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College Football Lookahead: Nos. 111-115

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The last segment of the college football lookahead featured several schools with new coaches.

This group of five schools features some programs that could easily make changes once this coming season concludes.

Among them …

115. CENTRAL MICHIGAN

The latter years of the last decade were a fine time for the Chippewas, who had gone a dozen years between bowl bids before Dan LeFevour arrived on the scene and helped Central Michigan rattle off a 38-17 mark between 2006 and 2009.

Of course, he graduated, and both of his coaches (Brian Kelly and Butch Jones) departed, and all that’s been left the last two years is a sizable mess and a pair of 3-9 seasons.

The Chippewas have also had a bit of a turnover problem, and odds are they won’t loiter around the minus-11 (2010) and minus-12 (2011) numbers in that category that have helped torpedo the first two seasons under Dan Enos. Nonetheless, Central Michigan is swimming in the wrong pond in the MAC, in the division with Northern Illinois, Toledo and Western Michigan and opposite Akron, Buffalo and Massachusetts.

There could be modest improvement in Mount Pleasant, but it might not be seen until the second half of the season. The Chippewas face Michigan State and Iowa before opening league play with trips to Northern Illinois and Toledo. It’s a brutal start (aside from the opener against Southeast Missouri State) and provides a real possibility of things falling apart before the schedule eases.

Veteran quarterback Ryan Radcliff provides some bit of optimism despite his penchant for interceptions (33 in the last two seasons). Cutting turnovers and surviving the first five games will be crucial for Central Michigan, which is probably headed for a third straight losing season.

114. UNLV

It’s a good thing the Rebels open the season with four straight home games. …

LONGEST ACTIVE ROAD LOSING STREAKS

22: New Mexico

20: Akron

16: UNLV

13: Kansas

11: Rice

9: Buffalo
9: Florida Atlantic

8: Kentucky

It’s not the greatest of opportunities for UNLV – Minnesota comes to Sin City, followed by Northern Arizona, Washington State and Air Force – but it does present the possibility of surpassing two wins before the year is through. The Rebels won exactly two games in both of Bobby Hauck’s seasons to date, and have done so in six of the last eight years.

Needless to say, UNLV requires more than exodus of quality programs (Utah, Brigham Young, Texas Christian) to become competitive in the Mountain West. Hauck’s rebuilding project is going to require some more time, and it will be interesting to see if there is patience to hold on for the final two years of his deal should the Rebels not demonstrate much improvement this year.

Expect some progress. The reconstituted Mountain West represents slightly friendlier terrain, and an offensive line with five starters returning (even if three are sophomores) should be a relative strength for the Rebels. UNLV won’t contend for a bowl bid (it needs seven wins thanks to a 13-game schedule), but doubling the win total to four is doable.

113. NEW MEXICO STATE

The Aggies haven’t exactly flirted with relevance, well, at all as a major college football program. They are 10 years removed from their last winning season, and their current conference (the WAC) will disintegrate after this season. New Mexico State (along with Idaho) has yet to find a future home.

That doesn’t doom the Aggies to drop to the former Division I-AA, but it’s going to be a difficult slog as an independent located off the beaten path. No league means chasing after a dozen games as an independent, and filling up a schedule in October and November is no easy task. All of which makes this season, to some extent, a bit of a final stand for a long-struggling program.

Also facing a crucial year is coach DeWayne Walker, he of the 9-29 mark in Las Cruces. It’s no great shame not to win in Las Cruces; so many of Walker’s predecessors couldn’t do so, either.

The Aggies will have a vastly different look than a year ago, with more than half the starters gone from a 4-9 bunch. That could prove a good thing or a bad thing.

The best thing going for New Mexico State is the return of quarterback Andrew Manley from a knee injury. That alone, though, probably won’t be enough to make up for a dreadful defense that at one point allowed 42 points or more in six consecutive games. That unit will need to take dramatic steps forward for the Aggies to end a bowl drought of more than a half-century.

112. UAB

A cynic might suggest the Blazers’ motto for the year should be “It’s Someone Else’s Turn.”

Indeed, UAB pulled the plug on Neil Callaway’s five-year run last fall, an 18-42 turn that essentially brought the Blazers full circle: Looking for a coach after the previous one departed following a 3-9 season.

Callaway’s successor is former Arkansas offensive coordinator Garrick McGee, who takes over an offense with plenty of experienced guys at skill positions and very few established options on the offensive line. Toss in a new system, and that’s probably not the recipe for success.

It’s better than what awaits on a defense that severely regressed a year ago and was good at nothing – 103rd against the run, 110th in points allowed per game, 114th against the pass, 114th in total yards allowed per game, 117th in pass efficiency defense, 119th in tackles for loss and 120th in sacks.

That’s a big pile of terrible, and something the Blazers aren’t going to fix immediately. McGee will require some time to establish some stability, and not much should be expected in his first two seasons. Matching last year’s win total would probably constitute a solid enough year given the circumstances.

111. MIDDLE TENNESSEE

The bottom fell out in Murfreesboro last fall, with an inexperienced defense torn asunder with remarkable consistency. The offense, fine during the first half of the season, didn’t fare much better while averaging 13 points over the final six games.

It left the Blue Raiders with a 2-10 season and a long ways from the Sun Belt contenders they’d grown accustomed to being in recent years.

There should be improvement, in part because the defense probably won’t be so bad. Which version of Middle Tennessee’s offense is likely to be reflected in 2012 remains to be seen.

Generally, coaches don’t have 10-loss hiccups deep into their tenure without some scrutiny developing as a result. Rick Stockstill’s done a fine job overall in making the Blue Raiders competitive, but in his seventh season would be wise to avoid another debacle like last year.

The schedule, at least initially, should prove helpful. Middle Tennessee opens with McNeese State, Florida Atlantic and Memphis, three immensely winnable games that could get the Blue Raiders into bowl contention and bury memories of last year. A .500 season wouldn’t make Middle Tennessee a good team, but it would be welcome progress after last season’s stumbles.

Patrick Stevens

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