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June 21, 2010

Preseason Top 120 Countdown: Nos. 100-96

Here is the fifth part of Rivals.com's 1-120 countdown for 2010; today, we look at teams ranked 96st through 100th.

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. 100 Arkansas State
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
OFFENSE
QB Phillip Butterfield (6-2/205, R-Fr.)
RB Derek Lawson (5-11/216, Jr.)
WR Lucious Henderson (5-11/177, Sr.)
WR Allen Muse (6-4/211, Soph.)
WR Taylor Stockemer (6-4/195, Soph.)
TE Kedric Murry (6-3/265, Soph.)
T Derek Newton (6-5/313, Sr.)
T Kiano Prater (6-3/292, Sr.)
G Sifa Etu (6-1/304, Sr.)
G Drew Hilton (6-3/302, Sr.)
C Tom Castilaw (6-3/297, Sr.)
DEFENSE
E Jeremy Gibson (6-5/260, Jr.)
T Bryan Hall (6-1/284, Sr.)
T Dorvus Woods (6-3/261, Jr.)
E Justin Robertson (6-2/230, Jr.)
LB Demario Davis (6-3/231, Jr.)
LB Javon McKinnon (6-0/236, Sr.)
LB Nick Nelms (5-11/215, Soph.)
CB Walter Moody (5-11/178, Sr.)
CB Chaz Scales (5-8/165, Soph.)
FS M.D. Jennings (6-0/172, Sr.)
SS Kelcie McCray (6-2/190, Jr.)
SPECIALISTS
K Brandon Parker (6-0/176, Soph.)
P Neely Sullivent (6-0/193, Jr.)
KR Lucious Henderson (5-11/177, Sr.)
PR Lucious Henderson (5-11/177, Sr.)
COACH: Steve Roberts (41-55, ninth season; 90-88-1, 17th season overall).
LAST SEASON: 4-8, 3-5 (T-6th in Sun Belt)
FINAL 2009 RIVALS.COM RANKING: 110th
KEEP AN EYE ON: The Red Wolves were supposed to challenge for the Sun Belt Conference title last season. Instead, a lackluster rushing attack led to a 4-8 finish. The sluggish offense wasted a solid defensive performance. Arkansas State led the Sun Belt in total defense and was especially stingy against the run. The defense has a chance to be good again, but the offense has some issues, most notably at quarterback. New coordinator Hugh Freeze, who first gained fame as Michael Oher's high school coach in Memphis, Tenn., will open up the playbook a bit.
STRENGTHS: The offensive line has a chance to be the best in the Sun Belt. All five starters return and in addition, C Tom Castilaw -- who began last season as the starter -- is back after missing eight games with an injury. The line must be more physical than it was last season; Castilaw's return should help in that regard. DT Bryan Hall, LB Demario Davis and FS M.D. Jennings give the Red Wolves all-league potential on each level of the defense. There is good depth at linebacker, and Davis heads a group that could be the best in the Sun Belt. Jennings and SS Kelcie McCray form a solid duo at safety. The coverage units were among the best in the nation last season, and the Red Wolves also blocked four kicks.
WEAKNESSES: The quarterback job won't be decided until fall drills, with redshirt freshman Phillip Butterfield and sophomore Ryan Aplin doing battle. The receiving corps is a huge question. Only one returning receiver, sophomore Taylor Stockemer, caught more than six passes last season. The Red Wolves signed four receivers, including a junior college transfer, in February. Coaches also need a find a way to apply more pressure; Arkansas State had just 22 sacks last season, and Davis is the leading returning sack man with three. Junior DE Jeremy Gibson came on late last season and has some pass-rush skills. The corners are new and that could be a problem position. The Red Wolves will have new specialists; K Josh Arauco graduated and P Ryan Wilbourn transferred to Arkansas.
BUZZ: Five of the first seven games are on the road, but only two of those road trips -- to Auburn and to Troy -- truly appear daunting. A 2-0 start in league play seems probably, making the Sept. 25 trip to Troy a potentially huge game for both. If the Red Wolves get consistent quarterback play, they could finish in the top three in the league, and that might be enough for a bowl bid. But to finish in the top three means starting 2-0 in conference action, so the Red Wolves are going to have a good idea of how their season is going to go by the end of September.

