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College Football Preview: 70-61

#70: Southern Miss | ROSTER | SCHEDULE
Southern Miss has a second-year coach in Jay Hopson, and the Golden Eagles will be looking for more week-to-week consistency after recording a minus-17 turnover margin and three losses by 11 points or less. Replacing standout quarterback Nick Mullens is the top priority for Hopson this offseason. Will former junior college recruit Kwadra Griggs or sophomore Keon Howard claim the starting job? Regardless of which quarterback starts, the Golden Eagles return two of C-USA's top skill players in running back Ito Smith and receiver Allenzae Staggers. But similar to Southern Miss, this team has concerns up front and is replacing a handful of starters in the front seven on defense.

#69: Marshall | ROSTER | SCHEDULE
Marshall's offensive line features three new starters and a reliable running game. But will the passing game come about? The defense returns five of the top six tacklers back to potentially help a run D that was woefully inept. Almost all the linebackers return – but Devontre'a Tyler is gone in the middle – and three starters are back in a secondary that has plenty of options to try filling in the gaps. But it’s mostly up to the 300-pound junior tackles – Nyquan Harris and Jason Smith among others – to set the tone up front, while Ryan Bee has to grow into an even more dangerous pass rusher.

#68: Idaho | ROSTER | SCHEDULE
Idaho is coming off their first bowl victory since 2009 but this will be short lived as the Vandals are not as loaded in their final season at the top tier. How well is the secondary this season? A disaster last season, the pass defense was a nightmare in shootout after shootout, allowing 300 yards or more six times and giving away more than eight yards per throw. Can the Vandals cut down on turnovers? The Vandals aren't good enough to lose the turnover battle. In 2015, they were -6 on the year. In 2014, -11, -8 in 2013. -17 in 2012 and -7 in 2011. 2010 was the last time the Vandals finished the year on the plus side, until 2016. Idaho was a whopping -11, with the defense making up for a slew of problems with 28 takeaways – 13 more than in 2015 – winning the margin week after week after starting the season -4 in the first three games. Now, Vandals, do it again. And will the leader on offense step it up even more? QB Matt Linehan, Sr. has shown steady progression after being thrown to the wolves as a freshman. He threw for a ton of yards, but he also gave up 18 picks. Two years ago, he threw for 16 touchdowns, but he also gave up 11 interceptions. And he had ten picks last season, but he also threw for close to 3,200 yards and 19 scores, and connected on 62% of his throws. With a slew of new receivers to deal with, he will have to make everyone around him better if Idaho is going to go out a winner.

#67: Michigan State | ROSTER | SCHEDULE
After winning at least 11 games in five out of six seasons, a 3-9 record for Michigan State was one of college football's biggest surprises from 2016. The Spartans won't be down for long under coach Mark Dantonio and should rebound back into a bowl next fall. However, this team could be a year away from returning to the top 25. Brian Lewerke has the inside track on the starting quarterback job over Damion Terry. The offense is expected to lean heavily on running back LJ Scott (994 yards) until the passing attack settles behind Lewerke and a revamped receiving corps. Despite the three-win season, the Spartans weren't bad on defense. Michigan State held opponents to 21.7 points per game and limited offenses to 5.5 yards per play. However, each level of the defense suffered a key loss to address this spring. The line must replace standout tackle Malik McDowell, linebacker Riley Bullough has expired his eligibility, and the secondary loses both starting safeties (Demetrious Cox and Montae Nicholson) and cornerback Darian Hicks.

#66: Coastal Carolina | ROSTER | SCHEDULE
New to the conference and the top tier of college football, the Chanticleers are 50-15 under head coach Joe Moglia and they will enter the Sun Belt with a winning culture. Coastal will have to adjust to a higher level of competition, but with three very winnable non-conference games it should be a relatively smooth transition year. The Chanticleers went 10-2 at the FCS level last year but lost a handful of key players from that squad, including running back De'Angelo Henderson and linebacker Alex Scearce. With the transition from the FBC to the FBS level and just eight returning starters, Coastal Carolina is a wild card. The Chanticleers were hit hard by injuries at quarterback last season, but Syracuse transfer Austin Wilson could bring some stability to the position this fall. Boston College transfer Marcus Outlow should team with Osharmar Abercrombie to form an effective one-two punch on the ground for new coordinator Jamey Chadwell. The defense must be retooled with losses at each level, but there is a solid foundation in place after giving up only 19.3 points per game in 2016. Coastal Carolina is in good hands with Moglia leading the way, and the future looks bright for this program at the FBS level.

