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College Football's Top 21-40

   by Jim Feist - 09/01/2010

It’s time to kick off a new football season. College football begins September 2nd and here’s a look at the top teams, starting with my top 21-40.

40. Nevada Wolf Pack: Nevada (8-5 SU/7-6 ATS) had a tough schedule a year ago, but finished 7-1 in the WAC, with an incredible “Pistol” rushing attack that averaged 40.6 points, 362 yards rushing and 159 passing. Coach Chris Ault had three players who ran for over 1,000 yards and all averaged over a mind-boggling 7.2 yards per carry! Two are back.
Senior QB Colin Kaepernick (20 TDs, 6 INTs) is reliable with his arm passing for 2,052 yards and even better with his legs running for 1,183 yards, 7.3 yards per carry. Senior RB Vai Taua led the Pack with 1,345 yards rushing, 10 TDs while averaging 7.8 ypc. They topped 50 points once, 60 three times, plus a 70-45 win over Idaho, part of a 6-3 run over the total.

39. Michigan State Spartans: MSU is in bounce back mode under Mark Dantonio, off a frustrating 6-7 SU, 4-7-1 ATS season, as six of the seven losses were winnable. This offense is balanced, averaging 29.6 points, 136 yards rushing and 271 passing and returns two QBs in junior QBs Kirk Cousins (19 TDs, 9 picks) and Keith Nichol (7 TDs, 3 picks).
The ground game was a bit of a disappointment, but there is a lot of experience at wide out, with junior WR B.J. Cunningham (641 yards) and senior Mark Dell. The defense allowed 25 ppg and has much of its top talent back, though they allowed 38 to Wisconsin, 42 to Minnesota and 42 to Penn State. MSU is 11-22 ATS at home and on a 22-12-1 run over the total.

38. Missouri Tigers: Mizzou was explosive offensively again, averaging 30 points, 132 yards rushing and 285 yards passing. Eight starters return on offense, behind junior QB Blaine Gabbert (3,593 yards, 24 TDs, 9 INTs). They have a decent back in senior RB Derrick Washington, plus four starters returning on the O-line. The defense only came up with eight picks and allowed 20 touchdown passes. The Tigers allowed over 250 yards passing per game with their gambling, attacking defense.

37. Tennessee Volunteers: Thanks for stopping by, Lane! Lane Kiffin was one and done wearing Orange so new Coach Derek Dooley takes over. He knows the SEC: His father (Vince Dooley) coached Georgia, and while LSU's recruiting coordinator, Dooley helped the Tigers land No. 1 classes in 2001 and 2003. 5 starters are back on offense, though senior QB Nick Stephens (5 TDs, 4 INTs the last two years) has played a little, but has great targets. The terrific defense gets back seven starters. They are on a 7-2-1 run over the total and 21-14-1 ATS on the road the last seven seasons.

36. North Carolina Tar Heels: Coach Butch Davis is an ace recruiter and hopes are high because the Heels return an ACC-high 19 starters. They return 10 starters on offense, nine on defense. Senior QB T.J. Yates (14 TDs, 15 picks) hopes to be healthy, plus former blue-chipper QB Bryn Renner is likely to get a shot if Yates struggles. Of concern is the weak offensive line lost two of its best blockers. The defense is loaded, with six juniors who were considering entering the NFL Draft but decided to return for their senior season, led by Quan Sturdivant and Deunta Williams. They finished sixth in the nation, allowing just 269 yards per game. UNC could be a team to look at under the total with a rock-solid defense and suspect offense.

35. Navy Midshipmen: Speedy Navy is off a 10-4 SU, 6-6-1 ATS campaign, routing Missouri in a bowl, 35-13. They win with speed all over the backfield, averaging 272 yards rushing per game last season (4th in the nation). The offense is in great shape with 7 starters back led by senior QB Ricky Dobbs, who ran for 1,192 yards and threw for 1,031 passing yards. The defense allowed just 19.4 points per game and has 5 starters back, the sixth-best red zone defense in the country. The Midshipmen went 8-4 under the total.

34. BYU Cougars: BYU has posted a 43-9 overall record the past four years under Bronco Mendenhall. The offense was electric, averaging 34.8 points, 148 yards rushing and 289 passing, but loses QB Max Hall. Junior QB Riley Nelson and sophomore James Lark are battling it out. The passing game should be fine with junior WRs McKay Jacobson (556 yards) and O'Neill Chambers, plus four starters return to the offensive front.
The secondary is deep and experience, anchored by S Andrew Rich. They host Washington in the opener, then head to Tallahassee to battle Florida State in Week 2. That’s a revenge game, as FSU blasted the Cougars, 54-28, their first loss in 2009.

