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June 30, 2010

Preseason Top 120 Countdown: Nos. 55-51

Here is the 15th part of Rivals.com's 1-120 countdown; today, we look at the teams ranked 51st through 55th.

We're starting at the bottom, and the first two weeks of rankings will be in groups of five; starting Thursday, 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
55. TULSA
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
OFFENSE
QB G.J. Kinne (6-2/219, Jr.)
RB Jamad Williams (5-9/212, Sr.)
FB Charles Clay (6-3/234, Sr.)
WR Damaris Johnson (5-8/170, Jr.)
WR Trae Johnson (5-11/190, Sr.)
WR A.J. Whitmire (5-9/176, Sr.)
T Tyler Holmes (6-4/307, Jr.)
T Brandon Thomas (6-5/292, Jr.)
G Clint Anderson (6-2/278, Jr.)
G Brian DeShane (6-3/300, Soph.)
C Trent Dupy (6-2/280, Soph.)
DEFENSE
E Cory Dorris (6-4/255, Soph.)
T Darrell Zellars (6-2/300, Jr.)
E Odrick Ray (6-3/270, Sr.)
LB Tanner Antle (6-4/225, Sr.)
LB Curnelius Arnick (6-1/231, Jr.)
LB Shawn Jackson (6-0/250, R-Fr.)
CB LaQuentin Black (5-10/175, Sr.)
CB Charles Davis (5-9/180, Sr.)
FS Dexter McCoil (6-4/175, Soph.)
S DeAundre Brown (5-11/210, Jr.)
S John Flanders (5-10/170, Jr.)
SPECIALISTS
K Kevin Fitzpatrick (6-2/188, Jr.)
P Michael Such (6-2/209, Sr.)
KR Damaris Johnson (5-8/170, Jr.)
PR Damaris Johnson (5-8/170, Jr.)
COACH: Todd Graham (26-14, fourth season; 33-20, fifth season overall)
LAST SEASON: 5-7, 3-5 (T-3rd in C-USA West)
FINAL 2009 RIVALS.COM RANKING: 80th
KEEP AN EYE ON: Tulsa's success this season is going to depend upon the play of QB G.J. Kinne, a Texas transfer who was inconsistent last season, his first as the starter. He threw for 2,732 yards and 22 touchdowns, but each of his 10 picks seemed to come at an inopportune time and he frequently appeared a bit jumpy in the pocket. Kinne can run, and indeed may have run too much last season, when Tulsa struggled to consistently move the ball on the ground.
STRENGTHS: Four line starters return, headed by T Tyler Holmes. Senior FB Charles Clay is a big-time weapon as a receiver; he has 146 career catches and 21 have gone for touchdowns. Clay is one of a number of good targets for Kinne. WRs Damaris Johnson, Trae Johnson and A.J. Whitmire each have 50-catch potential, though Damaris Johnson was the only one to play at a consistently high level last season. The line is the best unit on defense. JC transfer Darrell Zellars had a great spring at tackle and should be a load in the middle. Sophomore E Cory Dorris played well as a freshman and could develop into a solid pass rusher. FS Dexter McCoil also played well as a freshman and has the look of a future star. Special teams are a plus. K Kevin Fitzpatrick and P Michael Such might be the best kicker-punter combination in the league. Fitzpatrick was 13-of-14 last season, including a 51-yarder, and Such averaged 44.5 yards per boot. Damaris Johnson is a dangerous punt returner, and the coverage units were solid last season.
WEAKNESSES: The running game must improve. RB Jamad Williams ran for just 389 yards and one touchdown last season, and Tulsa obviously wants better numbers from its starting running back. While the defensive line looks good, the same can't be said for the linebackers or the secondary for the Golden Hurricane, who run a 3-3-5 set. Tanner Antle is the only returning starter at linebacker, but he missed most of spring ball with personal issues. There will be three new starters in the secondary, including both cornerbacks. Tulsa allowed 250.2 passing yards per game last season to rank 103rd nationally in pass defense. The Golden Hurricane allowed 23 TD passes and had just nine picks. The pass rush bears watching, as the top two sackers are gone.
BUZZ: After a heady 2008 season in which Tulsa was being mentioned as a potential "BCS-buster," the Golden Hurricane fell a long way in 2009. A team expected to challenge for the Conference USA West title instead struggled to a 5-7 finish, including a 3-5 mark in league play. Expect a return to form by the Golden Hurricane this season. They won't be mentioned as a potential BCS team, but they should challenge for the division title - well, for second place, anyway, behind high-powered Houston. The schedule isn't that kind. It's tough early, relatively soft in the middle, then tough again late in the season. An Oct. 30 game at Notre Dame is a highlight.

