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June 19, 2010

Preseason Top 120 Countdown: Nos. 110-106

Here is the third part of Rivals.com's 1-120 countdown; today, we look at the teams ranked 106th through 110th.

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
110. Memphis
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
OFFENSE
QB Ryan Williams (6-5/220, Fr.)
RB Gregory Ray (5-10/205, Sr.)
WR Curtis Johnson (6-0/185, Soph.)
WR Jermaine McKenzie (6-2/185, Jr.)
WR Marcus Rucker (6-4/180, Soph.)
TE Deven Onarheim (6-8/250, Sr.)
T Ronald Leary (6-4/310, Jr.)
T Jamie McCoy (6-5/270, Soph.)
G Joel McCleod (6-3/325, Jr.)
G Dominik Riley (6-5/310, Sr.)
C Brad Paul (6-5/290, Sr.)
DEFENSE
E Winston Bowens (6-1/255, Sr.)
T Charlie Bryant (6-8/320, Sr.)
T Dontari Poe (6-5/350, Soph.)
E Frank Trotter (6-2/280, Jr.)
LB Dasmine Cathey (6-6/215, Jr.)
LB DeRon Furr (6-3/225, Soph.)
LB Jamon Hughes (6-0/245, Sr.)
CB Darius Davis (6-1/200, Sr.)
CB Mohammed Seisay (6-2/200, R-Fr.)
FS Marcus Ball (6-0/210, Sr.)
SS Derek Smith (6-2/205, R-Fr.)
SPECIAL TEAMS
K Paulo Henriques (5-10/215, Soph.)
P Josh Booker (6-2/210, Jr.)
KR Marcus Hightower (6-2/205, Soph.)
PR Curtis Johnson (6-0/185, Soph.)
COACH: Larry Porter (first season).
LAST SEASON: 2-10, 1-7 (6th in C-USA East)
FINAL 2009 RIVALS.COM RANKING: 109th
KEEP AN EYE ON: New coach Larry Porter arrives from LSU, where he was running backs coach, with a reputation as a big-time recruiter. He takes over a team with a ton of questions on both sides of the ball. Porter has said defense will be the Tigers' calling card this season, but this is a team that gave up 457.5 yards and 34.8 points per game last season. New defensive coordinator Jay Hopson certainly has some work to do. How much impact can a new staff make this season?
STRENGTHS: While the offensive skill positions are a huge concern, the line looks good; G Dominik Riley is an all-league candidate. Former Alabama coach Mike DuBose is the Tigers' new defensive line coach and he could have the biggest set of defensive tackles in the nation in rising star Dontari Poe (6-5/350) and senior Charlie Bryant (6-8/320). The linebackers look OK.
WEAKNESSES: Who's going to carry the ball? RB Curtis Steele was the focal point of the offense last season, but he's gone. Senior Gregory Ray, who had just four carries rushes last season, gets first dibs on the vacancy. The quarterback job won't be decided until fall camp, with Miami transfer Cannon Smith battling true freshman Ryan Williams, who enrolled early and had a surprisingly strong spring. Smith is the son of FedEx chairman Fred Smith, a big Tigers booster. The top three receivers are gone; who will step up there? The secondary was a sieve last season; will that change? Special teams are a big concern. The Tigers will sorely miss Matt Reagan, who handled the kicking and punting chores. The return and coverage units need an infusion of athleticism.
BUZZ: The defense struggled last season, when the Tigers had a veteran offense. This season, the skill-position starters are new and that could put a huge burden on a defense that doesn't appear up to the task. The front seven actually has some potential, especially Poe, who has the potential to be a true monster in the middle. But, man, that offense doesn't engender much confidence. Three of the first four games are on the road, and the one home game in that span is against Middle Tennessee, which hammered the Tigers by 17 last season. There's an intriguing three-game stretch in late October/early November in which the Tigers play consecutive home games against Southern Miss, Houston and Tennessee. Chances are, though, they will be well on their way to a two- or three-win season by then.

