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June 25, 2010

Preseason Top 120 Countdown: Nos. 80-76

Here is the ninth part of Rivals.com's 1-120 countdown for 2010; today, we look at teams ranked 76th through 80th.

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. 80 UTEP
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
OFFENSE
QB Trevor Vittatoe (6-2/220, Sr.)
RB Donald Buckram (5-10/195, Sr.)
WR Kris Adams (6-3/195, Sr.)
WR Evan Davis (6-1/200, Sr.)
WR Donavon Kemp (6-1/195, Jr.)
TE Jonny Moore (6-5/250, Sr.)
T Will Osolinsky (6-8/280, Sr.)
T Alex Solot (6-8/310, Sr.)
G Rod Huntley (6-3/320, Sr.)
G Anthony McNac (6-4/325, Sr.)
C Tanner Cullumber (6-4/300, Sr.)
DEFENSE
E Bernard Obi (6-2/240, Jr.)
T Jamie Fehoko (6-2/290, Jr.)
T Germard Reed (6-1/270, R-Fr.)
E Robert Soleyjacks (6-2/260, Sr.)
LB Jamie Irving (6-0/225, Jr.)
LB Anthony Morrow (6-0/225, Sr.)
LB Royzell Smith (6-1/220, Jr.)
CB Antwon Blake (5-10/185, Jr.)
CB Travaun Nixon (6-1/205, Jr.)
FS Brandon Miller (6-2/200, Sr.)
SS Braxton Amy (6-0/205, Sr.)
SPECIALISTS
K Dakota Warren (5-11/185, Soph.)
P Dakota Warren (5-11/185, Soph.)
KR Marlon McClure (5-9/155, Soph.)
PR Marlon McClure (5-9/155, Soph.)
COACH: Mike Price (34-38, seventh season; 163-160, 29th season overall).
LAST SEASON: 4-8, 3-5 (T-3rd in C-USA West)
FINAL 2009 RIVALS.COM RANKING: 97th
KEEP AN EYE ON: The Price-UTEP marriage sure looked good four years ago at this time. Price had taken over a struggling program and promptly led the Miners to back-to-back bowl bids. But UTEP is coming off its fourth consecutive losing season, and conventional wisdom has it that Price needs to guide the Miners back into the postseason to keep his job. Defense has been the culprit for most of the losses, and as such, the Miners have scrapped their 3-3-5 set for a more conventional 4-3 look.
STRENGTHS: Price has some explosive offensive toys to work with. QB Trevor Vittatoe threw for 3,308 yards in '09 -- and it was a bad season. Vittatoe, a senior, should graduate with most of the important school passing records. He has thrown for 9,683 yards and 75 touchdowns in his career, and a 3,500-yard, 30-TD season is a legitimate goal. Senior RB Donald Buckram returns after rushing for 1,594 yards and 18 touchdowns. Buckram emerged from obscurity -- he had 64 career rushing yards before last season -- to become the No. 4 rusher in the nation. He had eight 100-yard games, and topped the 200-yard mark in three of those. WR Kris Adams has 70-catch potential, and all three projected starting wide receivers and the projected starting tight end are upperclassmen. The offense line returns three starters, and senior T Will Osolinsky, who has started 12 games in his career, also returns after missing more than half of last season with an injury. Senior SS Braxton Amy has been productive in the past, and his leadership will be big for a secondary with three new starters.
WEAKNESSES: Vittatoe threw 15 picks last season after throwing 16 total in the previous two seasons. The defense was torched repeatedly last season, and the hope is that the move to a 4-3 set strengthens the run defense. It wouldn't be a surprise to see some true freshmen play on defense, especially in the back seven. There really is no defensive standout along the line or at linebacker. There will be a new kicker and a new punter -- and it's the same person, JC transfer Dakota Warren, who enrolled in January. The Miners need a huge upgrade on their coverage units; the punt coverage was especially atrocious last season.
BUZZ: The offense should be ultra-productive, meaning the defense doesn't have to be great. Heck, it doesn't have to be good; mediocre would suffice. But can the Miners even reach that level? Good news is that the schedule looks to be a breeze. There is just one FBS opponent (Houston) in the first eight games that had a winning record last season. Granted, three of the final four games are on the road, but given the easy sledding early, losses late in the season may not keep the Miners out of a bowl.

