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June 16, 2011

Preseason Top 120 Countdown: Nos. 120-116

Today, we begin our annual 1-120 countdown, which will wrap up Aug. 18, two weeks before the start of the 2011 season.

We work backward from our 120th-ranked team, with the teams packaged in groups of five until we get to our top 50; then, each team gets a day to itself.

We'll release the rankings each day at 1:20 p.m. Eastern, as we do with our weekly in-season rankings.

We already have reached player no. 71 in our top 100 player countdown, which started in mid-May. In early August, we'll begin our conference breakdowns and our position rankings.

The start of the season is not that far away (really, it's not), and we'll do our best to occupy your time until that first kickoff Sept. 1.

The team rankings were compiled by writers Olin Buchanan, Tom Dienhart, David Fox, Mike Huguenin and Steve Megargee. They look forward to your e-mails.

Top 120 countdown
No. 120 New Mexico State
QB Andrew Manley (6-3/223, So.)
RB Robert Clay (5-10/192, Jr.)
SLOT Kenny Turner (5-10/192, Jr.)
WR Todd Lee (5-9/160, Sr.)
WR Taveon Rogers (6-0/188, Sr.)
TE Trevor Walls (6-5/232, Jr.)
T Aundre McGaskey (6-6/290, Sr.)
T Davonte Wallace (6-4/272, So.)
G Maveu Heimuli (6-4/338, Jr.)
G Andrew Karsten (6-6/305, Jr.)
C Sioeli Fakalata (6-3/340, Sr.)
E David Nuimatalolo (6-2/247, Sr.)
T Pierre Fils (6-3/252, Jr.)
T Augafa Vaaulu (6-3/299, So.)
E Donte Savage (6-1/247, Jr.)
LB B.J. Adolpho (5-11/224, Jr.)
LB Boyblue Aoelua (5-10/234, Sr.)
LB Bryan Bonilla (6-1/217, So.)
CB Donyae Coleman (5-10/187, Sr.)
CB Jonte Green (6-0/184, Sr.)
FS George Callender (6-1/196, So.)
SS Ben Bradley (5-10/184, Sr.)
K Tyler Stampler (5-10/173, Jr.)
P Jake Capraro (6-1/214, So.)
KR Taveon Rogers (6-0/188, Sr.)
PR Todd Lee (5-9/160, Sr.)
COACH: DeWayne Walker (5-20 in three seasons)
LAST SEASON: 2-10, 1-7 (8th in WAC)
OFFENSE: New coordinator Doug Martin, who had been coach at Kent State, has a lot of work to do. The Aggies have been abysmal on offense of late and haven't really been effective throwing the ball since Hal Mumme was fired as coach. The line should be OK - T Aundre McGaskey, who began his career at Texas, has all-league talent - and there is some talent at tailback. JC transfer Andrew Kersten enrolled early and won a starting job at guard. But quarterback remains a question - will it be senior Matt Christian or sophomore Andrew Manley as the starter? - and the receiving corps is questionable. Manley struggled as a true freshman last season, but he has a bigger upside than Christian and looks to have the physical tools.
DEFENSE: The Aggies forced just 13 turnovers last season, and that hurt because the ineffectiveness of the offense meant the defense was on the field a lot. CB Davon House was one of the best defensive backs on the West Coast, and his departure leaves a giant hole. His running mate at corner last season, Jonte Green, has all-league potential. He is one of three Florida natives starting in the secondary for the Aggies. Some key linemen return, giving hope the Aggies will be tougher against the run after allowing 207.1 yards per game last season. The pass rush was a joke, as the Aggies mustered just nine sacks, and that number obviously must grow.
SPECIAL TEAMS: K Tyler Stampler might be the best kicker in the WAC; he was 16-of-19 last season, with his longest coming from 48 yards. WR Taveon Rogers is a solid kick returner, and the punt- coverage team was good last season. But the punting, punt-return team and kickoff coverage must improve.
THE BUZZ: The schedule isn't overly difficult, especially early, but it won't matter unless the Aggies find a way to ignite their offense. Since Walker has arrived, if foes have been able to stifle the run, they have beaten the Aggies. The passing attack must improve before the Aggies can hope to even sniff .500 in the lowly WAC. Walker and his staff signed 11 junior college transfers, and almost every one of those guys needs to provide immediate help.