33. Rutgers Scarlett Knights: The Knights outscored teams by a 27-17 averaging last fall with a freshman QB. For 2010, sophomore QB Tom Savage (2,211 yards, 14 TDs, 7 picks) leads a balanced attack with junior RB Joe Martinek (967 yards, 4.7 ypc). The offensive line loses 3 key players and ranked 111th nationally in sacks allowed. Senior DE Alex Silvestro headlines a good defensive line with senior DE Jonathan Freeny (nine sacks). They are on an impressive 4-1 SU/ATS run on the road.

32. Penn State: The Lions are off an 11-2 SU, 6-6 ATS season that was disappointing, believe it or not. Despite a powerhouse team, they finished third in the Big 10 (6-2) and fell flat in their only two marquee games, losing to Ohio State (24-7) and Iowa (21-10) as favorites of 6 and 9 points (at home). Joe Paterno said, “We are very young in key spots. We don't have a quarterback who has played more than 20 plays. We have some very gifted skill people on both sides of the football.”
Sophomore QB Kevin Newsome (66 yards) is battling sophomore Matthew McGloin. The backfield is loaded with senior RB Evan Royster (1,169 yards, 5.7 ypcl) and speedy junior RB Stephfon Green, plus 6-5 junior WR Derek Moye (785 yards). The physical defense allowed 11.8 ppg and returns several key starters. They were 9-2-1 under the total with a ball control offense and 1-6 SU/ATS the last 7 as a dog.

31. Oklahoma State Cowboys: Mike Gundy’s team had all kinds of problems with injuries and suspensions on offense, yet still averaged 30 points and 191 yards rushing. Junior QB Brandon Weeden (248 yards, 4 TDs, 1 INT) will run the attack, a guy who will turn 27 in October. Senior RB Kendall Hunter (382 yards, 4.3 ypc) is back to key the running game, but only two starters are back on ‘D’. They were 8-4 under the total in 2009.

30. Cal Golden Bears: The offense has 9 starters returning, the defense 7, though they lose star RB Jahvid Best to the NFL. Cal's offense averaged 29 points, 175 yards rushing and 223 yards passing. Senior QB Kevin Riley is back after throwing for 2,850 yards, 18 TDs, 8 INTs and has a 17-6 record in 23 career starts. Junior RB Shane Vereen (952 yards, 5.2 ypc) is terrific and four starters return on the line. The defense returns 7 starters to a unit that allowed 24.5 points, but wilted down the stretch, so there is plenty to prove.

29. Fresno State Bulldogs: This offense averaged 34.3 points, 231 yards rushing and 204 passing last fall and welcomes back a strong O-line, senior QB Ryan Colburn (19 TDs, 11 picks) and 5-foot-7 speedy sophomore RB Robbie Rouse (479 yards, 5.8 ypc). David Carr’s brother, sophomore QB Derek Carr (112 yards), is also waiting in the wings. Plus junior Kevin Goessling. has made 22 of his last 24 FG attempts and kicked a 58-yarder in 2008. Fresno carries a 3-0 run over the total into the new season because the defense was below average, allowing 27.8 ppg. The schedule isn’t bad, outside of a September 25th trip to Ole Miss and at Boise in November.

28. Florida State Seminoles: 10 starters return on offense, 6 on defense for new coach Jimbo Fisher, who had been the offensive coordinator the last three years. This offense was very balanced, averaging 30 points, 143 yards rushing and 278 yards passing. Senior QB Christian Ponder (14 TDs, 7 INTs) and junior RB Jermaine Thomas (832 yards) return along with the entire O-line. Fisher hired Mark Stoops to be his new defensive coordinator, a unit that was terrible. The Seminole secondary allowed 26 touchdown passes and 30 ppg (8-4 over the total).

27. Iowa Hawkeyes: Kirk Ferentz’s team is off an 11-2 SU, 8-3-1 ATS campaign with a great defense and plodding offense. They have gone 16-7-1 ATS the last two years. Only four starters are back on offense, but the backfield is loaded. Senior QB Rick Stanzi (17 TDs, 15 picks) has 5-foot-9 sophomore RB Adam Robinson (834 yards), plus senior WR Derrell Johnson-Koulianos (750 yards). Iowa lost three starters from a defense that ranked 10th in the nation in fewest yards allowed per game (276) and fourth in pass defense. Iowa is 44-9 SU, 30-17-3 ATS at home the last seven years.

