2011 CFN Preseason Rankings - No. 71 to 80
Indiana WR Damarlo Belcher
Indiana WR Damarlo Belcher
Posted Aug 3, 2011

So which teams are going into the season as potentially dangerous sleepers? Which teams are just good enough to pull off a big upset or two, but not quite talented enough to many any truly big noise? Based on how good the teams are going into the season, the CFN Preseason Rankings continue with No. 71 to 80.

Preview 2011 - Preseason Rankings

Dangerous Sleepers - No. 71 to 80

2011 CFN Preseason Rankings  
81 to 90 | 91 to 100 | 101 to 110 | 111 to 120
61 to 70 & 71 to 80 COMING WED. AFTERNOON
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There's one very important distinction in the CFN preseason rankings: these are based on how good the teams are going into the season and NOT how they're going to finish. Some teams have easier schedules than others, some get tougher road games and some will need a little bit of time to jell meaning they might be better than their final record might indicate. Going into the year, these are how good the teams appear to be from No. 1 through 120.

71. Indiana Preview
Offense | Defense | Depth Chart

Relative Strengths: Receiver, Defensive Line
Relative Weaknesses: Quarterback, Offensive Line

What to watch for on offense: A more effective passing game … in time. Head coach Kevin Wilson was at the helm of some of the greatest attacks in recent college football history, most notably the Oklahoma offense of 2008, and while he doesn't have a Sam Bradford as the triggerman, he has two decent sophomores to work with in Dusty Kiel and Edward Wright-Baker. The two bring something different to the table, with Kiel the passer who'll eventually be the full-time guy to wig the ball all over the yard, and Wright-Baker the dual-threat option who could throw a wrench into opposing defenses. The attack will be faster, and the tempo will be upped, but the passing attack that was good at coming up with bulk yards last year will eventually be more efficient and far steadier.

What to watch for on defense: The defensive line. Jeff Thomas and Leon Beckum will make a ton of tackles, but the veteran linebackers need a clean path in front of them. The line has the potential to be the team's biggest strength, and Wilson and defensive coordinators Doug Mallory and Mike Ekeler are hoping to generate a steady pass rush from the outside while needing the rotation on the inside to be strong. There weren't enough plays in the backfield last season, but that should change early on, while tackles Adam Replogle, Larry Black, and Mick Mentzer need to gum things up against the run.

72. Iowa State Preview
Offense | Defense | Depth Chart

Relative Strengths: Linebacker, Running Back
Relative Weaknesses: Offensive Line, Secondary

What to watch for on offense: The quarterback situation. Jerome Tiller is a dangerous runner with good size and the experience to know what he's doing from the start. He's not a top-shelf passer, though, and he has yet to prove he can consistently move the ball down the field with key third down plays. Enter Steele Jantz, who has size the game to go along with his great name, but he has to show that he's worthy of being a starter after bouncing around a bit. A passer, he'll get his shot if Tiller can't move the attack, while James Capello and Jared Barnett are young options who are getting every chance to win the job. It's Tiller's gig for now, but he has to own it early this fall.

What to watch for on defense: The experience. The overall production wasn't there last season with too many missed opportunities and not enough big plays, but the D always tries hard and everyone is always working. Now the experience has to translate into more production with good size and the potential for a strong rotation on the line, and with outside linebackers A.J. Klein and Jake Knott in place to clean everything up. The run defense should be far better, and if there's some semblance of a pass rush, the secondary should be decent with corners Leonard Johnson and Jeremy Reeves as experienced and as quick as any tandem in the Big 12. Cohesion shouldn't be a problem and motor is never an issue. But Rhoads needs this to be the year that everything comes together after working to this point for the last two seasons.

73. SMU Preview
Offense | Defense | Depth Chart 

Relative Strengths: Quarterback, Running Back
Relative Weaknesses: Linebacker, Secondary

What to watch for on offense: Padron the interruption. In many ways, the quarterback was microcosm of the 2010 season, showing flashes of brilliance, but failing to elevate up to expectations. Too many turnovers. Not enough money plays downfield. That said, as far as sophomore slumps go, Padron didn't exactly go in reverse. The Mustangs are hoping to see a little more of the passer who shredded Nevada in the 2009 bowl game and looked like the second-coming of Colt Brennan. The talent and experience are there, but now he just needs to put it all together after hitting a plateau last fall.

