This is the fourth part of our annual preseason team countdown, which will wrap up Aug. 16, two weeks before the start of the 2012 season.
We are working backward from our 124th-ranked team, with the teams packaged in groups of five until we get to our top 50; then, each team gets a day to itself.
Last season: 6-7 overall, 3-4 in WAC (tied for 4th in league) Coach: Norm Chow (1st season) Fast fact: This will be the Warriors' first season in the Mountain West Conference after 32 seasons in the WAC. Key player: The quarterback. One problem – Chow hasn't picked a starter yet. No one stood out in spring drills, and it wouldn't be a surprise if Chow takes until the final week of fall drills to pick his starter. David Graves, Utah transfer Jeremy Higgins, Ikaika Woolsey and Cayman Shutter are the candidates, with the choice likely coming down to Graves and Higgins. The good: RB Joey Iosefa should be a bigger threat in Chow's pro-set offense than he was in the previous regime's run-and-shoot. Iosefa and Sterling Jackson look to be an OK pair at running back. LB Art Laurel is a big-play guy; he had nine sacks, three forced fumbles and 14.5 tackles for loss last season. Mike Edwards heads a good group of corners. The bad: The offensive scheme change is going to take a while to grasp. It doesn't help that the offensive line, which was horrendous for much of last season, returns just two starters and is relying on a lot of youngsters. Only four starters return on defense, and the line, especially, could have some issues. K Tyler Hadden is erratic. The projection: The offensive scheme change bears watching, especially because there is no proven quarterback on the roster. The schedule doesn't allow for much time to get acclimated, either. Other than a visit from FCS member Lamar, the early-season schedule is a tough one, including trips to USC and BYU. There are some eminently winnable games in midseason and at the end, but Chow's first season seems destined to be remembered for a tough debut.
Last season: 3-9 overall Coach: Rich Ellerson (15-22, 4th season at Army; 75-63, 13th season overall) Fast fact: Army has ranked last nationally in passing in each of the past four seasons. The Black Knights have thrown for 3,036 yards total in that span; there were 57 teams who passed for more yards last season alone. Key player: FB Larry Dixon. Dixon eventually became the starting fullback last season, beating out returning 1,000-yard rusher Jared Hassin. A productive fullback makes Army's triple-option offense work even better. Dixon, who has good speed for a 238-pounder, ran for 542 yards and five TDs last season, and should be better this season. The good: The Black Knights run the ball as well as anybody. The starting backfield should be quite good, especially RB Raymond Maples, who ran for 1,066 yards last season. He, Dixon and Malcolm Brown give QB Trent Steelman numerous options (pun intended) in the backfield. In all, Army returns its top seven rushers. The interior of the offensive line should be strong. The secondary is the best part of the defense. There are seven home games one season after there were just four. The bad: The passing attack is bad even for an option team; the Black Knights threw for 605 yards last season. That's total. There will be two new starting offensive tackles, which could prove problematic. The Black Knights are severely undersized on defense, one reason they were 100th in rushing defense last season. The linebackers don't look all that good. There is no established kicker. The projection: The rushing attack gives the Black Knights hope. But the defensive questions look too big to overcome. Turnovers were a huge problem last season; Army had a minus-9 turnover margin. That can't happen with a defense of this ilk. Four of the first six games are at home, which could lead to a fast start. But getting to five wins seems to be too much to ask with this defense.