-- MIKE HUGUENIN

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Top 120 countdown
No. 79 Marshall
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
OFFENSE
QB Brian Anderson (6-3/213, Sr.)
RB Martin Ward (5-9/201, Soph.)
WR Courtney Edmonson (6-0/190, Sr.)
WR Chuck Walker (5-10/197, Sr.)
WR Antavious Wilson (6-0/196, Soph.)
TE Lee Smith (6-6/267, Sr.)
T Brandon Campbell (6-5/312, Sr.)
T C.J. Wood (6-5/305, Jr.)
G Chad Schofield (6-4/304, Sr.)
G Ryan Tillman (6-5/289, Jr.)
C John Bruhin (6-4/318, Jr.)
DEFENSE
E Vinny Curry (6-4/252, Jr.)
T Michael Janac (6-5/294, Sr.)
T Johnny Jones (6-5/301, Sr.)
E James Rouse (6-5/231, R-Fr.)
LB Devin Arrington (6-2/207, Soph.)
LB Kellen Harris (6-3/232, Jr.)
LB Mario Harvey (6-0/250, Sr.)
CB DeQuan Bembry (5-10/182, Jr.)
CB Ahmed Shakoor (5-11/203, Jr.)
FS Omar Brown (5-11/194, Jr.)
SS Kevin Perry (5-10/192, Sr.)
SPECIALISTS
K Tyler Warner (6-4/215, Jr.)
P Kase Whitehead (5-10/183, Jr.)
KR Andre Booker (5-10/178, Soph.)
PR Andre Booker (5-10/178, Soph.)
COACH: Doc Holliday (first season).
LAST SEASON: 7-6, 4-4 (T-4th in C-USA East); beat Ohio in Little Caesars Pizza Bowl
FINAL 2009 RIVALS.COM RANKING: 75th
KEEP AN EYE ON: Marshall went to a bowl for the first time since 2004 last season, but that wasn't enough to save coach Mark Snyder's job. The new coach is Holliday, who had been a West Virginia assistant. Holliday has a reputation as a top-notch recruiter, and Marshall reeled in a solid recruiting class. Now, it's time to see if he can coach. His first team at Marshall returns 14 starters, but there are some key departures. The most notable is 1,000-yard running back Darius Marshall, who turned pro early but wasn't drafted.
STRENGTHS: Three starting offensive linemen return, in addition to some new starters who have extensive experience. Senior G Chad Schofield is the stalwart up front. The receivers look good. Antavio Wilson was one of the most productive freshman receivers in the nation last season, and Chuck Walker and Courtney Edmonson should be nice complementary weapons. TE Lee Smith has some skills, as well. DE Vinny Curry and DT Michael Janac head a defensive line that should be one of the two or three best in Conference USA. LB Mario Harvey will be one of the best in the league at his position. Harvey, nicknamed "Thumper," had 117 tackles, seven sacks and 10 quarterback hurries last season. Junior Kellen Harris is an able running mate.
WEAKNESSES: The offensive backfield bears watching. QB Brian Anderson has the physical tools but must become more consistent. Coaches think Martin Ward can ably replace Darius Marshall; we'll see. Getting better against the pass is the top defensive priority. The Herd allowed 236.9 passing yards per game to rank 90th in the nation. Improvement could be difficult. CB T.J. Drakeford was dismissed in April and his running mate, DeQuan Bembry, who is one of the best corners in the league, has been indefinitely suspended, though he is expected back this fall. Depth is an issue at corner and safety. The kickoff coverage was abysmal last season, and improving that facet of the special teams is a priority for the coaches.
BUZZ: The schedule is a monster. The first seven games are against bowl teams from last season, including the season opener at Ohio State and Game 2 against West Virginia. If Holliday can get the Herd to a bowl in his first season, it will have been a rousing success. Holliday has some talent to work with, but the questions at quarterback, running back and the secondary could hurt this season.

