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June 7, 2008

Rivals.com continues its 2008 countdown, releasing our preseason ranking of the Division I-A teams from No. 120 to No. 1. Today's release includes No. 100 through 91 as we countdown to the No. 1 team on July 31.

After that, you won't see any rankings from Rivals until early October. The reason: We will wait until enough games have been played so we can legitimately rank the teams.

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

Rivals.com Preseason Countdown: Nos. 110-101
100. MIDDLE TENNESSEE
COACH: Rick Stockstill (12-13 in two seasons).
LAST SEASON: 5-7 overall, 4-3 in the Sun Belt (tied for third in league).
FINAL 2007 RIVALS.COM RANKING: 89th.
KEEP AN EYE ON: Junior WR/RB Desmond Gee has tremendous quickness and likely will line up in the backfield, in the slot and split wide. The Blue Raiders will look to get the ball in Gee's hands as often as possible because he can score from anywhere. Junior cornerback Alex Suber, an honorable mention all-league pick last season, is expected to be the key player in the secondary. He's just 5-9 and 165 pounds and needs to add some weight, but he's tough nonetheless. He had 59 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, a pick, five pass breakups, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries last season.
STAR POWER: Sophomore quarterback Dwight Dasher lacks size he's 5-10 but he's a playmaker. He's a good runner who has breakaway speed, but needs to develop as a passer. Still, he was thrust into the starting job because of an injury last season as a true freshman and provided glimpses of talent that one day could make him the best quarterback in the league.
STRENGTHS: Dasher gives the Blue Raiders a prime-time playmaker. Senior Lonnie Clemons leads what should be a solid linebacker unit. The two toughest league games are at home, including the season-opener with Troy.
WEAKNESSES: There is no feature tailback, nor any established wide receiver. The offensive line returns three starters, but the two best linemen are gone. Coaches need to find some defensive ends to provide a pass rush. The safeties are a concern. There are just two home games after September.
THE BUZZ: There will be a ton of pressure on Dasher to make plays. Other than Gee, he may not have much help on offense unless a feature tailback emerges. The lack of a pass rush is a potential nightmare because a rebuilt secondary could get exposed. The schedule is front-loaded, and a 1-4 start is possible.
MIKE HUGUENIN
99. AKRON
COACH: J.D. Brookhart (22-26 in four seasons).
LAST SEASON: 4-8 overall, 3-5 in the MAC (sixth in MAC East).
FINAL 2007 RIVALS.COM RANKING: 96th.
KEEP AN EYE ON: Senior offensive tackle Chris Kemme was a second-team all-league selection last season. He is the best of four returning starters on the line. Junior defensive tackle Ryan Bain, who was a four-star recruit at Iowa before transferring, is being counted on to boost the defense. He had a big spring and should be the best player on the defensive line.
STAR POWER: As with many MAC teams, Akron needs help on defense. With the arrival of tailback Andrew Johnson, a former four-star recruit who transferred from Miami and had a good spring, Zips coaches felt they had the flexibility to move Bryan Williams (728 rushing yards last season) to strong safety from tailback. Williams is enough of an athlete to excel at the position. He also was the No. 2 kickoff returner in the country in '07, averaging 31.9 yards per return.
STRENGTHS: Akron again should have an explosive return game with Williams on kickoffs and Andre Jones returning punts. Jones who moved from free safety to wide receiver in the spring averaged 14.5 yards per punt return last year. Four starting offensive linemen are back. Defensive end Almondo Sewell was a second-team all-conference selection as a true freshman last season after recording 10 tackles for a loss.
WEAKNESSES: Quarterback Chris Jacquemain was unimpressive last season, and that was with star WR Jabari Arthur (1,171 yards, 10 TDs). Redshirt freshman Matt Rodgers is challenging Jacquemain for the starting role. Brookhart wouldn't have moved Williams to defensive back if the secondary wasn't a concern. Four starters in the 3-3-5 are gone - including Jones, who needs to prove he can be a go-to receiver. The running game wasn't good last season, and Johnson needs to make an impact.
THE BUZZ: Akron is three seasons removed from its last (and only) bowl appearance. The Zips are leaving the Rubber Bowl after this season before moving into on-campus InfoCision Stadium in 2009. The Zips need improved quarterback play to have a chance in an improving MAC. They're also counting on position switches to work out for two of their best players.
DAVID FOX
98. OHIO
COACH: Frank Solich (19-18 in three seasons; 77-37 overall in nine seasons).
