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College Football's Top 21-40

   by Jim Feist - 08/30/2012

It's time to kick off a new football season. College football begins Thursday, August 30th and here's a look at the top teams, starting with my top 21-40.

40. Kansas State: The Wildcats (10-3 SU/ATS) have a terrific coach in Bill Snyder and welcome back 5 starters on offense, 6 on defense. Senior QB Collin Klein (13 TD, 6 INTs) does it all, leading the team in rushing with 1,141 yards and 27 TDs on an attack that average 31.8 points and 185.5 yards rushing. The defensive line returns end Meshak Williams (seven sacks in 2011) and tackle Vai Lutui, while the linebacking corps should be among the best in the Big 12 behind Arthur Brown and Tre Walker. They allowed 27.9 points per contest but were second in the conference in turnover margin.

39. Pitt: Paul Chryst is Pitt's new football coach, running a version of the spread offense he ran at Wisconsin. He has a lot of talent to work with in senior QB Tino Sunseri (11 TDs, 10 INTs), senior RB Ray Graham and RB Devin Street (754 yards). Graham is returning from a knee injury and in 2010 he ran for 922 yards, 6.2 yards per carry. 9 starters are back on offense, 5 on defense. The defense (21st against the run) has Aaron Donald (11 sacks) and a secondary that struggled returns its top players. The only major concern is the schedule, playing at Notre Dame, Ciny, UConn and South Florida. Plus they host Virginia Tech in September.

38. Baylor: Is there life (or wins) after Robert Griffin III? The Bears are in better shape than you might think with 7 starters back on offense, 8 on defense. Senior QB Nick Florence played well in relief of Griffin in a 66-42 rout of Texas Tech and has good receivers with junior Tevin Reese (877 yards), 6-3 senior Terrance Williams (957 yards) and senior Lanear Sampson (572) on an offense that averaged 45.3 points and 351 yards passing. The defense can only be better after allowing 37 points per contest, with the secondary back along with DEs Gary Mason and Terrance Lloyd. Baylor is 8-44 SU, 19-32-1 ATS its last 52 as a dog.

37. BYU: Senior QB Riley Nelson (19 TDs, 7 INTs) leads a balanced offense that averaged 30 points, 245 yards passing and 160 yards rushing along with 6-4 junior WR Cody Hoffman (943 yds). The defense was a force allowing 20 ppg (22nd in the nation) and is stocked. They are strong up front after ranking 13th in the nation in yards, though the secondary loses two of its top cover men. The main concern is the road schedule at Utah, Boise State, Notre Dame and Georgia Tech.

36. Cal: The Bears made a bowl last season and Coach Jeff Tedford returns QB Zach Maynard (17 TDs, 12 INTs), junior WR Keenan Allen (1.343 yards) and senior RB Isi Sofele (1,322 yards) to an offense that averaged 28 points, 154.8 yards rushing and 246.6 yards passing. 6 starters return on offense, 6 on a defense that allowed 24.2 ppg. The Bears advanced to their eighth bowl in the past nine seasons last year and this season get Stanford, Oregon and Washington at home.

35. South Florida: The Bulls (5-7 SU, 3-8 ATS) were an underachieving money-burner last season after starting 4-0, but should be much improved under Coach Skip Holtz. Mobile senior QB B.J. Daniels (13 TDs, 7 INTs) leads an offense that averaged 29.3 points, 183 yards rushing and 249.6 passing, while the defense was very good, allowing 22.7 ppg (37th in the nation). Top pass-catcher junior Sterling Griffin is back from an injury, Florida transfer WR Chris Dunkley is aboard and the defense is loaded with DE Ryan Giddins, linebackers DeDe Lattimore and Sam Barrington and CB Kayvon Webster. South Florida is 30-14 SU, 19-18 ATS at home the last seven years.

34. Illinois: Ron Zook got the axe after a six-game skid to end the 2011 regular season, so Tim Beckman takes over. While Zook liked to run the football, Beckman ran explosive, wide-open attacks at Toledo. The new coach inherits a good QB in junior Nathan Scheelhaase (13 TDs, 8 INTS), a mobile signal caller who has rushed for 868 and 624 yards the last two years. He needs some skill position help but that is Beckman’s specialty.
The defense was outstanding allowing 19.6 points per game (15th in the nation) and returns three starters up front and Jonathan Brown leads a strong linebacking corps. The new coach needs to improve special teams: Illinois was dead last in the nation in kickoff returns, 118th in punt returns, and 80th in punting. Note that Illinois is 14-9 SU/7-15 ATS its last 23 as a home favorite. They are also on a 10-2 run under the total.

33: Texas A&M: Head Coach Kevin Sumlin takes over after running those wide-open Houston Cougar offenses. He inherits a team that averaged 39 points, 291 yards passing and 199 rushing. The Aggies won't do that in the SEC, though 9 starters return on offense, 8 on defense. Sophomore QB Jameill Showers steps in and is surrounded by strong talent, including senior WR Ryan Swope (1,207 yds). The defense is experienced but allowed 28.2 ppg and the schedule has Florida, LSU, at Bama and at both Mississippi schools.

