should boost the line. There will be a new punter. The return teams and coverage units need an upgrade.
BUZZ: An influx of talent lends hope that the Lobos will have at least an OK defense this season. But that defense again will spend too much time on the field unless the offense gets it act together. There is some potential in the running game, and that's good news. What is not good news is the early season schedule; it's a monster. The first three games are against Oregon, Texas Tech and Utah -- three bowl teams from last season. The season-ending stretch is brutal, too, with Air Force, BYU and TCU. But the middle six games aren't that difficult. If the defense 'bows up and the running game comes around, the Lobos could win four or five games.

-- MIKE HUGUENIN

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Top 120 countdown
No. 111 Miami University
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
OFFENSE
QB Zac Dysert (6-4/207, Soph.)
RB Thomas Merriweather (5-10/214, Sr.)
WR Chris Givens (6-2/211, Jr.)
WR Nick Harwell (6-1/180, Fr.)
WR Armand Robinson (6-1/200, Sr.)
TE Kendrick Bruton (6-4/264, Jr.)
T Josh Harvey (6-5/324, R-Fr.)
T Matt Kennedy (6-5/250, Soph.)
G Brandon Brooks (6-5/315, Jr.)
G Nate Williams (6-5/308, Jr.)
C Brad Bednar (6-4/283, Soph.)
DEFENSE
E Morris Council (6-2/267, Jr.)
T Austin Brown (6-2/275, Soph.)
T Jordain Brown (6-0/296, Jr.)
E Will Diaz (6-5/251, Soph.)
LB Evan Harris (6-0/222, Soph.)
LB Luke Kelly (6-2/217, Soph.)
LB Jerrell Wedge (5-9/222, Jr.)
CB D.J. Brown (6-1/174, Soph.)
CB Brandon Stephens (5-10/205, Sr.)
FS Anthony Kokal (6-0/202, Jr.)
SS Jordan Gafford (6-0/207, Sr.)
SPECIAL TEAMS
K Trevor Cook (6-2/197, Sr.)
P Jim Broadway (6-0/181, Soph.)
KR Jamal Rogers (5-11/172, Sr.)
P Jamal Rogers (5-11/172, Sr.)
COACH: Mike Haywood (1-11, second season).
LAST SEASON: 1-11, 1-7 (7th in MAC East)
FINAL 2009 RIVALS.COM RANKING: 118th.
KEEP AN EYE ON: The RedHawks were inept offensively for much of last season, meaning coach Mike Haywood's first year was a disaster. But 17 starters return this season, so there are some good vibes around the program. Still, until the rushing attack comes alive, this is going to be a mediocre offense. Improving the ground game has to be the highest priority for Haywood and veteran coordinator Morris Watts.
STRENGTHS: The offense showed signs of life late last season, and perhaps that carries over into this season. Sophomore QB Zac Dysert is big and has a nice arm, WR Armand Robinson is a potential all-league performer and the line is experienced. LB Jerrell Wedge is small (5 feet 9) but hits a ton. The safeties could be good; FS Anthony Kokal and SS Jordan Gafford should combine for 175 or so tackles.
WEAKNESSES: The RedHawks have to run the ball better (70.1 ypg last season). While the offensive line is experienced, the group needs to do a much better job of run-blocking this season. Getting tougher up front defensively is important, too, after Miami was trampled on the ground last season (30 rushing TDs allowed). There's a general lack of size in the defensive front seven and that hurts. Cornerback is devoid of depth and true freshmen will see time there.
BUZZ: The opener at Florida is going to be ugly, as are road trips to Missouri and Cincinnati. But Game 2 against Eastern Michigan is winnable, and that could be an indication of how the season goes. Both EMU and Miami will go into that game expecting a win, and the loser will have to be resigned to a long season. There's a stretch in the middle of the season in which six of eight games are on the road; that's obviously not good. At least the two toughest league games -- or, at least, what appear to be the two toughest league games -- are at home (Ohio and Temple).

-- MIKE HUGUENIN

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