- MIKE HUGUENIN

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Top 120 countdown
54. KANSAS
PROBABLE STARTING LINEUP
OFFENSE
QB Kale Pick (6-1/208, Soph.)
RB Toben Opurum (6-1/240, Soph.)
WR Bradley McDougald (6-1/195l, Soph.)
WR Daymond Patterson (5-9/173, Jr.)
WR Johnathan Wilson (6-2/190, Sr.)
TE Tim Biere (6-4/260, Jr.)
T Tanner Hawkinson (6-6/293, Soph.)
T Brad Thorson (6-5/310, Sr.)
G Sal Capra (6-2/295, Sr.)
G Trevor Marrongelli (6-2/293, Soph.)
C Jeremiah Hatch (6-3/332, Jr.)
DEFENSE
E Jake Laptad (6-4/260, Sr.)
T Patrick Dorsey (6-0/273, Jr.)
T Richard Johnson (6-3/283, Jr.)
E Kevin Young (6-2/256, R-Fr.)
LB Steven Johnson (6-1/237, Jr.)
LB Justin Springer (6-3/237, Sr.)
LB Huldon Tharp (6-0/217, Soph.)
CB Chris Harris (5-10/190, Sr.)
CB Calvin Rubles (6-3/205, Sr.)
FS Lubbock Smith (6-0/206, Soph.)
SS Phillip Strozier (5-11/205, Sr.)
SPECIALISTS
K Jacob Branstetter (5-9/170, Sr.)
P Alonso Rojas (6-3/228, Sr.)
KR Daymond Patterson (5-9/173, Jr.)
PR Daymond Patterson (5-9/173, Jr.)
COACH: Turner Gill (first season; 20-30, fifth season overall)
LAST SEASON: 5-7, 1-7 in the Big 12
FINAL 2009 RIVALS.COM RANKING: 69th
KEEP AN EYE ON: Jake Laptad gives Kansas a solid pass rusher on one side of the line. The Jayhawks might have another emerging star on the other end of the line. Redshirt freshman E Kevin Young had two sacks in the spring game and performed well enough to end spring practice atop the depth chart. If Young can develop into a solid pass rusher to complement Laptad, Kansas might be able to upgrade a defense that allowed 28.8 points per game last year.
STRENGTHS: The offensive line boasts experience and versatility. The Jayhawks return all five starters on the line. Sal Capra played both guard spots last year. Jeff Spikes and Bra Thorson alternated between tackle and guard, and Thorson also played center in 2008. Left tackle Tanner Hawkinson is a converted tight end who was an honorable mention all-conference selection as a redshirt freshman last season. The Jayhawks have plenty of questions on defense, but they can at least take comfort in the return of Laptad, who recorded 49 tackles - 12 for loss - and 6.5 sacks last season. Kansas has experience on special teams, where K Jacob Branstetter and P Alonso Rojas return.
WEAKNESSES: Kansas has plenty of holes to fill in the passing game. Quarterback candidates Kale Pick and Jordan Webb will have a tough time filling the shoes of Todd Reesing, who threw for 11,194 yards to end his career as the fifth-leading passer in Big 12 history. Kansas also must replace WRs Dezmon Briscoe and Kerry Meier, though returnees Johnathan Wilson and Bradley McDougald each caught at least 30 passes last season. Kansas must do a better job of stopping people. The Jayhawks ranked ninth in the Big 12 in total defense and 10th in scoring defense last season. Kansas also must improve a rushing attack that averaged just 3.6 yards per carry.
THE BUZZ: After a 2009 season in which Kansas dropped its last seven games and coach Mark Mangino was forced to resign, the Jayhawks are eager to turn the page. Gill should bring a fresh start, but the results might not be much different, at least in the early going. Kansas won't score quite as much now that the offense must replace Reesing, Briscoe and Meier, so the defense has to get a whole lot better. A non-conference schedule that includes a home game with Georgia Tech and a trip to Southern Miss won't help matters. Kansas is staring at the realistic possibility of a second consecutive losing season.

