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June 23, 2010

Preseason Top 120 Countdown: Nos. 90-86

Here is the seventh part of Rivals.com's 1-120 countdown for 2010; today, we look at teams ranked 86th through 90th.

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. 90 Virginia
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
OFFENSE
QB Marc Verica (6-3/210, Sr.)
TB Dominique Wallace (6-0/230, R-Fr.)
FB Terence Fells-Danzer (6-1/250, Jr.)
WR Kris Burd (5-11/190, Jr.)
WR Tim Smith (6-0/175, Soph.)
TE Joe Torchia (6-6/250, Sr.)
T Oday Aboushi (6-6/300, Soph.)
T Landon Bradley (6-7/275, Jr.)
G B.J. Cabbell (6-6/305, Sr.)
G Austin Pasztor (6-7/315, Jr.)
C Anthony Mihota (6-4/275, Jr.)
DEFENSE
E Cam Johnson (6-4/255, Jr.)
T Matt Conrath (6-7/270, Jr.)
T Nick Jenkins (6-3/285, Jr.)
E Zane Parr (6-6/275, Jr.)
LB Jared Detrick (6-1/235, Sr.)
LB Steve Greer (6-2/225, Soph.)
LB LaRoy Reynolds (6-2/210, Soph.)
CB Ras-I Dowling (6-2/200, Sr.)
CB Chase Minnifield (6-0/185, Jr.)
FS Rodney McLeod (5-10/185, Jr.)
SS Dom Joseph (6-1/190, Jr.)
SPECIALISTS
K Robert Randolph (5-10/160, Jr.)
P Jimmy Howell (6-6/238, Jr.)
KR Tim Smith (6-0/175, Soph.)
PR Chase Minnifield (6-0/185, Jr.)
COACH: Mike London (first season; 24-5, third season overall).
LAST SEASON: 3-9, 2-6 (6th in ACC Coastal)
FINAL 2009 RIVALS.COM RANKING: 82nd
KEEP AN EYE ON: Virginia generally played quality defense during former coach Al Groh's tenure, so it will be interesting to see whether the Cavaliers can continue performing well on that side of the ball as they switch from a 3-4 to a 4-3 scheme. In an era when many coaches are moving toward the 3-4, Virginia is moving away from that alignment under new coach London.
STRENGTHS: CB Ras-I Dowling is a legitimate All-America candidate and pro prospect who headlines a good secondary. Dowling and fellow CB Chase Minnifield helped Virginia rank 23rd in the nation in pass efficiency defense last season. Matt Conrath and Nick Jenkins give the Cavaliers a couple of solid defensive tackles. The Cavaliers return three starters on the offensive line. LB Steve Greer is a rising star who led the Cavaliers with 92 tackles as a redshirt freshman last season. K Robert Randolph went 17-of-19 on field-goal attempts last season.
WEAKNESSES: The quarterback position is a major concern. Marc Verica threw twice as many interceptions as touchdown passes in 2008, then completed less than half his pass attempts as a backup last season. And he's the only quarterback on the roster who has thrown a pass in a college game. Virginia also lacks experience at wide receiver and running back, though redshirt freshman RB Dominique Wallace provides plenty of promise. The defensive ends are nothing special. Other than Greer, the linebackers are questionable. The punt-coverage unit and return teams need an upgrade.
BUZZ: London's fast start on the recruiting trail suggests he eventually should make Virginia competitive again, but the improvement isn't likely to come this season. Virginia could struggle to throw the ball all season. The defense may need a few games to adjust to its scheme change, though facing two FCS opponents in the first three games could help in that regard. Virginia could exceed last season's victory total, but a winning season seems unlikely.

