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College Top 40
by Jim Feist - 09/05/2009
It’s time to kick off a new football season. College football begins September 3rd and here’s a look at my Top 40 countdown!
40. Western Michigan: Fifth-year head coach Bill Cubit runs a fine program, off a 9-4 SU, 5-7 ATS season. The Broncos return seven starters on offense, led by 6-4 senior QB Tim Hiller (36 TDs, 10 picks). The offense was explosive in 2008, with 121 yards rushing, 301 yards passing and 29.8 ppg. He's been starting since his freshman season.
Western Michigan has a legitimate 1-2 punch in the backfield with senior Brandon West (1,026 yards, 5.0 ypc) and sophomore Aaron Winchester, plus deep threat junior WR Juan Nunez. The defense returns just 4 starters to a unit that was decent, allowing 23.8 ppg. Western Michigan was 9-6 over the total the last two falls.
39. Rutgers: The Knights have a great coach in Greg Schiano, off an 8-5 SU, 7-5 ATS campaign. They outscored teams by a 29-18 averaging with an explosive offense that rolled up 128 yards rushing and 266 yards passing per game. They are loaded in the running game, so don't be surprised if Rutgers returns to a power running style. The offensive line has the potential to be among the best in school history.
Senior RB Kordell Young (554 yards), junior RB Jourdan Brooks (516 yards, 5.2 ypc), junior Joe Martinek (404) and junior Mason Robinson all return, a mixture of speed and power. The passing game will take its lumps with senior QB Jabu Lovelace, who's a better athlete than a passer. His top two targets are back in 6-foot-4 senior WR Kenny Britt (1,371 yards) and senior WR Tim Brown (565 yards). The defense is tough, led by senior DE George Johnson, a former transfer from Virginia, on a physical front line. Another winning season and a bowl will be in the cards.
38. South Florida: There's no secret anymore about the South Florida Bulls and Head Coach Jim Leavitt, off another winning season at 8-5. The top players each on offense and defense return. They run an uptempo spread offense behind electric senior QB Matt Grothe (18 TDs, 14 picks, 591 rush yards).
The defense returns pass rushing terror senior George Selvie returns, trying to recapture his All-America form of 2007 after an ankle injury bothered him in 2008. South Florida is 19-5 SU, 15-6 ATS at home the last four years. This is a program on the rise and a fourth straight bowl game is likely.
37. Nebraska: Nebraska has been a beast offensively, even under Bo Pelini, but they lose QB Joe Ganz and all the top playmakers, so this is really the first real look at the Pelini offense. Sophomore QB Patrick Witt is trying to prove he's ready for the big time, while QB Kody Spanos is in the mix. The ground game has junior RB Roy Helu Jr (803 yards), a sizzling 6.4 yards per carry, and junior RB Quentin Castille (467 yards), plus the wide receiving corps is very good.
Can they approach last season's offensive numbers: 36 points, with 173 yards rushing and 284 yards passing per game? The defense allowed 29 ppg and has a ways to go, though Pelini said he is happy with the way All-Big 12 defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh is taking charge of the defense. Nebraska is 2-2 SU, 3-1 ATS under Pelini on the road. Early road trips to Virginia Tech and Missouri will tell a lot about the defense and new QB.
36. Central Michigan: The Chippewas (8-5 SU, 4-6-1 ATS) have had an electrifying offense the last few years under coach Butch Jones and QB Dan LeFevour. Central Michigan averaged 292 yards passing, 30 points and 132 yards rushing. Senior QB LeFevour is the MAC's best player and threw for 2,784 yards, 21 TDs, 6 picks while running for 592 yards.
His top two targets return in senior WR Bryan Anderson (865 yards) and junior WR Antonio Brown (998 yards). This offense should be explosive. Central Michigan is 13-5 SU, 12-4 ATS at home the last three years. Bettors beware: Central is 11-5 ATS its last 16 as a dog!
35. Virginia: Coach Al Groh's Cavaliers have been up and down while rebuilding the last few years. On offense, former Bowling Green head coach Gregg Brandon has been brought to Charlottesville to supercharge an offense that has been weak, trying a spread attack for 2009. Four starters return to anchor the offensive line and there is a QB battle between senior Jameel Sewell and junior Marc Verica. Sewell started all 13 games in 2007 and led the team to nine wins and a New Year’s Day bowl game.
On defense, they allowed 21.7 ppg and are thin at linebacker. That's a concern, as in Groh's 3-4 defense, playmaking linebackers are an absolute must. At least the defensive line has seven of the top eight returning. Virginia is 31-9 SU/25-14 ATS at home the last six seasons, but 12-22 SU/12-20 ATS on the road.