#65: Hawaii | ROSTER | SCHEDULE
The Rainbow Warriors showed marked improvement in coach Nick Rolovich's first year and played in the program's first bowl since 2010. With a full year as the starter from quarterback Dru Brown, along with a seven other returning starters, the offense should easily improve off last season's scoring total (28.3 ppg). A revamped secondary is Rolovich's top concern on defense, while All-Mountain West selections in linebacker Jahlani Tavai and end Meffy Kolomatangi anchor the front seven. Another bowl bid is easily within reach for Hawaii, but unless the defense shows marked improvement - 37.3 points per game in 2016 - the Rainbow Warriors will be right in the seven/eight-win range once again.

#64: Northern Illinois | ROSTER | SCHEDULE
Northern Illinois' 5-7 record in 2016 was the program's first losing mark since 2007. Additionally, the Huskies had their streak of eight consecutive bowl games snapped, and the five wins represented the second straight year the program watched its victory total decline after posting 11 in 2014. Injuries at the quarterback position are a big reason why coach Rod Carey's team has been on a downward trend over the last two seasons. In 2016, Northern Illinois played four quarterbacks, including junior Ryan Graham and sophomore Daniel Santacaterina who are competing with freshman Rodney Hall for the starting job this offseason. Assuming the Huskies can find an answer at quarterback, Carey has the necessary pieces to guide this team to a bowl game. Senior running back Jordan Huff should pickup where Joel Bouagnon left off behind a solid offensive line with three returning starters. Finding a replacement for top receiver Kenny Golladay remains a concern for Carey, but this unit has reinforcements on the way from Iowa State transfer Jauan Wesley and Chad Beebe (back after missing 2016 due to injury). The Huskies return six starters on defense, and this unit has to take a step forward after giving up 30.3 points per game in 2016. One advantage for Northern Illinois' bowl hopes - the schedule. The Huskies do not play Ohio, Miami or Akron - the projected top three teams from the East - and host Eastern Michigan and Western Michigan in key swing games. Expect Northern Illinois to rebound (slightly) in 2017.

#63: Georgia Southern | ROSTER | SCHEDULE
Can GSU rebound after falling off last eason after going 14-2 in their first two seasons in the Sun Belt after moving up from FCS? Despite returning 12 starters and a core of talent capable of contending for the Sun Belt title, Georgia Southern regressed to 5-7 and 4-4 in league play. The Eagles strayed too far away from the option attack on offense and regressed in points and yards per play allowed on defense. A win over Troy in the regular season finale may have saved Summers' job, which only illustrates the pressure this coaching staff is under for 2017. While the first year was a struggle, Summers took some steps to ensure improvement this fall. New play-caller Bryan Cook is well-versed in the option attack and is expected to get the offense back on track. But the Eagles have uncertainty at quarterback, as the battle between Seth Shuman and Shai Werts will continue into the fall. On defense, only four starters are back, with the front seven undergoing significant turnover. In addition to the personnel concerns, Georgia Southern faces a tough schedule in 2017. The Eagles play Appalachian State, Arkansas State and Troy - the projected top three teams - and a swing game at Louisiana. Georgia Southern still has enough talent to rebound back into a bowl game. However, a tough schedule limits the margin for error in Summers' second season.

#62: Oregon | ROSTER | SCHEDULE
New coach Willie Taggart was one of the offseason's best hires. The Ducks won't be down for long under Taggart and a rebound back into the top 25 is a reasonable expectation next fall. Taggart inherits promising quarterback Justin Herbert (1,936 yards and 19 TDs), and running back Royce Freeman decided to return for his senior season. The Ducks have a few voids to fill in the receiving corps, but Darren Carrington and Charles Nelson is a good starting point. The line featured four freshmen starters last season and regains the services of talented tackle Tyrell Crosby (season-ending injury in 2016). After giving up 6.4 yards per play last year, there's only one way for Oregon's defense to go in 2017. And helping lead the way for improvement will be coordinator Jim Leavitt, who was hired by Taggart after turning around Colorado's defense the last couple of seasons. Linebacker Troy Dye is a promising player for Leavitt to build around this spring.

The Wolfpack finished 2016 with momentum, as coach Dave Doeren's team claimed victories in three out of the final four games. Can this team challenge Louisville, Clemson or Florida State for a finish in the top three of the division next fall? With home matchups against two of those teams (Clemson and Louisville), along with rival North Carolina visiting Raleigh next year, another step forward in the win column is certainly within reach. On offense, quarterback Ryan Finley and all-purpose threat Jaylen Samuels lead the way after the departure of standout running back Matt Dayes. The loss of center Joe Scelfo is a big one, but the line could be one of the best in the ACC. A healthy Johnny Frasier at running back should alleviate some of the concerns with the departure of Dayes. The defense limited offenses to just 5.1 yards per play in 2016 and should be even better in 2017. Safety Josh Jones, cornerback Jack Tocho and nickelback Dravious Wright are the biggest losses for coordinator Dave Huxtable.


July 17, 2017