LAST SEASON: 6-6 overall, 4-4 in the Mid-American Conference (tied for fourth in MAC East).
FINAL 2007 RIVALS.COM RANKING: 90th.
KEEP AN EYE ON: The receiving corps teems with promise. But the one to watch is sophomore LaVon Brazill, who is quick in and out of breaks and excels at sneaking behind coverage. After grabbing 16 passes for 201 yards in 2007, Brazill could be the big-play threat the offense needs to keep defenses honest. Senior tight end Andrew Mooney, who began his career at New Mexico State, led the Bobcats with 34 receptions for 498 yards and nine touchdowns last season.
STAR POWER: Senior defensive end Jameson Hartke is a Big Ten player masquerading on a MAC field. His size (6-4/262) makes him effective at the point of attack, and he also provides a rush push. Hartke had 51 tackles last year, with 5.5 tackles for loss and two sacks. Hartke must come up big for a unit that lost both starting tackles.
STRENGTHS: The Bobcats may go with a rotation at quarterback, featuring touted junior college transfer Boo Jackson and Theo Scott. Jackson is an adept passer who arrived in time for spring drills, while Scott is a slippery former JC transfer who played extensively last season behind the departed Brad Bower. It's hoped the contrast in styles will confound defenses. We'll see. The back seven on defense has a chance to be salty. Mark Parson and Julian Posey form one of the better cornerback tandems in the MAC, and linebacker Michael Brown is a tackling machine.
WEAKNESSES: Running back Kalvin McRae left Athens as the school's leading career rusher. No way, no how can he be replaced. Ohio will try to get it done by committee. There are many speedy options, including ex-WR Chris Garrett, but who will get the tough yards between the tackles? Hartke is a keeper, but the rest of the defensive line is iffy. The Bobcats could get run down and run over again. The staff has tried to build up strength and endurance to make the defense stronger in the fourth quarter.
THE BUZZ: Last year's M.O. was to feed the ball to McRae. That did two things: 1.) It wore down opposing defenses. 2.) It kept Ohio's defense off the field. Now, the Bobcats will turn to their quarterbacks to manufacture offense as coordinator Tim Albin veers away from the I-formation and opts for more spread looks. A big key: the emergence of a talented corps of wideouts. Are Brazill and Taylor Price ready to step up, along with TEs Mooney and David Carter? If not, Ohio could be buried out of the chute with three of its four games on the road. And the one home game in that stretch is against MAC favorite Central Michigan. Uh-oh.
TOM DIENHART
97. LOUISIANA-LAFAYETTE
COACH: Rickey Bustle (26-44 in six seasons).
LAST SEASON: 3-9 overall, 3-4 in the Sun Belt (tied for fifth in league).
FINAL 2007 RIVALS.COM RANKING: 112th.
KEEP AN EYE ON: Senior Michael Desormeaux was the second-leading rusher among quarterbacks in the nation last season, behind West Virginia's Pat White. Desormeaux ran for 1,141 yards and threw for 1,405. Junior linebacker Antwyne Zanders is undersized (6-0/212), but he's quick and always around the ball. He led the Ragin' Cajuns with 93 tackles last season and was a second-team all-league selection.
STAR POWER: Senior tailback Tyrell Fenroy is trying to become just the seventh player in Division I-A history to have four consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. He rushed for 1,021 yards and seven TDs last season and also is an adequate receiver. He had six 100-yard games last season and has 17 for his career.
STRENGTHS: Desormeaux and Fenroy give the Ragin' Cajuns a dynamic 1-2 punch in the backfield. They helped ULL rank seventh in the nation in rushing offense last season (251.6 ypg). They'll get to run behind a line that returns four starters, including potential standout center Chris Fisher. Zanders leads a linebacker unit that returns all three starters. Kicker Drew Edmiston is one of the best in the league. Only Texas and Fresno State have blocked more kicks than ULL since Bustle became coach in 2002.
WEAKNESSES: While Desormeaux is a big-time running threat, he's barely mediocre as a passer. ULL must greatly improve its passing attack to seriously contend for the league title. ULL was porous defensively last season, especially against the run. The Ragin' Cajuns ranked 114th nationally in rush defense, giving up 228.4 ypg. While the linebackers have some promise, the defensive line will have three new starters and there will be two new starters in the secondary. Five of the first six games are on the road, and ULL also has to travel to play league favorites Florida Atlantic and Troy in back-to-back weeks in November.