-- MIKE HUGUENIN

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Top 120 countdown
No. 99 Washington State
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
OFFENSE
QB Jeff Tuel (6-3/211, Soph.)
RB James Montgomery (5-10/199, Sr.)
WR Daniel Blackledge (6-0/184, Sr.)
WR Gino Simone (5-11/179, Soph.)
WR Jared Karstetter (6-4/206, Jr.)
TE Skylar Stormo (6-5/257, Soph.)
T Wade Jacobson (6-6/307, Jr.)
T Micah Hannam (6-4/285, Sr.)
G Zack Williams (6-4/304, Sr.)
G B.J. Guerra (6-3/315, Jr.)
C Andrew Roxas (6-2/304, Sr.)
DEFENSE
E Kevin Kooyman (6-6/259, Sr.)
T Brandon Rankin (6-5/271, Jr.)
T Dan Spitz (6-6/275, Soph.)
E Travis Long (6-4/256, Soph.)
LB Myron Beck (6-0/213, Sr.)
LB Mike Ledgerwood (6-0/233, Jr.)
LB Alex Hoffman-Ellis (6-1/246, Jr.)
CB Aire Justin (5-11/157, Jr.)
CB Daniel Simmons (5-10/189, Soph.)
FS LeAndre Daniels (6-2/213, Soph.)
SS Chima Nwachukwu (5-11/201, Sr.)
SPECIALISTS
K Nico Grasu (6-1/227, Sr.)
P Reid Forrest (6-0/194, Sr.)
KR Carl Winston (5-8/201, Soph.)
PR Jeffrey Solomon (6-0/203, Sr.)
COACH: Paul Wulff (3-22, third season).
LAST SEASON: 1-11, 0-9 (10th in Pac-10).
FINAL 2009 RIVALS.COM RANKING: 113th
KEEP AN EYE ON: The offensive line has allowed 96 sacks (and even more bruises to Cougars quarterbacks) in the past two seasons. The arrival of T Wade Jacobson, a junior college transfer, and the return of Gs B.J. Guerra and Zack Williams from injury at least gives hopes for improvement.
STRENGTHS: QB Jeff Tuel, the first true freshman to start at Washington State since Drew Bledsoe, showed flashes of brilliance (354 passing yards against California), but he missed the last three games with a sprained knee. He has a strong arm and is a good fit for the scheme. Although the defense was porous in '09, the Cougars project to be solid at linebacker. Returning leading tackler Alex Hoffman-Ellis is expected to move to the weak side from the middle, where Mike Ledgerwood (51 tackles in '09) could take over. Redshirt freshman Sekope Kaufasui, converted S Myron Beck and former RB Louis Bland, who is trying to come back from a knee injury, will boost the Coogs there, too. DT Brandon Rankin, a heralded junior college transfer who enrolled in January, was a pass-rushing beast in the spring. Consistent P Reid Forrest averaged more than 43 yards last season despite being called on 86 times.
WEAKNESSES: Aside from the aforementioned offensive line problems, Wazzu has plenty of other areas of concern, too. The pass rush produced just 13 sacks last season, the running game ranked 118th in the nation, the pass defense allowed 21 touchdowns and quarterbacks haven't been able to stay healthy. Fingers are crossed that RB James Montgomery, a Cal transfer who rushed for 118 yards against Hawaii last season, can come back strong from a leg injury that threatened to end his career. The Cougars' return and coverage teams need to be upgraded, too. The kick coverage unit was the worst in the nation, allowing 27.7 yards per return and two touchdowns.
BUZZ: After managing just three wins in two seasons, the Cougars need to show progress for Wulff to have job security. If Washington State can't improve on last season's one win, it officially will have endured the worst three-year stretch in school history. Avoiding that stigma will require dramatic improvement across the board because the schedule isn't forgiving. But, hey, at least the Cougars have a better chance to reach a bowl game than USC. When was the last time that could be said?