34. Boise State: The Boise State Broncos continue to roll, going 13-0, 10-3 and 12-1 the last three seasons under head coach Chris Peterson. Boise averaged 39 points, 162 yards rushing and 294 passing per game and returns sophomore QB Kellen Moore (25 TDs, 10 INTs), who had a terrific freshman campaign, throwing for 3,486 yards and 69% completions.
There is ample wideout experience with senior WR Jeremy Childs (802 yards) and junior WR Austin Pettis. The ground game has a new offensive line and loses monster back Ian Johnson. So look for 5-foot-9 junior RB Jeremy Avery, who ran for 672 and 614 yards the last two seasons. The defense was outstanding, allowing 12 points per game. Since 1999, Boise is 65-2 SU, 39-17 ATS at home on the blue carpet!
33. Notre Dame: You never know which Irish team under Charlie Weis is going to show up. They looked a little better in 2008, a 7-6 campaign, but they got smacked around by BC and USC, and lost at home to a horrible Syracuse squad, 24-23, as a 20-point favorite. There is reason for some optimism, with good recruiting classes, a lot of returning talent and a soft schedule.
Junior QB Jimmy Clausen (3,172 yards, 25 TDs, 17 picks) has been forced to carry the load behind a weak offensive line. Top target junior WR Golden Tate returns and was outstanding, with 58 catches for 1,080 yards and 10 TDs. Weis will resume calling plays for the Irish. 7 starters are back to a defense that hasn’t been very good under him. Notre Dame is 15-9 under the total the last two years. (Follow Jim on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JimFeistSports).
32. Colorado: Last season injuries derailed what should have been a good offense for Coach Dan Hawkins, going 5-7 SU, 4-7 ATS. Remember that two years ago they shocked then-No. 3 Oklahoma, 27-24 as a 23-point dog. Eight starters return on offense, behind junior QB Cody Hawkins (17 TDs, 10 picks), a starter since his freshman season. 5-foot-6 sophomore RB Rodney Stewart (622 yards) led the team as a freshman and ran for a strong 4.7 yards per carry. They added one of the nation's top running backs in Darrell Scott, who stumbled as a freshman behind the banged-up offensive line.
Defensively, senior Bryan Stengel and soph Brandon Gouin lead a good LB corps. Because of the weak offense, Colorado was 6-3-1 under the total, but remember when they were healthy on offense in 2007 they went 8-5 over the total with a strong offense and a weak secondary. A good season is possible, though note they are 2-13 SU, 3-12 ATS on the road under Hawkins and 4-17 SU/ATS on the road the last four years.
31. Tennessee: The Volunteers went 9-4 and 10-4 in two straight seasons (10-4 ATS in 2007), then fell off the map last season in a 5-7 campaign that cost Coach Phil Fulmer his job. Such is life in the competitive SEC! New Lane Kiffin doesn't have much of a resume, but does have a dynamite staff around him, including Ed Orgereon (former Ole Miss coach) and his father, Monte Kiffin, who will run the defense
The main concern is the offense, which was a disaster. Jim Chaney is the new OC after spending the last three seasons as an assistant with the St. Louis Rams. The key will be 6-4 senior QB Jonathan Crompton (4 TDs, 5 INTs), who struggled badly. The overlooked defense was great, allowing 16.8 points per contest, with junior LB Rico McCoy back and senior DB Derrick Furlow in the secondary. They are on a 7-0-1 run under the total and 18-14 SU/18-13-1 ATS on the road the last six seasons.
30. T.C.U: Undervalued again! TCU went 11-2 SU, 8-4 ATS last season, 32-16 ATS the last four years. Coach Gary Patterson has 6 starters back on offense and 4 on defense. Patterson likes offensive balance and in 2008 the Frogs averaged 35 points, 215 yards rushing and 201 pass yards. Junior QB Andy Dalton has been playing since his freshman season and threw 11 TDs, 5 picks last fall for 2,242 yards.
The Horned Frogs' top rusher is back in senior RB Joseph Turner (577 yards, 4.0 ypc), plus QB Dalton ran for 432 yards, third most on the team. Three key players are back on the O-line, while junior WR Jimmy Young (988 yards) is back. The defense loses it top pass rushers, but still has 4 starters back, including DE Jerry Hughes. TCU allowed just 10.9 ppg. They are talented enough to challenge for the Mountain West title and carry an 11-1 SU/10-1 ATS home record into the new season.