THE BUZZ: The Ragin' Cajuns should finish in the top half of the league, thanks to the presence of Desormeaux and Fenroy. But unless the defense makes big-time strides, ULL will be looking at a .500 season at best. Kevin Fouquier, in his second season as defensive coordinator, has had good defenses in the past in this league, so there is hope. The passing game also has to improve.
MIKE HUGUENIN
96. COLORADO STATE
COACH: Steve Fairchild (first season).
LAST SEASON: 3-9 overall; 2-6 in the Mountain West Conference (tied for eighth in league).
FINAL 2007 RIVALS.COM RANKING: 94th.
KEEP AN EYE ON: Senior tailback Gartrell Johnson played fullback and was a backup at tailback through the first five games of last season. But he was moved into the starting lineup at tailback in the seventh game of the year and averaged 126.1 yards for the rest of the season. He finished with 957 yards while averaging 5.3 yards per carry. Senior linebacker Jeff Horinek has started 26 games in a row and led the Rams with 94 tackles last season. He leads what should be a solid linebacker corps.
STAR POWER: Senior tight end Kory Sperry was considered the Rams' top pro prospect before a torn ACL in the second game last season ended his year prematurely. Sperry had eight catches, including three for touchdowns, in the season-opener against Colorado last season. He needs nine touchdown receptions to equal the school career record of 23.
STRENGTHS: Although All-MWC guard Nick Allotta completed his eligibility, the Rams have four senior starters returning on the offensive line. Johnson and Kyle Bell, who rushed for 1,288 yards in 2005, ensure the Rams are deep at tailback. Dion Morton is back after leading the MWC is kickoff-return yardage with a 26.8-yard average. The linebackers should help the Rams improve their cruddy run defense.
WEAKNESSES: The loss of Caleb Hanie leaves a huge void at quarterback and no one with significant experience is ready to step in. Senior Billy Farris, who was 9-for-20 last season, is the likely successor - but it's not assured. Three defensive line starters must be replaced. Both starting cornerbacks will be new. The passing attack must be upgraded.
THE BUZZ: After last season's disappointing showing, longtime coach Sonny Lubick stepped down and in stepped Fairfield, once an ultra-successful Colorado State offensive coordinator who has spent the past several years in the NFL. With Fairchild guiding the offense from 1997-2000, the Rams were 37-12 and set school records for points in a season. His return has sparked a return of expectations at Colorado State, which has endured four consecutive seasons without a winning record. Four of the first six games are at home, and most of the top-level MWC teams have to play in Fort Collins, too.
OLIN BUCHANAN
95. TEMPLE
COACH: Al Golden (5-19 in two seasons).
LAST SEASON: 4-8 overall, 4-4 in the MAC (tied for fourth in MAC East).
FINAL 2007 RIVALS.COM RANKING: 95th.
KEEP AN EYE ON: Junior defensive tackle Andre Neblett was a second-team all-league selection last season. He was a force in the middle of the line, finishing with 42 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. Junior strong safety Dominique Harris has great size (6-3/215) and put those attributes to good use with 81 tackles, three picks and five pass breakups. Temple allowed the fewest passing yards in the MAC last season.
STAR POWER: Senior quarterback Adam DiMichele one of the most decorated prep athletes in Pittsburgh-area history led the Owls to three consecutive wins, including a fourth-quarter comeback at Akron. However, he is recovering from a fractured tibia that caused him to miss the final four games.
STRENGTHS: Temple returns every starter and nearly every backup on a defense that was one of the best in the MAC. The Owls led the league in total defense and were second in scoring defense. Defensive line and secondary are the areas to watch. On a team short on experience the past two seasons, center Alex Derenthal has been a constant. Derenthal, a fifth-year senior, has started 35 consecutive games - more starts than anyone else at Temple. Derenthal is poised to be an All-MAC performer. He is one of four returning starters on the offensive line.
WEAKNESSES: That offensive line was mediocre last season. Temple rushed for 93.3 yards per game and finished last in the MAC in scoring offense and total offense. The Owls also need to find depth at wide receiver behind Bruce Francis (731 yards, six touchdowns). Quite simply, the offense lacks playmakers.
THE BUZZ: Golden, 38, a former Virginia assistant, is a rising star in the coaching ranks after building lowly Temple into a respectable MAC team. The Owls went from 1-11 to 4-8 in one year. Meanwhile, Temple has played the most freshmen in the nation (42) over the past two seasons. Now that his team is starting to grow up, Golden could surprise and have Temple in the thick of the MAC race if the offense improves.
DAVID FOX
94. MEMPHIS
COACH: Tommy West (41-44 in seven seasons; 76-79 in 13 seasons overall).
