COACH: Dan Enos (3-9 in one season)
LAST SEASON: 3-9, 2-6 (T-5th in MAC West)
OFFENSE: The attack never got on track after record-setting QB Dan LeFevour departed following the 2009 season. Ryan Radcliff did a solid job under center last season, hitting 60.5 percent of his passes for 3,358 yards, but he tossed as many TD passes as picks (17). An anemic ground game that averaged 3.3 yards per carry was the biggest issue. RB Paris Cotton must be more productive running behind a big line anchored by T Jake Olson. When Radcliff passes, he'll look for Cody Wilson, a nifty option who paced the Chippewas with 83 receptions in 2010. There is no clear-cut No. 2 receiver, though.
DEFENSE: This unit has potential but must find three new starters at linebacker. Staffers think LB Mike Petrucci could be special as a senior. NT John Williams and E Joe Kinville are the stalwarts of what could be a good line. SS Jahleel Addae - who had four pass breakups and notched 80 tackles in 2010 - is a stud in the secondary who some consider to be the Chips' best defender. He'll need to be a star as the lone returning starter in the defensive backfield. The Chippewas managed just four interceptions last season, and no returning player had more than 2.5 sacks.
SPECIAL TEAMS: David Harman is a solid kicker who nailed 9-of-12 field-goal attempts in 2010, but his long was just 41 yards. He needs to generate more oomph. Coaches feel sophomore Richie Hogan could bolster a punting game that averaged less than 40 yards per boot last season. JC transfer Curtis Huge also will vie for the punting job. The return game lacks pizzazz. The coverage teams were poor last season; CMU allowed one punt-return TD and two kickoff-return TDs.
THE BUZZ: The program took a step back in Enos' debut season, losing eight of its last nine games and missing the postseason for the first time since 2005. The Chippewas needs to show progress. A schedule that features seven road games does Enos no favors. Four of the first six games are away from home, and three of the first six are against Big Six foes. In addition, one of the home games in that stretch is against league favorite Northern Illinois. Central Michigan doesn't have back-to-back home games until the final two contests of the season, and CMU plays all its game in 12 consecutive weeks. Still, the MAC is down, and a .500 season is a reachable goal.
COACH: Todd Berry (5-7 in one season at ULM; 34-67 in nine seasons overall)
LAST SEASON: 5-7, 4-4 (T-4th in Sun Belt)
OFFENSE: QB Kolton Browning exceeded expectations as a redshirt freshman starter last season; he threw for 2,552 yards and 18 TDs and tied a school record held by Stan Humphries with eight consecutive 200-yard games. Browning also is a good runner, and his 2,937 yards of total offense was third-most in NCAA history by a freshman. He'll operate behind what could be the best line in the Sun Belt. Gs Jonathan Gill and Justin Roberts should contend for all-league honors, and depth looks good, too. There's a good receiving corps, headed by blazingly fast Luther Ambrose (65 catches for 752 yards and six TDs); Ambrose wasn't as much of a deep threat as you'd expect from someone with his speed, though. Tavarese Maye, Anthony McCall and Brent Leonard are good complementary pieces at wide receiver, and that trio combined for 109 receptions and eight TDs last season. The rushing attack is the overriding question about this offense. Leading rusher Frank Goodin is gone, and Browning is the leading returner rusher with 385 yards. Look for ULM to use a committee approach at tailback with Jyruss Edwards, Centarius Donald and Arkansas transfer Mitchell Bailey. ULM averaged just 120.3 rushing yards per game last season, and more is needed this season.
DEFENSE: The Warhawks have an able coordinator in Troy Reffett and should have one of the best defenses in the league this fall. Es Ken Dorsey and Troy Evans have good pass-rush ability, as does LB Cameron Blakes. Blakes and Jason Edwards give ULM the best linebacker duo in the league, and S Darius Prelow is another who should contend for all-conference honors. ULM runs a 3-3-5 set, and the biggest question is whether 254-pound sophomore Kentarius Caldwell can hold up as the nose tackle. Caldwell was an end last season and moved inside during spring ball. Defensive tackle coach Leon Lett, a former NFL standout, has his work cut out for him. S Nate Brown and CB Otis Peterson team with Prelow to help form one of the league's best secondaries.
SPECIAL TEAMS: K Radi Jabour is steady, but he lacks a big leg. He was 8-of-10 last season, with his longest kick coming from 42 yards. P Aaron Munoz, who doubles as the third-team quarterback, averaged just 38.6 yards per attempt last season. Edwards is a solid kick returner, and it's hoped Leonard can provide a spark as the punt returner. The coverage units could use some help; ULM especially needs to upgrade the kickoff-coverage unit, as the Warhawks allowed two return TDs last season.
