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June 27, 2010

Preseason Top 120 Countdown: Nos. 65-61

Here is the 12th part of Rivals.com's 1-120 countdown; today, we look at the teams ranked 61st through 65th.

We're starting at the bottom, and the first two weeks of rankings will be in groups of five; then we'll do a daily countdown from 50th to first, with our No. 1 team to be unveiled Aug. 19 - which is 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
65. Nevada
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP:
OFFENSE
QB Colin Kaepernick (6-6/215, Sr.)
RB Vai Taua (5-10/220, Sr.)
WR Chris Wellington (6-1/190, Sr.)
WR Brandon Wimberley (6-3/195, Soph.)
WR Tray Session (6-3/175, Jr.)
TE Virgil Green (6-5/240, Sr.)
T Jose Acuna (6-6/305, Sr.)
T Steve Haley (6-5/305, Jr.)
G Chris Barker (6-4/305, Soph.)
G John Bender (6-8/325, Sr.)
C Jeff Meads (6-3/290, Jr.)
DEFENSE
E Ryan Coulson (6-3/255, Sr.)
T Zack Madonick (6-1/285, Jr.)
T Brett Roy (6-4/260, Jr.)
E Dontay Moch (6-1/245, Sr.)
LB DeAndre Boughton (6-1/215, Jr.)
LB James-Michael Johnson (6-2/240, Jr.)
LB Brandon Marshall (6-1/235, Jr.)
CB Isaiah Frey (6-0/190, Jr.)
CB Doyle Miller (5-11/185, Sr.)
FS Duke Williams (6-1/185, Soph.)
SS Corbin Louks (6-0/200, Jr.)
SPECIALISTS
K Ricky Drake (6-0/190, Sr.)
P Brad Langley (6-0/200, Sr.)
KR Mike Ball (5-10/225, Soph.)
PR Rishard Mathews (6-2/215, Jr.)
COACH: Chris Ault(206-96-1, 25th season)
LAST SEASON: 8-5, 7-1 (2nd in WAC); lost to SMU in Hawaii Bowl)
FINAL 2009 RIVALS.COM RANKING: 72nd
KEEP AN EYE ON: Nevada's secondary needs all the help it can get. At strong safety, it will turn to Corbin Louks, a former Utah quarterback. Louks played for the Utes in 2007-08 as a change-of-pace running quarterback and appeared poised to take over as the starter for Brian Johnson. Utah eventually opted for freshman Jordan Wynn, and Louks transferred to Nevada. Louks is a fine athlete, but he won't be the quarterback at Nevada, either. Instead, he grabbed a spot as the starting strong safety.
STRENGTHS: Nevada will run the ball successfully. The Wolf Pack's "Pistol" offense led the nation in rushing at 344.9 yards per game. Nevada became the first team in NCAA history to produce three 1,000-yard rushers, and two return in QB Colin Kaepernick and RB Vai Taua. Keep an eye on sophomore RB Mike Ball, who rushed for 184 yards against UNLV last season. Nevada also has a standout receiver in Brandon Wimberley, who caught 53 passes for 733 yards and six touchdowns. TE Virgil Green could become a major target after catching five touchdown passes last season. The defense needs work, but it has at least one All-WAC candidate in E Dontay Moch. He has made 37.5 tackles for loss the past two seasons. Nevada had a solid punt-coverage team (5.5 yards per return) last season.
WEAKNESSES: Andy Buh left his post as Stanford's co-coordinator to become the sole defensive coordinator at his alma mater. His first priority will be to repair the pass defense, which has been the WAC's worst in each of the past two seasons. On offense, Nevada has been so effective running the ball its passing game hasn't been a major part of the offense. Still, if Nevada wants to compete against the top defenses on its schedule, Kaepernick needs to develop as a passer. He threw 20 touchdowns last season compared to six interceptions, but he has completed only 55.6 percent of his passes in his three-year career. Developing a secondary receiver beyond Wimberley would help.
BUZZ: The WAC has been Boise State's playground for the past few years, but Nevada has hung tough against the Broncos, losing by a total of 20 points over the past three seasons. Nevada won't compete on a bigger scale until it can improve the passing game and start to make defensive stops every now and then.