LAST SEASON: 7-6 overall, 6-2 in Conference USA (tied for second in C-USA East).
FINAL 2007 RIVALS.COM RANKING: 78th.
KEEP AN EYE ON: Senior free safety Brandon Patterson may have been the best player on the Tigers' porous defense last season. He has good range and is a solid tackler, as evidenced by his 77 stops last season. He also had three interceptions and a forced fumble. Senior offensive tackle Brandon Pearce is the best returning offensive lineman. Memphis had one of the nation's most productive offenses last season and the line allowed just 14 sacks, 10th-fewest nationally.
STAR POWER: Junior wide receiver Duke Calhoun heads the best receiving corps in Conference USA and one of the 20 best in the nation. As with most Tigers receivers, Calhoun has good size (6-4/195). He also has good hands and snagged 62 receptions last season.
STRENGTHS: We're not lying when we say Memphis has good receivers; the Tigers welcome back five receivers who caught at least 33 passes, and that group combined for 24 TD receptions. Carlos Singleton, who is 6-8, is a big-time pun intended target in the red zone. Singleton had 11 TD catches last season. The defensive line and secondary have potential, with Patterson and defensive end Clinton McDonald potential all-league guys. The schedule is back-loaded and a good start definitely is possible. In fact, the schedule as a whole isn't that difficult.
WEAKNESSES: All those good receivers may go to waste unless a quarterback emerges to replace Martin Hankins. Holdover Will Hudgens and touted junior college transfer Arkelon Hall a California native who began his career at Washington State are the leading contenders. There also is no established tailback on the roster. While the defense returns a ton of players, the unit was a sieve last season - especially against the run. The linebackers are a huge concern.
THE BUZZ: Memphis has been to four bowls in the past five seasons. But a lot of stuff must happen if that is to become five postseason appearances in six seasons. First, a quarterback has to be found. Second, the coaches need to decide on a tailback. Third and most important the defense has to be retooled. The new coordinator is Tim Walton, who was fired last year after one season as Miami's defensive coordinator. He has a lot of holdovers to work with, but how good are those holdovers? Memphis signed eight junior college transfers and needs at least half of those to produce immediately.
MIKE HUGUENIN
93. MINNESOTA
COACH: Tim Brewster (1-11 in one season).
LAST SEASON: 1-11 overall, 0-8 in Big Ten (last in league).
FINAL 2007 RIVALS.COM RANKING: 102nd.
KEEP AN EYE ON: Sophomore QB Adam Weber is adept at running the Gophers' spread attack. He's a good athlete who has become more of a vocal leader and vows to have a better grasp of the attack after fending off spring competition. Free safety Tramaine Brock arrived on campus from a junior college in time for spring drills. Good thing, because he impressed. Brock brings a much-needed infusion of athletic ability and tenacity to a sad-sack defense. He also knows how to tackle, which was a bugaboo for last season's defense. STAR POWER: While most Golden Gophers defenders have tire tracks across their chest, senior linebacker Steve Davis is an exception. He is a rare playmaker for the Golden Gophers, and possesses a nice combination of speed and strength. Too bad he can't be cloned.
STRENGTHS: Get out your microscope. These are difficult to find. Weber presumably has honed his decision-making and accuracy after tossing 19 picks in 2007. Defensive end Willie VanDeSteeg needs to revert to his 10-sack form of 2006 after an injury bothered him last season. An increase in athletic ability has improved the special teams. Joel Monroe has steadied the kicking, while punter Justin Kucek may be a Ray Guy contender.
WEAKNESSES: Where do we start? The defense is, well, a disaster. Everett Withers coordinated the worst unit in America (518.7 ypg) last season, then hightailed it out of town and landed a similar gig at North Carolina. Into the massive void steps former Duke coach Ted Roof. His job: improve this from a horrid defense to one that's simply bad. It's hoped an infusion of newcomers headed by Brock and junior college linebackers Cedric McKinley and Tim McGee helps. Don't be shocked if newcomers end up claiming more than half the starting spots on defense. In fact, the entire secondary could be fresh faces. A spread offense features numerous passes. But who will catch them? Wide receiver Eric Decker is a keeper and Jack Simmons is an underrated tight end, but the rest of the receivers are unknowns. Want more? Depth at running back is spotty and the offensive line will break in three new starters.