-- MIKE HUGUENIN

ROSTER | STATS | SCHEDULE

Top 120 countdown
109. Louisiana-Lafayette
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
OFFENSE
QB Chris Masson (6-2/201, Jr.)
RB Robert Walker (5-7/179, Fr.)
FB Matt Desormeaux (6-1/232, Sr.)
WR Pierre Hill (6-0/160, Jr.)
WR Marlin Miller (5-11/177, Sr.)
TE Ladarius Green (6-6/225, Jr.)
T Jonathan Decoster (6-5/301, Sr.)
T Colin Windsor (6-5/290, Sr.)
G Leonardo Bates (6-5/319, Soph.)
G Jaron Odom (6-7/337, Soph.)
C Ian Burks (6-4/286, Sr.)
DEFENSE
E Nate Douglas (6-2/242, Jr.)
T Derreck Dean (5-11/280, Jr.)
T Jordan Topp (6-4/301, Sr.)
E Terrell Richardson (6-5/260, Sr.)
LB Grant Fleming (6-4/232, Sr.)
LB Devon Lewis-Buchanan (6-2/206, Jr.)
LB Daylon McCoy (6-0/215, Sr.)
CB Orkeys Auriene (5-10/175, Sr.)
CB Dwight Bentley (5-11/173, Jr.)
FS Maurice Rolle (6-1/192, Sr.)
SS Lance Kelley (6-3/196, Jr.)
SPECIAL TEAMS
K Tyler Albrecht (6-1/196, Sr.)
P Spencer Ortego (6-3/204, Sr.)
KR Marlin Miller (5-11/177, Sr.)
PR Orkeys Auriene (5-10/175, Sr.)
COACH: Rickey Bustle (38-56, ninth season).
LAST SEASON: 6-6, 4-4 (5th in Sun Belt)
FINAL 2009 RIVALS.COM RANKING: 84th
KEEP AN EYE ON: ULL has relied on its rushing attack for most of Bustle's tenure, but the offensive line has to be rebuilt and ULL also is looking for a new starting tailback. True freshman TB Robert Walker enrolled early and impressed coaches before suffering a hamstring injury midway through spring drills. He gives ULL a home-run threat at tailback, and his health bears watching.
STRENGTHS: Sophomore TE Ladarius Green is an emerging star, and QB Chris Masson is a solid passer. While star LB Antwyne Zanders is gone, the linebacker group looks solid; LB Grant Fleming is the headliner and an all-conference candidate. The secondary has potential, especially at cornerback, where Orkeys Auriene and Dwight Bentley have all-league potential. Special teams usually are a plus for ULL. The Ragin' Cajuns have blocked 41 kicks since Bustle was hired as coach in 2002, third-most nationally in that span; the coverage units usually are strong, too. P Spencer Ortego might be the best in the Sun Belt, and K Tyler Albrecht is adequate.
WEAKNESSES: The offensive line bears watching; it's safe to say its play could determine the course of the season. There are two returning starters, but one of them, Ian Burks, is moving from guard to center. Depth is a big issue at tackle. ULL also needs to find a new starting tailback. While Walker is quick and a breakaway threat, his lack of size (5-7/179) is worrisome. There is no established go-to receiver. While Green looks as if he will be a big-timer, the wide receivers are rather pedestrian. The front four on defense is on the spot, as ULL was mediocre against the run last season. The Ragin' Cajuns also have to find a way to apply pressure after managing just 15 sacks last season.
BUZZ: ULL was 6-2 last season when it forced at least two turnovers, and the secondary is an opportunistic group. But can the offense maintain any consistency with a rebuilt line and an unsettled situation at tailback? The schedule does ULL no favors. The opener is at Georgia, and while Games 2 and 3 are at home, they are against teams that will vie for the league title in Middle Tennessee and Arkansas State. Then again, the Ragin' Cajuns can serve notice that they will be a player in the conference race if they can win at least one of those games. Only one of the last five games is at home. The schedule highlight might be a visit from Oklahoma State; last season, ULL beat Big 12 member Kansas State in Lafayette and will be trying to double-up this season.