29. Missouri: Mizzou was explosive offensively last season, averaging 42 points, 157 yards rushing and 340 yards passing. They lost their top offensive threats to the NFL, so Head Coach Gary Pinkel turns to sophomore QBs 6-foot-5 Blaine Gabbert and Jimmy Costello. New offensive coordinator Dave Yost is expected to tweak the spread offense a bit and use more power running. The focus will be on junior RB Derrick Washington, who ran for 1,036 yards, 5.9 yards per carry as a sophomore.
Three starters are gone off the defensive front and the secondary needs three new starters. At least LB Sean Weatherspoon is back to anchor a good linebacking corps, while the secondary has senior CB Hardy Ricks. Mizzou is 14-6 over the total the last two years, 30-11 SU, 20-16 ATS its last 41 home games. They should go bowling, but won't be as dominant offensively as 2008.
28. Iowa: Kirk Ferentz has 6 starters back on offense and 8 on a defense that was 12th in the nation while allowing 13.3 ppg. The offense was mainly running, averaging 30 points, 189 yards rushing, 4.8 ypc, and 184 passing. Junior QB Rick Stanzi had a strong sophomore season, with 1,956 yards, 14 TDs and 9 picks.
They lost RB Shonn Greene and his 1,850 yards to the NFL, which is a huge, so the guy to watch is 5-foot-9 sophomore RB Jewel Hampton (463 yards, 5.1 yc). The top receivers are back, led by junior WR Derrell Johnson-Koulianos (639 yards) and senior WR Andy Brodell. The defense led the Big Ten in pass efficiency D and gets the entire linebacking corps back. The only drawback is the schedule, with road games at Penn State, Wisconsin, Michigan State and Ohio State. Iowa is 38-8 SU, 28-14-2 ATS at home.
27. Wake Forest: Run-oriented Wake Forest has always been competitive under 9th-year Demon Deacons Head Coach Jim Grobe. The last three years they have been sensational, at 28-12 SU, 24-15 ATS. QB Riley Skinner (13 TDs, 7 picks) is back for a fourth season to pilot the offense. The running game by committee is loaded, as usual, with junior RB Josh Adams, sophomore RB Brandon Pendergrass (528 yards, 3.5 ypc) and senior Kevin Harris.
The swarming defense has been great, allowing just 18.3 ppg. The defense is an attacking unit, though Wake is 16-9 over the total the last two years and loses LB Aaron Curry to the NFL. Wake is 7-4 ATS as a dog the last two years, 8-4 over the total their last 10 road games and 11-3 SU, 10-2 ATS their last 14 home games.
26. Illinois: Ron Zook took the Illini to the Rose Bowl in 2007 and has a shot at bouncing back from a losing campaign because of the offense. They averaged 28.7 points and 169 yards rushing (5.0 ypc) and 269 yards passing and return senior QB Juice Williams (22 TDs, 16 picks, 3,173 pass yards and 719 rushing yards).
He has all his key parts back from junior WR Arrelious Benn (1,055 yards) and Jeff Cumberland and tight end Michael Hoomanawanui. Senior RB Daniel Dufrene (663 yards) is a quick back who averaged 5.7 yards per carry. Keep an eye on junior WR Jarred Fayson, a former transfer from Florida. The defense is a concern along with an O-line that loses three starters. Note that Zook is 6-5 SU/4-7 ATS his last 11 games as a home favorite.
25. Utah: The Utes went 12-0 in 2004 under Urban Meyer, then topped that last season under Kyle Whittingham, a perfect 13-0 SU, 8-4 ATS 2008 season. Utah averaged 37 points, 168 yards rushing, 4.0 ypc, and 236 passing. The offense has new faces, though, with junior QB Corbin
Louks taking over for QB Brian Johnson. Louks is an excellent runner, plus redshirt freshman QB DeVonte Christopher is in the mix, the 2007 Nevada Gatorade Player of the Year.
New defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake will keep the defensive scheme the same, which has remained essentially intact for the past 15 years. They allowed 17 ppg last fall. Seven starters return on defense, led by senior All-America candidate LB Stevenson Sylvester. In the Sugar Bowl, he ravaged Alabama with three sacks and seven tackles. Utah is 31-6 SU, 23-10-1 ATS its last 37 home games.
24. NC State: If momentum is huge, NC State should be fired up for 2009, ending last season on a 4-1 SU, 5-0 ATS run under second-year coach Tom O'Brien. In fact, they have covered 8 straight games. The Wolfpack (6-7 SU, 10-2 ATS) found a quarterback in sophomore Russell Wilson, who was sensational with 17 TDs and only one interception! He expects to be fully recovered from a knee injury suffered in the Papa Johns Bowl.
