75. Georgia Southern (9-4 in 2015): It didn’t take long for the Eagles to establish themselves on the top tier of the Sun Belt, and there’s enough strength and balance on both sides of the ball in place to make a run at 10 victories.
74. South Carolina (3-9): In retrospect, what about the 2015 season was more puzzling: That the Gamecocks beat North Carolina or that they lost to The Citadel? Regardless, new Coach Will Muschamp is going to need more than a year to turn things around.
73. Arkansas State (9-4): The defending Sun Belt champs ran the table in league play last year, but lost their starting quarterback, their 1,000-yard rusher and their top two receivers. But the Red Wolves have survived plenty of turnover the last five years and still cranked out fine seasons. This year should be no different.
72. Toledo (10-2): The Rockets promoted from within after Matt Campbell left for Iowa State, so Jason Candle should oversee a smooth transition. Even with a new quarterback they should score a bunch, but there was enough lost on defense (particularly up front) to suggest a little slippage might occur.
71. Vanderbilt (4-8): The Commodores reset themselves as a bad (but not quite as bad) offensive team and a plenty competent defensive bunch. Expect more of the same this year. September will reveal plenty about Vanderbilt; it opens with tossup games against South Carolina, Middle Tennessee, Georgia Tech and Western Kentucky.
70. Boston College (3-9): An exceptional defense was let down by the complete absence of competent quarterback play last year, when the Eagles went 1-5 in games decided by three points or fewer. The addition of Kentucky graduate transfer Patrick Towles should help, as will an extremely manageable nonconference schedule. Six wins is doable.
69. Middle Tennessee (7-6): Rick Stockstill is the eighth-longest tenured coach in the FBS, and he’s stuck around Murfreesboro for a decade by consistently landing between five and eight victories. So it shall be this season as the Blue Raiders roll up their third bowl bid in four seasons.
68. Kentucky (5-7): The Mark Stoops era crosses the Rubicon. After the first-year buzz, the early recruiting scores, the measureable progress of 2014 and improvements that didn’t immediately lead to more wins last season, the Wildcats need to make a postseason push this year. Life in the SEC East makes six wins a reasonable target.
67. Missouri (5-7): After a brief pause, the run on shaky offense/commendable defense power conference teams continues. Missouri went more than a month between end zone visits at one point last season, and while sophomore QB Drew Lock should be better, he’ll work behind a young and largely reconstructed offensive line.
66. Colorado (4-9): The Buffaloes improved as last year went on, even if they didn’t earn victories in Pac-12 play to back it up. It remains a question whether Colorado can score enough to keep up with potent Pac-12 offenses.
65. Virginia (4-8): An emphasis on discipline under new Coach Bronco Mendenhall can only help a program regularly done in by penalties and turnovers. The Cavaliers will find themselves in plenty of games this season and might eke out the magical six victories to reach a bowl game.
64. Northern Illinois (8-6): The Huskies have won the Mid-American Conference’s West Division six years in a row, but this is a more mortal bunch after dropping more than three games for the first time since 2009. No longer an unstoppable juggernaut against MAC teams, Northern Illinois remains good enough to earn a ninth consecutive bowl bid.
63. Appalachian State (11-2): Outside of its receiving corps, the Mountaineers’ lineup is littered with knowns. That’s a good thing considering they led the Sun Belt in total offense and total defense last season. They’ll be the favorites to win their league and will be a nuisance in September matchups with Tennessee and Miami.
62. Western Kentucky (12-2): Even without quarterback Brandon Doughty and his pinball numbers, Western Kentucky brings back the entire offensive line from a team that ranked in the top 10 nationally in scoring and total yardage. The Hilltoppers might not be as good as last year, but they might well win Conference USA, anyway.
61. Memphis (9-4): Coach Justin Fuente is gone, and so is quarterback and first-round NFL pick Paxton Lynch. It will be an interesting year for the Tigers, who should take a step back but are still capable of a solid season.
60. Minnesota (6-7): The Golden Gophers aren’t remotely fancy, and their style of play almost ensures them of plenty of close games (seven were decided by seven points or fewer last season). An expanded Big Ten schedule shouldn’t hurt this season; Minnesota draws Maryland, Penn State and Rutgers from the East.
59. Indiana (6-7): The Hoosiers got to a bowl game for the first time since 2007 last year, but even with a reasonable shot at a 3-0 start to this season, there’s only so much damage a team with a new quarterback and a revamped offensive line can do in the Big Ten East. Kevin Wilson has succeeded in creating an entertaining product in Bloomington, albeit one that remains consistently vulnerable on defense.
58. N.C. State (7-6): The Wolfpack remains stuck in the middle of the ACC’s Atlantic Division, capable of dispatching Boston College, Syracuse and Wake Forest but still not at the level of Clemson, Florida State and Louisville. A trip to East Carolina in the season’s second week is an obvious bellwether for N.C. State, which breaks in a new quarterback.
57. Duke (8-5): The Blue Devils lost a lot from last year, but the rapid recovery of quarterback Thomas Sirk from an Achilles’ tendon injury suffered in the offseason is a plus. Trips to Northwestern and Notre Dame will make it harder for Duke to extend its bowl streak to five seasons, but David Cutcliffe has earned the benefit of the doubt.
56. Marshall (10-3): There are questions for the Thundering Herd on defense, but the solution to that problem might very well be scoring more points and daring opponents to do better. Sophomore quarterback Chase Litton figures to improve after a promising debut season (23 touchdowns, eight interceptions).
55. Air Force (8-6): It’s tempting to pay attention to the Falcons’ offense, but more often than not it is their defense that ultimately dictates just how good they’ll be. They bring back nine starters from a unit that surrendered its fewest yards per game since 2010, and they get three extremely winnable nonconference games while avoiding San Diego State from the other division of the Mountain West.
54. Temple (10-4): The Owls aren’t flashy, but they have knowns at quarterback (P.J. Walker), running back (Jahad Thomas) and in the front seven on defense (even after Tyler Matakevich’s departure) and the benefit of not seeing either Houston or Navy in conference play. Another 10-win season might be a little out of reach, but Temple will contender for another division title.
53. Navy (11-2): Yes, Keenan Reynolds is gone, but so are five starters on the offensive line. Expecting the Midshipmen to match last year’s accomplishments (aside from winning the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy) is a bit much, but this is an incredibly steady program with systems Coach Ken Niumatalolo has fine-tuned for nearly a decade. A typical Navy team in that span won about eight games, and that’s probably how this year’s bunch will fare.
52. Western Michigan (8-5): P.J. Fleck took a fearless approach to recruiting when he arrived in Kalamazoo, and it’s about to pay off handsomely in his fourth season. The Broncos are poised to wrest the West Division away from Northern Illinois. Don’t be stunned if they win at Northwestern or Illinois (or both) in September, either.
51. Arizona (7-6): After finishing in the bottom third of the Pac-12 in the major defensive categories (scoring, rushing, passing and total yardage), Rich Rodriguez hired a new defensive staff and ditched the 3-3-5 scheme. The Wildcats will score enough to keep things interesting, but if the new defense doesn’t mesh with the talent in place, this could be a wildly optimistic outlook.