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June 24, 2010

Preseason Top 120 Countdown: Nos. 85-81

Here is the eighth part of Rivals.com's 1-120 countdown for 2010; today, we look at teams ranked 81st through 85th.

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 -- 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 emails.

Top 120 countdown
No. 85 Syracuse
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
OFFENSE
QB Ryan Nassib (6-3/215, Soph.)
RB Delone Carter (5-10/215, Sr.)
FB Carl Cutler (6-2/238, Jr.)
WR Alec Lemon (6-2/193, Soph.)
WR Van Chew (6-1/161, Jr.)
TE Nick Provo (6-5/232, Sr.)
T Justin Pugh (6-5/280, Soph.)
T Josh White (6-5/288, Sr.)
G Adam Rosner (6-6/205, Sr.)
G Andrew Tiller (6-5/282, Sr.)
C Ryan Bartholomew (6-3/288, Sr.)
DEFENSE
E Chandler Jones (6-5/246, Jr.)
T Andrew Lewis (6-3/273, Sr.)
T Bud Tribbey (6-1/274, Sr.)
E Mikhail Marinovich (6-4/234, Jr.)
LB Ryan Gillum (5-10/219, Jr.)
LB Doug Hogue (6-2/223, Sr.)
LB Derrell Smith (6-1/236, Sr.)
CB Da'Mon Merkerson (6-1/183, Sr.)
CB Phillip Thomas (6-0/178, Soph.)
FS Mike Holmes (5-11/184, Sr.)
SS Max Suter (5-11/190, Sr.)
SPECIALISTS
K Ryan Lichtenstein (5-10/150, Soph.)
P Rob Long (6-4/184, Sr.)
KR Averin Collier (5-9/191, Jr.)
PR Mike Holmes (5-11/184, Sr.)
COACH: Doug Marrone (second season, 4-8).
LAST SEASON: 4-8, 1-6 (T-7th in Big East)
FINAL 2009 RIVALS.COM RANKING: 81st
KEEP AN EYE ON: Ideally, RB Delone Carter would be the focal point of the offense after rushing for 1,021 yards and 11 touchdowns last season. Instead, Carter is facing an assault charge after an altercation with a Syracuse student. While awaiting a legal resolution, Carter is suspended from school until at least the fall semester. Without Carter, Syracuse could struggle to move the ball.
STRENGTHS: Syracuse returns seven defensive starters and one of the best linebacker duos in the Big East in Derrell Smith and Doug Hogue, who combined for 26.5 tackles for loss and 16 sacks last season. E Chandler Jones had 10 tackles for loss last season. Syracuse also will have one of the most versatile defenders in the Big East in Shamarko Thomas. He started at linebacker, safety and cornerback last season and looks to do more of the same in 2010. Syracuse should have a solid safety tandem in Mike Holmes and a healthy Max Suter. The Orange have good specialists with K Ryan Lichtenstein (13 of 17 on field goals) and P Rob Long (43.1 yards per kick).
WEAKNESSES: How bad has Syracuse's offense been in recent seasons? The Orange had its best season since 2004 -- and still finished seventh in the league in total offense. Syracuse averaged 330.4 yards per game, the first time the Orange topped 300 yards in five seasons. Second-year coach Marrone, now his own coordinator and play-caller, will rely on sophomore QB Ryan Nassib, who passed for 422 yards last season in spot work behind Greg Paulus. WRs Alec Lemon and Marcus Sales could become an effective receiver duo, but neither are proven. The offensive line continues to be a question mark. While Syracuse was good against the run last season, it struggled against the pass. The Orange ranked 113th in the country in pass efficiency defense; the cornerbacks are on the spot. Syracuse needs to improve its coverage units after allowing two touchdowns on kickoff returns and 13.2 yards per punt return.
BUZZ: While Syracuse's record didn't turn around under Marrone, the attitude appeared to change. If Carter can play and Syracuse finds a consistent quarterback, it could return to a bowl for the first time since 2004. The schedule features two FCS teams, which could end up doing more harm than good (only one win over an FCS program counts toward bowl eligibility).