- STEVE MEGARGEE

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Top 120 countdown
53. SOUTHERN MISS
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
OFFENSE
QB Austin Davis (6-2/208, Jr.)
RB V.J. Floyd (5-10/196, Sr.)
WR Ryan Balentine (6-1/170, Jr.)
WR DeAndre Brown (6-6/231, Jr.)
WR Quentin Price (5-11/180, Soph.)
TE Jonathan Massey (6-3/260, Sr.)
T Darius Barnes (6-4/302, Soph.)
T Jason Weaver (6-5/320, Jr.)
G Joe Duhon (6-2/288, Soph.)
G Alex Michael (6-2/319, Sr.)
C Cameron Zipp (6-1/282, Sr.)
DEFENSE
E Deddrick Jones (6-3/244, Jr.)
T Anthony Gray (6-0/314, Sr.)
T Terrance Pope (6-3/285, Jr.)
E Cordarrow Law (6-2/251, Jr.)
LB Martez Smith (6-0/211, Sr.)
LB Ronnie Thornton (6-3/225, Jr.)
LB Korey Williams (6-2/233, Jr.)
CB C.J. Bailey (5-10/184, Sr.)
CB Deron Wilson (5-10/170, R-Fr.)
FS Kendrick Presley (6-2/188, Jr.)
SS Justin Wilson (5-11/187, Sr.)
SPECIALISTS
K Daniel Hrapmann (5-9/157, Jr.)
P Peter Boehme (5-11/213, Soph.)
KR Tracy Lampley (5-9/170, Soph.)
PR Tracy Lampley (5-9/170, Soph.)
COACH: Larry Fedora (14-12, third season)
LAST SEASON: 7-6, 5-3 (3rd in C-USA East); lost to Middle Tennessee in New Orleans Bowl
FINAL 2009 RIVALS.COM RANKING: 57th
KEEP AN EYE ON: QB Austin Davis went from walk-on to 3,000-yard passer in 2008, but injuries limited him to five games last season. Davis, a junior, should be 100 percent this fall and is a great fit for coach Larry Fedora's offense; he throws a better deep ball than Martevious Young, who replaced him last season.
STRENGTHS: WR DeAndre Brown also battled injuries last season, but if he's healthy, expect at least 70 catches, 1,000 yards and 10 TDs. He's big and physical, and has good speed. There is good depth at receiver, too, and TE Jonathan Massey has talent. Junior LB Korey Williams might be the best defensive player in the league. He burst on the scene in a big way last season, with 121 tackles, 7.5 sacks, 14 tackles for loss, three forced fumbles, four pass breakups and three quarterback hurries. He could challenge for All-America notice this fall. Ronnie Thornton also is coming off a big season and Martez Smith is a vicious hitter, giving the Golden Eagles one of the best linebacking trios in the nation. DT Anthony Gray is a load in the middle, and the pass rush should be strong again with DE Cordarrow Law leading the way. Last season, Southern Miss was 43rd nationally against the run and 18th in sacks. Return man Tracy Lampley is one of the best in the nation. Lampley, a backup running back, took a kickoff and a punt back for a touchdown last season, averaging 27.6 yards on kickoff returns and 14.5 on punt returns. The coverage teams were excellent last season.
WEAKNESSES: The offensive line will have four new starters; the lone returnee is C Cameron Zipp, who might be the best at his position in the league. The Golden Eagles lost their top two rushers, and coaches may end up going with a committee approach. Senior V.J. Floyd, who has 398 career yards, gets first dibs on the job; sophomore Desmond Johnson and touted redshirt freshman Kendrick Hardy also are in the mix. The Golden Eagles were torched through the air last season, and the secondary must improve.
BUZZ: Southern Miss has been to a bowl in each of coach Larry Fedora's two seasons, but the Golden Eagles haven't gotten appreciably better since longtime coach Jeff Bower was forced out after the 2007 season. The offense has been fine, but the defense has been weak, especially against the pass. Southern Miss has allowed 46 TD passes in Fedora's two seasons. The potential exists for a change this season because of nine returning defensive starters. The flipside: The offense returns just three starters, including just one lineman. The schedule doesn't provide much time to rev up; the Golden Eagles play two Big Six opponents in the first three weeks of the season and the first two conference games are against teams that went to bowls last season. Still, given the defense's experience and Fedora's offensive acumen, the Golden Eagles should be in the thick of the C-USA East race.

