The Mid-Size Sixteen: The Best of the Smallest

Every week, the mid-major fans (OK, just me) of H2DN will rank the sixteen best non-BCS, non-Notre Dame schools based on their performance.

Ain’t it ugly? TCU comes into the season ranked as the best mid-major.

1. #22 TCU – It’s BCS or bust this year for the Horned Frogs. While they’re not exactly beating a lot of people on offense, defensively they’re going to be one of the top units in all of I-A. They run basically a 46 defense led up front by senior Tommy Blake (who’s back after having a breakdown, Colt McCoy nervousness no doubt) and features a fast and smart linebacker corps. TCU’s schedule faces only two real road bumps before the big time – a late-season road game at BYU and of course at Texas in Austin. If TCU emerges from there a winner, look out.

Next game: 9/1 vs Baylor
All-Name Team Member: K Chris Manfredini

2. #23 Boise State – BSU’s the best mid-major in the history of time, but if they want a WAC six-peat, they need to answer some leadership questions at quarterback. At least BSU likes to run and they still have Ian Johnson, probably the second-best player in the WAC behind Colt Brennan. Boise’s got a tougher schedule this year with games at Washington and their final game at Hawaii with a game against Southern Miss mixed in. BSU might not go undefeated again, but we all know about Boise and if Ian Johnson has another spectacular year, he could be a dark horse 2008 Heisman candidate.

Next game: 8/30 vs Weber State
All-Name Team Member: DT Sione Tavake

3. #24 Hawaii – (pass) Speaking of dark horse Heisman candidates, (pass) Colt Brennan is definitely one. Brennan comes (pass) off a season where he set the single-season NCAA TD (pass) record, although he did it (pass) in three more games than former record holder, Houston(pass)’s David Klingler. With Hawaii as (pass)-(pass)-(pass) as ever, Brennan could (pass) put (pass) up more video game numbers. (pass) Hawaii has a slightly weaker schedule than Boise, (pass) (pass) but Hawaii has a serious disadvantage by (pass)playing two I-AA schools, and that might (pass) keep Hawaii out of the BCS no matter what they (pass) do. This is the first time Hawaii (pass) comes into a season ranked.

Next pass game: 9/8 at Louisiana Tech
All-Name Team Member: Pretty much like the whole team

4. Southern Miss – Got to hand it to Southern Miss – they might never make too much noise, but they’re always putting together at least 6-6 seasons and never slipping into complete chaos. Stability is okay. USM has the best runner in CUSA, sophomore Damian Fletcher. Their defense never sucks and CUSA East sucks, so USM winning CUSA East is kinda duh. Unfortunately, two potential losses might keep them out of the national spotlight – at Tennessee and at Boise State.

Next game: 9/1 at Tennessee-Martin
All-Name Team Member: LB Tokumbo Abanikanda

5. BYU – BYU was like whoa last year, but they lost John Beck and TE John Harline. This year, the defense is going to have to pick up. If they can put together enough stops, they have a friendly enough schedule that they might give TCU a run in the Mountain West, who they play at home in Provo. Watch for senior safety Quinn Gooch to emerge as a good NFL prospect. In addition, BYU features the awesomest-named head coach in the country – Bronco Mendenhall.

Next game – 9/1 vs Arizona
All-Name Team Member: RB Fui Vakapuna

6. Houston – Houston’s a team trying to resurrect the past, but first they have to replace Kevin Kolb. While that question is being answered, UH’s defense and coach Art Briles‘s weirdo offense could tide the Cougars over. Road games at Oregon and Alabama won’t exactly get people outside Houston excited, but this team should get to a bowl even in what’s supposed to be a re-tooling year. Watch for seniors Anthony Alridge and Donnie Avery to show up on draft boards with their speed.

Next game – 9/1 at Oregon
All-Name Team Member: C Naseri Eteuini

7. Tulsa – Tulsa lost head coach Steve Kragthorpe to former CUSA school Louisville, but then they did two very unlike CUSA things: they stole back Todd Graham from Rice (Graham was an assistant) and Gus Malzahn from Arkansas. Tulsa has a good mix of experience and youth led by senior QB Paul Smith, and Graham and Malzahn together should be an upgrade from Kragthorpe. Tulsa’s window to win the West is as wide as it will ever be, and the schedule even works in their favor – they play their main opponents Houston and SMU at home; however, a non-conference schedule with Oklahoma and BYU is like ouch.