-- MIKE HUGUENIN

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Top 120 countdown
No. 78 Idaho
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
OFFENSE
QB Nathan Enderle (6-5/227, Sr.)
RB Princeton McCarty (5-8/190, Jr.)
WR Maurice Shaw (6-3/208, Sr.)
WR Eric Greenwood (6-6/213, Sr.)
WR Marsel Posey (5-10/166, Jr.)
TE Daniel Hardy (6-4/235, Sr.)
T Matt Cleveland (6-4/314, Jr.)
T Tyrone Novikoff (6-7/308, Jr.)
G Sam Tupua (6-3/374, Jr.)
G Tevita Halaholo (6-5/342, Sr.)
C Clell Hasenbank (6-0/278, Sr.)
DEFENSE
E Andre Ferguson (6-3/225, Jr.)
T Michael Cosgrove (6-4/280, Jr.)
T Jonah Sataraka (6-2/280, Sr.)
E Aaron Lavarias (6-3/248, Sr.)
LB JoJo Dickson (6-2/229, Sr.)
LB Tre'Shawn Robinson (5-11/233, Jr.)
LB Robert Siavii (6-2/209, Jr.)
CB Isaac Butts (6-0/179, Sr.)
CB Kenneth Patten (5-9/178, Jr.)
FS Gary Walker (6-0/180, Soph.)
SS Shiloh Keo (5-11/211, Sr.)
SPECIALISTS
K Trey Farquhar (6-1/170, Soph.)
P Bobby Cowan (6-5/221, Soph.)
KR Shiloh Keo (5-11/211, Sr.)
PR Justin Veltung (5-11/180, Soph.)
COACH: Robb Akey (11-26 in four seasons).
LAST SEASON: 8-5, 4-4 (4th in WAC); beat Bowling Green in Humanitarian Bowl
FINAL 2009 RIVALS.COM RANKING: 71st
KEEP AN EYE ON: Idaho returns two of the three primary rushers from last season in Princeton McCarty and Deonte Jackson, but departed RB DeMaundray Woolridge had 18 of Idaho's 25 rushing touchdowns last season. The Vandals could have trouble in goal-line situations unless they can find a replacement for the 241-pound Woolridge.
STRENGTHS: Nathan Enderle is one of the nation's best-kept secrets. He's a pro prospect at quarterback who was fifth in the nation in passing efficiency last season. He missed two games because of injury and still passed for 2,906 yards and 22 touchdowns. Although Idaho loses leading receiver Max Komar, the Vandals still have deep threats in Maurice Shaw (20.8 yards per catch) and H-back Daniel Hardy (17.7). Idaho's beleaguered defense does have at least one bona-fide star in SS Shiloh Keo, a four-year starter who led the team in tackles (113) and interceptions (three) last season.
WEAKNESSES: Idaho returns 10 defensive starters, but the Vandals were among the worst defensive teams in the defense-less WAC. After a 6-1 start, Idaho allowed 48.7 points per game over the last six games. The unit struggled to made big plays, forcing only 15 turnovers and recording only 15 sacks. If anything can slow down Idaho's offense, it's the line. The Vandals lost a first-round pick at guard (Mike Iupati) and four total starters. Beyond Ts Matt Cleveland, the lone returning starter, and Tyrone Novikoff, the line is inexperienced. The coverage teams need a lot of improvement.
BUZZ: Idaho was one of the nation's feel-good stories last season, reaching the postseason for the first time since 1998. The Vandals have the talent and experience to build on that momentum and reach the postseason again. But the defense will need to play like it did over the first half of the season rather than the one that collapsed during the 2-4 finish.