- DAVID FOX

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Top 120 countdown
64. East Carolina
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
OFFENSE
QB Dominique Davis (6-4/198, Jr.)
RB Jonathan Williams (6-1/196, Sr.)
WR Andrew Bodenheimer (6-3/195, Soph.)
WR Michael Bowman (5-9/165, Jr.)
WR Darryl Freeney (5-11/191, Jr.)
WR Dwayne Harris (6-0/205, Sr.)
T Grant Harner (6-6/323, R-Fr.)
T Willie Smith (6-8/290, Sr.)
G Cory Dowless (6-5/309, Sr.)
G D.J. Scott (6-6/323, Sr.)
C Will Towery (6-5/308, Jr.)
DEFENSE
E Matt Milner (6-4/235, R-Fr.)
T Antonio Allison (6-4/286, Jr.)
T Josh Smith (6-1/274, Sr.)
E Marke Powell (6-3/200, Soph.)
LB Cliff Perryman (6-1/231, Jr.)
LB Matt Thompson (6-2/212, Jr.)
LB Steve Spence (6-2/225, Jr.)
CB Emanuel Davis (5-11/190, Jr.)
CB Travis Simmons (5-10/177, Sr.)
FS Derek Blacknall (5-11/185, Jr.)
SS Bradley Jacobs (5-10/190, Jr.)
SPECIALISTS
K Ben Ryan (6-2/199, Jr.)
P Matt Millisor (6-0/185, R-Fr.)
KR Dwayne Harris (6-0/205, Sr.)
PR Travis Simmons (5-10/177, Sr.)
COACH: Ruffin McNeill (first season)
LAST SEASON: 9-5, 7-1 (1st in C-USA East); beat Houston in C-USA championship game, lost to Arkansas in Liberty Bowl
FINAL 2009 RIVALS.COM RANKING: 41st
KEEP AN EYE ON: ECU emphasized the run under former coach Skip Holtz, who was hired away by USF. New coach Ruffin McNeill had been Texas Tech's defensive coordinator, and he brought Lincoln Riley with him from Lubbock to run the offense. Riley was the inside receivers coach for the Red Raiders and is well-versed in Mike Leach's pass-happy schemes. ECU isn't going to become the East Coast version of Texas Tech, but you certainly can expect more four-wide sets and a heck of a lot more passes from ECU.
STRENGTHS: Senior WR Dwayne Harris has to be ecstatic about the new offense; Harris has 10 career touchdown catches, a total he should at least equal this season. A 70-catch, 1,000-yard season should be his goal. Junior Darryl Freeney should be a nice complement to Harris, assuming he gets his academics in order. Expect two or three other receivers to emerge as 30-plus-catch guys, too. The line will be one of the best in C-USA. D.J. Scott, an all-league tackle last season, has moved inside, and he and Cory Dowless should be an excellent guard tandem. Senior T Willie Smith has all-league potential, and coaches are high on redshirt freshman T Grant Harner. CBs Emanuel Davis and Travis Simmons are the only returning starters on defense, and they will headline what should be an OK secondary. Harris is a big-time return man; he returned three kickoffs for TDs last season and averaged 27.3 yards per return.
WEAKNESSES: Quarterback remains a question. Former walk-on Brad Wornick emerged from spring drills as the starter, but redshirt freshman Rio Johnson, sophomore Josh Jordan and JC transfer Dominique Davis, who arrives this summer, also will vie for the starting job. Davis started in 2008 at Boston College before flunking out before last season. He is a good athlete, but do his passing skills translate to this offense? McNeill kicked leading returning rusher Brandon Jackson off the team in March, meaning senior Jonathan Williams, who has 568 career yards, heads into fall drills as the starter. The defense could be a mess with the departure of nine starters. Will there be a pass rush? Can a revamped linebacker group hold up? Expect a lot of mixing-and-matching at linebacker during fall drills and into the season in an attempt to find some playmakers. The Pirates are breaking in a new kicker and a new punter. Punt coverage was bad last season and must be shored up.
BUZZ: East Carolina has won back-to-back Conference USA titles, but the Pirates looked to have lost too much - including their coach - to win a third crown in a row. McNeill's return to his alma mater comes when ECU has lost numerous key players off those back-to-back title teams. QB Patrick Pinkney is the big loss on offense, while the defensive losses include the entire front seven. Still, Holtz and his staff had recruited well, so ECU has a good shot at a bowl because of C-USA's six postseason tie-ins. The schedule is tough, with the opener against Tulsa a huge pecking-order game in the league.