Last season: 2-10 overall, 1-6 in MWC (tied for 6th in league) Coach: Bobby Hauck (4-21, 3rd season at UNLV; 84-38, 10th season overall) Fast fact: UNLV hasn't had a winning record since 2000 and has had just three winning records since going 6-5 in 1986. Key player: RB Tim Cornett. The Rebels have questions at quarterback, but Cornett should be an impact player in the backfield. He played well late last season and will be running behind a line that returns all five starters. The good: The rushing attack should be strong. UNLV rushed for a respectable 164.3 yards per game last season, good for 48th nationally, and increasing that average by 20 per game this fall looks possible. WR Marcus Sullivan, who was academically ineligible last season, gives the Rebels a big-play threat – assuming he gets the ball enough. P Chase Lanford is solid. The bad: Who will be the quarterback? And can the defense stop anyone? The defense was rancid all around last season, giving up an unsightly 40.4 points per game (118th nationally). While the defensive line and secondary have potential, there aren't any proven performers. One guy to watch: DE James Boyd, a JC transfer who began spring drills at quarterback. Yep, quarterback. He is a big guy (6-5/255) who was a four-star recruit as an athlete out of high school in Los Angeles. He signed with USC but eventually transferred to West Los Angeles CC before signing with UNLV. Coaches think he can be a big-time pass-rusher. The projection: Hauck hasn't had much success at UNLV after leaving FCS powerhouse Montana. There is some hope this season, though, because of what could be a powerful rushing attack. UNLV opens the season with four winnable home games and has seven home games in all. October is going to make or break the Rebels. But can they win even once in that month?
Last season: 3-9 overall, 3-5 in Conference USA (tied for 4th in C-USA East) Coach: Garrick McGee (1st season) Fast fact: The Blazers moved up to Division I-A (now called FBS) in 1996; they have had just three winning records since then, with the most recent coming in 2004. UAB has won 26 games in the ensuing seven seasons. Key player: QB Jonathan Perry. He was supposed to be a backup last season, but moved into the starting role when Bryan Ellis was injured. Perry threw for 410 yards against Memphis and had a big game when the Blazers shocked Southern Miss. But he must become more consistent this season after throwing 10 TD passes and eight interceptions last season. The good: The passing attack has potential. Perry has a nice arm and there's an OK group of receivers, with Jackie Williams a potential all-league guy. Williams had 58 receptions but zero touchdowns last season. LB Marvin Burdette is productive and leads a solid group at the position. Sophomore DE Diaheem Watkins looks to be an emerging star. K Ty Long should contend for All-C-USA honors. The bad: The offensive line has four new starters, which means the rushing attack could be a problem. The secondary is an even bigger problem; the Blazers were 114th in the nation in pass defense last season and will have four new starters in the secondary this season. It would help if there is a pass rush: UAB managed a nation's-low eight sacks last season. There will be a new punter. The projection: McGee had been offensive coordinator at Arkansas, though he didn't call the plays. His presence should help Perry and the passing attack. Too bad Perry can't throw against UAB's secondary. The schedule includes back-to-back visits to South Carolina and Ohio State in September, but there are some winnable home games. Thing is, UAB hasn't been able to prevail in those types of games before. Can McGee get them over the hump?
Last season: 3-9 overall, 2-6 in MAC (6th in MAC West) Coach: Dan Enos (6-18, 3rd season) Fast fact: CMU has won a total of six games the past two seasons, which is half the number of games it won in 2009 alone. Key player: QB Ryan Radcliff. He is heading into his third season as a starter. He has a nice arm and has thrown for 6,759 yards and 42 touchdowns in his career. But he also has tossed 35 interceptions and he simply has to make better decisions as a senior. The good: The passing attack lends hope that the Chippewas can finish with at least a .500 record. Titus Davis and Cody Wilson form the best receiving tandem in the MAC, and could (should?) total 150 receptions. Courtney Williams is another threat. Four starting offensive linemen return – and all four are seniors. SS Jahleel Addae is one of the best players in the MAC, and he heads what should be a solid secondary. The bad: The rushing attack was bad last season and there is no established tailback on the roster this season. The run defense could be an issue again; there will be an all-new starting group at linebacker and the defensive linemen are undersized. Turnovers were a problem last season, when CMU had a minus-12 turnover margin; that's where better decision-making by Radcliff comes in. The projection: CMU bears watching in the MAC. The league as a whole looks to be down, and the offense has solid potential. And while the early-season schedule is tough, the second half of the schedule is quite navigable. One big positive: There are seven home games, including a first-ever visit from Michigan State. In addition, five of the final seven games are at home. If the rushing attack comes around and there is at least some semblance of a defense, CMU could earn a bowl bid.