- MIKE HUGUENIN

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Top 120 countdown
52. KENTUCKY
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
OFFENSE
QB Mike Hartline (6-6/206, Sr.)
TB Derrick Locke (5-9/191, Sr.)
FB Moncell Allen (5-7/225, Sr.)
WR Chris Matthews (6-5/222, Sr.)
WR Randall Cobb (5-11/191, Jr.)
TE Nick Melillo (6-2/310, Jr.)
T Chandler Burden (6-4/296, Jr.)
T Brad Durham (6-4/310, Sr.)
G Stuart Hines (6-4/293, Jr.)
G Larry Warford (6-3/335, Soph.)
C Matt Smith (6-4/289, Soph.)
DEFENSE
E DeQuin Evans (6-3/257, Sr.)
T Ricky Lumpkin (6-4/292, Sr.)
T Shane McCord (6-2/292, Sr.)
E Collins Ukwu (6-5/258, Soph.)
LB Jacob Dufrene (6-1/220, Sr.)
LB Ronnie Sneed (6-2/233, Jr.)
LB Danny Trevathan (6-1/225, Jr.)
CB Randall Burden (6-0/187, Jr.)
CB Paul Warford (5-10/206, Sr.)
FS Winston Guy (6-1/208, Jr.
SS Taiedo Smith (6-0/185, Jr.)
SPECIALISTS
K Ryan Tydlacka (6-1/205, Jr.)
P Ryan Tydlacka (6-1/205, Jr.)
KR Derrick Locke (5-9/191, Sr.)
PR Randall Cobb (5-11/191, Jr.)
COACH: Joker Phillips(first season)
LAST SEASON: 7-6, 3-5 (T-4th in SEC East); lost to Clemson in Music City Bowl
FINAL 2009 RIVALS.COM RANKING: 49th
KEEP AN EYE ON: Junior Chandler Burden, a projected starter at offensive tackle, started three games at defensive end last season, but he hasn't played offensive tackle since his sophomore year of high school. With four starters gone from the offensive line, Kentucky is counting on Burden to play the left side.
STRENGTHS: Kentucky's offense has two dynamic playmakers and some depth at the skill positions, starting with veterans Derrick Locke and Randall Cobb. Locke rushed for 907 yards and six touchdowns last season, while Cobb was a sort of Swiss Army Knife offensive threat. He led Kentucky in receiving (39 catches, 447 yards, four touchdowns) and was effective taking snaps out of Kentucky's "Wildcat" package (573 rushing yards, 10 touchdowns, 5-of-13 passing). Locke and Cobb also are among the top return men in the SEC. FS Winston Guy is probably the best player on defense. He's a big hitter who recorded 60 tackles last season. The defensive line could become a strength. E DeQuin Evans had 12.5 tackles for loss last season, and T Ricky Lumpkin finally enjoyed a healthy season.
WEAKNESSES: Joker Phillips enters his first season with a difficult decision at quarterback. Mike Hartline began last season as a starter before sustaining a knee injury in the fifth game. He lacks the "wow" factor of the other candidates, but he might be the most reliable choice. Morgan Newton is a dual threat who needs to refine his passing abilities. Ryan Mossakowski has a big arm, but he is inexperienced. The biggest task will fall on the shoulders of defensive coordinator Steve Brown. Kentucky allowed 182.9 rushing yards per game (11th in the SEC) and now must replace veteran LBs Sam Maxwell and Micah Johnson.
BUZZ: Rich Brooks led the rebuilding effort at Kentucky, but Phillips was there every step of the way. Phillips, a Kentucky alum, arrived with Brooks in 2003. Kentucky hasn't threatened to win the SEC East, but it has become a perennial bowl team (four consecutive postseason appearances). The streak could continue under Phillips but he has some important questions to address (quarterback, defense) if the bowl streak is going to continue.