-- MIKE HUGUENIN

ROSTER | STATS | SCHEDULE

Top 120 countdown
108. Ball State
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
OFFENSE
QB Kelly Page (6-3/211, Soph.)
RB MiQuale Lewis (5-6/201, Sr.)
WR Torieal Gibson (5-9/173, Jr.)
WR Daniel Ifft (6-3/178, Jr.)
WR Briggs Orsbon (6-0/189, Jr.)
TE Zane Fakes (6-3/233, Soph.)
T Austin Holtz (6-5/296, Soph.)
T Cameron Lowry (6-6/289, Soph.)
G Dan Manick (6-4/286, Soph.)
G Michael Switzer (6-5/293, Sr.)
C Kreg Hunter (6-3/294, Jr.)
DEFENSE
E Robert Eddins (6-3/242, Sr.)
T Adam Morris (6-0/279, Jr.)
T Rene Perry (5-11/272, Sr.)
E Andrew Puthoff (6-3/249, Jr.)
LB Travis Freeman (6-0/223, Soph.)
LB Davyd Jones (6-1/215, Sr.)
LB Tony Martin (6-1/219, Soph.)
CB Jason Pinkston (6-2/177, Soph.)
CB Charlie Todd (5-10/190, Sr.)
FS Sean Baker (6-1/204, Jr.)
SS Kyle Hoke (5-11/193, Jr.)
SPECIAL TEAMS
K Ian McGarvey (5-9/195, Sr.)
P Scott Kovanda (6-3/195, Soph.)
KR Eric Williams (5-10/203, Soph.)
PR Charlie Todd (5-10/190, Sr.)
COACH: Stan Parrish (2-11, second season; 59-52-3, 14th season overall).
LAST SEASON: 2-10, 2-6 (5th in MAC West)
FINAL 2009 RIVALS.COM RANKING: 112th
KEEP AN EYE ON: Ball State was one of the nation's best stories in 2008, jumping out to a 12-0 start. But the Cardinals lost their final two games that season and the slide continued -- in a big way -- last season. The Cardinals were extremely proficient offensively in '08, but the offense was extremely inept last season, especially the passing attack. Parrish needs to get the offense revved back up because Ball State's defense isn't good enough for an upper-division finish in the MAC West.
STRENGTHS: Sophomore QB Kelly Page has the physical tools but must play much better this season. The offensive line should be one of the best in the MAC, headed by G Michael Switzer. RB MiQuale Lewis received a fifth season of eligibility and could be a 1,000-yard guy again; he had 1,736 yards in 2008. DE Robert Eddins has some pass-rush skills, and FS Sean Baker is one of the better safeties in the league. K Ian McGarvey is a big-timer and might be the best kicker in the MAC. P Scott Kovanda is solid. The Cardinals blocked three punts last season, and CB Charlie Todd did a good job as a punt returner last season.
WEAKNESSES: Page must develop some consistency. The passing attack was awful last season (134.4 ypg, nine TDs). The receiving corps other than Briggs Orsbon hasn't done much; that's not good when you use a lot of three-receiver sets. The Cardinals were horrible against the pass and had just 15 sacks and 10 picks. The cornerbacks will be under the gun again. Other than Eddins, the front seven on defense is pedestrian; the lack of size really hurts.
BUZZ: The schedule opens with back-to-back games with FCS members, which should at least enable the Cardinals to get off to a good start. But three consecutive road games follow, part of a stretch in which Ball State plays five of seven away from home. One good thing about the schedule is that, for the most part, the tough league games are at home. Still, the Cardinals don't look to be good enough to take advantage.

-- MIKE HUGUENIN

ROSTER | STATS | SCHEDULE

Top 120 countdown
107. Colorado State
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
OFFENSE
QB Pete Thomas (6-5/218, Fr.)
RB Chris Nwoke (6-0/208, R-Fr.)
FB Zac Pauga (6-0/240, Sr.)
WR Tyson Liggett (5-9/186, Sr.)
WR Byron Steele (6-3/207, Soph.)
TE Eric Peitz (6-5/255, Sr.)
T Paul Madsen (6-4/299, Jr.)
T Mark Starr (6-5/295, Sr.)
G Ryan Griffith (6-4/269, Sr.)
G Jake Gdowski (6-3/299, Jr.)
C Tyler McDermott (6-2/274, Jr.)
DEFENSE
E C.J. James (6-3/245, Soph.)
T Ty Whittier (6-5/268, Sr.)
T Guy Miller (6-3/297, Sr.)
E Zach Tiedgen (6-4/244, Soph.)
LB Ricky Brewer (6-2/217, Sr.)
LB Mychal Sisson (5-11/209, Jr.)
LB Alex Williams (6-2/235, Sr.)
CB Momo Thomas (5-9/172, Jr.)
CB DeAngelo Wilkinson (5-10/189, Sr.)
FS Elijah-Blu Smith (5-11/190, Jr.)
SS Ivory Herd (5-11/191, Jr.)
SPECIAL TEAMS
K Ben DeLine (6-0/175, Jr.)
P Pete Kontodiakos (6-3/198, Soph.)
KR Lou Greenwood (6-0/183, Soph.)
PR Momo Thomas (5-9/172, Jr.)
COACH: Steve Fairchild (10-15, third season)
LAST SEASON: 3-9, 0-8 (9th in Mountain West)
FINAL 2009 RIVALS.COM RANKING: 105th
KEEP AN EYE ON: Steve Fairchild stunningly led Colorado State to a bowl appearance in his first season in 2008. But the Rams followed up the bowl bid by going winless in the Mountain West in '09. Statistically, nothing stood out except that the Rams were dominated in second halves, outscored 222-115. Fairchild is a sharp offensive mind, and he'll need to work overtime this fall. The offense has questions everywhere -- there will be a new quarterback, a new tailback, two new starting wide receivers and four new starting linemen.
STRENGTHS: The linebacking group should be one of the best in the Mountain West, thanks to the return from suspension of Ricky Brewer. The run defense should be stouter this season, thanks to improved line play. The secondary, headed by FS Elijah-Blu Smith, has good depth and should be stingy. P Pete Kontodiakos averaged 40.9 yards as a true freshman last season, and K Ben DeLine is steady.
WEAKNESSES: While the defense has some potential, that's not necessarily the case for the offense, which struggled last season and could do so again this season. The starters at quarterback (true freshman Pete Thomas vs. redshirt freshman Nico Ranieri) and tailback (redshirt freshman Chris Nwoke vs. UCLA transfer Raymond Carter) won't be decided until fall drills. The Rams lost their top two receivers and four starting linemen, too.
BUZZ: This is the Mountain West's mystery team. The defense looks as if it could be quite good, but the offense could be awful. Thing is, if the offense can just be mediocre, the Rams could finish fifth or sixth in the league. The schedule isn't overly difficult, but that won't matter unless the offense jells quickly. Bad news is that three of the four toughest league games are on the road. Two of the four non-conference opponents went to bowls last season -- but both those opponents are WAC programs.

