We're continuing our countdown to the top team in college football for 2014 and unveiling our teams in groups of eight, working backward from 128. Thus, the fifth batch of our rankings includes teams ranked 89th through 96th.
We'll include a look at each team's top players. Obviously, the better the team, the more "top players." Still, even teams that are going to struggle to win two or three games have players that are worth watching, and we'll let you know who they are.
Top players to watch:QB Jared Goff (6-foot-4, 195 pounds, sophomore), WR Chris Harper (5-11, 170, junior), OL Jordan Rigsbee (6-4, 310, junior), LB Jalen Jefferson (6-2, 230, junior)
The outlook:Few things went right for the Golden Bears last season. While the team should be better overall on the field, a brutal schedule will make it tough to improve the record much unless a surprise happens on defense. The hire of Art Kaufman should help make the defense not quite as atrocious, but the wins will certainly have to come because the offense is putting up points and yards at an even better pace than last year. Cal will be way better under Sonny Dykes than its 2014 record indicates, but fans will still have to contend with way more than losses than they want.
Coach: Terry Bowden
2013 record: 5-7
Top players to watch: LB Jatavis Brown (5-11, 212, junior); DE Nordly Capi (6-3, 249, senior); RB Jawon Chisholm (6-1, 206, senior); LB C.J. Mizell (6-2, 230, senior); QB Kyle Pohl (6-3, 213, junior)
The outlook: At first blush, last season's record isn't all that noteworthy -- until you consider the Zips won a combined six games in the previous four seasons. This is Bowden's third season, and he has done yeoman's work in increasing the talent level. Chisholm will be a four-year starter; he lacks elite speed, but he does have good quickness for a guy his size and has some receiving ability. Pohl has a strong arm and can be a 3,000-yard passer if he gets his completion percentage into the 63-percent range; he was at 56.0 percent last season, his first as the starter. Bowden has taken some chances with transfers, and Capi and Mizell -- both Florida natives -- are examples of it paying off. Capi, who began his career at Colorado State, is a good pass rusher, while Mizell -- who signed with Florida State but never played there and ended up at Washington State before moving on again -- is a big hitter with big-play ability. Brown lacks size but he has excellent speed and instincts, and was a first-team All-MAC pick last season. The non-conference schedule is daunting, but a .500 record is possible if a rebuilt offensive line comes together and Akron can consistently run the ball.
Top players to watch:WR Nelson Spruce (6-1, 195, junior), OL Daniel Munyer (6-2, 290, senior), CB Greg Henderson (5-11, 195, senior), LB Addison Gillam (6-3, 225, sophomore)
The outlook:For the first time in a while, there is some optimism around the future of the Colorado football program. Mike MacIntyre did tremendous work getting to four wins with the talent he had on the roster last season, and a bowl game this season isn't completely out of the question. The offense will be improved with Sefo Liufau set under center and the defense should have enough depth to finally compete into the fourth quarter with a number of Pac-12 teams. The non-conference slate likely nets the team three wins, and the Buffs will have to pull out some tight wins during the rest of the season to show noticeable improvement record-wise.
Coach: Justin Fuente
2013 record: 3-9
Top players to watch: OT Al Bond (6-4, 300, senior); K Jake Elliott (5-10, 160, sophomore); OT Taylor Fallin (6-6, 330, junior); LB Charles Harris (6-2, 243, senior); RB Brandon Hayes (5-8, 198, senior); DE Martin Ifedi (6-3, 265, senior); QB Paxton Lynch (6-6, 225, sophomore); CB Bobby McCain (5-11, 190, senior)
The outlook: Memphis slowly but surely seems to be getting on the right path. It would help this fall if Lynch -- who has excellent size and a strong arm -- continues to develop. One issue for Lynch, though, is that there is no clear-cut No. 1 receiver -- just a bunch of guys who are No. 3 types. Bond (right side) and Fallin (left side) are a nice bookend-tackle duo. Fallin's size makes him an interesting prospect; he is a former discus thrower and his footwork shows it. Hayes lacks elite speed, but is a tough inside runner who has the skill set to become more involved in the passing game. The defense has made big strides in the past few seasons, and Ifedi -- who had 11.5 sacks last season -- is the headliner. His pass-rush skills will get him a lot of NFL looks. Harris is a physical presence against the run. McCain had six picks last season, and if he continues his ball-hawking ways this season, he will garner NFL interest. Elliott was 3-of-3 on field goals of at least 50 yards last season, including a 56-yarder, and is a guy NFL teams will watch closely the next few seasons. And he also is fearless on kickoff coverage, leading the Tigers with seven tackles in that category. Memphis has two chances to make some national noise in September with road games against UCLA and Ole Miss; Ifedi can gain some personal notice in those two games, as well. The schedule is front-loaded, with most of the winnable games at the end.
Top players to watch:WR Devante Davis (6-2, 210, senior), OL Brett Boyko (6-7, 310, senior), Tajh Hasson (6-1, 195, senior), S Peni Vea (6-1, 200, junior)
The outlook:The Rebels caught a huge break heading into the season when they found out their NCAA APR appeal was successful and they're now eligible to go to a bowl game. Having that carrot will help, especially after a bad performance in the team's first bowl game in more than a decade last season. The team has enough talent and the schedule is manageable enough for them to get back to the postseason once again, but figuring things out at quarterback and in the front seven early in the season are paramount to a good 2014.