The top pass catcher returns in 6-foot-3 junior WR Owen Spencer (609 yards, 5 TDs), along with 6-foot-4 junior WR Jarvis Williams (432 yards). The defense is a concern, giving up 26 ppg, as NC State was last in the ACC in pass defense. Safety Javon Morgan is expected to return after missing all of 2008 with a knee injury. The Wolfpack is 7-4 and 6-5 over the total the last two years with an improving pass offense and a suspect defense.
23. Oregon State: Mike Riley's Beavers are off a 9-4 SU/ATS season, including a thrilling 27-21 upset of USC. They like balance and this offense averaged 32 points, 165 yards rushing and 253 passing per game. Freshman of the Year RB Jacquizz Rodgers earned numerous All-America honors after rushing for 1,253 yards and scoring 12 touchdowns.
5-foot-7 junior RB James Rodgers (607), the brother of Jacquizz, caught 51 passes for 607 yards. They are a dynamite backfield pair, though small and injury-prone. More good news is that 6-foot-4 senior QB Sean Canfield (6 TDs 2 INTs) is back, along with 5-11 senior QB Lyle Moevao (19 TDs, 13 picks, 2,534 yards). Oregon State is 11-2 SU, 8-3 ATS its last 13 home games.
22. Cincinnati: Head coach Brian Kelly has done a great job and the Bearcats are off an 11-3 season with a Big East championship. The offense rotated a lot of QBs because of injuries, but still averaged 27 points, 121 yards rushing and 251 passing. For 2009, 7 starters return on offense, but they lost 10 on defense. They had to rotate an incredible 4 quarterbacks last season because of injuries, but that means they are loaded for 2009, led by 6-6 senior QB Tony Pike (2,407 yards, 19 TDs and 11 picks.)
The passing game is deep with senior WR Marshwan Gilyard (1,276 yards, 11 TDs) and junior WR Marcus Barnett (277). They should have the top passing attack in the Big East. The defense is being overhauled, but allowed 20 ppg. Cincy is 24-6 SU, 16-8 ATS at home the last five years, 10-3 SU on the road the last two. A winning season and another bowl is likely with this coach and all the returning offensive talent. Sports bettors note that Cincy is 4-2 SU, 5-1 ATS as a dog the last two seasons.
21. Wisconsin: Coach Bret Bielema is a defensive guy, but the story for 2009 is the offense. They averaged 28 points, 212 yards rushing and 192 passing last fall and the offense gets back seven starters, including fifth-year senior QB Dustin Sherer (1,389 yards, 6 TDs, 5 INTs). Junior RB John Clay (884 yards, 5.7 ypc) led the team in rushing behind a solid offensive line.
Bielema and OC Paul Christ have toyed with the idea of adding the spread-option, if only to complement UW's base offense and give defenses more to worry about. Dave Doeren has gone from recruiting coordinator to defensive coordinator and he has to replace some key cogs up front. The schedule is soft, with only a trip to Ohio State as the killer. Wisconsin is 31-4 SU, 19-12 ATS the last five years at home. They carry a 6-2-1 run over the total into the new season.
20. North Carolina: It's all about talent and recruiting and Butch Davis knows how to do that. The Tar Heels are off an 8-5 SU, 6-5-1 ATS season, going to a bowl. This offense was productive, despite a lot of injuries, averaging 27.5 points, 125 yards rushing and 192 passing. Junior QB T.J. Yates is back after throwing for 11 TDs, 4 picks and 1,168 yards in half a season (battling injuries).
His top wideouts are gone, but Davis has a slew of potential NFL prospects in John Blake, Todd Harrelson, Dwight Jones and Rashad Mason. Converted defensive back RB Shaun Draughn (866 yards, 4.4 ypc) provided a spark, and begins his sophomore season as the feature back. North Carolina was 8-4 over the total, with a good offense and a defense that allowed 20.3 ppg. There is plenty of hope under Davis and another bowl is likely.
19. Michigan State: Mark Dantonio has turned the program around. They are off an impressive 9-4 SU, 6-7 ATS campaign and have 7 starters back on offense, 8 on defense. The tough news is they lost their key players on offense in senior QB Brian Hoyer and power RB Javon Ringer. Sophomore QB Kirk Cousins (310 yards, 2 TDs and one pick) steps in, though QB Keith Nichol, the one-time super-recruit, is available.