-- DAVID FOX

ROSTER | STATS | SCHEDULE

Top 120 countdown
No. 84 Illinois
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
OFFENSE
QB Nathan Scheelhaase (6-3/185, R-Fr.)
RB Mikel Leshoure (6-0/230, Jr.)
FB Zach Becker (6-3/250, Jr.)
WR Jarred Fayson (6-0/215, Sr.)
WR A.J. Jenkins (6-0/185, Jr.)
TE London Davis (6-4/255, Soph.)
T Jeff Allen (6-5/305, Jr.)
T Corey Lewis (6-6/305, Jr.)
G Randall Hunt (6-6/315, Sr.)
G Hugh Thornton (6-5/310, Soph.)
C Graham Pocic (6-7/305, Soph.)
DEFENSE
E Michael Buchanan (6-6/225, Soph.)
T Corey Liuget (6-3/300, Jr.)
T Akeem Spence (6-1/305, R-Fr.)
E Clay Nurse (6-3/260, Sr.)
LB Nate Bussey (6-2/220, Sr.)
LB Ian Thomas (6-0/240, Jr.)
LB Martez Wilson (6-4/250, Jr.)
CB Terry Hawthorne (6-0/185, Soph.)
CB Tavon Wilson (6-0/205, Jr.)
S Travon Bellamy (6-0/205, Sr.)
S Supo Sanni (6-3/220, Jr.)
SPECIALISTS
K Derek Dimke (6-0/180, Jr.)
P Anthony Santella (6-2/190, Sr.)
KR Troy Pollard (5-8/190, Jr.)
PR Jarred Fayson (6-0/215, Sr.)
COACH: Ron Zook (21-39, sixth; 44-53, ninth season overall).
LAST SEASON: 3-9, 2-6 (9th in Big Ten)
FINAL 2009 RIVALS.COM RANKING: 84th
KEEP AN EYE ON: Zook shook up his staff, underscoring that this is a vital season. Five assistants are gone; four were fired and another left for another job. Another assistant was demoted. Zook hopes the changes will result in a revived program. Paul Petrino arrives from Arkansas to coordinate the offense. He has ditched the spread option and will run a multiple, pro-style attack. Former Kansas State co-coordinator Vic Koenning was hired to run the defense, which will be a multi-faceted, eight-man front scheme.
STRENGTHS: RB Daniel Dufrene is gone, but the backfield will feature Mikel Leshoure and Jason Ford, one of the top running back tandems in the Big Ten. And the receiving corps has potential even with Arrellious Benn off a year early to the NFL. Jarred Fayson and A.J. Jenkins lead the way. The tight end may be used more in Petrino's attack. Will LB Martez Wilson, a former five-star recruit, ever reach his potential? The line looks good with E Clay Nurse and T Corey Liuget back. P Anthony Santella is solid after averaging 41.3 yards per boot in 2009.
WEAKNESSES: Where to begin? Illinois ranked last in the Big Ten in scoring defense (30.2 ppg). And the pass defense was especially hideous, as the Illini ranked 10th in the league (248.8 ypg) and picked off a Big Ten-low five passes. No doubt, a moribund pass rush that ranked last in the conference in sacks and tackles for loss was a major culprit. Redshirt freshman Nathan Scheelhaase has been tabbed to replace QB Juice Williams. But can Scheelhaase pass? The offensive line must be revamped after losing its best player in G Jon Asamoah. The coaching staff needs to get more out of the safeties.
BUZZ: This could be a make-or-break year for Zook. In five seasons in Champaign, Zook has posted just one winning record. Complicating matters is another rugged schedule that includes non-conference games with Missouri and Northern Illinois. Plus, Big Ten play begins with, in order, Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan State.