Next game – 8/30 at Louisiana-Monroe
All-Name Team Member: This team is boring.

8. Utah – Since winning a BCS game in 2004, Utah has had to take a backseat to TCU and BYU, but Utah has never crapped out as a team. In fact, the return of QB Brian Johnson will give Utah its most firepower it’s had since the Alex Smith days. However, they will need every bit of gunpowder they can find as Utah has one of the toughest schedules in the nation – this year they’ll play Oregon State, UCLA, and Louisville along with BYU and TCU, and the only home game of the five is UCLA.

Next game – 8/30 at Oregon State
All-Name Team Member: LB Malakai Mokofisi

9. OhioFrank Solich has slowly turned this doormat around and got it into the MAC Championship for the first time using a strong runner behind a good line with enough defense to trash MAC opponents. Expect Ohio to do the exact same thing this year with Kalvin McRae getting the most touches, and with an easy schedule (only non-winnable game is at Virginia Tech), Ohio is my pick to win the MAC.

Next game – 9/1 vs Gardner-Webb
All-Name Team Member: LB Errik Ejike

10. SMU – This team goes as far as QB Justin Willis can take them, and it will be anywhere from first to fifth in CUSA West. He’s mobile, he has an arm, and he’s a winner that SMU has not had since before the Death Penalty. A mid-major team can go a long way on the back of one player, and Willis’s shoulders are broad enough to at least get SMU back to a bowl. However, their defense is shaky and inconsistent and plain sorta sucky.

Next game – 9/3 at Texas Tech
All-Name Team Member: LB Ryan Moczygemba

11. Central Michigan – Like SMU, CMU will be carried on the back of its sophomore quarterback – Dan LeFevour led CMU to the top of the MAC molehill. Lefevour will re-write his school record book in only his second year while his team will do enough to blaze through a soft schedule even for the MAC, and they should get back to the MAC championship.

Next game – 9/1 at Kansas
All-Name Team Member: T Greg Wojt

12. Troy – The Sun Belt is lol, but Troy is trying to get something started anyway. They have Omar Haugabrook, easily the SB’s best player, and parts the SEC didn’t want, which is better than ost anything else the SB teams have. Troy should have no problem getting a championship here. They have paycheck games at Arkansas, at Florida, at Georgia, and vs Oklahoma State.

Next game – 9/1 at #21 Arkansas
All-Name Team Member: G Windham Rotunda

13. Navy – Navy is hobbled by being a service academy and God bless em they still run the triple option, but their coach Paul Johnson is nothing less than a miracle worker. The running game will rank in the top five and the passing game will rank in the bottom five, but big deal, it’s Navy. The Midshipmen should get to another bowl and they should be able to hang onto the Commander-in-Chief trophy. In addition, Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada is the best name in college football.

Next game – 8/31 at Temple
All-Name Team Member: QB Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada, Preseason All-Name Heisman winner

14. Colorado State – CSU was great from 1994 to 2003 greatness under Sonny Lubick, but with four terrible years since finds himself on the hot seat after 15 years at Fort Collins. Expect CSU to be out to prove something, anything, and desperation can make for a dangerous opponent. Playing god-awful Colorado first is a start.

Next game – 9/1 vs Colorado in Denver
All-Name Team Member: FB Johnny Walker

15. Western Michigan – WMU is basically the same team that gave Florida State everything it could handle last year, and if Central Michigan should slip, Western will be lurking, even though its schedule is full of paychecks.

Next game – 9/1 at #3 West Virginia
All-Name Team Member: This team is boring.

16. Idaho – Supporters of the Kibbie Dome! The thousand running backs of Southern California descend upon you! Their touchdowns will blot out the sun! But when you go to battle on that hopeless battlefield, the world will know that free men stood against a tyrant, that few stood against many, and that before this battle is done, that even John David Booty can bleed.

Next game – 9/1 at #1 USC
All-Name Team Member: The All-Name Team plays in the Kibbie Dome

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