COACH: Darrell Hazell (first season)
LAST SEASON: 5-7, 4-4 (4th in MAC East)
OFFENSE:The Golden Flashes are going to a version of the spread under Hazell, who had been wide receiver coach at Ohio State. The rushing attack must improve. Leading rusher Jacquise Terry is back, but he gained just 542 yards last season. Backup TB Dri Archer, who is 5 feet 7, could be an important change-of-pace guy, especially in the new offense. The line has potential because of the return of four starters. C Chris Anzevino and T Brian Winters should contend for All-MAC honors. A stronger rushing attack would help QB Spencer Keith, who struggled at times last season, when he played with an injured thumb. Keith threw for 2,212 yards, but he had 11 picks and just eight TD passes. Tyshon Goode is the go-to receiver, and Sam Kirkland proved to be an effective No. 2 guy last season. There should be ample opportunity for some other receivers to become complementary guys, as no other wide receiver on the roster caught more than 11 passes last season. Kentucky transfer Eric Adeyemi and junior Matthew Hurdle need to make their presence felt this season.
DEFENSE: Kent State won five times last season because of its defense, but six starters are gone. Sophomore T Roosevelt Nix is a great building block for the new staff, though. He was the MAC's freshman of the year last season, when he had 43 tackles, 10 sacks, 20 tackles for loss, four forced fumbles, eight quarterback hurries, two blocked kicks and two pass breakups. He's squatty (6-0/255) but obviously an extremely active presence in the middle of the line. But will he get any help up front? Luke Batton is the only returning starter at linebacker, and there also will be two new safeties. The two new starters at linebacker are fifth-year seniors, which helps a bit. CB Josh Pleasant is the best player in the secondary.
SPECIAL TEAMS: P Matt Rinehart should be a contender for all-league honors after averaging 42.7 yards last season. K Freddy Cortez returns after going 11-of-17 on field-goal attempts; he was 3-of-7 from 40 yards and beyond. The return teams could use a boost, and it looks as if Adeyemi will return kickoffs and punts. The coverage teams were solid last season.
THE BUZZ: Kent State had a chance for a .500 season in 2010 but fell short. You can't blame the defense, which ranked fourth nationally against the run and 10th overall. But the Golden Flashes lost three key starters off that unit, which means the offense must ramp it up this season. The rushing attack has to get better if Kent State hopes to finish in the top half of the MAC's Eastern Division. The Golden Flashes open at Alabama - Tide coach Nick Saban is a Kent State grad - but the schedule eases significantly from there, though three of the four toughest conference games are on the road. Despite all the questions, the schedule is such that a six-win season is a legitimate goal.
COACH: Gary Andersen (8-16 in two seasons)
LAST SEASON: 4-8, 2-6 (7th in WAC)
OFFENSE: The Aggies struggled to maintain consistency last season, but good health might make a difference this season. Three projected starters (TB Robert Turbin and WRs Matt Austin and Stanley Morrison) missed all or most of last season with injuries. Turbin ran for 1,296 yards and 13 TDs in 2009, and he was missed last season; backup Michael Smith also was hurt last season. When you add in holdover Kerwynn Williams, the Aggies have a solid trio of backs. Those backs will run behind a good line headed by C Tyler Larsen and G Philip Gapelu. The receiving corps looks OK, though there isn't an established go-to guy. Quarterback could be an issue. Three-year starter Diondre Borel is gone, and Adam Kennedy - one of 14 junior college transfers signed by Utah State - emerged from spring drills as the starter. He'll have to hold off redshirt freshman Alex Hart in fall practice. T Stetson Tenney, who will be the only new starter along the line, is another JC transfer who earned a starting job in spring practice.