26. U.S.C. Trojans: The Trojans are off a 9-4 SU, 4-9 ATS season and have a new coach in Lane Kiffin. USC was not an offensive juggernaut in 2009, averaging 26.7 points. 5 starters return on offense, 6 on defense. Sophomore QB Matt Barkley (15 TDs, 14 picks) is back, though they lost a lot of firepower around him. USC’s defense struggled at times because of a young front 7, allowing 20 ppg, but got blasted by Oregon (44 points) and Stanford (55 points). USC is 42-3 SU, 27-17-1 ATS at home, though two of those losses were last year. Kiffin lost to UCLA as an 11-point favorite in 2009 at Tennessee: He doesn’t want to make a habit of that!

25. Miami Hurricanes: The Canes are off a 9-4 SU/6-6 ATS campaign. Second-year offensive coordinator Mark Whipple was a big part of their success, rolling out his version of a pro-style offense that comes with a thick playbook. The offense averaged 31 points, 144.4 yards rushing and 268 yards passing and returns junior QB Jacory Harris (24 TDs, 17 picks, 4,547 yards). A concern is the offensive line, which lost star LT Jason Fox (they were 100th nationally in pass protection and 70th in rushing). The ‘D’ has a chance to be the best in the Randy Shannon era (26-18 under the total the last four years). Miami has a brutal stretch starting September 11th with three straight road games at Ohio State, Pitt and Clemson.

24. Oregon State Beavers: Mike Riley's Beavers are off an 8-5 SU, 7-5 ATS season. The balanced offense averaged 32.4 points, 174 yards rushing and 275 passing and returns junior RB Jacquizz Rodgers (1,440 yards, 21 TDs) and his brother, senior WR/RB James Rodgers (1,034 yards receiving). The defense allowed 23.4 points and all four starters (seniors) return up front, with DT Stephen Paea turning down an opportunity to enter the NFL Draft. They are 5-1 ATS the last six as a dog.

23. Utah Utes: Utah is off a 10-3 SU, 6-7 ATS campaign and 8 starters return on offense, 4 on defense. They used two QBs and lost star RB Matt Asiata to a knee injury, but still managed 29.3 points, 169 yards rushing and 220 passing per game. Senior QB Terrrance Cain (13 TDs, 4 INTs) is back after getting benched in November for sophomore QB Jordan Wynn (8 TDs, 4 INTs despite playing fairly well. Speedy senior RB Eddie Wide (1,069 yards), though the defense must replace seven starters, including all three linebackers. Utah is 37-6 SU, 26-13-1 ATS its last 43 home games.

22. Stanford Cardinal: Coach Jim Harbaugh begins his third season with great fanfare, a fine recruiter who helped Stanford explode offensively last season, going 8-5 SU/ATS. The offense averaged 36 points, 224 yards rushing and 217 passing, while the defense allowed 26.2 ppg. 6 starters return on offense, 9 on defense. Sophomore QB Andrew Luck (13 TDs, 4 picks, 2,575 yards) is a budding star, and he has his top two receivers in senior WR Ryan Whalen (926 yds) and junior WR Chris Owusu, plus 4 of 5 O-line starters. The defense was ninth in Pac-10 and they carry a 7-1 run over the total into the new season.

21. Houston Cougars: Houston (10-4 SU, 7-5-1 ATS) is a powerhouse offensive team under coach Kevin Sumlin. It will be hard to top last year's offensive numbers: 43 points, 131 yards rushing, 4.9 ypc, and 450 passing yards per game, No. 1 in total offense. Senior QB Case Keenum (5,671 yards, 44 TDs, 15 picks, 70.3% completions) will dazzle again.
The offensive line returns intact along with 3 wide receivers who had over 1,000 yards, in senior WR James Cleveland (1,214 yards), junior WR Tyron Carrier (1,029) and junior Patrick Edwards (1,021). The defense (29 ppg allowed) has a new DC in Brian Stewart, who plans to take advantage of the speed to put non-stop pressure on opposing offenses with a new 3-4 scheme. They are 23-5 SU, 17-8 ATS at home.

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