CFN Rankings - Preseason No. 70-79
Illinois RB Pierre Thomas
Posted Aug 26, 2006

Dangerous Sleepers ... Despite the low ranking, a bowl bid is possible

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 119. The predicted finishes don't take into account possible bowl games or conference championships.

No. 1 to No. 10 | No. 11 to 20 | No. 21 to 29 | No. 30 to 39 | No. 40 to 49
No. 50 to 59 | No. 60 to 69 | No. 70 to 79 | No. 80 to 89 | No. 90 to 99
No. 100 to 109 | No. 110 to 119

79. Cincinnati 
Predicted Finish: 4-8  2005 Predicted Finish: 3-8   2005 Record: 4-7
Quarterback Dustin Grutza has a year of experience and has decent weapons around him to work with. Doug Jones is one of the Big East's top tight ends, there are several experience backs to take the heat off, and receiver Earnest Jackson is a rising star. However, it all hinges on a line that has to rebuild after an awful 2005. The defense, head coach Mark Dantonio's specialty, should be far better with a strong back seven and a young line that should be good enough to dominate by next season. The linebacking corps of Corey Smith and Anthony Williams on the outside and Kevin McCullough in the middle should shine, while corner Mike Mickens and free safety Haruki Nakamura are strong enough to grow into All-Big East performers.  
Relative Strengths: linebackers, secondary    Relative Weaknesses: offensive line, special teams

78. Stanford   
Predicted Finish: 5-7  2005 Predicted Finish: 3-8   2005 Record: 5-6
A better attack should be an almost certainty with senior QB Trent Edwards possibly being this year's version of Jay Cutler and becoming a rising favorite among the NFL scouts. There's no depth in the receiving corps, but the combination of Mark Bradford and Evan Moore will arguably be second in the league only to USC's dynamic duo of Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith. The line is very big and very experienced, but it has to keep Edwards clean after allowing 83 sacks in the last two seasons and getting no push whatsoever for the running game. The backs aren't good enough to make plays on their own. The defense will struggle against the good Pac 10 attacks.
Relative Strengths: quarterbacks, receivers    Relative Weaknesses: defensive line, running backs

77. Illinois   
Predicted Finish: 5-7  2005 Predicted Finish: 4-7   2005 Record: 2-9
Despite the concerns with the coaching staff and the lines, there's still reason to be optimistic for a surprise season thanks to all the returning experience with 49 letterwinners and 21 starters returning. The skill players on offense aren't that bad, and there are several very athletic, very promising players on defense that should grow into steady playmakers. The schedule isn't all that bad with enough average games to reasonably shoot for six wins, which would obviously be hailed as a huge campaign considering the program has won four D-I games in the last two seasons.
Relative Strengths: running backs, quarterbacks    Relative Weaknesses: defensive line, secondary

76. Nevada 
Predicted Finish: 8-4  2005 Predicted Finish: 6-5   2005 Record: 9-3
This is a dangerous team with a scary mix of veterans and confidence. There's decent depth at some spots, but the margin is razor thin in others needing more offensive tackles to emerge and needing a reliable second and third option behind Robert Hubbard in the backfield. The defense had a hard time stopping anyone last year, but defenses never put up great stats in the WAC.
Relative Strengths: quarterbacks, receivers    Relative Weaknesses: secondary, defensive line

75. Washington 
Predicted Finish: 4-8  2005 Predicted Finish: 2-9   2005 Record: 2-9
If you believe the adage that veteran teams win close games, then the 15 returning starters, along with all the experienced depth in many key spots, should be enough to win the squeakers that last year's struggling team lost. If QB Isaiah Stanback can be this year's Michael Robinson and make the senior year transformation the former Penn State star was able to make, and if the deep stable of running backs turns into something special, and if the questions can be answered at corner, and if there can be some semblance of a steady pass rush from the front four, this really, truly could be a turnaround season.  
Relative Strengths: running back, quarterback    Relative Weaknesses: secondary, offensive line

74. Houston 
Predicted Finish: 7-5  2005 Predicted Finish: 5-6   2005 Record: 6-6
It all starts with QB Kevin Kolb, who has the ability to crank out 400 yards of total offense when he gets hot, but has the knack for throwing interceptions at the worst times. But that's a recent problem; he's generally a good decision maker who should go ballistic this year with a receiving corps that should be the best in the league thanks to the return of Vincent Marshall and the arrival of Arizona transfer Biren Ealy. The defense should make an even bigger jump with a linebacking corps and a secondary that should be among the best in the league, and a front three that has size and potential with sophomore end Cody Pree and Phillip Hunt ready to break out.
Relative Strengths: quarterback, receiver    Relative Weaknesses: running back, defensive line

73. Kentucky  
Predicted Finish: 4-8  2005 Predicted Finish: 2-9   2005 Record: 3-8
Who's the starting quarterback going to be? Can the veteran offensive line get any sort of a push for the ground game? Is there a number two receiver to help out Keenan Burton, and can Burton finally stay healthy? Will the front four do anything after getting shoved all over the place while failing to generate any sort of a pass rush? Can the secondary pick off a pass after helping the D pick off only five passes? Can new placekicker J.J. Housley produce like Taylor Begley? And the biggest question of all, is Rich Brooks the right coach for the program? There are still too many question marks and a sure problem with continuity just about everywhere, so it might be another long season unless everything clicks at once.
Relative Strengths: running back, offensive line    Relative Weaknesses: secondary, defensive line

72. East Carolina
Predicted Finish: 6-6  2005 Predicted Finish: 2-9   2005 Record: 5-6
If top receiver Aundrae Allison and running back Chris Johnson return healthy after missing spring ball with injuries, they'll combine with quarterback James Pinkney to form one of Conference USA’s best offenses. The offensive line has some patching up to do, but it's expected to be fine. The defense needs to be better against the run after getting steamrolled over last season, but there's enough size up front and experience in the front four to hope for an improvement. The secondary should be excellent with several good veterans returning from one of the league's best pass defenses. Remember, it wasn't all that long ago when this was one of the best programs in Conference USA, and Skip Holtz appears to have it close to being there again.
Relative Strengths: receiver, secondary   Relative Weaknesses: defensive line, offensive line

71. San Diego State 
Predicted Finish:
8-5  2005 Predicted Finish: 4-8   2005 Record: 5-7
While he won't have nearly the same talent he enjoyed as the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma, Long has pieces in place to build around and do big things with. Running back Lynell Hamilton has next-level talent and can carry the offense if needed. Quarterback Kevin O'Connell is a productive veteran who can do a little of everything well. The cornerback tandem of Terrell Maze and Donny Baker is one of the best in the league, and end Antwan Applewhite has the potential to be the Mountain West's best pass rusher. This is hardly a complete enough team to win the Mountain West title, but it's more than good enough to be a major player in the race as long as there's a stop to those annoying misfires.
Relative Strengths:
running back, quarterback    Relative Weaknesses: defensive line, offensive line

70. Hawaii 
Predicted Finish: 9-4  2005 Predicted Finish: 5-7   2005 Record: 5-7
Is this the best Hawaii offense ever? It might be with QB Colt Brennan and a loaded receiving corps certain to put up huge numbers. However, the defense, as always, will be a big issue. Hawaii has never been a road team, so throw any hopes of a WAC title out the door with away dates at Boise State and Fresno State, but a bowl season should be a lock with an offense this good.
Relative Strengths: receiver, quarterback    Relative Weaknesses: secondary, running back