THE BUZZ: The Warhawks look like a good dark-horse pick to win the Sun Belt - that is, if they can survive the first month. They have the schedule from hell in September, with road games against Florida State, TCU and Iowa. In addition, five of the first seven games are on the road. An Oct. 15 game at Troy will tell whether ULM can contend for the conference crown. There are a lot of good pieces in place with Browning, Ambrose, the guards, the defensive ends, a nice linebacker duo and a good group of safeties. But will ULM be able to run effectively? And will they be able to stop the run? ULM never has been to a bowl as a FBS member, but this could be the year.
COACH: Dave Christensen (10-15 in three seasons)
LAST SEASON: 3-9, 1-7 (T-8th in Mountain West)
OFFENSE: There's nowhere to go but up. Wyoming ranked 116th in total offense and 107th in scoring last season. Although the Cowboys did average 32.3 points in their last four games, any cause for optimism vanished when incumbent starting QB Austyn Carta-Samuels unexpectedly transferred after the season (he still has not decided on a new home, though reports have him headed to Vanderbilt). Carta-Samuels' departure creates an unsettled quarterback situation. Redshirt freshman Emory Miller Jr. and true freshman Brett Smith were named co-starters at the end of spring practice, but Miller stunned coaches last week by announcing he would not be returning to school for personal reasons. The only other scholarship quarterback on the roster will be true freshman Adam Pittser, who arrives this summer. The inexperience at quarterback will force the Cowboys to lean heavily on a rushing attack that features junior Alvester Alexander, who rushed for 792 yards last season and had 390 yards and nine touchdowns over the final three games of the season. Alexander will run behind a line that returns four starters, though Ts Clayton Kirven and Josh Leonard are in danger of losing their starting spots. C Nick Carlson is a potential all-league candidate. The receiving corps is untested and depth could be an issue. Wyoming frequently uses four-wide sets, and coaches fully expect some true freshman wide receivers to get playing time this season. Former Bowling Green coach Gregg Brandon takes over as the offensive coordinator for Marcus Arroyo, who is now working as California's quarterbacks coach.
DEFENSE: The good news is that Wyoming returns all four starters on the line, including Es Josh Biezuns and Gabe Knapton. That front four now must do a better job of shutting down the run, as Wyoming gave up 4.6 yards per carry and ranked 109th nationally in rush defense last season. The linebacker corps is headlined by Brian Hendricks, who has made 196 tackles over the past two seasons. The secondary features senior CB Tashaun Gipson, who has made 37 consecutive starts. Gipson had three picks and nine pass breakups last season, but he is the only returning starter in the secondary.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Wyoming still must decide on a kicker. Candidates for the job are true freshman Daniel Sullivan, redshirt freshman Stuart Williams and senior Oliver Schober, a projected starting linebacker who performed kickoff duties last season. The Cowboys have much more experience at punter, where Austin McCoy returns for his senior season after ranking third in the Mountain West and 32nd nationally with an average of 42.8 yards per attempt last season. Wyoming ranked just 80th in kickoff coverage and 111th in punt coverage last season. The Cowboys will have new return men this season.
THE BUZZ: Wyoming went 7-6 and won the New Mexico Bowl in 2009, so the Cowboys' dramatic fall last season represented a bit of a surprise. A season-ending 44-0 rout of Colorado State provided hope the 2010 struggles might be a one-year blip, but Carta-Samuels' exit could result in more rebuilding this season. Carta-Samuels wasn't great by any means, as he threw just nine touchdown passes last season. But his transfer leaves the Cowboys without any experienced quarterbacks. One potential positive is that each of the first three games - including two to open the season against FCS opponents - is eminently winnable. Then comes a visit from Nebraska, the Huskers' first visit to Laramie. After that are two more winnable games. But the schedule toughens considerably in the second half of the season, so Wyoming better take advantage early.
COACH: Bob Toledo (13-35 in four seasons at Tulane; 91-103 in 17 seasons overall)
LAST SEASON: 4-8, 2-6 (6th in C-USA West)
OFFENSE: QB Ryan Griffin and TB Orleans Darkwa should be among the best players at their positions in Conference USA, but there are questions elsewhere on offense. Griffin has the necessary physical tools and threw for 2,371 yards and 14 TDs last season. Darkwa burst on the scene as a true freshman in 2010, rushing for 925 yards and 11 TDs; it was the highest single-season rushing total by a freshman in school history. He had five 100-yard games, second-most by a freshman back in league history. Those two are nice building blocks, but will they get enough help? Tulane lost its two best linemen, its best wide receiver and a highly productive tight end. Junior Ryan Grant needs to go from complementary receiver to go-to guy; Joe Kemp, a former starting quarterback, is another receiver who needs to step up. TE Brock Sanders will be on the spot on a team that likes to throw to its tight ends. Senior G Harris Howard is the most experienced lineman, and keep an eye on sophomore T Pat Husain, who has the potential to develop into one of the best linemen in the league.
