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2010 College Football Top 20

   by Jim Feist - 09/01/2010

The countdown continues! Last week we looked at my Top 21-40, this week is my Top 20. The college football season kicks off September 2nd and here’s a look at college football's best!

20. Georgia Bulldogs: The Bulldogs come off an 8-5 SU, 5-7 ATS season, winning four of their final five. The only concern is at QB with redshirt freshman Aaron Murray, a super recruit, but he is surrounded by terrific talent. Georgia was a running team averaging 157 yards on the ground, 27.7 ppg, and they return a dynamite one-two backfield punch of sophomore RB Washain Easley (717 yards, 5.7 ypc) and junior RB Caleb King (594 yards, 5.2 ypc). The passing game has an ace in 6-foot-4 junior WR A.J. Green (808 yards). New defensive coordinator Todd Graham brings in a 3-4 scheme. The schedule is favorable and Georgia is 37-11 SU/28-20 ATS on the road under Mark Richt.

19. Clemson Tigers: Coach Dabo Swinney has 7 starters back on offense, 6 on defense. Clemson returns four starters on the offensive line along with sophomore QB Kyle Parker (20 TDs, 12 INTs). The defense returns junior DE DaQuan Bowers and first-team All-America safety DeAndre McDaniel, who led the ACC in interceptions with eight. Clemson is 8-8 SU, 12-4 against the spread as an underdog the last five years.

18. Pitt Panthers: Pitt (10-3 SU, 8-4 ATS) could taste a league championship in 2009, only to have Cincinnati perform a sensational comeback and crush the Panthers’ hopes, 45-44. They need to find a replacement for QB Bill Stull, but have a ton of talent returning. Sophomore QB Tino Sunseri and senior QB Pat Bostick battle it out, though this is a run-first offense, averaging 33 points, 184 yards rushing, 215 yards passing. Sophomore RB Dion Lewis ran for 1,799 yards, 5.5 yards per carry and 17 TDs. The defense is loaded with senior DEs Jabaal Sheard and Greg Romeus. Pitt is 5-1 SU/ATS its last 6 as a dog, though the schedule is a concern, opening at Utah.

17. South Carolina Gamecocks: Steve Spurrier should have some fun with this offense. Junior QB Stephen Garcia (17 TDs, 10 INTs) leads an offense that returns eight starters, plus they get freshman RB Marcus Lattimore, one of the nation’s top running back prospects. This is not a great offensive line (37 sacks), but the passing game averaged 234 yards and returns 6-foot-4 sophomore WR Alshon Jeffery (763 yards). The defense gets back 7 starters and allowed 20 ppg. Spurrier is 16-9 ATS on the road at South Carolina.

16. Cincinnati Bearcats: Head coach Brian Kelly is gone to Notre Dame, but the guy who replaced him at Central Michigan, Butch Jones, is the new Cincy coach. The Bearcat offense averaged 39.8 points, 144 yards rushing and 320 yards passing. They lose QB Tony Pike, but because of injuries junior QB Zach Collaros got to play as a sophomore and threw 10 TDs, 2 picks while running for 344 yards, 6 yards per carry. The offense should be potent with junior RB Isaiah Pead (806 yards, 6.7 ypc). The passing game is loaded with senior WR Armon Binns (888 yards), junior WR D.J. Woods (640 yards), and USC transfer Vidal Hazelton. Cincy is 5-3 SU, 6-2 ATS as a dog.

15. Virginia Tech: The Hokies (10-3 SU, 7-5-2 ATS) had another powerful defense that allowed 15.8 ppg. 7 starters return on offense, 6 on defense. The offense is a ball control unit that averaged 31 points, 206 yards rushing, 181 passing. Senior QB Tyrod Taylor (13 TDs, 5 picks) is a good runner and teams with sophomore RB Ryan Williams (1,655 yards, 5.6 ypc), while junior RB Darren Evans returns after a knee injury stalled him last year (he had a terrific freshman campaign in 2008 with 1,265 yards). So the Hokies boast the last two ACC Freshmen of the Year! The defense finished in the top 12 in four major categories, including 12th in total defense (295 ypg). The opener against Boise at Fed Ex Field will be a big test. They are a stellar 11-6 SU/10-6-1 ATS on the road.