- DAVID FOX

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Top 120 countdown
51. UCF
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
OFFENSE
QB Rob Calabrese (6-2/220, Jr.)
RB Brynn Harvey (6-1/207, Jr.)
FB Brendan Kelly (6-3/231, Soph.)
WR Kamar Aiken (6-2/218, Sr.)
WR Quincy McDuffie (5-10/175, Soph.)
TE Adam Nissley (6-6/262, Jr.)
T Nick Pieschel (6-7/299, Jr.)
T Jah Reid (6-7/326, Sr.)
G Theo Goins (6-4/322, Soph.)
G Cliff McCray (6-2/316, Sr.)
C Jordan Rae (6-2/264, Soph.)
DEFENSE
E Bruce Miller (6-2/255, Sr.)
T E.J. Dunston (6-2/308, Fr.)
T Wes Tunuufi Sauvao (6-3/300, Sr.)
E David Williams (6-2/235, Sr.)
LB Derrick Hallman (6-0/218, Sr.)
LB Chance Henderson (6-1/245, Sr.)
LB Lawrence Young (6-0/220, Sr.)
CB Emery Allen (5-9/183, Sr.)
CB Josh Robinson (5-10/186, Soph.)
FS Kemal Ishmael (5-10/194, Soph.)
SS Darin Baldwin (5-11/207, Sr.)
SPECIALISTS
K Nick Cattoi (6-5/210, Jr.)
P Blake Clingan (6-3/233, Sr.)
KR Quincy McDuffie (5-10/175, Soph.)
PR A.J. Guyton (5-11/194, Jr.)
COACH: George O'Leary (34-41, seventh season; 86-74, 14th season)
LAST SEASON: 8-5, 6-2 (2nd/C-USA East); lost to Rutgers in St. Petersburg Bowl
FINAL 2009 RIVALS.COM RANKING: 60th
KEEP AN EYE ON: The status of 1,000-yard rusher Brynn Harvey bears watching; his early-season presence is questionable because of a knee injury suffered in spring practice. If healthy, Harvey should run for 1,000 again. If he misses a significant portion of the season, expect a committee approach at tailback, with redshirt freshman Brendan Kelly - who could start at fullback - and true freshman Jonathan Davis the leading candidates.
STRENGTHS: The line returns four starters; RT Jah Reid is the headliner. There is a solid group of receivers, with Kamar Aiken, A.J. Guyton and Quincy McDuffie a dangerous trio. The defense should be a solid unit, with a star at each level: E Bruce Miller, LB Lawrence Young and CB Josh Robinson. Miller is a big-time pass rusher off the edge, and he's a good bet to lead C-USA in sacks; he leads all active NCAA players in career sacks (27) and tackles for loss (44). Young is active and aggressive. And Robinson was a freshman All-America selection last season, when he had six interceptions. The Knights also should benefit from the return of CB Emery Allen, who missed almost all of the '09 season with foot and leg injuries. The secondary should be one of the two or three best in the league. K Nick Cattoi has a good leg and has all-league potential; he was 5-of-7 from 40 yards and beyond last season. P Blake Clingan slipped a bit last season, but he's still one of the best at his position in C-USA. UCF coaches place a high priority on solid coverage, and the Knights were excellent in that aspect last season.
WEAKNESSES: Harvey's health is important. UCF was 10th in Conference USA in offense last season. The Knights put up big numbers against the likes of Memphis, Rice, Houston, Tulane and UAB - but a Pop Warner team could've done the same. Against the league's better defenses (East Carolina, Marshall and Southern Miss), UCF struggled. Quarterback remains a dicey position. Junior Rob Calabrese emerged from the spring as the starter and looked to have made sorely needed progress. Still, no opponent is going to truly respect the passing attack until Calabrese develops some consistency. The one potential trouble spot on defense is tackle, where both starters are new and depth is iffy.
BUZZ: If recent history is a guide, UCF could be in for a long season. Since coach George O'Leary's arrival before the 2004 season, the Knights have struggled in even-numbered seasons and played well in odd-numbered seasons. UCF was winless in 2004 and won four times in '06 and '08; in 2005 and '09, UCF won eight games and it won 10 in 2007. But UCF has the talent to buck that trend this season. Fifteen starters are back, including seven on a defense that should be better than it was last season, when the Knights led C-USA in total defense. If Harvey misses time early in the season, it obviously will hurt UCF's chances for wins against North Carolina State and Kansas State. In terms of the league race, though, UCF should get off to a fast start. Still, a three-game stretch in late October/early November against East Carolina, Houston and Southern Miss should determine whether the Knights' odd/even dichotomy continues.

- MIKE HUGUENIN

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