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College Football's Top Teams (Nos. 21 to 40)

   by Jim Feist - 08/22/2014

It's time to kick off a new football season. College football begins Thursday, August 28th and here's a look at the top teams, starting with my top 21-40.

40. Miami: The Canes started 7-0 last year, then fell apart, finishing 2-4 SU, on a 1-7 ATS run. Al Golden has 5 starters back on offense, 7 on D. Senior QB Ryan Williams (369 yds, 3 TDs, 1 INT) has played in nine games since transferring and sophomore Gray Crow is in the mix. Junior RB Duke Johnson (920 yds, 6.3 ypc) is back along with sophomore WR Stacey Coley (591 yds) on a unit that struck for 33.8 points, 265 yds passing and 160 rushing. The defense improved to 26.8 ppg allowed and has its top players back. Big tests come early in September opening at Louisville and at Nebraska (Sept. 20).

39. Northwestern: A bounce back attack for the Wildcats? Coach Pat Fitzgerald’s team was supposed to be good last year but flopped, missing a bowl. 8 starters return on offense, 7 on D. Senior QB Trevor Siemian (11 TDs, 9 INTs, 2,149 yds) returns and 5th year senior RB Venric Mark is back from a left ankle surgery (in 2012 he ran for 1,366 yards, 6 yards per carry).
5 offensive line starters are back. The defense returns it best players and should be better than the 27 ppg they allowed. There is motivation after a 1-7 SU/ATS finish. They should start 3-0 with an easy schedule and carry an 8-2 run under the total run into the new campaign.

38. TCU: The Frogs are off a 4-8 SU/ATS campaign but Gary Patterson’s squad might be in for a bounce back campaign anchored by a strong defense. They were a top 25 defense nationally in yards allowed and return 8 starters. The front 6 returns largely intact, which doesn’t include Devonte Fields. A 2012 Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year as a true freshman, Fields played in just three games last fall because of injury. The offense gets an overhaul with Doug Meacham aboard, the offensive coordinator at pass-happy Houston. They carry a 36-7 SU/24-19 ATS run at home into the new season.

37. East Carolina: Head Coach Ruffin McNeill is off a bowl win and primed for a better season. This offense returns senior QB Shane Carden (33 TDs, 10 INTs, 4,139 yards) on an attack that was 11th in the nation in passing (328 yds pg) along with 40.2 points. The WR corps is loaded with senior Justin Hardy (1,284 yds) and soph Isaiah Jones (604). They won at North Carolina 55-31 as +12 dog! The defense returns only 4 starters and allowed 24.8 ppg. They were 7-5 over the total and might be even more prevalent over this fall.

36. Oregon State: The Beavers are tough to defend with their quick-strike passing attack and return senior QB Sean Mannion (37 TDs, 15 INTs, 4,662 yds, 66.3%). This offense struck for 34.8 points per game and ranked third in the nation with 372.6 yds passing. The offense will be potent with junior WR Richard Mullaney (788 yds), soph WR Malik Gilmore and junior TE Caleb Smith (343 yds). The D-line is rebuilding but the LBs are strong with seniors D.J. Alexander and Jabral Johnson. Oregon State plays 3 of its first 5 away, including at Hawaii (Sept. 6) and is on a 15-9 run over the total.

35. Texas Tech: Second-year coach Kliff Kingsbury did a phenomenal job with the offense, ranked second in the nation in passing with 392.8 yards and 35.8 points per game. 8 starters are back on offense, 5 on defense, anchored by 6-4 soph QB Davis Webb (20 TDs, 9 INTs). The defense (30.5 ppg) was terrible, responsible for their 1-5 SU/ATS run after a 7-0 start. They allowed 38, 52, 49, 63, 41 the last five regular season games, 4-1 over the total. Defense isn’t the only area to improve: Tech averaged 8 penalties for 75 yards.

34. Penn State: Bill O’Brien departed for the NFL, so new coach James Franklin (Vandy coach 2011-13) takes over. He also was OC at Maryland and K-State. He inherits an offense that struck for 28.7 points and 259 yards passing and returns the Big 10 Freshman of the Year QB Christian Hackenberg (20 TDs, 10 INTs). Senior RB Zach Zwinak (989 yds) provides balance but the star QB needs new targets.
Defensive coordinator Bob Shoop arrives from Vanderbilt and has 8 starters back, including a talented defensive line led by DE senior C.J. Olaniyan. They should start 5-0 despite playing the opener in Ireland. Penn State is on a 14-6 run over the total.

33. Washington: New coach Chris Peterson (92-12 at Boise) steps in. The Huskies return all five O-line starters, four seniors. Mobile sophomore QB Cyler Miles (4 TDs, 2 INTs) has very strong weapons to throw to in junior WR Jaydon Mickens (688 yds), speedy sophomore John Ross, while senior WR Kasen Williams (421 yds) is coming back from a serious leg injury.
The defense (22.8 ppg) is terrific up front, led by senior end Hau’oli Kikaha (13 sacks) and senior T Danny Shelton. They open at Hawaii (Aug. 30), then play 4 straight home games, including a showdown with Stanford (9/27). Washington is on a 15-9 ATS run.