What to watch for on defense: A salary run from DE Taylor Thompson. The coaching staff has been singing his praises for years, and league voters awarded him with a spot on the All-Conference USA first team. However, he hasn't quite had that breakout year that creates a buzz away from the campus. That's liable to happen this season, his final one as a Mustang. While the playmakers get most of the attention, he's one of those rare 6-6, 287-pounders who possesses the get-off and drive to be an effective pass rusher. If he plays healthier than he did in 2010, his draft grade could soar by January.

74. Fresno State Preview
Offense | Defense | Depth Chart

Relative Strengths: Quarterback, Running Back
Relative Weaknesses: Defensive Line, Secondary

What to watch for on offense: Lots and lots of flash. The running backs, especially starter Robbie Rouse, have home run hitting capability from anywhere on the field, and the receivers, even without 2010 leading target Jamel Hamler, have the speed to come up with more big plays. Most importantly, new starting quarterback Derek Carr has the arm to push the ball further and better than former starter, Ryan Colburn, was able to. The attack should be able to crank out yards and points in chunks, but it can't rely just on the home run, even though it'll be tempting.

What to watch for on defense: What's the right combination going to be on the defensive front? The goal going into last year was to generate more of a pass rush from the front four, and Chris Carter answered the bell with 11 sacks, and tackle Logan Harrell was one of the nation's premier interior pass rushers with 10.5 sacks. Carter is gone, and now the coaching staff is experimenting with moving Harrell around to find the best fit depending on the situation. If the ends are strong, Harrell will stay inside. If the tackles are solid, he'll work more on the outside.

75. Southern Miss Preview
Offense | Defense | Depth Chart

Relative Strengths: Quarterback, Linebacker
Relative Weaknesses: Offensive Line, Secondary

What to watch for on offense: Hardy's stock. Southern Miss had to go the extra mile to land RB Kendrick Hardy two years ago, prying him away from more prominent schools. He's already been worth the time and effort. After redshirting in 2009, he went into action last fall, leading the team with 903 yards and seven scores on just 139 carries. His 6.5 yards per carry was notable, but even more so for a powerful 6-0, 217-pound runner. Now a sophomore, he'll share time with junior Desmond Johnson and the spotlight with star QB Austin Davis, but will see his stock soar as more national observers start paying attention.

What to watch for on defense: Wilson's whereabouts. The single greatest concern, on either side of the ball, is the defensive backfield, a group that struggled when it was veteran-laden in 2010. Now that the five-man set could be comprised of four new starters, there's some serious hand-wringing going on. The Golden Eagles desperately need sophomore CB Deron Wilson to get his act together away from the field before summer drills begin. The program's best cover guy in just his first year, he was forced to sit out the spring, further clouding an already murky situation.

76. Duke Preview
Offense | Defense | Depth Chart  

Relative Strengths: Receiver, Quarterback
Relative Weaknesses: Running Back, Defensive Line

What to watch for on offense: Getting more mileage out of the Cooper. Senior TE Cooper Helmet was a pleasant surprise in his debut out of Santa Rosa (Calif.) Junior College, catching 34 balls for 380 yards and two touchdowns. This season, the Blue Devils would like to leverage his soft hands and athleticism even more. With outside receivers Conner Vernon and Donovan Varner garnering so much attention, Helfet will get lots of opportunities to beat linebackers in one-on-one situations.

What to watch for on defense: Brown bagging it. The coaching staff can't stop raving about sophomore LB Kelby Brown, a budding rock in the middle. He's the type of player the defense can build around for the next three seasons. Though marred by an ACL injury late last fall, he fashioned a terrific debut in 2010. A seven-game starter, he played with great instincts and range, making 63 tackles, 5.5 stops for loss, and four fumble recoveries. He'll be a cornerstone player in Durham in 2011 and beyond.

77. Washington State Preview
Offense | Defense | Depth Chart

Relative Strengths: Quarterback, Receiver
Relative Weaknesses: Offensive Line, Defensive Line

What to watch for on offense: Galvin-izing the running game. The missing link on offense has been a ground game that's been unable to get out of the starting blocks for years. Redshirt freshman Rickey Galvin provides some hope for the future even if he's more of a complement than a feature runner this fall. At a slippery 5-8 and 162 pounds, he's the antithesis of projected starter Logwone Mitz. He was also on the verge of cracking the rotation before breaking his arm in the 2010 opener.