-- OLIN BUCHANAN

ROSTER | STATS | SCHEDULE

Top 120 countdown
No. 98 Toledo
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
OFFENSE
QB Austin Dantin (6-2/189, Soph.)
RB Morgan Williams (5-11/197, Jr.)
WR James Green (6-3/200, Fr.)
WR Eric Page (5-10/171, Soph.)
WR Kenny Stafford (6-4/204, Jr. )
TE Danny Noble (6-5/233, Jr.)
T John Morookian (6-5/301, Jr.)
T Mike VanDerMeulen (6-7/304, Jr.)
G Nate Cole (6-2/306, Sr.)
G Phillip Manley (6-5/309, Jr.)
C Kevin Kowalski (6-4/299, Sr.)
DEFENSE
E Alex Johnson (6-2/259, Sr.)
T Johnathan Lamb (6-4/272, Jr.)
T Malcolm Riley (6-3/281, Jr.)
E Douglas Westbrook (6-3/233, Sr.)
LB Archie Donald (6-2/244, Sr.)
LB Dan Molls (6-1/222, Soph.)
CB Desmond Marrow (6-3/204, Sr.)
CB Daxton Swanson (5-10/180, Soph.)
FS Mark Singer (6-1/194, Jr.)
SS Jermaine Robinson (6-3/188, Soph.)
S Isaiah Ballard (5-11/210, Jr.)
SPECIALISTS
K Ryan Casano (5-10/178, Jr.)
P Bill Claus (6-0/189, Jr.)
KR Eric Page (5-10/171, Soph.)
PR Eric Page (5-10/171, Soph.)
COACH: Tim Beckman (5-7, second season).
LAST SEASON: 5-7, 3-5 (4th in MAC West).
FINAL 2009 RIVALS.COM RANKING: 89th
KEEP AN EYE ON: Beckman, entering his second year as coach, is a former defensive coordinator at Oklahoma State, and he and his staff have work to do on that side of the ball. The Rockets run a 4-2-5 set, and the pass defense was egregiously bad last season and must improve if the Rockets are to have any shot at competing for a MAC West title.
STRENGTHS: Four starters are back from an offensive line that paved the way for the No. 16 offense in the nation. C Kevin Kowalski is the leader. While there is no clear-cut No. 1 running back, Beckman says it's the team's strongest area on offense because of depth. WR Eric Page is a blossoming star who led all freshmen in the nation in 2009 with 82 catches and 1,159 yards. Page doubles as a standout return man. LB Archie Donald has led the Rockets in tackles in each of the past two seasons.
WEAKNESSES: The search is on to replace four-year starting QB Aaron Opelt. It's a competition among sophomore Austin Dantin, senior Alex Pettee, sophomore David Pasquale and redshirt freshman Terrence Owens. Dantin, a decent passer who has nimble feet, is the likely winner. The receiving corps lacks depth and will miss Stephen Williams, who had 223 catches in the past three seasons. The Rockets were No. 11 in defense (407.4 ypg) in the MAC last season. The pass defense was the worst in the conference (241.4 ypg), and the Rockets yielded a MAC-high 26 passing touchdowns. The Rockets need to find a kicker with four-year starter Alex Steigerwald gone. The punt coverage was terrible last season.
BUZZ: The rebuilding continues in the second season under Beckman. Freshmen and sophomores dominate the roster. But with eight players from Rivals' top-ranked recruiting class in the MAC who enrolled in time for spring practice, the Rockets could end up being a surprise team in the MAC. But the schedule isn't conducive to a fast start, with four of the first six games on the road. Included in that stretch are home games against Arizona and Wyoming -- both were bowl teams last season -- and trips to Purdue and Boise State.