Top 120 countdown
No. 119 Memphis
QB Andy Summerlin (6-5/220, So.)
RB Jerrell Rhodes (5-10/215, So.)
WR Billy Foster (5-10/185, Sr.)
WR Curtis Johnson (6-0/185, Jr.)
WR Marcus Rucker (6-4/180, Jr.)
TE Justin Henderson (6-3/240, So.)
T Jordan Devey (6-7/345, Jr.)
T Ronald Leary (6-3/315, Sr.)
G Michael Antonescu (6-3/290, Sr.)
G DeAngelo McCray (6-4/325, Sr.)
C A.J. Antonescu (6-3/275, So.)
E Corey Jones (6-3/260, So.)
T Dontari Poe (6-5/350, Jr.)
T Frank Trotter (6-2/265, Sr.)
E Daniel Thomas (6-2/255, Sr.)
LB Akeem Davis (6-1/195, Jr.)
LB Kenyata Johnson (6-1/220, Jr.)
LB Terrence Thomas (6-0/225, Sr.)
CB Lonnie Ballentine (6-4/215, So.)
CB Taurean Nixon (6-1/190, So.)
FS Mitch Huelsing (6-0/205, Jr.)
SS Derek Smith (6-1/215, So.)
K Paulo Henriques (5-10/230, Jr.)
P Tom Hornsey (6-4/215, So.)
KR Billy Foster (5-10/185, Sr.)
PR Curtis Johnson (6-0/185, Jr.)

For more, check out TigerSportsReport.com

COACH: Larry Porter (1-11 in one season)
LAST SEASON: 1-11, 0-8 (6th in C-USA East)
OFFENSE: This unit was brutal last season, ranking 117th nationally overall and 119th in scoring. Memphis scored 17 TDs - 47 fewer than Tulsa, which led Conference USA in scoring. The rushing attack was especially bad, and leading rusher Gregory Ray is gone. Jerrell Rhodes, who ran for 469 yards but just one TD, will get first crack at being the feature back. In an effort to ramp up the ground game, Porter - a former Tigers running back - has made the move to a spread-based attack. But that led to the transfer to Miami of starting QB Ryan Williams, who showed some skills last season as a true freshman. The new quarterback is JC transfer Andy Summerlin, who will have to fend off Will Gilchrist in fall drills. The receiving corps has potential. Marcus Rucker had eight TD receptions last season. T Ronald Leary is the best lineman, and he'll be joined by four new starters up front, including mammoth JC transfer Jordan Devey (6-7/345) at the other tackle.
DEFENSE: The defense was just as bad as the offense, ranking 115th overall, 116th against the pass and 117th in scoring. The run defense was the bright spot, but the Tigers still were 81st nationally. Ts Dontari Poe and Frank Trotter are solid and have all-league potential, but the ends, linebackers and secondary are questionable. The back seven is entirely made up of new starters. Memphis allowed 38 TD passes last season and came up with just eight picks; the Tigers also allowed 14.3 yards per completion, and only one team nationally (Duke) was worse. JC transfer Kenyata Johnson won a starting job at linebacker in spring drills and must produce.
SPECIAL TEAMS: The best player on the team might be P Tom Hornsey, an Australian who averaged 42.7 yards per punt last season, including 17 of at least 50 yards. K Paulo Henriques is extremely accurate inside 40 yards, but gets spotty beyond 40. The coverage units were horrible last season and need vast improvement. The return teams also need to get much better. Get this: Memphis had 5 total punt-return yards all season.
THE BUZZ: You can win in Conference USA with a bad defense. But when the offense is pitiful, too, you're in trouble, and Memphis was a prime example last season. The offensive backfield is a gigantic question, as is the offensive line, the linebackers, the secondary and the coverage and return teams. Other than that .... Oh, well, the Tigers' basketball team should be a top-10 squad and basketball practice starts Oct. 15. The only game the Tigers seem likely to win is Sept. 17 against FCS member Austin Peay.