- MIKE HUGUENIN

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Top 120 countdown
63. UCLA
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
OFFENSE
QB Kevin Prince (6-2/229, Soph.)
TB Johnathan Franklin (5-10/200, Soph.)
WR Randall Carroll (5-10/184, Soph.)
WR Taylor Embree (6-3/207, Jr.)
WR Nelson Rosario (6-5/216, Jr.)
TE Cory Harkey (6-5/262, Jr.)
T Mike Harris (6-5/331, Jr.)
T Micah Kia (6-5/331, Sr.)
G Jeff Baca (6-4/307, Jr.)
G Eddie Williams (6-1/327,Sr.)
C Kai Maiava (6-1/300, Jr.)
DEFENSE
E Datone Jones (6-4/267, Jr.)
T David Carter (6-5/292, Sr.)
T Nate Chandler (6-5/291, Jr.)
E Keenan Graham (6-2/243, R-Fr.)
LB Akeem Ayers (6-4/254, Jr.)
LB Steve Sloan (6-4/232, Jr.)
LB Sean Westgate (5-11/216, Jr.)
CB Aaron Hester (6-1/207, Soph.)
CB Sheldon Price (6-2/171, Soph.)
FS Rahim Moore (6-1/195, Jr.)
SS Tony Dye (5-11/206, Jr.)
SPECIALISTS
K Kai Forbath (6-0/195, Sr.)
P Jeff Locke (6-1/208, Soph.)
KR Josh Smith (6-0/203, Jr.)
PR Josh Smith (6-0/203, Jr.)
COACH: Rick Neuheisel (11-14, third season; 77-44, 11th season overall)
LAST SEASON: 7-6, 3-6 (8th in Pac-10); beat Temple in EagleBank Bowl.
FINAL 2009 RIVALS.COM RANKING: 50th
KEEP AN EYE ON: The running game has been among the most anemic in the country the past two seasons, and that has complicated matters for inexperienced quarterbacks. The offensive line features four returning starters, while RB Johnathan Franklin is coming off a solid though unspectacular showing in '09. A trio of incoming freshmen - Jordan James, Malcolm Jones and Anthony Barr - could provide options and depth. Regardless of who is carrying the load, the Bruins need to boost the running game. That would take pressure off the quarterback and give the defense more rest.
STRENGTHS: The Bruins are solid at receiver; Taylor Embree and Nelson Rosario both had more than 40 catches last season. The secondary is loaded, too. Three starters return there, including FS Rahim Moore, the nation's interception leader with 10. The projected new starter is CB Aaron Hester, who would have started last season but fractured his right leg in the first game. Akeem Ayers has All-America potential at linebacker and junior E Datone Jones is coming off a solid season in which he posted 11 tackles for loss. UCLA's special teams may be the best in the nation with K Kai Forbath, the '09 Groza Award recipient, and P Jeff Locke, a Guy Award semifinalist, heading the kicking game. In addition, WR Josh Smith, a transfer from Colorado, is explosive on returns.
WEAKNESSES: Quarterback play has been a problem since 2005. In the past four seasons, no Bruins quarterback has reached 2,400 passing yards and none have thrown more than 11 touchdown passes. In fact, in both of the past two seasons, the Bruins have thrown more interceptions than touchdown passes. Kevin Prince has to raise his level of performance from last season or risk being replaced. The offensive line has to upgrade its performance, too. The Bruins have struggled in pass protection and in run blocking. Although four starters return, UCLA is without T Xavier Su'a Filo, who is serving a Mormon mission. Defensive tackle and linebacker bear watching. Converted TE Nate Chandler is a projected starter at tackle.
BUZZ: The Bruins made progress in '09 by reaching a bowl, but a postseason victory over Temple won't satisfy anyone in Westwood. The Bruins are entering their third year under Rick Neuheisel and it's time for the offense to make significant improvement. Quarterback play has to improve and the running game must be more productive. If strides are made on that side of the ball, the Bruins can be a factor in the Pac-10 race.