-- TOM DIENHART

ROSTER | STATS | SCHEDULE

Top 120 countdown
No. 97 Indiana
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
OFFENSE
QB Ben Chappell (6-3/239, Sr.)
RB Darius Willis (6-0/225, Soph.)
WR Damarlo Belcher (6-5/215, Jr.)
WR Tandon Doss (6-3/195, Jr.)
WR Terrance Turner (6-3/210, Sr.)
TE Max Dedmond (6-5/255, Jr.)
T James Brewer (6-8/335, Sr.)
T Andrew McDonald (6-6/304, Jr.)
G Cody Faulkner (6-5/315, Sr.)
G Justin Pagan (6-5/332, Jr.)
C Will Matte (6-2/295, Soph.)
DEFENSE
E Darius Johnson (6-0/255, Jr.)
T Larry Black (6-2/309, Soph.)
T Adam Replogle (6-3/290, Soph.)
E Fred Jones (6-4/270, Jr.)
LB Leon Beckum (5-11/226, Jr.)
LB Tyler Replogle (6-2/238, Sr.)
LB Chad Sherer (6-0/225, Soph.)
CB Adrian Burks (6-0/185, Sr.)
CB Donnell Jones (5-10/210, Jr.)
FS Chris Adkins (6-1/195, Jr.)
SS Mitchell Evans (6-3/200, Sr.)
SPECIALISTS
K Nick Freeland (5-11/198, Soph.)
P Chris Hagerup (6-5/206, Jr.)
KR Tandon Doss (6-3/195, Jr.)
PR Tandon Doss (6-3/195, Jr.)
COACH: Bill Lynch (14-23, fourth season; 95-90-3, 18th season overall).
LAST SEASON: 4-8, 1-7 (T-9th in Big Ten)
FINAL 2009 RIVALS.COM RANKING: 81st
KEEP AN EYE ON: Scoring points shouldn't be an issue in Bloomington, but preventing them will be. Coaches hope improved team speed in the back seven can help the defense become more disruptive. Lynch plans more multiple looks this season, switching between a 4-3 and a 3-4 in hopes of creating compromising down-and-distance situations for foes.
STRENGTHS: With eight starters back, there is a lot to like on offense. QB Ben Chappell threw for 2,941 yards and 17 touchdowns last fall. RB Darius Willis has star potential after running for 607 yards in his debut last season, but he has to avoid the nagging injuries that dogged him. The wide receivers look good. Terrance Turner, Tandon Doss and Damarlo Belcher combined for 184 receptions, 2,175 yards and 11 touchdowns last season. All of this skill-position talent will work behind a line that welcomes back three starters.
WEAKNESSES: OT Andrew McDonald is on the spot, as he will replace standout Rodger Saffold and be entrusted with protecting Chappell's blind side. A defense with seven new starters needs to improve. Indiana ranked 10th in the Big Ten and 91st in the nation in scoring defense (29.5 ppg). The secondary will be especially inexperienced, with three new starters. The Hoosiers signed two junior college cornerbacks in Lenyatta Kiles and Andre Kates. The revamped secondary would benefit from a pass rush. The staff needs E Fred Jones to emerge with the departure of starting Es Jammie Kirlew and Greg Middleton. It will be important for veteran Ts Adam Replogle and Larry Black and a rebuilt corps of linebackers to be tougher against the run after IU ranked ninth in the conference in rush defense last season (159.1 ypg). The kicking must improve, as well as the kickoff coverage, which was awful.
BUZZ: Lynch knows there is a sense of urgency. In fact, some feel he may have to take the Hoosiers to a bowl to keep his job. Indiana will be helped by what traditionally is one of the nation's softest non-conference schedules, but challenges still abound. The Hoosiers open league play with back-to-back games against Michigan and Ohio State. And November could bury Indiana. There are trips to Wisconsin and Purdue, as well as a visit from Iowa. And Indiana will play a "home" game against Penn State in Landover, Md.