Top 120 countdown
No. 118 Akron
QB Patrick Nicely (6-4/215, Jr.)
RB Broderick Alexander (6-1/205, Jr.)
FB Austin Bailey (5-11/248, Soph.)
WR Anthony Meriwether (6-1/185, Jr.)
WR Antoine Russell (5-11/185, Soph.)
TE Richard Hall (6-3/230, Soph.)
T Jake Anderson (6-5/310, Sr.)
T Mitch Straight (6-5/310, Jr.)
G Zac Kasparek (6-5/300, Sr.)
G Pat McCloskey (6-4/290, Sr.)
C Adam Bice (6-4/297, Jr.)
E Nico Caponi (6-2/264, Soph.)
T Dan Marcoux (6-2/275, Sr.)
T Oren Wilson (6-3/294, Sr.)
E Hasan Hazime (6-4/270, Sr.)
LB Troy Gilmer (6-1/230, Jr.)
LB Matt Little (6-3/230, Sr.)
LB Brian Wagner (6-2/220, Jr.)
CB Emmanuel Lartey (5-11/170, R-Fr.)
CB Manley Waller (5-8/165, Sr.)
FS Josh Richmond (5-10/185, Jr.)
SS L.T. Smith (6-0/186, R-Fr.)
K T.J. Marchese (5-11/180, Soph.)
P Zack Campbell (6-2/190, Sr.)
KR Gary Pride (5-8/190, Sr.)
PR Gary Pride (5-8/190, Sr.)
COACH: Rob Ianello (1-11 in one season)
LAST SEASON: 1-11, 1-7 (T-5th in MAC East)
OFFENSE: The Zips have a lot of work to do on this side of the ball after finishing 119th overall (268.5 ypg) and 118th in scoring (15.6 ppg) last season. They scored 14 or fewer points seven times. QB Patrick Nicely, who reached the 200-yard mark in passing once last season, returns as the starter. Nicely has some mobility, which helps, but he completed just 49.4 percent of his passes last season. The top two receivers are gone, and the two projected starting wide receivers caught a combined 18 passes last season. Clearly, there will be ample opportunity for someone to step up and make his mark. All five projected starters along the line are upperclassmen, and T Jake Anderson is the ringleader. There looks to be better depth up front than last season, which could help the rushing attack get untracked. The top two rushers are gone, and the leading returning rusher is a backup wide receiver who carries seven times. Junior Broderick Alexander, who carried 59 times in 2009 but was a reserve defensive back last season, heads into fall drills as the starting tailback. He'll have to fend off redshirt freshman Jawon Chisholm.
DEFENSE: There is some potential on this side of the ball. LB Brian Wagner has All-MAC talent and has made 262 tackles in his first two seasons. The other linebacker spots are a bit dicey, though, and coaches wouldn't mind increasing the speed level at the position. Three seniors appear set to start up front, including Michigan State transfer Oren Wilson at tackle. Akron had just 17 sacks last season, but the since-departed Alex Lemon had seven of them, so coaches are searching for a consistent pass rusher. It could end up being senior E Hasan Hazime, who has 5.5 sacks in his career. Senior CB Manley Waller - whose mom, Gwen Torrence, was one of the best female sprinters in the world in the 1990s - heads up the secondary. The Zips allowed 29 TD passes and came up with just eight interceptions last season. Redshirt freshmen Emmanuel Lartey at corner and L.T. Smith at strong safety should add some quickness to the secondary.
SPECIAL TEAMS: T.J. Marchese is the new kicker; he has kicked off once, in 2009, in his college career. P Zack Campbell returns, but he averaged just 37.8 yards per attempt last season. The coverage teams were adequate last season, but the Zips need to find two new return men.
THE BUZZ: The Zips were winless last season until winning the finale against Buffalo, and it very well could be more of the same. The MAC has some bad teams at the bottom, and that's the only thing that could save Akron. The Zips were poor offensively last season and lost their top two tailbacks and their top two wide receivers. There will be a lot of pressure on Nicely to be a playmaker. A 0-3 start appears likely, and the opener at Ohio State could be ugly. Still, there are some winnable games sprinkled throughout the schedule, though the two weakest conference foes (Buffalo and Eastern Michigan) will have to be played on the road.


