The 2009 college football season will kick off in a little over a month. To make the time go a little faster, I have been counting down my top 50 teams one team at a time.
No. 37 Cincinnati Bearcats
No. 36 SOUTHERN MISSISSIPPI GOLDEN EAGLES
Since arriving in Hattiesburg, by way of Stillwater, Larry Fedora, has enlivened the imagination of a proud fan base. His "sound the attack" command has become a catch phrase used by players and fans alike.
Fedora endured a rough opening, but the program started to click last November, capping a season-ending five-game winning streak with a comeback win in the New Orleans Bowl.
It was exactly the injection of momentum that Fedora needed heading into the off-season and although there’s plenty of room for improvement on both sides of the ball, the Golden Eagles look to be heading in the right direction.
"We are a year ahead of where we were at this time last season. The new guys have already started to pick [the system] up from the guys who have experience."
Fedora's no-huddle spread offense averaged 433 yards and 30 points a game last season and will certainly be better with another year in the system.
With Austin Davis at quarterback, Damion Fletcher running the ball, and DeAndre Brown (assuming he’s healthy) streaking down the sidelines, even the best Conference USA defenses will be pushed.
The offensive line returns three starters and some experienced backups after helping the Golden Eagles set school marks for total offense, passing yards and first downs in 2008.
The defense, under coordinator Todd Bradford, was shredded in September and October, but yielded an average of only 12 points, created more turnovers, and didn't allow more than 100 yards rushing to any opponent over the final five games.
Bradford has the parts to keep rolling, but will have to do so without linebacker extraordinaire Gerald McRath, who chose to leave early for the NFL draft. Filling McRath's spot in the middle will be sophomore Korey Williams, who has considerable upside and an opportunity to make a ton of plays.
The defensive line, the Achilles’ heel a year ago, will be led by junior Anthony Gray, a ferocious penetrator and one of the strongest members of the team. Gray’s partner on the inside will be senior Rolando Barragan.
Roshaad Byrd, who has made 23 appearances as a starter and a reserve throughout his career and Deddrick Jones, a first-time letter-winner in 2008 will form the bookends.
If the front four can mount some kind of a pass rush, few teams will throw on a secondary that found its groove last November, and will keep getting better in 2009.
Andre Watson and C.J. Bailey are back at the corners and three year starter Eddie Hicks returns off a second team All-Conference USA year.
Fedora believes the program has the players in place to contend for the school's first outright league championship since 2003.
"We understand who the players are and what we have this year, where as last year we were trying to figure it all out. Throughout the season we tailored the offense to our guys and what they can do. Now, we can just help them get better and better."
The Golden Eagles will most certainly need to get better. The schedule includes tough non-conference dates with Virginia, Kansas and Louisville, as well as conference match-ups with Central Florida, Houston, Tulsa, and East Carolina.
Sound the attack!
UP NEXT: The Big 12 checks back in at No. 35. Can this Big 12 North team keep it up?