At the College Football Roundtable each week, we ask members of the coverage staff for their opinions about a topic in the sport.
TODAY'S QUESTION: We're well into our 1-120 countdown, up to No. 40. Is there any team ranked 50th or worse that you're sure will finish in the top 40 or so? In other words, who ranked worse than 50th has been most disrespected?
Olin Buchanan's answer:
It would come as no surprise here if UCLA, which is ranked 63rd, has a better showing than some may expect. The Bruins' quarterback and offensive line situations should improve and the defense, despite some significant losses from last season, still will be solid. No team anywhere will have better special teams. K Kai Forbath will give the Bruins an edge in any close game. UCLA has made gradual progress under coach Rick Neuheisel. Now, in his third season, the Bruins may make a run at eight or nine victories in 2010.
Tom Dienhart's answer:
I think No. 62 Purdue has a chance to be an upper-division Big Ten team after back-to-back losing seasons. The Boilermakers were close last season, when they finished 5-7 and lost five games by seven or fewer points. The front seven on defense could be solid, taking pressure off of an overhauled secondary. And the offense has potential with the arrival of Miami quarterback transfer Robert Marve. On top of all of that, the schedule is kind, with Iowa and Penn State off the menu for a squad and coaching staff hungry to prove something.
David Fox's answer:
Rivals.com did a good job picking its top 120, and I don't say that just because I work here. I'm having trouble picking a team outside of the top 50 I feel really good about finishing in the top 40. It won't end up that way, of course. Some team will rise up and make every preseason ranking look foolish. That said, I'm going to pick SMU. The Mustangs tied Houston for the Conference USA West title last season. They also beat East Carolina, which Houston couldn't do. SMU's biggest loss was running back Shawnbrey McNeal, but June Jones is the coach here. He doesn't need a running back or a defense to win games.
Mike Huguenin's answer:
Northern Illinois, ranked 67th, has a chance to win 10 games and a great chance to win the MAC. If that happens, I think the Huskies are a top 45 or so team. We will know quickly, by the end of September, if NIU can win 10. They play three Big Six teams, all on the road, in the first month. But those Big Six teams are Iowa State, Minnesota and Illinois, not exactly teams that will make you quake in your boots. NIU can run and it can play defense; if the passing attack improves from poor to even mediocre, NIU will be in great shape.
Steve Megargee's answer:
I actually can't find too many potential top-40 teams that are outside our top 50, but it wouldn't surprise me if Northwestern outperformed its No. 57 ranking. When we have a program from one of the six major conferences outside the top 50, I'm assuming that means we believe that team is going to finish .500 or worse. Northwestern went 9-4 in 2008 and 8-5 in 2009, so the Wildcats would have to take a major step backward to slip to .500. The Wildcats do have plenty of question marks. Northwestern's running game wasn't that good last season, and first-year starting quarterback Dan Persa will have a tough task living up to predecessors Mike Kafka and C.J. Bacher. But the Wildcats have grown accustomed to winning in recent seasons, and they have five returning starters on the offensive line. Northwestern also benefits from a weak non-conference schedule (home games with Illinois State and Central Michigan plus trips to Rice and Vanderbilt) and a Big Ten slate that doesn't include Ohio State. I wouldn't be surprised to see Northwestern earn a third consecutive bowl bid, which should be good enough to merit consideration as a top-40 team.