-- DAVID FOX

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Top 120 countdown
No. 77 San Diego State
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
OFFENSE
QB Ryan Lindley (6-4/220, Jr.)
RB Walter Kazee (5-9/175, Soph.)
FB Brandon Sullivan (5-11/215, Sr.)
WR Vincent Brown (6-0/180, Sr.)
WR DeMarco Sampson (6-2/210, Sr.)
TE Alston Umuolo (6-4/245, Sr.)
T Tommie Draheim (6-4/290, Jr.)
T Erik Quinones (6-3/290, Soph.)
G Nik Embernate (6-4/290, Soph.)
G Alec Johnson (6-3/300, R-Fr.)
C Trask Iosefa (6-0/290, Sr.)
DEFENSE
E Jacob Tauanuu (6-1/240, Sr.)
T Ernie Lawson (6-3/270, Sr.)
E B.J. Williams (6-3/240, Sr.)
LB Logan Ketchum (6-3/215, Jr.)
LB Marcus Yarbrough (6-2/235, Sr.)
LB Miles Burris (6-2/235, Jr.)
CB Leon McFadden (5-10/165, Soph.)
CB Jose Perez (6-1/180, Sr.)
S Dey Juan Hemmings (5-11/190, Sr.)
S Andrew Preston (6-1/215, Sr.)
S Brandon Davis (6-2/185, Jr.)
SPECIALISTS
K Bryan Shields (6-1/195, Sr.)
P Brian Stahovich (6-0/175, Soph.)
KR Vincent Brown (6-0/180, Sr.)
PR Preston King (5-10/170, Soph.)
COACH: Brady Hoke (4-8, second season; 38-46, eighth season overall).
LAST SEASON: 4-8, 2-6 (7th in Mountain West)
FINAL 2009 RIVALS.COM RANKING: 99th
KEEP AN EYE ON: Senior LB/S Andrew Preston is coming off a career-low 46 tackles last season (he has 200 in his career). San Diego State hopes a position change will revive the defense and return him to his previous production levels. He will play the "Aztec" position, a linebacker-safety hybrid in Rocky Long's attacking defense.
STRENGTHS: Ryan Lindley is one of the best quarterbacks on the West Coast. He passed for 3,054 yards and 23 touchdowns last season despite missing one of his top receivers for part of the season. That wide receiver, Vincent Brown, will be back after missing five games with a thumb injury. Brown caught 45 passes for 778 yards and six touchdowns when healthy. Without Brown, Demarco Sampson developed into a No. 1 receiver in his own right with 851 yards and eight touchdowns. The offensive line returns four starters, but neither tackle is assured of keeping his job. San Diego State returns one of the top punters in the conference in Brian Stahovich; he averaged 43.8 yards per kick last season and the Aztecs ranked in the top 20 nationally in net punting.
WEAKNESSES: As good as Lindley was last season, he has room to improve. He threw a Mountain West-high 16 interceptions while completing 55 percent of his passes. San Diego State will have a potent passing game, but it could struggle to find balance. With Brandon Sullivan moving to fullback, Walter Kazee (371 yards, two touchdowns) gets the first crack at the starting tailback job in the fall. The Aztecs brought in three running backs, including a junior college transfer, to compete. The Aztecs also need to tighten up the defense. Long is a veteran coordinator whose teams were known for blitzing from anywhere. He will focus improving San Diego State's sack numbers after the Aztecs recorded only 19 a year ago. Other than Stahovich, the special teams are a concern. Senior Bryan Shields, who last kicked in 2006 at Utah State, is the new kicker. The Aztecs need to improve their return game and coverage teams. They were last in the Mountain West in kickoff returns and kickoff coverage, eighth in punt returns and fifth in punt coverage.
BUZZ: San Diego State remains a long-term rebuilding project, but Hoke proved he could turn a program around at Ball State. Last season the Aztecs started 4-4 but lost their last four games thanks to three fourth-quarter collapses. The Aztecs might not reach the postseason for the first time since 1998, but they should continue on their way back to respectability. A 3-1 start is a distinct possibility.