-- TOM DIENHART

ROSTER | STATS | SCHEDULE

Top 120 countdown
No. 83 Kansas State
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
OFFENSE
QB Carson Coffman (6-3/211, Sr.)
RB Daniel Thomas (6-2/228, Sr.)
WR Aubrey Quarles (5-11/202, Sr.)
WR Brodrick Smith (6-2/206, Soph.)
WR Tramaine Thompson (5-7/165, R-Fr.)
TE Travis Tannahill (6-3/254, Soph.)
T Zach Hanson (6-8/313, Jr.)
T Clyde Aufner (6-5/300, Jr.)
G Zach Kendall (6-2/312, Sr.)
G Kenneth Mayfield (6-4/338, Sr.)
C Wade Weibert (6-4/303, Sr.)
DEFENSE
E Antonio Felder (6-2/244, Sr.)
T Prizell Brown (6-2/265, Sr.)
T Raphael Guidry (6-4/279, Jr.)
E Brandon Harold (6-5/264, Jr.)
LB Troy Butler (6-0/194, Sr.)
LB Jarell Childs (6-1/225, Soph.)
LB Alex Hrebec (5-11/251, Jr.)
CB Stephen Harrison (5-11/183, Sr.)
CB Darious Thomas (5-11/181, Soph.)
FS Tysyn Hartman (6-3/206, Jr.)
SS Emmanuel Lamur (6-4/219, Jr.)
SPECIALISTS
K Josh Cherry (6-0/190, Sr.)
P Ryan Doerr (6-3/188, Soph.)
KR Brodrick Smith (6-2/206, Soph.)
PR William Powell (5-0/205, Sr.)
COACH: Bill Snyder (142-74-1, 19th season).
LAST SEASON: 6-6, 4-4 (T-2nd in Big 12 North)
FINAL 2009 RIVALS.COM RANKING: 66th
KEEP AN EYE ON: Kansas State lost its most dynamic playmaker in WR Brandon Banks along with TE Jeron Mastrud. That means the Wildcats need transfer wide receivers Chris Harper (from Oregon) and Brodrick Smith (Minnesota) to play well.
STRENGTHS: With Daniel Thomas at running back and a question mark at quarterback, Kansas State will look to grind down opponents. Thomas is the right man for the job; he led the Big 12 in rushing with 1,265 yards and 11 touchdowns on 247 carries last season. Helping him stay at the top of the league will be a veteran interior offensive line. Both guards and the center are seniors and returning starters. On defense, K-State should be able to build around its secondary. Ss Tysyn Hartman (five interceptions) and Emmanuel Lamur should be among the best in the league.
WEAKNESSES: Kansas State was last in the Big 12 in passing, and the Wildcats might finish near there again. QB Carson Coffman was the starter to open last season, but he eventually lost his job. This fall, he will compete with Collin Klein for the starting role. The Wildcats are short on experience at linebacker. They finished 10th in the Big 12 in sacks and tackles for loss last season, but those numbers could get a boost from the return of DE Brandon Harold. He missed all but one game last season with an injury after recording 10.5 tackles for loss and two forced fumble as a freshman. K-State will miss Banks in the return game; he returned four kicks for touchdowns in 2009.
BUZZ: The return of Snyder brought a one-game turnaround on the field -- from 5-7 to 6-6 -- but the biggest change was in attitude. If not for a 17-15 loss at Louisiana-Lafayette in the second week of the season (K-State's only loss to a team that didn't reach a bowl), the Wildcats would've played in the postseason. More incremental progress could land K-State in a bowl for the first time since 2003. Four of the first five games are at home; the other is a neutral-site affair with Iowa State in Kansas City. The flipside is that five of the last seven, including the final three, are on the road.

-- DAVID FOX

ROSTER | STATS | SCHEDULE

Top 120 countdown
No. 82 Bowling Green
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
OFFENSE
QB Kellen Pagel (6-3/201, R-Fr.)
RB Willie Geter (5-7/175, Sr.)
WR Kamar Jorden (6-3/189, Jr.)
WR Tyrone Pronty (6-0/189, Sr.)
WR Adrian Hodges (5-11/191, Jr.)
TE Nick Rieke (6-4/257, Sr.)
T Tyler Donahue (6-6/300, Sr.)
T Blaec Walker (6-5/300, Soph.)
G Scott Lewis (6-2/294, Jr.)
G Chip Robinson (6-6/327, Soph.)
C Ben Bojicic (6-5/294, Jr.)
DEFENSE
E Angelo Magnone (6-3/252, Sr.)
T Kevin Alvarado (6-2/274, Jr.)
T Chris Jones (6-2/274, Soph.)
E Darius Smith (6-3/230, Sr.)
LB Eugene Fells (6-1/228, Sr.)
LB Dwayne Woods (6-1/217, Soph.)
LB Calvin Marshall (5-11/205, Sr.)
CB Robert Lorenzi (5-8/168, Sr.)
CB Adrien Spencer (6-0/185, Jr.)
FS Lane Robilotto (6-1/187, Soph.)
SS Keith Morgan (6-0/206, Jr.)
SPECIALISTS
K Jerry Phillips (6-1/206, Soph.)
P Jerry Phillips (6-1/206, Soph.)
KR John Pettigrew (5-10/183, Soph.)
PR Willie Geter (5-7/175, Sr.)
COACH: Dave Clawson (7-6, second season; 65-55, 11th season overall).
LAST SEASON: 7-6, 6-2 (3rd in MAC East); lost to Idaho in Humanitarian Bowl
FINAL 2009 RIVALS.COM RANKING: 74th
KEEP AN EYE ON: Who's going to be the quarterback? There are five candidates vying to replace Tyler Sheehan, who took 95 percent of the snaps over the past three seasons and threw for 10,117 yards and 70 touchdowns in his career. Of the quintet, only Aaron Pankratz has thrown a pass in a college game. Keep an eye on redshirt freshman Kellen Pagel, the son of former NFL QB Mike Pagel.
STRENGTHS: Willie Geter, who is just 5 feet 7, ran for 705 yards in 2009 and will team with sophomore John Pettigrew to form what should be a nice 1-2 punch at running back. Junior C Ben Bojicic has all-league potential. The coaches like junior WR Adrian Hodges, who was second on the team with 46 catches in 2009; look for him to be the go-to guy this season. For a team with a lot of defensive holes, the good news is that eight projected starters are juniors or seniors. E Angelo Magnone is the leader up front; he had 43 tackles and 2.5 sacks last season. The line returns three starters and should be a strength.
WEAKNESSES: The Falcons have massive holes to fill with the departures of Sheehan and WR Freddie Barnes. Sheehan leaves campus as one of the best quarterbacks in school history. Barnes set an NCAA single-season record by catching 155 passes last season. There is a lot of work to do on a defense that lost seven starters and often struggled last season en route to finishing 10th in the MAC in total defense (398.2 ypg). Stopping the run was the biggest issue, as the Falcons finished 12th in the league in rush defense (194.2 ypg). All three starting linebackers are gone, as is three-fourths of last season's starting secondary. Special teams are an overall concern.
BUZZ: After a miserable one-season run as Tennessee's offensive coordinator, Clawson enjoyed a solid debut season as Falcons coach. Youngsters dominate the roster -- 44 scholarship players are true freshmen or redshirt freshmen -- and the staff believes there is a lot of athletic ability. Still, all that youth means this looks like a rebuilding season. Complicating things is that five of the first seven games are on the road, including a visit to Michigan. The Falcons have just five home games this season and don't have any back-to-back home contests.