There is a lot of experience at wideout and they hope for more from junior WR Mark Dell, who tore up Cal in the opener (9 catches, 202 yards), but wasn’t consistent. The defense allowed 21.9 ppg and has much of its top talent back. They were good overall, but gave up 49 to Penn State, 45 to Ohio State and 38 to Cal. There is a ton of returning experience, led by junior LB Greg Jones and DE Trevor Anderson leading a good front seven. The schedule is easier, though note that Michigan State is 9-18 ATS its last 27 home games.
18. Oregon: Head coach Mike Bellotti stepped down after his 14th season, taking over for Pat Kilkenny as athletic director. His timing was good, after back-to-back seasons of 9-4 SU/ATS and 10-3 SU, 7-6 ATS. There is a lot of talent returning for new head coach Chip Kelly, the former offensive coordinator. His spread attack averaged 42 points, 277 yards rushing and 200 passing!
They are loaded at quarterback with junior QB Jeremiah Masoli is (13 TDs, 5 picks), who ran for 718 yards. Junior QB Nate Costa is highly thought of but didn't play in 2007 or 2008 because of an ACL injury. The offensive line lost its top players, so we will see how that affects senior RB LeGarrette Blount (1,002 yards, 17 TDs, averaging 7.3 ypc.) On defense, three-fourths of the interior is gone, headed by Pac-10 sack leader Nick Reed, while rover Patrick Chung was lost to the NFL in the second round, so the secondary has some shoes to fill. They get USC at home and the only tough road game is at Arizona.
17. Georgia Tech: Is there a better football coach than Paul Johnson? He worked wonders at Navy, then took over a .500 Georgia Tech program and went a sizzling 9-4 (8-3 ATS). This is a run-oriented team that averaged 282 yards rushing, 95 passing and 26 points. Johnson recruits speed for his option-attack and found an ace in junior QB Josh Nesbitt. He wasn't much of a passer (2 TDs, 5 picks, 43% completions), but ran the option for 693 yards.
Tech returns 17 starters, nine on offense and eight on defense. On offense, every skill position player returns, paced by junior B-back Jonathan Dwyer (1,395 yards, 7 yards per carry, 12 TDs), the 2008 ACC Player of the Year. All five offensive linemen who started the final four games of the season return, paced by second team All-ACC guard Cord Howard. The defense allowed just 18.8 ppg and is loaded. Georgia Tech carries a 7-4 run under the total into the new season.
16. BYU: Coming off a nationally ranked 10-3 season in 2008, the Cougars are rolling under head coach Bronco Mendenhall. The offense was electric, averaging 35 points, 135 yards rushing and 309 passing behind QB Max Hall (35 TDs, 14 picks, 3,957 yards), who is back for his senior season. Junior RB Harvey Unga (1,132 yards) is a bull.
The defense is stocked with 8 starters back. The Cougars were the nation’s sixth-ranked passing offense last season at 310 yards per game and have been ranked in the top six in the country in three of Mendenhall's four seasons in Provo. BYU is 18-9-1 OVER the total the last three years with a deadly offense. September games against Oklahoma and Florida State are tough ones, but they are the favorite to roll to another MWC title.
15. Florida State: Hard to believe a football factory like Florida State is off back-to-back 7-6 and 9-4 seasons, but it's true. But hopes are high, with 8 starters back on offense, 5 on defense. The offense (32.7 ppg) has junior QB Christian (14 TDs, 13 picks) and don't rule out sophomore QB E.J. Manuel, a terrific recruit from 2008. This ground game is loaded behind a strong offensive line and sophomore RB Jermaine Thomas (482 yards, a whopping 7 yards per carry).
The Florida State defense was strong up front, allowing 20.8 ppg, ranked 13th nationally in total defense. Both outside linemen are gone, but FSU returns two of its starters on the interior in Kendrick Stewart and Budd Thacker. The Seminoles led the nation in third down conversion defense last season. They are 3-1 SU/ATS their last 4 road games. A September trip out to Utah to play BYU is odd, plus they end the season with three of four tough road games (at Clemson, Wake and Florida).
14. Alabama: The third season for Coach Nick Saban and his first two Tide teams started strong and finished weak. Last season, they started 10-0, then lost to Florida in the SEC title game (31-20) and had nothing left for the bowl, a 31-17 loss to Utah as a big favorite. Oddsmakers were perplexed in 2007 as 'Bama was 4-8 ATS, but went 9-4 ATS last season. Saban prefers the power running game and last year's squad averaged 31 points and 196.5 yards rushing. They return nine starters on defense, four on offense.
