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College Football Preview: 90-81

#90: Maryland | ROSTER | SCHEDULE
D.J. Durkin has Maryland trending in the right direction but, can the momentum continue? Quarterback Perry Hills expired his eligibility after the Quick Lane Bowl, and the Terrapins have a handful of candidates vying for the starting nod. Sophomore Tyrrell Pigrome would figure to have the inside track based upon experience. However, North Carolina transfer Caleb Henderson and freshman Kasim Hill will push for snaps. The strength of this team should be its rushing attack thanks to the return of Lorenzo Harrison and Ty Johnson at running back. Receiver D.J. Moore (41 grabs) is back, and the offensive line returns four starters. However, the front five must improve after giving up a whopping 49 sacks in 2016. After allowing 34.4 points per game in 2015, the defense cut that total to 29.5 in Durkin's first year. Linebacker Jermaine Carter is quietly one of the best in the Big Ten, and rush end Jesse Aniebonam is back after recording nine sacks in 2016.

#89: Wake Forest | ROSTER | SCHEDULE
The Demon Deacons had a breakthrough year in coach Dave Clawson's third season. After back-to-back 3-9 campaigns - and a lot of young players receiving snaps on both sides of the ball - Wake Forest finished 7-6 in 2016 and earned a Military Bowl victory over Temple. More improvement in the win column is certainly within reach in 2017, as the Demon Deacons return nearly everyone on offense and a solid core of talent on defense. Quarterbacks John Wolford and Kendall Hinton will compete for the starting job in spring ball, but the supporting cast has improved with the emergence of running back Cade Carney and the continued play of tight end Cam Serigne. Four wide receivers that caught at least 23 passes last season are back in 2017. The biggest losses on offense came up front, as guard Tyler Hayworth and center Josh Harris expired their eligibility. New coordinator Jay Sawvel inherits a defense that finished third in the ACC in fewest points allowed per game (22.2). This unit suffered a couple of significant losses, including linebacker Marquel Lee, tackle Josh Banks, cornerback Brad Watson and rover Thomas Brown.

#88: Cincinnati | ROSTER | SCHEDULE
Cincinnati has missed out on a winning record just twice since 2006, with one of those coming last season (4-8). New coach Luke Fickell certainly knows the terrain thanks to extensive ties to the state of Ohio as an assistant with the Buckeyes. A fresh start under Fickell should provide a spark for this team, and Cincinnati still has a solid core of talent. With Ohio State transfer Torrance Gibson likely to redshirt, Hayden Moore and Ross Trail will battle for the starting quarterback job. In addition to finding a quarterback, the defense needs to take a step forward after giving up over 400 yards per game in 2016.

#87: Missouri | ROSTER | SCHEDULE
The Tigers finished 2016 by winning two out of their three games but ending a two-year bowl drought won't be easy in 2017. The offense averaged 31.4 points per game last season. However, that average dipped to 22.6 per contest in league play. Quarterback Drew Lock threw for 3,399 yards and 23 scores and is expected to take another step forward under the play-calling of coordinator Josh Heupel. Lock has a solid supporting cast at his disposal, including running back Damarea Crockett (1,062 yards) and the team's top four statistical receivers from 2016. All five starters from a line that limited opponents to just 14 sacks are back for 2017. After limiting opponents to 16.2 points a game in 2015, the Tigers surrendered 31.5 last year. Can this unit improve on that total after losing end Charles Harris to the NFL and linebackers Michael Scherer Donavin Newsom and cornerback Aarion Penton to graduation? Missouri also has a tough crossover with the West Division with a road trip to Arkansas, as well as a visit from Auburn in September.

#86: Nevada | ROSTER | SCHEDULE
The Wolf Pack will be looking to running back James Butler, one of the Mountain West's top offensive players a season ago. Nevada returns seven starters return on defense and Alabama transfer David Cornwell should be a good fit at quarterback for the new scheme.