-- STEVE MEGARGEE

ROSTER | STATS | SCHEDULE

Top 120 countdown
No. 89 Vanderbilt
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
OFFENSE
QB Larry Smith (6-2/220, Jr.)
RB Warren Norman (5-10/192, Soph.)
WR John Cole (5-10/180, Soph.)
WR Udom Umoh (6-0/180, Jr.)
WR Turner Wimberly (6-1/200, Sr.)
TE Brandon Barden (6-5/250, Jr.)
T Ryan Seymour (6-4/295, Soph.)
T James Williams (6-5/310, Jr.)
G Jabo Burrow (6-4/275, Soph.)
G Kyle Fischer (6-6/305, Jr.)
C Joey Bailey (6-4/295, Sr.)
DEFENSE
E Teriall Brannon (6-3/245, Sr.)
T T.J. Greenstone (6-3/285, Jr.)
T Rob Lohr (6-4/288, Soph.)
E Tim Fugger (6-4/255, Jr.)
LB Dexter Daniels (6-1/230, Soph.)
LB Chris Marve (6-0/230, Jr.)
LB John Stokes (6-5/232, Sr.)
CB Jamie Graham (6-0/195, Jr.)
CB Casey Hayward (6-0/180, Jr.)
FS Jay Fullam (6-1/200, Jr.)
SS Sean Richardson (6-2/210, Jr.)
SPECIALISTS
K Ryan Fowler (5-10/170, Soph.)
P Richard Kent (6-2/195, Soph.)
KR Warren Norman (5-10/192, Soph.)
PR Jamie Graham (6-0/192, Jr.)
COACH: Bobby Johnson (29-66, ninth season; 89-122, 17th season overall).
LAST SEASON: 2-10, 0-8 (6th in SEC East)
FINAL 2009 RIVALS.COM RANKING: 104th
KEEP AN EYE ON: After a disastrous performance by the offense last season, Johnson shuffled his offensive staff but retained the same personnel. Jimmy Kiser, who had been the quarterbacks coach since 2002, will be the sole play-caller. Former coordinator Ted Cain remained as tight ends coach and special teams coordinator.
STRENGTHS: RB Warren Norman and LB Chris Marve give Vanderbilt potentially elite players on each side of the ball. Norman was the SEC freshman of the year after accounting for 891 yards from scrimmage and four touchdowns along with three kickoff returns for touchdowns. His backup, Zac Stacy, started ahead of Norman early last season before being slowed by an ankle injury. Marve is a run-stuffing linebacker who has topped 100 tackles in each of his first two seasons on campus. Cornerback once again is a strength for the defense with Casey Hayward. He gives the "D" some versatility with his ability to blitz and play near the line (8.5 tackles for loss). SS Sean Richardson could contend for All-SEC honors. K Ryan Fowler is solid, and the kickoff coverage was good.
WEAKNESSES: Despite having playmakers at running back, Vanderbilt's offense was tepid, averaging 16.3 points per game. Part of the reason was pitiful production from the passing game. Larry Smith goes into the season as the projected starter after completing 47 percent of his passes and throwing seven interceptions in nine games. The offensive line lost four starters and had injury problems in the spring. The defensive line will be tested early; it lost three starters and starting T Adam Smotherman will miss at least a month with a knee injury. The Commodores need a new punter and must upgrade their punt-coverage unit.
BUZZ: Vanderbilt bottomed out after going 7-6 and winning the Music City Bowl in 2009. The Commodores defeated only one FBS opponent (Rice) last season. The Commodores have a handful of SEC-caliber playmakers, but Vanderbilt's depth will be tested once again, especially early, when Vanderbilt faces four consecutive bowl teams to start the year; there are 10 bowl teams total on the schedule.

-- DAVID FOX

ROSTER | STATS | SCHEDULE

Top 120 countdown
No. 88 Akron
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
OFFENSE
QB Patrick Nicely (6-4/215, Soph.)
RB Alex Allen (6-0/210, Sr.)
FB LeVon Morefield (5-9/235, Sr.)
WR Jalil Carter (6-0/200, Sr.)
WR Jeremy LaFrance (6-1/195, Sr.)
TE Kyle Weber (6-4/250, Sr.)
T Jake Anderson (6-5/310, Jr.)
T Corey Woods (6-5/305, Jr.)
G Zac Kasparek (6-5/300, Jr.)
G Mike Ward (6-3/300, Sr.)
C Paul Simkovich (6-3/295, Jr.)
DEFENSE
E Hasan Hazime (6-4/270, Jr.)
T Almondo Sewell (6-1/285, Sr.)
T Dan Marcoux (6-2/275, Jr.)
E Shawn Lemon (6-1/245, Sr.)
LB Troy Gilmer (6-1/230, So.)
LB Mike Thomas (5-11/220, Sr.)
LB Brian Wagner (6-2/220, Soph.)
CB Manley Waller (5-8/165, Jr.)
CB Diamond Weaver (5-9/175, Sr.)
FS Kevin Davis (6-1/200, Sr.)
SS Doug Richardson (6-0/185, Sr.)
SPECIALISTS
K T.J. Marchese (5-11/180, Soph.)
P Zack Campbell (6-2/190, Jr.)
KR Jalil Carter (6-0/200, Sr.)
PR Jeremy LaFrance (6-1/195, Sr.)
COACH: Rob Ianello (first season).
LAST SEASON: 3-9, 2-6 (6th in MAC East)
FINAL 2009 RIVALS.COM RANKING: 111th
KEEP AN EYE ON: New coach Rob Ianello -- who had been a Notre Dame assistant and has a reputation as a top-notch recruiter -- has ditched the spread offense of the previous regime and installed a pro-style attack. Maybe this will help a unit that averaged only 19.2 points last season.
STRENGTHS: Keep an eye on two true freshmen tailbacks: Erick Howard, a two-time Ohio Mr. Football, and Giorgio Bowers, who was considered one of the top running backs in Illinois. The Zips could get a boost from RB Alex Allen, who was granted a sixth season of eligibility. Offensive line coach Mitch Browning built some strong lines at Minnesota under Glen Mason. There is a good foundation on defense, as eight starters are back. The new staff will switch from a 3-3-5 scheme to a traditional 4-3 set. Sophomore LB Brian Wagner made 132 tackles and returned an interception for a touchdown last season; he should be an All-MAC guy this season. The secondary should be one of the better defensive units in the MAC.
WEAKNESSES: The search is on for playmakers for an offense that ranked 11th in the MAC (300.9 ypg) in 2009. Coaches need to settle on a quarterback. Junior Matt Rodgers is battling sophomore Patrick Nicely for the post, but Rodgers was limited in the spring after injuring a knee last October. There also is a need for wide receivers, which is why senior SS Jalil Carter was moved to receiver -- where he is expected to start. Akron must find a way to put the heat on quarterbacks after the Zips notched just 11 sacks in 2009. The kicking and punting need to improve.
BUZZ: Akron hopes Ianello can take the program to the next level, which is something former coach J.D. Brookhart wasn't able to do in six seasons. Ianello is making wholesale changes for a program that has posted four losing seasons in a row after winning the MAC East and playing in the Motor City Bowl in 2005. Akron plays three Big Six opponents this season, including the opener at home against Syracuse. There are two stretches in which the Zips play four of five on the road.