-- DAVID FOX

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Top 120 countdown
No. 76 Minnesota
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
OFFENSE
QB Adam Weber (6-3/221, Sr.)
RB Duane Bennett (5-9/203, Jr.)
WR Brandon Green (6-0/183, Jr.)
WR DaJon McKnight (6-3/200, Jr.)
WR Troy Stoudermire (5-10/183, Jr.)
TE Tiree Eure (6-7/245, Jr.)
T Dominic Alford (6-3/336, Sr.)
T Jeff Wills (6-7/365, Sr.)
G Chris Bunders (6-3/322, Jr.)
G Matt Carufel (6-5/302, Sr.)
C D.J. Burris (6-2/290, Sr.)
DEFENSE
E Ra'Shede Hageman (6-6/272, R-Fr.)
T Jewhan Edwards (6-2/333, Jr.)
T Brandon Kirksey (6-2/295, Jr.)
E D.L. Wilhite (6-4/233, Soph.)
LB Keanon Cooper (6-0/210, Soph.)
LB Mike Rallis (6-2/210, Soph.)
LB Gary Tinsley (6-1/220, Jr.)
CB Michael Carter (5-11/163, Soph.)
CB Ryan Collado (5-9/175, Sr.)
S Kim Royston (5-11/193, Sr.)
S Kyle Theret (5-10/193, Sr.)
SPECIALISTS
K Eric Ellestad (6-3/204, Sr.)
P Dan Orseske (6-3/199, R-Fr.)
KR Troy Stoudermire (5-10/183, Jr.)
PR Bryant Allen (6-0/167, Soph.)
COACH: Tim Brewster (14-24, fourth season).
LAST SEASON: 6-7, 3-5 (8th in Big Ten); lost to Iowa State in Insight Bowl
FINAL 2009 RIVALS.COM RANKING: 65th
KEEP AN EYE ON: Offensive continuity has been scarce, as Minnesota is on its third coordinator in three seasons. Jeff Horton arrives from the Detroit Lions to take over after Jedd Fisch left to be quarterbacks coach of the Seattle Seahawks. Horton won't radically change an attack that averaged a conference-low 21.6 points. But Horton, a quarterback guru who has coached at UNLV and Nevada, will reduce the playbook, and the way plays are called will be simplified.
STRENGTHS: The running back corps looks good with Deleon Eskridge, Duane Bennett and three promising true freshmen. Kevin Cosgrove is the first defensive coordinator to return for a second season under Brewster, who is entering his fourth season at Minnesota. Cosgrove deserves kudos for his work in 2009, but he will earn his money this season because the Gophers are replacing the entire front seven. Still, this looks to be as athletic a group as the Gophers have had in years. The defensive tackle slots look solid with Jewhan Edwards and Brandon Kirksey. The lone returning defensive starters are Ss Kim Royston and Kyle Theret. Michael Carter could be the shutdown corner this defense needs. K Eric Ellestad returns after nailing 13 of 17 field-goal attempts, and Troy Stoudermire and Bryant Allen are proven return men.
WEAKNESSES: Horton's chief goal is improving a woebegone running attack that ranked last in the Big Ten (99.5 ypg) and scored a conference-low 13 rushing touchdowns. A line that returns every starter must get better and create holes. QB Adam Weber didn't look comfortable last season and regressed after earning second-team All-Big Ten honors in 2008. Can he bounce back under yet another coordinator? There is no established go-to receiver. More playmakers are needed for a defense that ranked 10th in the league in sacks and tackles for loss. Keep an eye on the totally rebuilt linebacking corps.
BUZZ: While Brewster has improved the talent and injected some energy, he hasn't taken the program any farther than predecessor Glen Mason. Brewster needs to win or his collar could tighten. Complicating matters is a rugged schedule. There are tougher-than-they-look non-conference games against Middle Tennessee (on the road) and Northern Illinois (at home). USC visits Minneapolis, and the Gophers also play the teams that figure to be the Big Ten's top four in Ohio State, Iowa, Wisconsin and Penn State. What's it all mean? Making a bowl may be difficult.

-- TOM DIENHART

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