Top 120 countdown
No. 117 Louisiana-Lafayette
QB Chris Masson (6-2/203, Sr.)
RB Robert Walker (5-8/183, So.)
WR James Butler (6-3/201, So.)
WR Andrew Joseph (5-10/167, Sr.)
WR Javone Lawson (6-1/183, Jr.)
TE Ladarius Green (6-6/236, Sr.)
T Leonardo Bates (6-5/296, Sr.)
T Jaron Odom (6-7/330, Jr.)
G Kyle Plouhar (6-6/300, Sr.)
G Daniel Quave (6-3/324, R-Fr.)
C Andre Huval (6-1/305, So.)
E Nate Douglas (6-2/248, Sr.)
T Derreck Dean (5-11/283, Sr.)
T Cordian Hagans (6-5/310, Jr.)
E Bernard Smith (6-3/240, Sr.)
LB Richard Brooks (6-2/235, Sr.)
LB Lance Kelley (6-2/204, Sr.)
LB Devon Lewis-Buchanan (6-2/218, Sr.)
CB Dwight Bentley (5-11/179, Sr.)
CB Melvin White (6-3/191, Sr.)
FS Le'Marcus Gibson (6-0/205, Sr.)
SS Lionel Stokes (6-1/225, Sr.)
K Brett Baer (5-11/182, Jr.)
P Brett Baer (5-11/182, Jr.)
KR Darryl Surgent (6-0/195, So.)
PR Harry Peoples (5-10/180, Jr.)
COACH: Mark Hudspeth (first season)
LAST SEASON: 3-9, 3-5 (T-6th in Sun Belt)
OFFENSE: New coach Mark Hudspeth had been wide receivers coach at Mississippi State, and he takes over a team that was anemic running the ball last season. ULL reached the 100-yard plateau as a team just four times last season, and 11 of the team's 14 rushing TDs came from the quarterbacks. Two starting linemen return, and a priority will be finding a tailback who can handle 15-plus carries a game. The hunt for that guy will continue into fall drills; the starting quarterback job remains a battle, too, between Blaine Gautier and incumbent starter Chris Masson. TE Ladarius Green is a big-timer and led the nation's tight ends in receiving yards (794) last season; he needs to get the ball at least five times per game after finishing with just 44 receptions last season. The wide receivers have potential, but there is no proven go-to guy on the outside.
DEFENSE: New coordinator Greg Stewart prefers a base 4-3 set, but he isn't afraid to mix up his looks, including using a 5-2 on occasion. The defense had its moments last season and has one of the best corners in the Sun Belt in Dwight Bentley; he and 6-3 senior Melvin White could be quite a formidable duo at cornerback. SS Lionel Stokes is active, as is LB Devon Lewis-Buchanan. Stewart has to find a way to increase the sack total (just 17 last season), and coaches are high on senior E Dwight Smith. DT Cordian Hagans is an LSU transfer, but he had an inconsistent spring and needs to ramp up his intensity. There is no lack of experience on this side of the ball, as 10 of the 11 projected starters are seniors and the other is a junior.
SPECIAL TEAMS: K Brett Baer might add punting duties this season. Baer was 7-of-7 on field-goal attempts last season, but his longest was just 42. True freshman Carlos Alvarez will get a shot at the punting job in fall drills. WR Daryl Surgent has some kick-return skills, but no one on the roster has returned a punt in a college game. The punt coverage was horrible last season, the kick coverage mediocre.
THE BUZZ: Hudspeth is a former coach at Division II power North Alabama. He has the Sun Belt's biggest mystery team this season. If he can find a way to give the rushing attack some juice, the Ragin' Cajuns could challenge for an upper-half finish in the Sun Belt. The defense has potential, especially the secondary. But if ULL can't run, a rebuilt offensive line is going to see a lot of blitzes as opponents try to find a way to get to the quarterback - whoever it is. The schedule is challenging, with three of the first four games on the road. But ULL could make some hay in October; there are three home games and the road contests that month are against two of the Sun Belt's weaker teams.