32. Southern Miss: While Houston got all the press last season with their No. 1 ranked offense, it was the Golden Eagles (12-2 SU/8-5 ATS) who quietly went about their business and won the Conference USA title, stunning the Cougars 49-28 as a +12 dog. A new coach takes over in Ellis Johnson, who inherits a unit with 6 starters back on offense, 5 on 'D'. Johnson was DC at South Carolina.
The offense averaged 36.9 points, 256 yards passing and 205 yards rushing. They have a young QB in sophomore Arsenio Favor, but return sophomore RB Jamal Woodyard (732 yards, 6.7 ypc) and 6-4 junior WR Dominique Sullivan. And the defense was stout, allowing 20.8 ppg, upsetting Virginia (30-24), Navy (63-35) and shutting down Nevada in a bowl (24-17 win).

31. Miami: Coach Al Golden has 5 starters back on both sides of the football. Junior QB Stephen Morris (0 TDs, 2 INTs) saw some time last season on a balanced offense that averaged 26.5 points and 145.7 yards rushing. Memphis transfer QB Ryan Williams is also in the mix, plus senior RB Mike James and 6-3 junior WR Allen Hurns (415 yds) return along with talented tackle Seantrel Henderson. Miami ranked 17th nationally in points allowed and 45th in total defense last season. The linebacking corps is deep, the secondary returns two starters and safety Ray Armstrong has great upside. Miami is on a 13-8-1 run under the total the last two years.

30. Stanford: Is the Cardinal out of Luck? Andrew Luck is off to the NFL, but Stanford (11-2 SU/ATS) returns 6 starters on offense and 7 on defense. Junior QB Brett Nottingham steps in and has the help of what should be one of the best running attacks in the nation behind senior RBs Stepfan Taylor (1,330 yds, 10 TDs) and Tyler Gaffney (449). Three starters return to the O-line that helped average 43,2 points, 210.6 yards rushing (18th in the nation) and 278.7 yards passing.
The biggest concern is they need to find some playmakers at receiver. The defense is deep up front ( fourth nationally in run defense) and allowed 21.9 points per game. The only concern is the secondary which ranked 95th in yards allowed. Road games at Notre Dame, Cal and Oregon will be tough.

29. Mississippi State: Expectations were high last fall and the Bulldogs flopped, going 2-6 in the SEC, though they squeezed out a bowl beating Wake, 23-17. With 8 starters back on offense and 7 on defense and less expectations, Mississippi State is primed for a strong campaign. The Bulldogs were 9-4 SU/7-5 ATS in 2010 and last year’s team averaging 25.3 points and 175.3 yards rushing for Coach Dan Mullen and his Triple Option offense.
The offense returns junior QB Tyler Russell (8 TDs 4 INTs) and junior RB LaDarius Perkins (422 yards). The defense was impressive allowing just 19.7 ppg (16th in the nation) and returns senior DT Josh Boyd and its top LBs. They held LSU and Bama to 19 and 24 points, though they have to go on the road to face both in 2012.

28. Georgia Tech: Paul Johnson’s run-oriented squad (316 yards rushing per game, No. 2 in the nation) averaged 34.4 points and won 8 games, but folded down the stretch because of a soft defense (26.1 ppg allowed). There are no worries about the offense with junior QB Tevin Washington (11 TDs, 8 INTs), who ran for 977 yards and teams with senior RB Orwin Smith (615) and David Sims (698). The last two years Smith has averaged 9.7 and 10.1 yards per carry!
Georgia Tech has gone to a 3-4 defense the last two years under defensive coordinator Al Groh, but it hasn't worked. In league games, Tech permitted 4.9 yards per rush, 10th in the ACC. So this spring the linemen have worked on a "one-gap" technique, different from the "two-gap" scheme they have previously used. LB Jeremiah Attaochu is solid and they hope the new style helps defensive ends Izaan Cross and Emmanuel Dieke. They are on a 10-7 SU/9-7-1 ATS run on the road and open September 3rd at Virginia Tech.

27. Ohio State: The Buckeyes won't be bowl eligible, but there's a lot to be excited about with new coach Urban Meyer taking over. 9 starters are back on offense, 10 on defense. Meyer likes the run with his triple-option attack and has a terrific running QB in sophomore Braxton Miller (13 TDs, 4 INTs), who ran for 715 yards. They were 117th national in passing, but 27th in rushing with 191 yards per contest. The defense is strongest in the secondary, led by leading tackler C.J. Barnett. Ohio State opens with four straight home games (Ohio, UCF, Cal, UAB) and gets Michigan at home November 24.

