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Monday, July 23, 2007
Cellar dwellers hoping to live the Boise State dream

What are the top programs of the last decade? That's the question has attempted to answer this week. Fifteen college football experts and analysts ranked all 119 Division I-A programs, taking into account record, traditions, recruiting, facilities, coaches, attendance and support, among other criteria.

Editor's note: Each day, one writer will attempt to explain why these teams were ranked in this order. The rankings reflect the average from the 15 ballots cast and are not the writer's individual ballot. Pat Forde breaks down Nos. 119-101 below.

Ladder 119: Nos. 101 to 119 (from 1997 to 2006)
101 Baylor 28-85 .248 0 0-0
The emblematic moment of Bears football the past decade was the 1999 decision by coach Kevin Steele to try to punch in one more score from inside the 10 while up three on UNLV in the final seconds. Naturally, the Bears fumbled. Naturally, the Rebels ran it back 99 yards for the victory. Naturally, Baylor remains without a winning season since 1995.
102 San Jose State 44-72 .379 0 1-0
You know it's tough to sustain excitement here when the team goes 9-4 and still ranks 99th nationally in attendance, as the Spartans did in 2006. Opening with four straight road games, and playing seven overall, might undercut last year's momentum.
103 SMU 39-75 .342 0 0-0
The school has wisely stayed the course for five years with coach Phil Bennett, whose Mustangs last year scored the most points since the cheatin' days of the 1980s. But SMU still hasn't been to a bowl game since pre-death penalty.
104 UNLV 35-80 .304 0 1-0
The John Robinson Era was supposed to bring the Rebels out of obscurity. It didn't. Replacement Mike Sanford, hired off Urban Meyer's hot-shot staff at Utah, is 4-19. And Vegas still hasn't produced back-to-back winning seasons since 1983-84.
105 Florida Atlantic 16-19 .457 0 0-0
The seven-year-old start-up program's high point was undoubtedly starting the 2004 season with five straight victories, all on the road. The only other high point is being able to say that the coach (Howard Schnellenberger) owns a national championship ring (Miami 1983).
106 Idaho 41-74 .357 0 1-0
After being used by Dennis Erickson for a one-year résumé rehab, the Vandals are now on their fifth coach of the past 10 years. That's no way to compete in the WAC -- especially with the glory hogs to the south, Boise State.
107 Arkansas State 39-77 .336 0 0-1
The Indians have improved in their five years under Steve Roberts, even earning a 2005 New Orleans bowl bid and playing respectably in a loss to Southern Mississippi. But when the signature win of the decade is over a Memphis team on its way to 2-10, there's plenty of room for additional improvement.
108 Ball State 37-76 .327 0 0-0
The Cardinals nearly had their greatest moment ever in November, pushing unbeaten Michigan to the wire in the Big House. Of course, they also lost to I-AA North Dakota State on their way to a 10th straight non-winning season.
109 Kent State 32-81 .283 0 0-0
Ugly as the last 20 years have been for the Golden Flashes, the times might be changing. At least one preseason magazine picks them to win their division in the MAC.
110 New Mexico State 38-77 .330 0 0-0
Fifteen years ago, the Aggies were featured in Sports Illustrated as the worst program in America. Thanks to I-A expansion, they're not even in the bottom five anymore. How's that for progress?
111 Army 24-90 .211 0 0-0
The big picture indicates how hard it is to get top-shelf athletic talent to a demanding place like West Point. The small picture indicates that even smart guys can do dumb things with the football: The Cadets are minus-83 in turnover margin the past decade.
112 Louisiana-Lafayette 32-81 .283 1 conf. 0-0
The good news is that the Ragin' Cajuns have gone 12-11 the past two seasons. The bad news is that they've still been outscored every year since 1995 and still haven't earned their first bowl bid since the 1970 Rice Bowl.
113 Louisiana-Monroe 36-78 .316 1 conf. 0-0
UL-M's record is 7-3 versus fellow hyphenated rival UL-L the past decade. The fact that they've won only 29 other games in 10 years is why they're ranked 113th.
114 Utah State 35-78 .310 0 0-1
Four coaches, three conferences and two years as an independent in the past decade indicate that stability is not the strong suit in Logan. The Aggies actually played in the Humanitarian Bowl 10 years ago, but then John L. Smith left. The next nine seasons were most inhumane.
115 Duke 18-95 .159 0 0-0
Stanford and Northwestern have made it to the Rose Bowl in recent times. Even Vanderbilt, playing in a much tougher conference, has threatened to earn a bowl bid. So why can't the ACC's resident brainiac school even come close to competing? The Blue Devils had five double-digit loss seasons in the decade.
116 Eastern Michigan 31-82 .274 0 0-0
They started playing football in Ypsilanti in 1891, and the current 11-year streak of losing records is the longest in program history. In a Mid-American Conference where every dog seems to have its day, the pooches from EMU haven't managed even five wins in a season since '95.
117 Florida International 8-25 .242 0 0-0
It's never good when the signature moment in your program's history is a full-scale, on-field brawl versus Miami. Or when your best win is at Louisiana-Monroe (see No. 113 on this list).
118 Temple 23-90 .204 0 0-0
Gridiron life has rarely been good for the Owls, but it's never been as bad as the past two years: one win in 23 games, and they've been outscored by 757 points in that time. Temple hasn't ranked better than 116th nationally in scoring offense or defense since 2004.
119 Buffalo 12-79 .132 0 0-0
You want the definition of the ultimate underdog program? How's this: The Bulls have been favored once against a fellow Division I-A opponent in eight years of I-A football. At least they came through, beating No. 118 Temple 9-3 last season in the opener.