What to watch for on defense: Pole's position. Few defensive players have turned more heads this offseason than DT Toni Pole. The redshirt freshman routinely broke through the line and disrupted the flow of running plays. Although he still needs to hold off veteran teammates in the summer, there's no doubt that he's earned a spot in the D-line rotation. In general, this could be a sneaky-good rotation that has a star in junior DE Travis Long.

78. San Diego State Preview
Offense | Defense | Depth Chart

Relative Strengths: Quarterback, Running Back
Relative Weaknesses: Receiver, Defensive Line

What to watch for on offense: The receiving corps. The offensive line is terrific, with four starters returning to one of the Mountain West's best front fives. Ryan Lindley is a backup NFL quarterback, and Ronnie Hillman is a 1,532-yard, 17-touchdown run back who can score from anywhere on the field. But everything about the offense clicked because of two receivers who stretched the field time and again with Vincent Brown, who was drafted by the Chargers, averaging 19.6 yards per grab with 69 catches and ten scores, and DeMarco Sampson, who was drafted by the Arizona Cardinals, averaging 18.2 yards per catch with 67 catches and eight scores. Dominique Sandifer has the same type of talent as Brown and Sampson, but he has to prove he can produce and several other promising targets have to become playmakers.

What to watch for on defense: More of the 3-3-5. Rocky Long's unique defense might be a bit unconventional, but it works. It relies on speed and athleticism and all 11 positions, and while power running teams, at least in theory, should be able to pound away, it doesn't always work out that way. Now the alignment will be put to the test with major turnover up front and in the secondary. There's athleticism and there are plenty of good prospects, but it might take a little while for everything to jell.

79. Tulsa Preview
Offense | Defense | Depth Chart

Relative Strengths: Quarterback, Linebacker
Relative Weaknesses: Defensive Line, Secondary

What to watch for on offense: Damaris Johnson's supporting cast at receiver. After the playmaker, there's going to be a precipitous drop-off to the rest of the Hurricane pass-catchers. Now, Johnson is going to make his share of plays. He always does. However, this offense isn't designed to be one-dimensional. At its most potent when it's balanced, Tulsa is hoping to get more help from the likes of Thomas Roberson, Ricky Johnson, and Jordan James. The 6-2, 205-pound James was one of the breakout surprises of the spring, positioning himself for a starting job in the fall.

What to watch for on defense: Hurricane warnings. When you have tons of speed and athleticism, why not attack on a liberal basis? Tulsa has been employing that strategy for years. Now, with so many returning starters, the staff is more comfortable than ever turning loose its linebackers and safeties. Linebackers Shawn Jackson, Curnelius Arnick, and DeAundre Brown will join safeties Marco Nelson and Dexter McCoil, harassing opposing quarterbacks whenever they're give an opportunity.

80. UCF Preview
Offense | Defense | Depth Chart

Relative Strengths: Quarterback, Running Back
Relative Weaknesses: Receiver, Linebacker

What to watch for on offense: Feeding the three-headed monster. It comes as no surprise that UCF operates a fairly conservative offense that uses the run to set up the pass. Now more than ever, the program has the stable of backs to make the ground game motor. In fact, the staff's biggest challenge might be keeping everyone happy. The Knights' leading rushers from the past two seasons, Ronnie Weaver and Brynn Harvey, are back, the latter making a much-anticipated return from an ACL injury. And yet, neither was listed as the starter coming out of spring. That distinction belongs to bruising Latavius Murray, a 6-3, 225-pounder who finished 2010 with a 100-yard effort in the Liberty Bowl upset of Georgia.

What to watch for on defense: The rise of Troy. All-time sack leader Bruce Miller may be gone, but the Knights still plan to harass opposing quarterbacks. There's outstanding speed on the edge, with junior Troy Davis about to explode on to the scene. A nice adjunct to the pass rush in 2010, he went berserk in the spring, capping a strong camp with five sacks in the spring game. He has the physical skills and the insatiable appetite for sacks to be one of Conference USA's breakout stars of the fall, a dynamite pass rusher getting the opportunity to play every down.
CFN 2011 Preseason Rankings
81 to 90 | 91 to 100 | 101 to 110 | 111 to 120