94. South Alabama
Coach: Joey Jones
2013 record: 6-6
Top players to watch: FS Terrell Brigham (6-0, 190, senior); CB Montell Garner (6-1, 185, senior); DE Jimmie Gipson (6-0, 255, sophomore); OT Chris May (6-5, 290, junior); NT Jerome McClain (6-3, 290, senior); TE Wes Saxton (6-4, 240, senior); WR Shavarez Smith (6-1, 210, senior); OT Ucambre Williams (6-3, 295, senior)
The outlook: Last season was South Alabama's first as a full-fledged FBS member, and the Jaguars should be in the hunt for a top-three finish in the Sun Belt this season -- as long as they can find a quarterback. Saxton -- who was a high school teammate of Jameis Winston and is a cousin of former NFL RB Tony Nathan -- might be the best senior tight end outside of the "Big Five" conferences. He has good size and can run. Smith also has a nice size/speed mix; he played only one full season of high school football and South Alabama is his fourth stop (a FCS school and three junior colleges) since then. South Alabama's offensive line is deep and experienced; while May and Williams start at tackle, they both might be better suited to play guard. McClain, a former JC transfer, can be disruptive in the middle; his brother, Terrell, is a defensive tackle with the Houston Texans. Gipson is in his first season after transferring from junior college, and he should become a top-flight pass rusher. Garner -- who had three picks last season -- has good size and can run, while Brigham was a highly productive high school quarterback (67 total TDs in two seasons) who has made a smooth transition to safety. South Alabama plays two SEC teams (Mississippi State, which stunningly visits Mobile, and South Carolina), but every other game is winnable. A three-game stretch in late October/early November with Troy, Louisiana-Lafayette and Arkansas State should determine where the Jags finish in the conference standings -- and if they can get to a bowl.
Coach: Jeff Quinn
2013 record: 8-5
Top players to watch: G Andre Davis (6-4, 320, senior); CB Cortney Lester (6-0, 182, senior); QB Joe Licata (6-2, 226, junior); LB Adam Redden (6-1, 202, senior); OT Jake Silas (6-7, 310, senior); LB Lee Skinner (6-2, 233, senior); NT Kristjan Sokoli (6-5, 300, senior); TE Matt Weiser (6-5, 241, junior)
The outlook: Buffalo begins life without OLB Khalil Mack, a first-round pick of the Oakland Raiders. But the Bulls still have some talent and again could get to a bowl. Licata threw for 2,824 yards and 24 TDs and has a nice arm; he should contend for second-team All-MAC honors (Bowling Green's Matt Johnson should be the first-teamer). He'll operate behind what might be the MAC's best line. Alas, there is no proven skill-position talent. Davis was recruited as a defensive tackle, but after redshirting in 2010, he has started 37 consecutive games at guard; he is a road-grader in the running game. Silas had been a little-used reserve until starting all 13 games at right tackle last season; he was a 240-pounder when he signed out of high school. Sokoli, who was born in Albania, has interesting size for a nose tackle and should be one of the best interior defensive linemen in the MAC this fall. Skinner will be a four-year starter who lacks speed, but is tough and instinctual. Lester has good size and speed; he was signed as a wide receiver but moved to defense early and has improved each season. He is the only returning starter in the secondary. The non-conference schedule features Baylor, but it also has two FCS teams and Army, so a 3-1 start seems guaranteed. And the league schedule isn't that hard, either. If Buffalo doesn't win at least seven, something has gone wrong. The flip side: The Bulls likely won't beat anyone that finishes with a winning record, so how good will they really be?
96. Louisiana Tech
Coach: Skip Holtz
2013 record: 4-8
Top players to watch: DE Houston Bates (6-3, 250, senior); RB Kenneth Dixon (5-10, 212, junior); CB Le'Vander Liggins (5-10, 191, senior); S/OLB Terrell Pinson (6-2, 210, senior)
The outlook: Holtz's first season with the Bulldogs did not go well, as Tech went from nine wins in 2012 to just four. The offense was horrendous, and the hope is Iowa transfer Cody Sokol can provide an upgrade at quarterback. Dixon is a solid between-the-tackles runner who has rushed for 31 TDs in two seasons, but the Bulldogs lack big-play guys. The offensive line is a concern, too. Bates is a Louisiana native who started all 12 games at Illinois last season but transferred "home" for his senior season. He is expected to provide a consistent pass rush and some big plays. Liggins should be the leader of a secondary that has some promise. Pinson -- who signed with West Virginia out of high school -- is a good athlete who struggled last season, his first after transferring from a junior college. He will play a hybrid safety/linebacker position and has the athleticism to make an impact. Tech has seven road games, including potentially ugly visits to Oklahoma and Auburn. Indeed, the Bulldogs play four of their first five on the road, and unless Sokol plays above expectations, Tech will have trouble finishing even .500.