Junior QB Greg McElroy was the backup and steps in, though he only threw 11 passes. The ground game is loaded behind the powerful Mark Ingram, along with veterans Roy Upchurch and Terry Grant and highly touted freshman Trent Richardson. Ingram ran for 728 yards and a team-high 12 touchdowns as a freshman, plus 6-4 sophomore WR Julio Jones was great as a freshman, with 58 catches for 924 yards. The terrific defense allowed 13 ppg. Alabama LB Rolando McClain and nose guard Terrence Cody were selected to the 2009 Lott Trophy Watch List, leading the nation's second-best rush defense. Road games at Georgia, Tennessee and LSU will make this a more challenging schedule than last season.
13. Kansas: The Jayhawks have senior QB Todd Reesing (32 TDs, 13 picks, 3,888 yards) back, after a 2008 campaign where they averaged 32.7 points, 129 yards rushing and 302 passing. 8 starters are back on offense, 7 on 'D'. Senior WR Kerry Meier (1,045 yards) and junior WR Dezmon Briscoe anchor a dynamite air game.
The Jayhawks also have senior RB Jake Sharp (860 yards, 4.6 ypc). Second-year defensive coordinator Clint Bowen has some holes to fill on a suspect defense that allowed 29.5 ppg, going 4-4 in the Big 12. Does that make the Jayhawks a team to look at over the total?
12. California: This is one great coaching staff at Cal, led by head coach Jeff Tedford. They are off a 9-4 SU/ATS campaign and the offense has 7 starters returning, the defense 8, including QB Kevin Riley and stud RB Jahvid Best. Cal's offense averaged 33 points, 187 yards rushing and 195 yards passing. Riley threw for 1,360 yards, 14 TDs, 6 INTs and doesn't have to share time with Nate Longshore. In his career he is 7-2 as a starter.
The offensive line returns three starters, blocking for star junior tailback Jahvid Best (1,580 yards, 8.1 ypc), a Heisman contender. He and sophomore RB Shane Vereen (715 yards, 5.0 ypc) give Cal the best backfield duo in the country. The defense returns 8 starters to a unit that allowed 20 points and 3.9 yards per rush. The 3-4 was so successful that all four linebackers earned All-Pac-10 recognition, with LB Mike Mohamed returning. The schedule isn't that bad and they get USC at home October 3rd, which is the BIG ONE.
11. Virginia Tech: The Hokies (10-3 SU, 6-7 ATS) had another powerful defense that allowed 17.5 ppg. Despite a young team and all kinds of running back injuries, Coach Frank Beamer's team won a second straight ACC title. They were rebuilding in 2008, so expectations are high in 2009 with so much returning talent. The offense is a ball control unit that averaged just 167 yards rushing (3.8 ypc), just 128 passing, but their 28.7 and 22.2 points per game the last two years is because the defense set up great field position (or scored).
The QB situation is strong with mobile junior Tyrod Taylor (1,036 yards, 2 TDs, 7 picks, 738 rushing yards). Soph RB Darren Evans (1,265 yards) was lost for the season with an August injury, but there is a lot of backfield depth. The defense is loaded once again with sophomore defensive tackle Antoine Hopkins, defensive end Isaiah Hamlette and LB Derrick McCoy. They carry a 5-1 run under the total into this season.
10. Mississippi: Think Houston Nutt can coach? Only one team didn't win an SEC game in 2007 (0-8), and that was the Rebels. Nutt took over last season and the Rebels made huge strides, going 9-4 SU, 9-3 ATS. The offense was much better, averaging 30.8 points, 182 yards rushing and 215 passing and the defense made even bigger strides, allowing just 17.8 ppg. As an underdog, they flattened Texas Tech in the Cotton bowl, 47-34, and were the only team to beat Florida, 31-30 -- in the Swamp. Nutt was honored as SEC Coach of the Year for the third time.
Six starters return on offense, led by junior QB Jevan Snead (26 TDs, 13 picks). Senior WR Shay Hodge (725 yards) returns, along with 5-foot-8 senior RB/WR Dexter McCluster (625 yards). Eight starters return on defense, led by seniors Marshay Green, who was Defensive MVP of the Cotton Bowl. Ole Miss was 3-2 SU, 4-1 ATS on the road. Auburn and South Carolina are the only two tough road games, so expectations are high.
9. L.S.U: LSU has done very well under fifth-year Head Coach Les Miles, back to back 11-2 season followed by 2007's 12-2 national title team and last year's 8-5 squad. They are loaded with talent for 2009. Last year the Tigers averaged 30.3 points, 167 yards rushing and 204 passing. Sophomore QB Jarrett Lee returns (13 TDs and 16 picks) but 2008 Parade All-American QB Russell Shepard is in the wings.