- OLIN BUCHANAN

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Top 120 countdown
62. Purdue
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
OFFENSE
QB Robert Marve (6-1/210, Jr.)
RB Al-Terek McBurse (6-1/198, Soph.)
WR Gary Bush (6-0/175, R-Fr.)
WR Cortez Smith (6-2/180, Sr.)
WR Keith Smith 6-2/226, Sr.)
TE Kyle Adams (6-4/251, Sr.)
T Dennis Kelly 6-8/297, Jr.)
T Ryan Prater (6-5/286, Sr.)
G Peters Drey (6-6/292, Soph.)
G Ken Plue (6-7/340, Jr.)
C Rick Schmeig (6-3/305, Soph.)
DEFENSE
E Gerald Gooden (6-3/242, Jr.)
T Kevin Pamphile (6-5/277, R-Fr.)
T Kawann Short (6-4/310, Soph.)
E Ryan Kerrigan (6-4/263, Sr.)
LB Dwayne Beckford (6-3/223, Soph.)
LB Joe Holland (6-1/225, Jr.)
LB Jason Werner (6-4/221, Sr.)
CB Josh Johnson (5-11/191, Soph.)
CB Charlton Williams (6-2/200, Jr.)
FS Chris Quinn (5-11/185, Soph.)
SS Albert Evans (6-0/206, Jr.)
SPECIALISTS
K Carson Wiggs (6-0/197, Jr.)
P Carson Wiggs (6-0/197, Jr.)
KR Antavian Edison (5-11/175, Soph.)
PR Antavian Edison (5-11/175, Soph.)
COACH: Danny Hope: (5-7, second season).
LAST SEASON: 5-7, 4-4 (T-6th in Big Ten)
FINAL 2009 RIVALS.COM RANKING: 76th
KEEP AN EYE ON: QB Justin Siller was dismissed for violating academic policies in 2009, but he is back and being counted on to provide a playmaking boost. Siller is a big (6-4/220), dynamic athlete who started three games at quarterback in 2008 and led Purdue to a win over Michigan. Siller figures to spend most of his time at wide receiver this fall, but he also could be used as a "Wildcat" quarterback and at running back, a position he dabbled with earlier in his career.
STRENGTHS: The offense has potential. The new quarterback is Miami transfer Robert Marve, a former Florida "Mr. Football." He is a dual threat who started 10 games for the Hurricanes in 2008. Marve will have a solid set of targets led by Keith Smith, who led the Big Ten with 91 receptions for 1,100 yards in 2009. Purdue is counting on youngsters injecting needed speed and big-play ability into the attack. Kyle Adams and Jeff Lindsay make tight end a strength. The front seven on defense has a chance to be salty, and it needs to be after Purdue repeatedly was run over in 2009, yielding a league-high 26 rushing touchdowns. It all begins with Ryan Kerrigan, who is one of the best ends in the nation. He notched a Big Ten-best 13 sacks and also had 18.5 tackles for loss last season. Carson Wiggs could become one of the Big Ten's top kickers. He banged 55- and 59-yarders last year.
WEAKNESSES: Purdue received a big blow in the spring when RB Ralph Bolden suffered an ACL injury. In 2009, he ranked third in the Big Ten with 935 yards rushing in his first season as a starter. Bolden's status for the season is in doubt, leaving the Boilermakers' thin at running back. RB Al-Terek McBurse will have to show why he was the gem of the 2009 recruiting class. Keith Carlos was moved from wide receiver to help. The secondary has a lot to prove with all four starters gone. Ditto a linebacking corps that has been lackluster in recent seasons. The unit should get a boost from the return of Jason Werner, who was granted a sixth year of eligibility. Special teams remain a mixed bag that often disappoint.
BUZZ: Hope enters his second season looking to get the Boilermakers back into the bowl business after they missed the postseason the past two campaigns. The Boilers had enough talent last fall to earn a bid, but Purdue was undone by a poor turnover margin (87th in the nation), the worst rush defense in the Big Ten (173.4 ypg) and a 1-5 start. It all meant a wildly inconsistent season that saw Purdue lose five games by seven or fewer points. This season's schedule is user-friendly, as Iowa and Penn State aren't on the to-do list. Bottom line: This team should reach the postseason.