DEFENSE: Andersen will serve as his own coordinator this season and has switched to a 3-4 alignment. LB Bobby Wagner made 133 tackles last season and heads into his senior season with 298 career stops. He heads up what should be one of the best linebacker corps in the WAC: Kyle Gallagher was the Aggies' second-leading tackler with 91, and touted JC transfer Bojay Filimoeatu arrives this summer and already has been penciled in as a starter. The Aggies also are counting on JC transfers Al Lapuaho at end and Will Davis and Jumanne Robertson at corner to shore up potentially troublesome units. The Aggies lost two starting defensive linemen and three starters in the secondary. Andersen has to find a way to generate more pressure; Utah State managed just 13 sacks last season, with E Levi Koskan leading with 4.5. The secondary was strafed often last season, and while FS Walter McClenton is the only returning starter, he could end up losing his starting spot. Redshirt freshmen BJ Larsen (end), Tevita Vaifoou (tackle), Tavaris McMillian (linebacker) and Brian Suite (strong safety) are strongly in the mix for starting jobs, so inexperience could play a role if the Aggies again struggle defensively.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Williams is a big-time kick returner; he set an NCAA single-season record with 1,444 kickoff-return yards last season. He averaged 27.2 yards on 53 attempts and took one back for a score. The coverage units were solid last season, as well. But the other special teams aspects are questionable. WR Eric Moats was a poor punt returner last season, and the Aggies will have a new kicker and a new punter. Redshirt freshman Jaron Bentrude is the new kicker, and JC transfer Tyler Bennett, who arrives this summer, is expected to handle the punting duties.
THE BUZZ: This might be the WAC's biggest mystery team. The potential exists for a rushing attack that rolls up 200-plus yards per game, and the linebackers look strong, too. But the passing attack is a giant question, as is the secondary. The WAC doesn't figure to be nearly as strong this season, so the Aggies could flirt with .500 - or even reach that mark - if the new quarterback comes through. Utah State opens the season at Auburn and also plays at BYU, but the other two non-conference games are against Mountain West also-rans Colorado State and Wyoming. We'll know by the end of October if the Aggies are going bowling.
COACH: Bobby Hauck (2-11 in one season at UNLV; 82-28 in eight seasons overall)
LAST SEASON: 2-11, 2-6 (T-6th in Mountain West)
OFFENSE: The Rebels were horrible on offense last season, managing just 274.2 yards and 18.4 points per game. The receivers are the strength of the offense, but UNLV may be without WR Michael Johnson, who was indefinitely suspended during the spring. WR Phillip Payne (98 receptions and 12 TDs the past two seasons) has all-league potential, but will he get the ball enough? Sophomore Caleb Herring, who was a backup last season, won the starting quarterback job in spring ball, but he'll have to continue to fend off JC transfer Sean Reilly, as well as true freshman Nick Sherry, in the fall. Tim Cornett returns at tailback, but coaches are high on true freshman Dionza Bradford. The line has been rebuilt and could have as many as four new starters. It's a young group of linemen, with no seniors in the two-deep and redshirt freshmen potentially starting at two spots.
DEFENSE: The defense was just marginally better than the offense last season, as the Rebels allowed 450.5 yards and 39.7 points per game. Only four starters return, and there will be an all-new group of linebackers. UNLV managed just 12 sacks last season, and that number has to go up this season. JC transfer Trent Allmang-Wilder could end up with a starting job at end, where B.J. Bell is the leading returning sack man with 1.5. UNLV was especially lax against the run, and a young group of tackles - the top four are either sophomores or true freshmen - will be counted on to stuff the middle. Nate Carter is expected to start at middle linebacker, and his 35 tackles are the most of any returning Rebels 'backer. JC transfer Princeton Jackson will get every opportunity to seize a starting spot at linebacker. Senior CB Will Chandler led UNLV with five picks last season, but he needs to hold off sophomore Cedric Coleman, who impressed coaches during the spring, to keep his starting job. It would help if senior CB Quinton Pointer, who missed last season with a knee injury, is back to 100 percent. Safety is a potential trouble spot.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Nolan Kohorst returns at kicker after going 8-of-11 as a freshman last season. JC transfer Chase Lansford, who arrives this summer, is expected to be the punter, and he also could challenge Kohorst. WR Marcus Sullivan did a superb job as a kick returner last season (27.9-yard average on 35 attempts), but there will be a new punt returner. The kick coverage was good but the punt coverage mediocre last season.
THE BUZZ: Hauck left Montana, which has one of the best FCS programs in the nation, and suffered through a long first season at UNLV. This season may not be much different. There are holes everywhere, and it's vital that a competent quarterback emerges. The schedule opens with a trip to Wisconsin, but then come numerous winnable games. "Winnable" is a relative term, of course, because a lot of those opponents are going to consider UNLV a beatable foe. At any rate, UNLV better do a good job in September and October because the schedule toughens considerably in November, when there are games against Boise State, TCU, Air Force and San Diego State. At the least, Hauck's young guys will get a lot of experience this season, meaning 2012 should be better.