The Tigers got great news with the decisions by OT Ciron Black and WR Brandon LaFell to come back for their final seasons. LaFell was the leading receiver, with 63 receptions for 929 yards and 8 TDs. This offensive line is terrific, opening holes for senior RB Charles Scott (1,174 yards, 18 TDs, 5.4 yards per carry) and senior RB Keiland Williams (417 yards). LSU lost five starters on the defensive side of the ball, but return senior defensive end Rahim Alem (8 sacks) for new defensive coordinator John Chavis. LSU is 13-5 SU, 8-7 ATS on the road the last four seasons.
8. Oklahoma State: The Cowboys (9-4 SU, 8-4 ATS in 2008) begin their fifth season under Head coach Mike Gundy and his electric offense. They go with a no-huddle at times and dazzled with 41 points, 256 yards rushing and 233 passing per game! Oklahoma State finished sixth in the nation in total offense, was ninth in scoring, fifth in passing efficiency and eighth in rushing offense. Best off all, they get almost everyone back with eight starters returning.
Senior QB Zac Robinson is off a strong junior season with 3,064 yards, 65% completions, 25 TDs and 10 picks. He's an electric runner, rushing for 847 and 562 yards the last two seasons. He teams with fast, 5-foot-8 senior RB Kendall Hunter (1,555 yards, 6.5 ypc) and senior RB Keith Toston (686 yards, 6.7 ypc). Speedy senior WR Dez Bryant (1,480 yards, 19 TDs) is a keeper, while 6-foot-5 junior WR Damian Davis (414) averaged 21 yards per catch as a sophomore. This group is outstanding, so there is plenty of pop in the offense. The Cowboy defensive front was last in the Big 12 in sacks and struggled against top offenses. Yes, they are 17-14 over the total the last three years and look like an offensive machine in 2009.
7. Ohio State: Last season the Buckeyes went 10-3 SU, 6-6 ATS, but flopped against top competition. USC hammered them, 35-3, and they lost to Penn State (13-6) and Texas (24-21). The dynamite defense lost its top players, but the offense should be better behind sophomore QB Terrelle Pryor (1,311 yards, 12 TDs, 4 picks), who used his quick feet to rush for 631 yards.
Power back Chris Wells jumped to the NFL, but sophomore RB Daniel Herron impressed with 439 yards and 4.9 ypc. When opponents stuffed the run,, the Buckeyes' offense wilted, so they want to opening up the passing game. The defense returns hard-hitting junior LB Ross Homan, while senior SS Kurt Coleman is terrific in the secondary. Note that Ohio State is 47-4 SU, 28-19-1 ATS their last 51 home games! The big game comes early: September 12 hosting USC.
6. Georgia: Head Coach Mark Richt is one of the best in the business: Georgia is 34-8 SU/25-17 ATS on the road under Richt. The big story in 2009 is senior QB Joe Cox, who threw 2 TDs and no picks and 151 yards last season, though he has seen action in each of the last three years. The passing game should be fine with 6-foot-4 sophomore WR A.J. Green, who exploded as a freshman with 963 yards and 8 TDs, leading the team.
The defense is experienced and should be fine against the run with senior DT Kade Weston. Georgia junior LB Rennie Curran and senior defensive tackle Jeff Owens have been named to the 2009 Lott Trophy Watch List. They open at Oklahoma State, and have SEC road games at Arkansas and Tennessee. They probably won't beat Florida, but will be very good again.
5. Texas: Everyone remembers Oklahoma winning the Big 12 title game then losing to Florida in the national championship game. What they may forget is that Texas upset Oklahoma during the regular season, tied for first (7-1) in the Big 12 with the Sooners, then got jobbed as a committee chose Oklahoma over Texas to go to the Big 12 title game. That should add some motivation to a talented team, especially one with four-year starter QB Colt McCoy back. The Longhorns are loaded on offense once again, on a unit that averaged 44 points, 177 yards rushing and 299 passing.
Senior QB Colt McCoy had another strong season, with 3,859 yards, 76% completions, 34 TDs and 8 picks. The running game usually is a staple at Texas, but has been a disappointment, as McCoy led the team in rushing. Four starters are back on the offensive front, along with junior RB Vondrell McGee. Defensive coordinator Will Muschamp installed a more physical attacking unit that allowed 18.6 ppg. Texas is 45-7 SU, 35-16 ATS the last four seasons, 7-1 SU/8-0 ATS as a dog and on a 30-14-2 OVER the total run.