#85: California | ROSTER | SCHEDULE
A coaching change in January came as a surprise, as Sonny Dykes was dismissed after four seasons in Berkeley. While the move came late in the coaching carousel offseason, California deserves high marks for its hire of Justin Wilcox as the program's new leader. The Oregon native worked as an assistant under Jeff Tedford from 2003-05 and also has stops as a defensive coordinator in the Pac-12 at Washington and USC. Wilcox also assembled a standout staff for his offense, headlined by former Eastern Washington head coach Beau Baldwin. The top priority for Baldwin this spring will be to break in a new quarterback after Davis Webb expired his eligibility. Leading rusher Khalfani Muhammad (827 yards) also departs, but Baldwin has talented options in the backfield with the return of Tre Watson and Vic Enwere. Demetris Robertson and Melquise Stovall headline the receiving corps and must take on a bigger role after Chad Hansen (92 catches) left early for the NFL. Wilcox's background should immediately help a defense that surrendered 42.6 points per game in 2016.

#84: Indiana | ROSTER | SCHEDULE
New coach Tom Allen is tasked with elevating Indiana football a notch higher in 2017 and beyond. The Indiana native was hired by former coach Kevin Wilson to coordinate the defense after one year as USF's defensive coordinator and the move paid dividends for the Hoosiers. Indiana allowed 27.2 points per game in 2016, which was a significant improvement from the 37.6 total allowed in 2015. This unit should be the strength of the team in 2017, as linebacker Tegray Scales should be one of the best in the nation, and cornerback Rashard Fant returns after breaking up 17 passes last year. Linebacker Marcus Oliver and lineman Ralph Green III are the biggest losses for Allen's defense. The Hoosiers are in relatively good shape on offense, but this unit has a couple of big question marks to answer in spring ball. Will quarterback Richard Lagow (19 TDs, 17 INTs) take a step forward under new play-caller Mike DeBord? And who steps up at running back to replace Devine Redding (1,122 yards) and on the line to fill the void left behind by standout lineman Dan Feeney?

#83: South Carolina | ROSTER | SCHEDULE
South Carolina was one of the SEC's biggest surprises in 2016. Despite returning only six starters under new coach Will Muschamp, the Gamecocks finished 6-7 and picked up three wins in SEC play. While South Carolina has a ways to go in order to challenge for a spot among the top three in the East, a winning record should be within reach for 2017. A promising trio of sophomores - quarterback Jake Bentley, running back Rico Dowdle and receiver Bryan Edwards - returns to anchor the offense next fall. Receiver Deebo Samuel (59 grabs) and tight end Hayden Hurts (48 catches) add to a promising group of playmakers for Bentley. The biggest concern on offense remains the line, which surrendered 41 sacks (most in the SEC) last fall. Coordinator Travaris Robinson and Muschamp combined to help the defense cut down its yards per play allowed from 6.03 in 2015 to 5.6 in 2016. A handful of key seniors are set to depart, but standout linebacker Skai Moore returns after missing all of last season. Finding players who can get to the quarterback will be a priority after the defense generated only 21 sacks in 2016 and must replace end Darius English (nine sacks).

#82: Bowling Green | ROSTER | SCHEDULE
Bowling Green closed 2016 and the first year under coach Mike Jinks by winning its last three contests. The Falcons utilized a favorable schedule - Akron, Buffalo and Kent State - to finish the season out on a high note, and Jinks returns enough pieces to build off that momentum. Quarterback James Morgan is a rising star, while favorite target Scott Miller (74 catches) also returns. Just like Akron, defense is an issue at Bowling Green. The Falcons gave up 38.3 points per game in 2016.

#81: South Alabama | ROSTER | SCHEDULE
The Jaguars have won at least six games in three out of the last four seasons and are led by one of the Sun Belt's top coaches in Joey Jones. South Alabama went 2-6 in league play last year but earned a trip to the Arizona Bowl thanks to non-conference victories over Mississippi State and San Diego State. The Jaguars had some bad luck last fall with a minus-two turnover margin and five losses by 10 points or less. With quarterback Dallas Davis returning, along with a defense poised to take a step forward, South Alabama should push for another bowl trip.

D1SportsNet



July 13, 2017