COACH: Jerry Kill (first season; 127-73 in 17 seasons overall)
LAST SEASON: 3-9, 2-6 (T-9th in Big Ten)
OFFENSE: The team will miss QB Adam Weber, who made 50 consecutive starts. MarQueis Gray will move back to quarterback full-time from receiver and take over. He's a big, strong athlete and an underrated passer. Look for Gray in the "pistol," under center and in the shotgun for a multi-offense that figures to be run-first. The new staff will have a lot of running backs to work with, as the roster goes five-deep. Duane Bennett may be the best. And that's good because running back is a key spot in coordinator Matt Limegrover's offense. The offense needs better production from the line to improve a rushing attack that ranked 10th in the Big Ten (135.3 ypg). There will be lots of competition and plenty of young talent that could end up starting. WR Da'Jon McKnight has all-conference-type talent. But the other receiver spots are unknowns. Eric Lair may be one of the Big Ten's top tight ends.
DEFENSE: Time and again in 2010, Minnesota got run over, ranking last in the Big Ten against the run (191.4 ypg). Some playmakers are needed for a unit that ranked last in the Big Ten in sacks and tackles for loss and eighth in turnovers generated (19). The lack of pressure and big plays puts too much pressure on a secondary that is the biggest question on this spotty defense. The Gophers plan to use an aggressive, blitzing scheme built around a potentially strong group of linebackers. LB Gary Tinsley paced the team in tackles in 2010. Keep an eye on LB Brendan Beal, a Florida transfer. New coordinator Tracy Claeys has his work cut out for him.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Starting CB Troy Stoudermire has a chance to become the Big Ten's career leader in kickoff-return yards, but the return game still needs juice. The net punting average ranked 10th in the Big Ten. North Carolina State transfer Chris Hawthorne is in line to kick.
THE BUZZ: Kill's arrival from Northern Illinois has energized a fan base that had begun to tune out Tim Brewster's hyperbole. Kill has won everywhere he has been, but can he do it at Minnesota? It may take time for a team that has had four coordinators on each side of the ball since the time Brewster took over. The season opens at USC, but the next three are winnable home games. The Gophers must capitalize. Kill is a talented coach who will benefit from bringing most of his staff with him from Northern Illinois. Still, don't expect a bowl this fall.
COACH: Paul Wulff (5-32 in three seasons at Washington State; 58-72 in 11 seasons overall)
LAST SEASON: 2-10, 1-8 (10th in Pac-10)
OFFENSE: It may have gone largely unnoticed because of Washington State's overall futility, but the Cougars ranked a respectable 42nd in the nation in passing offense. QB Jeff Tuel passed for 2,780 yards and 18 touchdowns. The Cougars have a better-than-you-think receiving corps led by dangerous sophomore Marquess Wilson, who last season led the Pac-10 with an 18.3-yard average per catch. Tuel can also look to senior Jared Karstetter, who had 62 catches in 2010. The Cougars' running game has struggled, but diminutive redshirt freshman Rickey Galvin will add a big-play element if he can stay on the field. He broke his arm last season and redshirted. The biggest question is the line, which allowed 51 sacks and couldn't get the running game going. But there are four senior linemen who are projected to start.
DEFENSE: The Cougars gave up 430 points last season, more than any other team in the Pac-10. The Cougars could not stop the run and the pass rush was mediocre. Still, they limited Cal to 20 points and Oregon State to 14 in back-to-back games in November, so that's something to build on. SS Deone Bucannon, CB Nolan Washington and LB C.J. Mizell had solid freshman seasons and could form the foundation of an improved unit. Redshirt freshman DT Kalafitoni Pole was injured during spring practice. If healthy, he will help against the run.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Andrew Furney, who shared kicking duties last season, will have the job to himself this season. He has hit from 51 yards and had a good spring. The Cougars need a replacement for reliable P Reid Forrest. Senior Dan Wagner figures to take over. Washington State was so-so on punt and kickoff returns, but the real concern is punt coverage, where the Cougars gave up two touchdowns last season.
THE BUZZ: At the bottom of a deep, dark hole, even the slightest ray of light provides hope. That's the case at Washington State, which has been at or near the bottom of the Pac-10 (now Pac-12) for three years now. But a respectable showing last November, in which the Cougars upset Oregon State and played Cal and archrival Washington within a touchdown, has raised hopes for long-suffering Washington State faithful. There are even whispers the Cougars could make their first bowl appearance since 2003. Any bowl hopes depend upon the Cougars starting 2-0. After that, though, the schedule toughens considerably.