4. Penn State: Joe Paterno is off an 11-2 SU, 7-4-1 ATS season that saw a Big 10 title (7-1) and another Rose Bowl. This offense is about balance, averaging 40 points, 211 yards rushing and 240 passing. Fifth-year senior QB Daryll Clark is a strong runner who impressed with his passing skills, throwing for 2,592 yards, 19 TDs, 6 picks in 2008, plus running for 282 yards.
The main concern is on the offensive line, which lost its top players. Guard Stefen Wisniewski might be the best in the country, but he's one of just two returning starters. The offensive backfield is loaded with QB Clark and running backs junior Evan Royster (1,236 yards, 6.5 ypc) and sophomore RB Stephfon Green (578 yards, 5.5 ypc). The physical defense returns a terrific linebacking corps led by senior LB Sean Lee (back from a knee injury) to join Josh Hull and Navorro Bowman forming one of the nation's best linebacking corps. Penn State is 0-6 SU/ATS its last 6 as a dog, and just 9-7 SU, 7-7-1 ATS its last 16 on the road. Of course, at home the Lions are 28-2 SU, 19-9 ATS their last 30!
3. Oklahoma: Oklahoma is off a 12-2 SU, 10-3 ATS season with a powerhouse team, one that outscored opponents by a 54-24 average. Junior QB Sam Bradford decided to stay rather than be the first pick in the NFL draft on an offense that averaged 205 yards rushing and 356 passing. Bradford had 50 TDs, 8 picks and 4,720 yards! Great news is that senior Jermaine Gresham (950 yards, 14 TDs) is one of the nation's best tight ends.
The offensive line is a concern, though the ground game is loaded with junior RB DeMarco Murray (1,002 yards, 5.6 ypc) and senior RB Chris Brown (1,220 yards, 5.6 ypc). On defense, senior DT DeMarcus Granger anchors a solid line, though the usually strong linebacker corps has some new looks. Oklahoma is 20-3 SU, 14-6 ATS at home the last three seasons. The schedule is easy, outside of a revenge game with Texas on October 17. A rematch with Florida? By the way, the Sooners are on an 8-1 run over the total.
2. U.S.C: USC opened in Vegas as the team to beat for the national title in 2007 and again in 2008, falling short, but not by much. 9th-year head coach Pete Carroll's team is stocked despite losing a ton of talent to the NFL. The Trojans are off a 12-1 SU, 7-5-1 ATS season, which makes Carroll 71-7 SU, 46-31-1 against the spread the last six years. USC outscored opponents by an astounding 37.5-7.8 last season.
The offense has to find a new QB, but there are plenty of options with junior QB Mitch Mustain, a talented transfer from Arkansas, 6-4 sophomore QB Aaron Corp, and freshman QB Matt Barkley. They will inherit an offense that averaged 206 yards rushing and 247 yards passing. The offensive line is loaded, as this backfield with tailbacks senior C.J. Gable (617 yards yards), senior Stafon Johnson (705 yards, 5.1 ypc) and speedy junior Joe McKnight (659 yards, 7.4 ypc). The defense lost a lot to the NFL, but they keep reloading with top talent. With this great defense, USC is 16-4 under the total the last two years. USC is 38-1 SU, 25-13-1 ATS at home the last six seasons.
1. Florida: National champs, again! 2006 was the 100th year of Florida football, and the Gators certainly made it memorable by winning the national championship, trouncing Ohio State as an underdog, 41-14. A very young team in 2008 went 9-4 SU, 9-4 ATS with some ups and downs, but it paid dividends last season as the Gators rolled to another title (13-1 SU, 11-2 ATS), topping Oklahoma in the BCS Championship game.
Head Coach Urban Meyer has only been here four years and has two titles. The triple-option attack was deadly in 2008, averaging 45 points, 229 yards rushing and 212 passing per game. They are loaded for 2009 with 7 starters back! Senior QB Tim Tebow passed for 2,746 yards, 30 TDs, 4 picks and led the team with 673 yards and 12 TDs.
As great as the offense is, the defense allowed just 12.8 ppg and returns all 11 starters. The entire two-deep depth chart returns from a defense that led the nation in interceptions, ranked fourth in scoring defense and finished ninth in the nation in total defense. Florida's first-team defense did not allow a touchdown in five of the last eight. Florida was 6-1 SU/4-2 ATS in The Swamp last season, which makes Meyer 27-3 SU, 18-10 ATS at home. The schedule is easy, with the only difficult road games at LSU and South Carolina -- teams they whipped last season. The Gators will be playing in January and could run the table.