14. Wisconsin Badgers: Wisconsin had a young team last year, but impressed with a 10-3 SU, 6-6 ATS campaign and a bowl win over Miami, 20-14. They dominated Ohio State on the stat sheet but got killed by turnovers and big plays. The offense averaged 206 yards rushing, 209 passing and returns fifth-year junior QB Scott Tolzien (16 TDs, 11 picks). The offense retains power senior RB John Clay (1,517 yards), with speedy junior WR Nick Toon (805 yards). Wisconsin has been great at home, 37-5 SU, 22-15 ATS the last six years.

13. Arizona Wildcats: Offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes has left, but they will run the same wide-open attack under assistants Bill Bedenbaugh and Seth Littrell. They struck for 29.7 points, 167 yards rushing and 240 passing and return 10 starters on offense. Junior QB Nick Foles (19 TD, 9 picks) works with senior RB Nic Grigsby, who wasn’t healthy but still ran for 567 yards, 7.2 ypc. This offensive line is terrific, anchored by senior center Colin Baxter, a Rimington Trophy candidate the last two years, allowing only 13 sacks last year. The main concern is on defense, with only 4 starters back. Arizona is 19-12 ATS its last 31 as a dog.

12. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets: Coach Paul Johnson is a terrific coach, off an 11-3 SU, 8-5 ATS campaign. This run-oriented team averaged 307 yards rushing, 135 passing and 35 points, off its first ACC championship since 1990. They were No. 2 in the country in rushing. Junior QB Josh Nesbitt (10 TDs, 5 picks) ran the option for 1,037 yards. Senior Anthony Allen will move from A-back to B-back to replace Jon Dwyer and he ran for 618 yards last fall, an incredible 9.7 yards per carry! Georgia Tech will install a 3-4 defense under new defensive coordinator Al Groh, led by senior DE Derrick Morgan. They are on a 5-1 SU/ATS run on the road.

11. Arkansas Razorbacks: Bobby Petrino has 9 starters back on offense, 7 on defense. The 2009 offense averaged 37 points and 303 yards passing, leading the SEC in scoring. Senior QB Ryan Mallett (3,627 yards, 30 TDs, 7 picks) has a talented and experienced group of receivers. This should be one of the top passing offenses in the nation. The defense allowed 25.8 ppg and struggled against good running teams, allowing 30+ points to Alabama, Ole Miss and LSU, though they did lose just 23-20 at Florida. Petrino likes to throw the ball, and note that Arkansas is 19-12 over the total the last three years.

10. Texas Longhorns: A great season came (13-1 SU, 5-8-1 ATS) to a frustrating end in the national championship game, losing four-year starting QB Colt McCoy early. Even then they rallied back to make it a game before Alabama’s defense came alive. The Longhorns averaged 40 points, 152 yards rushing and 297 yards passing, but this will clearly be an offense in transition in 2010. Sophomore QB Garrett Gilbert (2 TDs, 4 INTs, 330 yards) was forced into the national title game spotlight and gets the nod. Three starters are back on the offensive front, with plenty of experience in the backfield, led by sophomore RB Tre' Newton (552 yards, 4.8 ypc). Some new spring formations set up better play-action passing for Gilbert than the shotgun did for McCoy. Defensively, they allowed 15.2 ppg and have senior stud DE Sam Acho. Texas is 58-8 SU, 40-24-1 ATS the last five seasons and 7-2 SU/8-1 ATS its last nine as a dog.