26. Oklahoma State: The Cowboys are off a sizzling 12-1 SU/9-4 ATS season with a powerhouse, no-huddle offense that averaged 48.7 points and were second in the nation in passing with 387.2 yds per game, 158.6 yards rushing. Only three starters are back on offense as they lean on junior QB Clint Chelf (3 TDs, 0 INTs) and junior RB Joseph Randle (1,216 yards, 5.8 ypc).
The defense returns 8 starters to an underrated, ball-hawking unit that allowed 26.6 ppg. The linebacking corps is solid with Shaun Lewis, Alex Elkins and Caleb Lavey, while the secondary has talented CB Brodrick Brown and transfer Shamiel Gary, has two years of starting experience from Wyoming. The schedule is relatively easy until a November 24th game at Oklahoma. And circle October 20th: Iowa State comes to Stillwater, the only team to beat the Cowboys last year (37-31), a double OT thriller on national TV – a game that cost Oklahoma State a shot at the national title.

25. Washington: The Huskies hope to take a step up with an explosive offense, led by junior QB Keith Price (33 TD, 11 INTs) and 6-6 soph TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, averaging 40.8 points, 231.6 yards passing and 208.6 yards rushing. They get USC at home in a revenge game after losing 40-17.
6 starters return on both sides of the ball, but improvement hinges on a defense that was awful, 106th in the nation while allowing 35.9 ppg. Washington will use more 3-4 looks under new defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox. They certainly should have a chip on their shoulder after losing 67-56 in the Alamo Bowl to Baylor.

24. TCU: The Horned Frogs are off another great season (11-2 SU, 5-7-1 ATS) and move to the Big 12 for 2012. 6 offense and 7 defensive players return to team that had a fine defense and a dynamite offense, averaging 40.8 points, 231.6 yards passing and 208.6 yards rushing. Junior QB Casey Paschall (25 TD, 7 INTs) leads the balanced attack with junior RB Waymon James (875 yds, 7.2 ypc), along with speedy playmakers at receiver in junior Josh Boyce (998) and Skye Dawson.
The offensive line is the biggest concern, while the defense should be stout up front led by DE Stansly Maponga (9 sacks). Four players were dismissed because of a drug scandal and the secondary has holes to fill, which is a concern with Kanasa, Baylor, Oklahoma State, West Virginia and Oklahoma on the schedule. They carry a 31-2 SU/20-9 ATS home record into the new season.

23. Arkansas: With 7 starters returning on offense and 6 on defense, the Razorbacks were expecting to have a Top 20 team in 2012. Then Coach Bobby Petrino went and got himself fired in the offseason, so expectations are dampened. Senior QB Tyler Wilson (3,638 yards, 24 TDs, 6 INTs) leads a pass-happy attack that averaged 36.8 points and 300.7 yards passing, 13th in the nation.
The top two targets are gone, but senior WR Cobi Hamilton (542) and junior WR Julian Horton have experience. Most of the defensive front and secondary returns to a unit that was very good, allowing 22.2 ppg. They defeated three teams in the Top 15 AP poll this past season and Arkansas is 21-4 over its last 25 games. Arkansas is on a 14-5-1 run over the total and 17-3 SU/14-6 ATS its last 20 games.

22. Clemson: The Tigers are off a 10-4 SU/ATS campaign as Coach Dabo Swinney brought in Chad Morris as offensive coordinator to juice things up. He did as the Clemson averaged 33.6 points, 282 yards passing and 158.5 yards rushing and returns 7 starters on offense, 8 on defense. Junior QB Tajh Boyd (33 TDs, 12 INTs, 3,828 yards) dazzled ACC defenses and is back along with senior RB Andre Ellington (1,178 yards, 5.3 ypc).
The offense line has new faces and the defense was a problem, allowing 18.8 points per game in 2010 (13th best in the country) but 29.3 ppg last season. Most of the key pieces are back and this is the team that destroyed Virginia Tech, 38-10, in the ACC title game, followed by a 70-33 Orange Bowl loss to West Virginia, so it was a strange team down the stretch. The Tigers are on a 21-8 run under the total the last three seasons.

21. Missouri: Uniforms aren't the only thing new for the Tigers in 2012 as they move to the SEC. Head Coach Gary Pinkel's squad was explosive offensively again last season, averaging 32.8 points, 244 yards rushing and 231.5 yards passing. Junior QB James Franklin (21 TDs, 11 INTs) is back and they hope star junior RB Henry Joseph (1,168 yards, 8.1 ypc) is able to return from a serious knee injury.
Mizzou allowed 23.5 points per game and 5 starters are back on defense. The linebacking corps should be the strength of this unit behind Andrew Wilson and Zaviar Gooden, while DT Sheldon Richardson is recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. Missouri is 45-15 SU, 26-26 ATS its last 60 home games. The real question is: Will this offense be as potent against SEC defenses? September games against Georgia and at South Carolina will tell us.

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