-- TOM DIENHART

ROSTER | STATS | SCHEDULE

Top 120 countdown
No. 96 Kent State
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
OFFENSE
QB Spencer Keith (6-3/215, Soph.)
RB Eugene Jarvis (5-5/170, Sr.)
WR Tyshon Goode (6-1/182, Soph.)
WR Sam Kirkland (6-1/191, Jr.)
WR Leneric Muldrow (5-7/178, Sr.)
TE Jon Simpson (6-5/237, Sr.)
T Kent Cleveland (6-4/294, Soph.)
T Brian Winters (6-5/305, Soph.)
G Michael Fay (6-4/294, Jr.)
G Tom Pizzurro (6-4/285, Fr.)
C Chris Anzevino (6-2/305, Jr.)
DEFENSE
E Monte Simmons (6-3/226, Sr.)
T Ishmaa'ily Kitchen (6-3/304, Jr.)
T Quinton Rainey (5-11/255, Sr.)
E Lee Stalker (6-2/254, Jr.)
LB Luke Batton (6-0/220, Soph.)
LB Will Johnson (6-0/209, Sr.)
LB Cobrani Mixon (6-1/240, Sr.)
CB Josh Pleasant (5-10/181, Jr.)
CB Chris Gilbert (6-0/198, Jr.)
FS Brian Lainhart (6-1/207, Sr.)
SS Dan Hartman (6-2/205, Sr.)
SPECIALISTS
K Freddy Cortez (6-0/200, Soph.)
P Matt Rinehart (5-9/171, Jr.)
KR Anthony Bowman (5-10/168, Sr.)
PR Eugene Jarvis (5-5/170, Sr.)
COACH: Doug Martin (24-46, seventh season).
LAST SEASON: 5-7, 4-4 (4th in MAC East)
FINAL 2009 RIVALS.COM RANKING: 96th
KEEP AN EYE ON: Kent State was weak on the ground last season. The Golden Flashes finished ninth (114.6 ypg) in the league in rushing and scored a MAC-low nine rushing touchdowns. But help could be on the way from a familiar source. RB Eugene Jarvis was granted a sixth year of eligibility after suffering a season-ending kidney injury early last fall. With 3,426 career yards, Jarvis is the nation's second-leading active rusher.
STRENGTHS: There is lots of potential with the return of seven starters from a strong defense. Monte Simmons is a force at the "buck" spot, a hybrid end/linebacker position. Simmons led the team with 16 tackles for loss and eight sacks last season, and he was a big reason the Golden Flashes paced the conference in sacks and tackles for loss. Senior LB Cobrani Mixon was a first-team All-MAC choice who led the team with 108 tackles in 2009. FS Brian Lainhart might be the best defender, though; he's a legit MAC Defensive Player of the Year candidate who paced the conference with seven interceptions last season. There is plenty of veteran talent on offense with the return of eight starters. WR Tyshon Goode should be the top target after leading the team with 53 receptions for 755 yards last season. Junior P Matt Rinehart is a standout, pacing the MAC with 40.9-yard average in 2009. The Golden Flashes led the nation in kick coverage last season, allowing just 15.3 yards per return.
WEAKNESSES: The linebacking corps must develop depth after the unit was ravaged by injuries the past two seasons, and the cornerbacks must play better. While the offense has a lot of veterans, those guys didn't play all that well last season. Kent State ranked ninth in total offense (327.7 ypg) and ninth in scoring (19.3 ppg) in the MAC last season. The offensive line has something to prove. So does QB Spencer Keith, who was OK as a freshman last season before getting injured. How much consistency is this offense going to be able to muster?
BUZZ: Under Martin, Kent State has finished .500 or better in MAC play three times, including a 4-4 mark last season. In the 16 seasons before Martin arrived, Kent State did it just twice. Still, he may need to take this team to its first bowl since 1972 to keep his job. The schedule is daunting with five of the first seven games on the road, including stops at Boston College and Penn State.

-- TOM DIENHART

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