9. TCU Horned Frogs: Undervalued again! TCU went 11-2 SU, 8-4 ATS in 2008 and 12-1 SU, 8-4 ATS last season. The last five years: 40-20 ATS. Coach Gary Patterson has 9 starters back on offense and 7 on defense. Patterson likes offensive balance and the Frogs averaged 40 points, 256 yards rushing and 212 pass yards. Senior QB Andy Dalton (23 TDs, 8 INTs) has been playing since his freshman season. His top three targets are back, along with four starters on the offensive line and sophomore RBs Matthew Tucker (676 yards, 6.4 ypc) and Ed Wesley (638 yards, 6.3 ypc). The defense has to replace NFL-bound end Jerry Hughes and LB Daryl Washington, but returns 7 starters return to a dominant unit that allowed 12.4 points per contest. TCU topped the nation in total defense (239.7 yards per game) for the second straight year. TCU is 32-7 SU, 28-11 ATS the last five years in MWC play. They carry a 17-1 SU/14-2 ATS home record into the new season.

8. Oklahoma Sooners: Losing Sam Bradford to the NFL is huge, but losing him to injuries last season paved the way for QB Landry Jones, who did very well as a redshirt freshman with 3,198 passing yards, 26 TDs and 14 picks. He had 418 yards and 3 TDs in the Sun Bowl win over Stanford. 8 starters are back on offense. The ground game has senior RB DeMarco Murray (705 yards) and the passing game has junior WR Ryan Broyles (1,120 yards, 15 TDs). The defense gets back seven starters including LB Travis Lewis and pass rushing star Jeremy Beal. Oklahoma was 9-3 under the total and 26-4 SU, 12-10 ATS at home the last four seasons.

7. Florida Gators: A step back? This team has been so deep and talented that is in far better shape than most programs after losing so many key players. It starts at QB, where John Brantley was a redshirt sophomore who threw for 235 yards and 3 TDs as a backup. In 2007 he was heralded as one of the top-three overall quarterback prospects in the nation. Florida returns four of five starters on an offensive line that helped power the Gators to the SEC’s top-ranked offense (sixth nationally). The Gators bring back four running backs who combined for nearly 2,000 rushing yards in 5-foot-8 junior RB Jeff Demps (745 yds, 7.5 ypc) and junior RB Chris Rainey (575 yards, 6.5 ypc). The defense allowed just 11.5 ppg and the secondary will be terrific with three returning starters. Florida was 7-0 SU/3-3 ATS in The Swamp, which makes them 34-3 SU, 21-13 ATS at home the last five years. The schedule is soft, with the only difficult road games at Tennessee in September and a huge showdown at Alabama, October 2.

6. Boise State Broncos: The Broncos are off a 14-0 SU, 9-4 ATS campaign with an offense that averaged 44 points, 194 yards rushing and 266 passing. And guess what: 10 starters are back on offense, 10 on defense! They outscored opponents by a 44-18 average. They are the third team to ever go 14-0 and have a 26 game regular season win streak. Junior QB Kellen Moore (39 TDs, 3 INTs), senior WR Titus Young (1,041 yds) and senior RB Jeremy Avery (1,150 yards, 5.5 yc) headline the attack. The defense was outstanding, allowing 17.7 points per game, led by DE Ryan Winterswyk. The schedule is toughest in September, with games against Oregon State plus opening with Virginia Tech at Fed Ex Field. Since 1999, Boise is 72-2 SU, 43-19 ATS at home on the blue carpet.

5. Nebraska Cornhuskers: The 2009 defense was a beast, allowing 11 ppg, paving the way for a 10-4 SU, 9-5 ATS season. They were 8-2 under the total with an offense that played second fiddle, averaging 24.5 points, 141 yards rushing and 175 passing. The defense led the nation in points allowed and gave up more than 20 just once (a 31-10 loss to Texas Tech). 10 starters are back on offense, led by junior QB Zac Lee (14 TDs, 10 picks) and senior WR Niles Paul (796 yards, 19.9 yards per reception). While the defense loses Ndamukong Suh and Barry Turner, Bo Pelini’s has Jared Crick and Pierre Allen up front. The schedule is favorable, with the only tough conference road games are at Oklahoma St. and Texas A&M.