DEFENSE: The outlook is brighter on defense. The Green Wave made some strides on this side of the ball last season, and the talent is in place for this unit to be even better this season. E Dezman Moses, who began his career at Iowa, and junior LB Trent Mackey are potential all-league candidates in the front seven, while junior FS Shakiel Smith - who started at linebacker as a freshman in 2008 - heads the secondary. Tulane has to get better against the run, and it should help that three linemen and two linebackers are returning starters. The linebackers as a whole are undersized, and that hurts. Six of the seven projected starters in the front seven are upperclassmen, and that should be a plus. Smith is the only full-time starter back in the secondary; he had 90 tackles, three picks and five pass breakups last season. New CBs Ryan Travis and Jordan Sullen bear watching. Coaches like Sullen's talent level and just need him to be consistent.
SPECIAL TEAMS: K Cairo Santos was 13-of-16 last season, but he lacks a strong leg, with his longest field goal coming from 39 yards last season. Jonathan Ginsburgh did a nice job at punter as a freshman. Sophomore Derrick Strozier will be the new return man, and the 5-foot-6 Strozier has good speed. The punt-coverage team was mediocre last season, while the kickoff coverage was awful (27.0 yards per attempt, with one TD allowed).
THE BUZZ: Toledo is heading into his fifth season as coach and hasn't had a winning record with the Green Wave. But there were signs of progress last season, and this season's early schedule lends hope that the Green Wave will contend for their first bowl appearance since 2002. Three of the first five games are on the road, but each is winnable; in addition, Tulane opens with FCS foe Southeastern Louisiana, a team the Green Wave should handle, so a 4-1 start is a possibility. There also are eminently winnable games in the second half of the season against Rice, UTEP and Memphis. Tulane plays 13 games, so it must win seven to get to a bowl. If the offensive line performs as needed, there's a chance for those seven wins.
COACH: David Cutcliffe (12-24 in three seasons at Duke; 56-53 in 10 seasons overall)
LAST SEASON: 3-9, 1-7 (T-5th in ACC Coastal)
OFFENSE: Duke returns eight offensive starters and boasts perhaps the ACC's top receiving tandem in Conner Vernon (73 catches, 973 yards, four TDs last season) and Donovan Varner (60-736-1). They were high school teammates at Miami Gulliver Prep and continue to work well together. QB Sean Renfree passed for 3,131 yards and 14 TDs in his first season as a starter last season, but he also threw 17 interceptions. Renfree must take better care of the ball, as Duke ranked 112th in turnover margin last season. Duke has struggled to run the ball for years and ranked last in the ACC in rushing offense again last season, but Desmond Scott provided some hope that the Blue Devils finally might achieve some balance. Scott rushed for 530 yards on 120 carries last season to become Duke's first 500-yard rusher since 2003. Renfree and Scott will work behind a line that returns four starters. Senior T Kyle Hill, who began his Duke career at guard, is the best lineman.
DEFENSE: Renfree and Co. will have to put up plenty of points because Duke's defense figures to struggle again. Duke ranked last in the ACC in total defense, rushing defense, pass defense, pass efficiency defense, sacks and tackles for loss last season. Duke will be running a 4-2-5 scheme for coordinator Jim Knowles, in his second season as defensive coordinator after spending six seasons as Cornell's coach. Perhaps the return of Ts Charlie Hatcher and Sydney Sarmiento will beef up the run defense. The secondary is led by S Matt Daniels, who delivered 93 tackles and seven pass breakups last season. Duke needs a healthy Kelby Brown, who recovered four fumbles as a freshman linebacker last season despite suffering a knee injury late in the season.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Will Snyderwine is a legitimate All-America candidate who went 21-of-24 on field-goal attempts last season, including 8-of-10 from at least 40 yards out. Alex King is back as the Blue Devils' punter after averaging 41.1 yards per attempt last season. Lee Butler ranked 31st nationally with an average of 8.6 yards per punt return last year. Here's a paradox: Duke ranked 18th nationally in kickoff coverage last year, yet the Blue Devils were 117th in punt coverage.
THE BUZZ: Duke demonstrated last season that it could continue to throw the ball up and down the field even without departed four-year starting QB Thaddeus Lewis, but the Blue Devils must dramatically upgrade their woeful defense. If Duke stops turning the ball over and starts playing respectable defense, it could contend for a bowl bid. Cutting down the turnovers is a realistic goal, but fielding a quality defense might take a couple more recruiting cycles. Six of the first eight games are at home, but included in the home games are contests against Stanford, Florida State and Virginia Tech. Still, if everything breaks right, Duke could be 3-2 heading into an off-week in early October. The Blue Devils haven't been to a bowl since 1995.