-- TOM DIENHART

ROSTER | STATS | SCHEDULE

Top 120 countdown
No. 87 Western Michigan
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
OFFENSE
QB Alex Carder (6-2/225, Soph.)
RB Aaron Winchester (5-6/181, Jr.)
WR Robert Arnheim (6-2/198, Jr.)
WR Juan Nunez (6-1/183, Sr.)
WR Jordan White (6-0/215, Sr.)
TE Blake Hammond (6-4/239, Soph.)
T Dann O'Neill (6-7/309, Soph.)
T Anthony Parker (6-4/326, Jr.)
G Nick Clemens (6-4/305, Sr.)
G Sam Jaeger (6-4/325, Soph.)
C Kevin Galeher (6-3/316, Soph.)
DEFENSE
E Paul Hazel (6-5/204, Soph.)
T Weston Peiffer (6-4/270, Jr.)
T John Rice (6-0/272, Jr.)
E T.J. Lynch (6-3/250, Jr.)
LB Dex Jones (6-0/249, Soph.)
LB Deauntay Legrier (6-2/244, Soph.)
LB Mitch Zajac (6-1/232, Jr.)
CB Deshon Lawrence (5-11/191, Jr.)
CB Damond Smith (5-11/181, Soph.)
FS Doug Wiggins (5-10/202, Jr.)
SS Jamail Berry (6-1/205, Sr.)
SPECIALISTS
K John Potter (6-1/226, Jr.)
P Ben Armer (5-10/211, Jr.)
KR Ansel Ponder (6-1/183, Soph.)
PR Brian Fields (5-8/195, R-Fr.)
COACH: Bill Cubit (34-27, sixth season).
LAST SEASON: 5-7, 4-4 (3rd in MAC West)
FINAL 2009 RIVALS.COM RANKING: 95th
KEEP AN EYE ON: The defensive staff was overhauled after the Broncos finished 12th in the MAC in total defense (418.8 ypg). Former Hofstra coach David Cohen and former Hofstra coordinator Rich Nagy joined the staff after Hofstra dropped football. Cohen will be the coordinator and coach linebackers, while Nagy will coach safeties. Former Lane College (Tenn.) assistant Amp Campbell, who was a cornerback at Michigan State in the 1990s, will coach cornerbacks. Lou Esposito, who had been coach at St. Joseph (Ind.), is the new defensive line coach.
STRENGTHS: A new starting quarterback will throw to a promising receiving corps headed by Juan Nunez, Robert Arnheim and Jordan White. Junior OT Anthony Parker is a great cornerstone for the line; he was a second-team All-MAC pick last season and should be one of the league's best linemen this season. SS Jamail Berry, who led the team with five picks, is a nice last line of defense. The staff is high on CB Damond Smith and E Paul Hazel, who moved from linebacker. Junior Ben Armer will be one of the MAC's top punters. Western Michigan blocked four kicks in 2009, and it also was superb in kick coverage.
WEAKNESSES: The Broncos must replace standout QB Tim Hiller, who rewrote the school record book during his senior season. Sophomore Alex Carder, who saw limited action last season, looks like the front-runner in a three-man race that also includes senior Drew Burdi and redshirt freshman Tyler VanTubbergen. And Western Michigan will miss RB Brandon West, who left campus as the NCAA record-holder for career all-purpose yards and kick-return yards. Diminutive junior Aaron Winchester (5-6/181) is the likely starting running back; he needs to hold off redshirt freshmen Antoin Scriven and Brian Fields. True freshman Tevin Drake also could make an impact. Other than Parker, the offensive line has issues. Western managed just 17 sacks last season, and finding a way to consistently apply pressure is a must this season. The line struggled last season, which put undue pressure on the back seven. The punt coverage was weak last season.
BUZZ: It was all about offense for Western Michigan in 2009. Cubit's attack amassed more than 400 yards in half of its games and eclipsed the 500-yard mark in three contests. But the defense struggled. This season, there are some big holes to fill on offense, but Cubit likes his replacements and thinks his new defensive staff is an upgrade. The schedule affords a quick start, as three of the first four games are at home. There also are some opportunities to impress, with the opener at Michigan State and a trip to Notre Dame in October. A three-game stretch in late October/early November against Akron, Northern Illinois and Central Michigan should determine where the Broncos finish in the MAC.