4. Alabama: Nick Saban has done a masterful job, off a perfect 14-0 SU, 9-4 ATS season as the Tide won its first national championship since 1992. Which means 'Bama is 18-8 ATS the last two years. The 2010 team is loaded with three top offensive players back. Senior QB Greg McElroy (2,508 yards, 17 TDs, 4 picks) teams with Heisman-winner RB Mark Ingram (1,658 yards, 6.1 ypc) plus sophomore RB Trent Richardson (751 yards, 5.2 ypc). Throw in top-five pro prospect junior WR Julio Jones, three starters on the O-line, and the offense will be awesome. The defense (11 ppg allowed) lost some key talent to the NFL, but is still stocked, led by LB Dont'a Hightower and junior DE Marcell Dareus. Can they repeat as champs? They could with the talent, though the schedule has plenty of tough games with Penn State, at Arkansas, Florida, at South Carolina, Ole Miss, at Tennessee and Auburn.

3. Oregon Ducks: Former offensive coordinator Chip Kelly took over as head coach last season and the Ducks were explosive, averaging 37.7 points during a sizzling 10-3 SU, 7-6 ATS Rose Bowl season. There were few seniors, too. QB Jeremiah Masoli ran himself off the team, but they have fifth-year senior QB Nate Costa, who played in three games last fall. Sophomore RB LaMichael James exploded as a freshman with 1,546 yards, 6.7 yards per carry, and 14 touchdowns. The entire starting offensive line returns, along with senior WR Jeff Maehl (696 yards) and senior WR D.J. Davis. On defense, they allowed 23.6 points per game and should be solid with a starting linebacking trio of senior Casey Matthews, Spencer Paysinger and Bryson Littlejohn. The secondary is the main concern, weak at the cornerback spot on a team that did give up some big plays in the pass-happy Pac 10. A trip to Tennessee in September and road games at USC and Cal are the big challenges. Oregon carries a 6-1 run over the total into the new season.

2. Ohio State: Last season was another strong campaign at 11-2 SU, 9-4 ATS, losing to USC and Purdue, but beating Penn State and Oregon in the Rose Bowl, 26-17. With so much firepower back on offense, Ohio State appears to be loaded for a breakout season offensively. Third-year starter junior QB Terrelle Pryor had 18 TDs, 11 picks last fall while leading the Buckeyes with 779 rushing yards, 4.8 yards per carry. Pryor is 19-3 in his career as a starter. This offense is mostly on the ground, averaging 29 points and 199 yards rushing. This Top 5 defense was fierce allowing 12.2 ppg and has 7 starters back. Lineman Cameron Heyward (6.5 sacks) bypassed the NFL to come back for his senior season. They are on an 8-2-1 run under the total and could run the table with only 4 road games (Minnesota, Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa).

1. LSU Tigers: Last year the Tigers weren’t as potent offensively as expected, averaging 25.5 points, 129 yards rushing and 180 passing, finishing last in the SEC in total yards. With all the returning talent, that won’t happen again. 8 starters are back on offense. 6-foot-5 junior QB Jordan Jefferson (17 TDs, 7 INTs) has a year under his belt, rushing for 171 yards and passing for 2,166 yards, 61.5% completions. He is blessed with some outstanding weapons in 6-5 senior WR Terrance Toliver (735 yards) and sophomore RB Russell Shepard (6.2 ypc). The defense was terrific in 2009 allowing 16 ppg. LB Kelvin Sheppard (110 tackles) and CB Patrick Peterson are on the 2010 Lott Trophy Watch. This team is deep, fast and talented. If the Tigers can beat North Carolina in the season opener in Atlanta, they could be 5-0 before going to Florida for a big showdown, plus they get Alabama at home, November 6. LSU is 16-8 SU, 10-11 ATS on the road the last five seasons.

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