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College Football Lookahead: Nos. 46-50

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Moving along after a duly noted break …

50. PURDUE

A brief history of the last half-century of Boilermakers to a casual outside observer …

1964-66: That Bob Griese guy sure is a swell quarterback
1967-69: No Rose Bowls, but three straight wins over Notre Dame works
1970-77: Zzzzzzzzzzz
1978-80: Hey look everybody, 29 wins in three seasons
1981-96: Double Zzzzzzzz (except for that Peach Bowl bid in ‘84 and Mike Alstott’s career)
1997-2000: This Drew Brees fellow might have a future in the quarterbacking business
2001-04: So, who’s up for New Year’s in El Paso?
2005-present: What a choice: Christmas in Detroit or more Zzzzzzz

The story of the post-Brees decade is that the Boilermakers, however much they helped ushered the Big Ten out of the Dark Ages offensively, are a mid-pack team in their own league without an elite quarterback. Kyle Orton and Curtis Painter were solid enough options, but the Boilermakers have spent exactly one week in the top 25 in the last six years.

That’s not remotely relevant nationally, but at least Purdue finally ended a three-year bowl drought last season. The Boilers should get back to another mid-to-low tier Big Ten bowl this year, maybe even scratching together eight wins.

The caveat? Purdue opens conference play with Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio State. An experienced team should be able to hold itself together, but it’s easy to envision the Boilermakers at the bottom of the conference standings in mid-October. Like it or not, neither Griese nor Brees is walking through that door.

49. LOUISIANA TECH

The Bulldogs are favored to win what appears to be the WAC’s final rodeo, and Sonny Dykes should soon enough become an appealing coaching commodity for a bigger school.

But let’s talk about what really stands out about Louisiana Tech: Biletnikoff candidate Quinton Patton. Or, more specifically, the school’s campaign to draw attention to Patton’s candidacy for the honor that goes to the nation’s top wideout.

 

Yep, pretty awesome. Patton might not be a total ringer for George C. Scott, but he did roll up 1,202 yards and 11 touchdowns.

He could also establish himself as something more than the subject of a cool promotional campaign. Louisiana Tech has the right sort of nonconference schedule: Some brand-name opponents that might not be at their best this season: Texas A&M, Houston, Illinois and Virginia. None of them come to Ruston (although the Texas A&M game is in Shreveport).

It would be a surprise if Louisiana Tech does any worse than 5-1 in the diminished WAC. How special a year this really can be will be dictated by the first half of the schedule. The Bulldogs should be a fun team to keep an eye on.

48. CINCINNATI

The Bearcats were a Phil Steele Special last year, going from 4-8 (with a minus-15 turnover margin) to 10-3 (with a plus-12 turnover margin). Funny how that works.

The big, striking question for the Bearcats is how to capably replace two notable skill position players: Quarterback Zach Collaros and tailback Isaiah Pead. If it’s difficult, the Bearcats will slide back to the bottom half of the Big East.

If it’s easy, they’ll probably emerge as Louisville’s top competition in the Big East.

One concern is how  the Bearcats will be on the spot immediately. They open with Pittsburgh, an intriguing team now working with its third full-time head coach in three years. After nonconference play, they resume their Big East schedule with Louisville.

Recent history tells us this: We know Cincinnati’s defense will be solid and occasionally veer into spectacular. It’s been that way for six years. How well the offense functions will determine the Bearcats’ success.

47. ARIZONA STATE

Once upon a time, an athletic director in the Valley of the Sun (Devils) ran off a coach who had strung together a few mediocre seasons. After searching far and wide, the athletic director lured a receptive new coach into the Valley of the Sun (Devils).

Oh, he was well-traveled, to be sure. He was coming off a one-year stint in purgatory, er, northern Idaho, But he won. Oh, how he won … at least at first.

But after a 10-win season, he rattled off a 5-7, a 4-8, a 6-6 and a 6-7. The old coach was out of his patented brand of magic, and out of a job as well.

So the athletic director went looking for a new coach again. And lo and behold, a hire was made who surprised all throughout the land. Another coach coming off a one-year stint at a school, and one with such an impressively large extended family he could find relatives in nearly every major college football town from sea to shining sea.

And that’s the story of how Arizona State traded Football Mercenary Dennis Erickson for Football Mercenary Todd Graham. Erickson (age 65) has had nine head coaching tenures, seven in college and two in the NFL. Graham (age 47) had held four, all over a seven-year span and all at the college level. Graham is a worthy successor in more than few ways for the itinerant Erickson, and it should be fun to see if their careers continue to look striking similar.

One thing seems quite likely: It will be much more interesting than the high-octane mid-pack Pac-12 South finish certain to be delivered this season in the Valley of the Sun (Devils).

46. UCLA

Is there a good explanation for the utter mediocrity that is UCLA football since just before the start of the 21st century? Well, other than Pete Carroll’s machine across town.

Yes, that explains part of why the Bruins haven’t been great since their last Rose Bowl appearance in 1998. It doesn’t explain why they haven’t been pretty good on a consistent basis.

Over the last 13 seasons, UCLA is 81-80. It’s had five losing seasons. It has won more than seven games twice (8-5 in 2002, 10-2 in 2005).

Bob Toledo, Karl Dorrell and Rick Neuheisel have come and gone, and now it’s Jim Mora’s turn to bring some regular-season magic back to the Rose Bowl. The elements are in place for progress, at least initially.

UCLA plays seven home games, and just two of its five road games are against bowl teams from last season (Arizona State and California). Neither Oregon nor Washington makes an appearance. It’s the definition of manageable, and it should provide Mora at least a chance at establishing a solid set of results as he sets about pulling the Bruins out of a decade-plus malaise.

Patrick Stevens

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