-- TOM DIENHART

ROSTER | STATS | SCHEDULE

Top 120 countdown
No. 86 Hawaii
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
OFFENSE
QB Bryant Moniz (6-0/190, Jr.)
RB Alex Green (6-2/220, Sr.)
WR Joe Avery (6-5/180, Jr.)
WR Greg Salas (6-2/200, Sr.)
WR Kealoha Pilares (5-11/200, Sr.)
WR Royce Pollard (6-0/175, Jr.)
T Austin Hansen (6-4/285, Jr.)
T Laupepa Letuli (6-3/290, Sr.)
G Brett Leonard (6-5/310, Jr.)
G Adrian Thomas (6-6/310, Sr.)
C Matagisila Lefiti (6-0/280, Jr.)
DEFENSE
E Elliott Purcell (6-3/255, Sr.)
T Vaughn Meatoga (6-2/290, Jr.)
T Haku Correa (6-1/290, Soph.)
E Paipai Falemalu (6-3/230, Soph.)
LB Aaron Brown (6-1/205, Jr.)
LB Jake Heun (6-2/240, Sr.)
LB Corey Paredes (5-11/230, Jr.)
CB Lametrius Davis (6-0/190, Sr.)
CB Jeremy Bryant (5-10/180, Sr.)
FS Spencer Smith (5-11/205, Sr.)
SS Mana Silva (6-1/220, Sr.)
SPECIALISTS
K Scott Enos (5-9/280, Sr.)
P Alex Dunnachie (6-3/235, Soph.)
KR Royce Pollard (6-0/175, Jr.)
PR Ryan Henry (5-9/170, Sr.)
COACH: Greg McMackin (13-14, third season)
LAST SEASON: 6-7, 3-5 (T-5th in WAC)
FINAL 2009 RIVALS.COM RANKING: 86th
KEEP AN EYE ON: Quarterback has been a problem position the past two seasons, with five different players getting at least one start at the position. Bryant Moniz made eight starts last season and generally performed well. But he missed three weeks of spring practice with an off-field issue before being reinstated late in May. McMackin said he must earn his No. 1 spot back.
STRENGTHS: While Hawaii's run-and-shoot offense has some uncertainty at quarterback, there's none at receiver. The Warriors have a corps of experienced guys led by senior Greg Salas. He was one of three receivers nationwide last season with at least 1,500 yards and one of seven with at least 100 catches. Kealoha Pilares (66 catches, 690 yards) and deep threat Rodney Bradley, who missed seven games with an injury, make the unit even more dangerous. Despite being ranked 93rd in the nation, Hawaii's defense was capable within the WAC. All four starters are back in the secondary (each is a senior), and SS Mana Silva led the WAC with six interceptions. Hawaii led the nation in punt coverage (just 15 yards allowed all season) in 2009.
WEAKNESSES: Hawaii has offensive line concerns after losing four starters, including star C John Estes. Even with Estes, Hawaii allowed 2.8 sacks per game last season. Improving the offensive line and finding more consistent quarterback play could improve Hawaii's dismal performance inside the 20-yard line. The Warriors scored on 61 percent of red zone possessions, the worst ratio in the nation. Though the Warriors are experienced in the secondary, they lack experience in the front seven. A slew of part-time starters need to take on bigger roles.
BUZZ: Hawaii, which won four of its last five games last season, can put up big passing numbers (it ranked third nationally in pass offense), but those numbers only underscored how deficient the Warriors were in other areas. The offense was turnover-prone and inefficient in the red zone last season. If Hawaii can turn those numbers around, the Warriors could return to a bowl game.

-- DAVID FOX

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