Top 120 countdown
No. 116 Ball State
QB Keith Wenning (6-4/220, So.)
RB Eric Williams (5-10/203, Jr.)
WR Torieal Gibson (5-9/173, Sr.)
WR Briggs Orsbon (6-0/189, Sr.)
WR Willie Snead (5-11/182, Fr.)
TE Aaron Mershman (6-2/211, So.)
T Austin Holtz (6-5/296, Jr.)
T Dan Manick (6-4/286, Jr.)
G Jerrod Gray (6-3/276, Sr.)
G Kitt O'Brien (6-6/305, Jr.)
C Kreg Hunter (6-3/294, Sr.)
E Ryan Hartke (6-4/228, Sr.)
T Adam Morris (6-0/279, Sr.)
T Nathan Ollie (6-1/290, So.)
E Andrew Puthoff (6-3/249, Sr.)
LB Travis Freeman (6-0/223, Jr.)
LB Tony Martin (6-1/219, Jr.)
LB Aaron Morris (6-0/195, So.)
CB Jeffrey Garrett (5-9/170, So.)
CB Jason Pinkston (6-2/177, Jr.)
FS Kyle Hoke (5-11/193, Sr.)
SS Sean Baker (6-1/204, Sr.)
K Steven Schott (6-1/163, Jr.)
P Scott Kovanda (6-3/195, Jr.)
KR Eric Williams (5-10/203, Jr.)
PR Jamill Smith (5-8/140, So.)
COACH: Pete Lembo (first season)
LAST SEASON: 4-8, 3-5 (4th in MAC West)
OFFENSE: Lembo arrives from FCS program Elon, where he was known for a strong passing attack. But do the Cardinals have a quarterback? Sophomore Keith Wenning held the top spot coming out of spring drills, but junior Kelly Page - who hasn't come close to living up to expectations - will get another shot in fall drills. No wide receiver had more than 29 catches last season, so that's another potential trouble spot. Jack Tomlinson led the Cardinals in receptions, receiving yards and TD receptions last season, but he came out of spring practice as a backup. True freshman WR Willie Snead, who enrolled early, is a guy to keep an eye on; he enrolled early and won a starting job. He played for his dad of the same name - a former wideout at Florida - in high school in Michigan. The offensive line has potential, with five upperclassmen projected to start, and RB Eric Williams returns after leading the Cardinals with 613 rushing yards last season. Lembo likes throwing to his backs, so Williams has to prove he can be an effective receiver.
DEFENSE: The run defense was poor last season and must improve. LB Travis Freeman will be one of the best at his position in the MAC; he made 109 tackles last season. But at 223 pounds, he's the heaviest of the projected starting linebackers, and those 'backers will be playing behind an undersized line to boot. SS Sean Baker is a big-timer who holds the school record with 16 interceptions; he's also a willing tackler in run support. CB Jason Pinkston is another who should contend for all-league honors; he has good size (6-2/177) and had four picks and seven pass breakups last season. The Cardinals were 105th nationally with just 14 sacks last season and departed E Robert Eddins had six of them. Where is the pass rush going to come from? The secondary is good, but those guys are going to get torched unless coaches find a way to get consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
SPECIAL TEAMS: The Cardinals will miss K Ian McGarvey. Junior Steven Schott, who had three touchbacks as a kickoff specialist last season, gets first dibs on the job. P Scott Kovanda is solid, as are the coverage teams. Williams is a dangerous kick returner - he took one back for a TD last season - but the Cardinals are looking for a new punt returner.
THE BUZZ: Lembo had success as coach at Lehigh before moving on to Elon, and he prefers a no-huddle, pro-style offense. Ball State's quarterback and wide receivers have a lot to prove, though, so Year One with the Cardinals could be tough. Lembo wasn't happy with his team's overall lack of strength when he took over, and that may have been one reason the Cardinals were shoddy against the run last season. Ball State plays three of its first five on the road, including visits to USF and Oklahoma, has a tough three-game stretch in October with OU, Temple and Ohio, then closes the season with the two best teams in the MAC West in Northern Illinois and Toledo. The talent is there to match last season's win total, but the schedule may preclude that.



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