- TOM DIENHART

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Top 120 countdown
61. Mississippi State
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
OFFENSE
QB Chris Relf (6-4/240, Jr.)
RB Vick Ballard (5-11/215, Jr.)
FB Patrick Hanrahan (5-11/235, Sr.)
WR Leon Berry (6-0/205, Sr.)
WR Chad Bumphis (5-10/195, Soph.)
TE Marcus Green (6-1/235, Jr.)
T Derek Sherrod (6-6/305, Sr.)
T Addison Lawrence (6-4/300, Jr.)
G Quentin Saulsberry (6-2/305, Jr.)
G Tobias Smith (6-3/305, Soph.)
C J.C. Brignone (6-1/300, Sr.)
DEFENSE
E Nick Bell (6-3/265, Soph.)
T Josh Boyd (6-3/295, Soph.)
T Fletcher Cox (6-4/300, Soph.)
E Pernell McPhee (6-4/285, Sr.)
LB Cameron Lawrence (6-2/225, Soph.)
LB Chris White (6-4/245, Sr.)
LB K.J. Wright (6-4/250, Sr.)
CB Corey Broomfield (5-10, 180, Soph.)
CB Maurice Langston (5-10, 180, Sr.)
FS Johnthan Banks (6-2/180, Soph.)
SS Charles Mitchell (5-11/.205, Jr.)
SPECIALISTS
K Derek DePasquale (5-8/180, Sr.)
P Heath Hutchins (6-1/205, Sr.)
KR Leon Berry (6-0/205, Sr.)
PR Leon Berry (6-0/205, Sr.)
COACH: Dan Mullen (5-7, second season)
LAST SEASON: 5-7, 3-5 (T-4th in SEC West)
FINAL 2009 RIVALS.COM RANKINGS: 58th
KEEP AN EYE ON: Quarterback play is key for the Bulldogs, but it doesn't necessarily have to be outstanding. Unfortunately, mediocrity would be an improvement. Quarterback long has been a problem area in Starkville. Last season, the leading passer had 10 more interceptions than touchdown passes. Yikes. But coach Dan Mullen is an excellent quarterback mentor and he's had a year to tutor mobile Chris Relf and strong-armed Tyler Russell. If either can have even a respectable showing, the Bulldogs could have a good year. Last season, they were one win short of bowl eligibility despite atrocious quarterback play.
STRENGTHS: Even though opponents didn't fear (or even respect) the Bulldogs' passing game last season, Mississippi State's offensive line still managed to pave the way for RB Anthony Dixon to rush for nearly 1,400 yards. Dixon is gone, but four line starters return, led by C J.C. Brignone and T Derek Sherrod. New defensive coordinator Manny Diaz also has some solid material with which to work. E Pernell McPhee is a strong pass rusher who earned All-SEC recognition in '09. LBs K.J. Wright and Chris White are big and productive, each having made more than 70 tackles a year ago. CB Corey Broomfield and FS Johnthan Banks were SEC all-freshmen selections last season.
WEAKNESSES: As mentioned, quarterback is a huge area of concern. No Mississippi State quarterback ever has passed for 2,500 yards in a season and only one ever completed 60 percent of his attempts - and that was 59 years ago. An effective replacement for Dixon, who twice rushed for 1,000 yards, is needed; junior college transfer Vick Ballard may be the answer. The defense wasn't bad in '09, but needs to get better. Other than quarterback, perhaps no area needs an upgrade more than the punt coverage team. Last season, the Bulldogs were among the nation's worst in that category.
BUZZ: It's become rather common for teams to make tremendous strides in the second season of a coach's tenure. Mississippi State fans are hoping for similar gains this fall. If the play at quarterback stabilizes, the Bulldogs could feature the skills of WRs Chad Bumphis and Leon Berry. Mississippi State fell just short of bowl eligibility last season. This season, the Bulldogs figure to close the deal.

- OLIN BUCHANAN

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