-- MIKE HUGUENIN

ROSTER | STATS | SCHEDULE

Top 120 countdown
106. Rice
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
OFFENSE
QB Taylor McHargue (6-1/195, R-Fr.)
RB Sam McGuffie (6-0/200, Soph.)
WR Pierre Beasley (6-3/215, Sr.)
WR Derek Clark (6-2/185, Soph.)
WR Patrick Randolph (5-11/170, Sr.)
TE Vance McDonald (6-5/250, Soph.)
T Scott Mitchell (6-4/290, Sr.)
T Tyler Parish (6-4/280, Jr.)
G Eric Ball (6-3/290, Soph.)
G Jake Hicks (6-3/290, Jr.)
C Keshawn Carrington (6-3/260, Jr.)
DEFENSE
E Kramer Lucio (6-4/255, Sr.)
T Alex Lowry (6-1/295, Soph.)
T Scott Solomon (6-3/265, Sr.)
E Cheta Ozougwu (6-2/260, Sr.)
LB Trey Briggs (6-1/220, Soph.)
LB Justin Hill (5-11/220, Sr.)
CB Phillip Gaines (6-1/175, Soph.)
CB Chris Jammer (6-1/190, Jr.)
FS Xavier Webb (5-11/210, Jr.)
SS Chris Jones (6-1/200, Sr.)
S Travis Bradshaw (6-1/200, Jr.)
SPECIAL TEAMS
K Chris Boswell (6-2/185, R-Fr.)
P Kyle Martens (6-6/200, Jr.)
KR Shane Turner (5-9/175, Soph.)
PR Kevin Gaddis (5-9/170, Soph.)
COACH: David Bailiff (15-22, fourth season; 36-37, seventh season overall)
LAST SEASON: 2-10, 2-6 (5th in C-USA West)
FINAL 2009 RIVALS.COM RANKING: 107th
KEEP AN EYE ON: The Owls went from great on offense (470.9 ypg in 2008) to awful (304.6 ypg in '09), and this season looks as if it will be closer to '09 than to '08. Chase Clement was the quarterback in 2008, and though he wasn't the most physically gifted player, he was cerebral and understood the offense inside and out. Until the Owls again get consistent -- and productive -- quarterback play, they are going to struggle even in Conference USA because they never are going to have enough high-level defenders.
STRENGTHS: Coaches are high on Michigan transfer Sam McGuffie, who should start at running back. OT Scott Mitchell is the standout on the line, and he has all-league potential. While the defense as a whole was atrocious last season, T Scott Solomon -- who has moved from end -- and S Travis Bradshaw are talented players who don't get enough help. The Owls have the makings of an OK cornerback rotation. P Kyle Martens is solid, and backup RB Shane Turner is a good kick returner.
WEAKNESSES: There is a three-way battle at quarterback between incumbent Nick Fanuzzi, Miami transfer Taylor Cook and redshirt freshman Taylor McHargue -- which means the potential exists for a yo-yo situation at quarterback if coaches get frustrated by poor play. The Owls like to throw the ball, but there is no established No. 1 receiver. Rice, which uses a 4-2-5 set on defense, allowed 43.1 points per game last season. The Owls had just six picks and must be more opportunistic. The kickoff- and punt-coverage units were atrocious last season.
BUZZ: Four of the first five games and seven overall are at home, which sounds like a good thing. But there's no way Rice is going to be able to take advantage. The opener is against Texas, and the other home games in that opening stretch are against Northwestern, Baylor and SMU. There's a tough stretch from mid-October through mid-November in which the Owls play four of five away from home, and the one home game is against crosstown foe Houston. Rice doesn't have the offensive playmakers to overcome what looks to be another overmatched defense.

-- MIKE HUGUENIN

ROSTER | STATS | SCHEDULE



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