-- TOM DIENHART

ROSTER | STATS | SCHEDULE

Top 120 countdown
No. 81 Florida Atlantic
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
OFFENSE
QB Jeff Van Camp (6-5/210, Sr.)
RB Alfred Morris (5-11/222, Jr.)
FB Xavier Stinson (5-9/228, Soph.)
WR Avery Holley (6-0/160, Sr.)
WR Lester Jean (6-3/195, Sr.)
TE Rob Housler (6-5/210, Sr.)
T Max Karrick (6-6/280, Jr.)
T Troy Niblack (6-6/280, Soph.)
G Andy Czuprynski (6-5/265, Soph.)
G Samuel McRoy (6-4/275, Jr.)
C Jordan Sessa (6-5/270, Soph.)
DEFENSE
E Kevin Cyrille (6-4/275, Jr.)
T Dino Cox (6-3/300, Sr.)
T Jimmy Jean (6-2/290, Jr.)
E Jamere Johnson (6-4/220, Jr.)
LB Malik Eugene (6-3/235, Sr.)
LB Michael Lockley (6-2/220, Sr.)
LB Alex Pattee (6-2/240, Soph.)
CB Tarvoris Hill (6-0/170, Sr.)
CB Tavious Polo (5-11/175, Sr.)
FS Ed Alexander (6-1/172, Sr.)
SS Marcus Bartels (5-9/170, Jr.)
SPECIALISTS
K Ross Gornall (5-11/190, Sr.)
P Mickey Groody (5-11/170, Jr.)
KR Tavious Polo (5-11/175, Sr.)
PR Tavious Polo (5-11/175, Sr.)
COACH: Howard Schnellenberger (53-55, 10th season; 153-132-3, 26th season overall).
LAST SEASON: 5-7, 5-3 (T-3rd in Sun Belt)
FINAL 2009 RIVALS.COM RANKING: 102nd
KEEP AN EYE ON: One offshoot of last season's disappointing record was that the Owls got a head start on the rebuilding process. Senior QB Rusty Smith was injured in Game 7 and Jeff Van Camp came on and played solid football down the stretch. He has good size and a nice arm, and if he keeps the interception total down, FAU could have the most productive passing attack in the Sun Belt.
STRENGTHS: Senior WR Lester Jean steadily has improved throughout his career, and he has 50-catch potential. WR Avery Holley and TE Rob Housler each should have 30-plus receptions. RB Alfred Morris ran for a league-leading 1,392 yards last season; he had seven 100-yard games and five games with two rushing TDs. There are potential all-league players at each level of the defense: E Kevin Cyrille, LB Michael Lockley and SS Marcus Bartels. The secondary has potential.
WEAKNESSES: While there is ample skill-position talent, all five starters on the offensive line are gone. Not only will there be five new starters, depth is an issue, too; one of the projected starting guards is Andy Czuprynski, who was a defensive tackle when spring practice started. Defensively, FAU was 112th nationally in rushing defense, 112th in total defense and 106th in scoring defense last season. Finding a way to pressure opposing passers is vital; FAU managed just 12 sacks last season, an embarrassingly low number for a team with this many athletes. Only three teams nationally had fewer sacks.
BUZZ: The Owls look as if they have a chance to finish as high as third in the Sun Belt; anything better than that would be a surprise. There is some talent on offense, but the defense has some issues, even with nine returning starters. There also are some issues with the schedule. FAU has just four home games, the fewest in the nation for a FBS team; there's just one home game before Oct. 30.

-- MIKE HUGUENIN

ROSTER | STATS | SCHEDULE



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