HOW THEY'LL FINISH
This is an article from the Aug. 11, 2008 issue
Conference championship game: Dec. 5 in Detroit Bowling Green over Central Michigan
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Top performers from unranked teams
QB, Soph., Notre Dame
As a freshman he threw seven TD passes and six interceptions; his line has to give him more time to throw.
KR, Jr., Fresno State
The 6-foot 180-pounder led the nation in kickoff returns last fall, averaging 35.8 yards per runback.
RB, Sr., Boise State
Despite bruising a kidney late last season, he ran for 1,041 yards, pushing his career total to 3,418.
QB, Jr., Central Michigan
He's one of two players in I-A history to pass for 3,000 yards and run for 1,000 yards in a season, joining Vince Young.
WR, Jr., Toledo
Tall (6'5") and speedy (4.39 in the 40), he caught 73 passes and averaged 94.4 total yards per game in '07.
TOP OFFENSIVE PLAYER
Damion Fletcher (right), RB, Jr., Southern Miss.
The 5'10" pinball, who rushed for 1,586 yards and 15 touchdowns last season, will have plenty of one-on-one chances in the open field. "He can make tacklers miss in a phone booth," says new Golden Eagles coach Larry Fedora.
TOP DEFENSIVE PLAYER
Clayton Mullins, LB, Sr., Miami (Ohio).
The Butkus Award candidate had 143 tackles in 2007, including 13 1/2 for losses.
TRUE FRESHMAN TO WATCH
DeAndre Brown, WR, Southern Miss.
The 6'6", five-star receiver from Ocean Springs, Miss., turned down a scholarship offer from LSU to be Fedora's first marquee signing.
COACH ON THE RISE
Bronco Mendenhall, BYU.
The defensive-minded Utah native has returned the Cougars to national prominence and may soon be courted by BCS-conference athletic directors.
COACH ON THE HOT SEAT
Mike Sanford, UNLV.
If the Rebels don't win at least three games—something they failed to accomplish in each of Sanford's first three years—he may be leaving Las Vegas by season's end.
Winners of 10 straight and 22 of their last 26, the Cougars have embraced Mendenhall's Quest for Perfection mission statement. Pac-10 foes UCLA and Washington could be the only obstacles to an undefeated regular season and a BCS invitation, though BYU must also win at TCU and rival Utah.
Utah quarterback BRIAN JOHNSON, offensive MVP of the 2007 Poinsettia Bowl, is throwing pain-free after off-season surgery to repair his right shoulder, which he separated in the first game of '07. The senior, who averaged 337 total yards per game as a sophomore before tearing his left ACL in the 10th game, will continue to give way to sophomore CORBIN LOUKS on rushing plays out of the spread.... Florida Atlantic coach HOWARD SCHNELLENBERGER has an NFL-style quarterback in 6'5", 230-pound junior RUSTY SMITH. The Sun Belt player of the year in 2007, Smith threw 32 touchdowns against nine interceptions.... PAUL JOHNSON left to coach Georgia Tech, but Navy won't abandon the triple option. With quarterback KAIPO-NOA KAHEAKU-ENHADA (left), slotback SHUN WHITE and fullback ERIC KETTANI returning, the Midshipmen will look to lead Division I-A in rushing for a fourth straight year, this time under newly promoted coach KEN NIUMATALOLO.... Rice wideout JARETT DILLARD enters his senior season as the Division I-A active career leader in receptions (205), yards (2,828) and touchdown catches (40).... RONALD HILAIRE, a 6'0", 288-pound defensive tackle, is one of 18 returning starters at Buffalo. Selected by the Calgary Stampeders with the 27th pick in the Canadian Football League draft in May, the Quebec native decided to return to upstate New York to build on his 45-tackle breakout season. The Bulls look to have their first winning season since joining Division I-A in 1999.