THE BUZZ: Brewster hit town like a hurricane, talking championships and tradition. But the feel-good vibe dissipated quickly in last season's disastrous debut, which included a home loss to I-AA North Dakota State. Brewster is injecting talent into a moribund program. The offense will continue to be formidable, but there's too much improvement to be made on defense to expect a miraculous turnaround. Look for Minnesota to show signs of life and build a modicum of momentum as the program bids good riddance to the Metrodome and heads to new on-campus digs in 2009. Will this team go bowling? No way. Will it be better? As Minnesotans say, you betcha.
TOM DIENHART
92. BAYLOR
COACH: Art Briles (first season; 34-28 in five seasons overall).
LAST SEASON: 3-9 overall, 0-8 in the Big 12 (last in Big 12 South).
FINAL 2007 RIVALS.COM RANKING: 105th.
KEEP AN EYE ON: Junior linebacker Joe Pawelek has posted at least 86 tackles in each of the past two seasons and could be an all-league guy this season. Junior quarterback Blake Szymanski is coming off a season in which he set school records with 22 touchdown passes, 264 completions and 2,844 passing yards. However, Szymanski may not be the starter in 2008. Robert Griffin was the jewel of Baylor's recruiting class and could emerge as the starter. An early enrollee, he performed well in the spring and will challenge Szymanski, Miami transfer Kirby Freeman and junior college transfer Jeremy Sanders for the starting nod.
STAR POWER: Free safety Jordan Lake was Baylor's only All-Big 12 selection last season. He posted 120 tackles, made two interceptions, forced two fumbles and recovered two.
STRENGTHS: Much is expected from an offensive line that allowed just 21 sacks on a school-record 561 passing attempts season. Four starters return from that unit. The receivers have some potential.
WEAKNESSES: There are more than a few. Defensively, the Bears allowed an average of 461.5 yards and 37 points per game last season. Those figures have to improve if Baylor is going to improve. The starting cornerbacks have to be replaced. Also, Baylor has ranked 99th or worse in rushing offense every year since 2000. The Bears have averaged fewer than 80 rushing yards per game in each of the past two seasons. Jay Finley is the Bears' top returning rusher after gaining a mere 207 yards last season.
THE BUZZ: Six years ago Briles took over a Houston program that had managed a combined eight victories in its previous three seasons and took the Cougars to four bowls in five seasons. The hope in Waco is that he can duplicate that feat at Baylor, which has not posted a winning season since the inception of the Big 12 in 1996 and hasn't made a bowl appearance since 1994. Briles' offensive system and an influx of quarterbacks provides encouragement, but the defense desperately needs an overhaul.
OLIN BUCHANAN
91. BUFFALO
COACH: Turner Gill (7-17 in two seasons).
LAST SEASON: 5-7 overall, 5-3 in the MAC (third place in MAC East).
FINAL 2007 RIVALS.COM RANKING: 88th.
KEEP AN EYE ON: The Bulls are solid at quarterback with senior Drew Willy, who passed for more than 2,500 yards with 15 touchdowns and six interceptions in '07. He'll be entering his fourth season as the starter. Junior tailback James Starks rushed for 1,103 yards last season, including a career-high 231-yard outburst against Toledo. He had four 100-yard games and averaged 129.4 yards over the last seven contests.
STAR POWER: Strong safety Davonte Shannon last season earned the distinction as the first Buffalo player to be named first-team All-MAC. He posted 123 tackles the most by a Bull since Buffalo became a Division I-A program and had three interceptions and eight pass breakups. He did that as a true freshman, so he figures to get even better.
STRENGTHS: Although more efficient than electrifying, the Bulls can be proud of their passing game. In fact, the Bulls ranked second in the MAC in passing efficiency and can anticipate similar results in '08. Willy is coming off his best season. Also, the Bulls' top five receivers are back, including Naaman Roosevelt and Ernest Jackson, who both had more than 50 receptions last season. Four starters return on the offensive line, which is good news for Starks.
WEAKNESSES: The back seven on defense causes some concern. The Bulls must rebuild at linebacker after losing two starters who earned All-MAC recognition. And although the secondary returns intact, the Bulls' pass defense ranked 12th in the 13-team conference last season.
THE BUZZ: Though Buffalo hasn't posted a winning record in nine Division I-A seasons, the Bulls could be MAC contenders this season. The optimism is generated by 18 returning starters. The Bulls have reason to believe they can get the job done when it matters most. After all, they led the MAC with an 86.4 percent success rate in red-zone offense last season.
OLIN BUCHANAN

Coming Tomorrow: Nos. 90-81

THE RANKINGS: 101-110 | 111-120



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