32. Nebraska: Bo Pelini has 5 starters back on offense, 7 on defense. Soph QB Tommy Armstrong (9 TDs, 8 INTs) started eight games but wasn’t impressive. The ground game led the way with 215.7 yards rushing (19th in the nation) and will be strong behind senior RB Ameer Abdullah (1,137 and 1,690 yds last two years). The Cornhuskers were one of the nation's top pass rushing defenses and this unit looks strong up front. They could be 5-0 before playing at Michigan State Oct. 4. Nebraska is 19-10 SU/17-12 ATS on the road under Pelini.

31. Cincinnati: Tommy Tuberville arrived from Texas Tech and went 9-4 SU, 6-7 ATS in 2013. 7 starters are back on both sides of the ball. Notre Dame transfer 6-4 soph QB Gunner Kiel steps in to a team that averaged 32 points and 303.6 yards passing (18th). The Bearcats have a deep receiving corps. Tuberville is hoping for more long passes out of their spread offense. The defense allowed just 21 ppg (14th) but lost its top players on the line. The Bearcats did a lot of things well in 2013, but special teams were not one of them, ranking 121st in net punting. They hope to survive a September 27th date at Ohio State.

30. Texas A&M: Johnny Football is gone, so now what? The good news is Kevin Sumlin has back-to-back top-10 recruiting classes. Senior QB Matt Joeckel, soph QB Kenny Hill and true freshman Kyle Allen are fighting for the job. This offense averaged 44.2 points and 353.3 yds passing (7th) but will take a step back.
6 starters are back on offense, 9 on defense. 4 starters return to the O-line, anchored by talented senior guard Jarvis Harrison, plus junior RB 5-8 Trey Williams (407 yds, 7 ypc) and senior WR Malcome Kennedy (658). The defense is experienced, but allowed 32.2 ppg and had no pass rush (21 sacks). Forget about running the table with road games at South Carolina (Aug 28), at Bama (Oct. 18) and at Auburn (Nov. 8). A&M is on a 9-4 run over the total.

29. Virginia Tech: Would you believe Frank Beamer’s team has lost 11 games the last two years? The heat is on for 2014. Fortunately, 8 starters are back on offense, 5 on D. Beamer has to settle on a quarterback with senior Mark Leal and soph Brenden Motley. Leal was unimpressive in the 42-12 Sun Bowl loss to UCLA, but Motely had a fine spring and junior Michael Brewer (Texas Tech transfer) is aboard.
5 offensive linemen are back and this defense was 11th in the nation in points allowed (19.3) for Bud Foster. The D-line is loaded behind Luther Maddy (6.5 sacks) and Corey Marshall, who missed last year with an injury. V-Tech is on a 23-14-2 run under the total and 26-11 SU/20-17-1 ATS on the road.

28. Oklahoma State: Mike Gundy’s no-huddle offense returns junior QB J.W. Walsh (9 TDs, 5 INTs), who ran for 294 yards, 5.1 ypc. This team averaged 39 points and 276.8 rushing, off a 10-3 SU, 8-5 ATS campaign. Senior RB Desmond Roland (811 yds, 4.6 ypc) is back along with 3 O-linemen.
The defense was outstanding allowing 21.6 ppg (19th in nation), but the secondary is a concern. The pass rush may help the young secondary with DT James Castleman, DE Sam Wren and DE Jimmy Bean capable of getting to the quarterback. The Cowboys face a tough schedule, featuring road tests at TCU, Kansas State, Baylor and Oklahoma. Oh yes – and they open in Arlington, Texas, against…Florida State!

27. North Carolina: Coach Larry Fedora runs attacking, uptempo offenses and his team returns 7 starters on both sides of the ball. This offense averaged 32.7 points, 148.3 yards rushing and 277.4 yds passing (28th) and returns junior QB Marquise Williams (15 TDs, 6 INTs). He led the team in rushing (536 yds, 4.8 ypc). Fedora hired Seth Littrell, Indiana’s co-offensive coordinator the past 2 seasons.
The backfield returns T.J. Logan (533 yds) and WR 6-4 junior Quinshad Davis (730 yds), plus adds one-time Notre Dame commit Elijah Hood, a top-10 RB prospect. This is Year 3 for the unique 4-2-5 defensive scheme employed by coordinator Vic Koenning. They struggled during a 1-5 start, but UNC carries a 6-1 SU/ATS run into the new season.

26. Mississippi State: Off a 7-6 season, the Bulldogs and Dan Mullen are primed for a bigger campaign with 8 starters back on offense, 9 on D. The offense was balanced (27.7 ppg) and returns junior QB Dak Prescott (10 TDs, 7 INTs), who led the team with 829 yards rushing. Senior WR Jameon Lewis does it all with 923 yards receiving, 117 yards rushing and was even 3-for-3 passing for 84 yards.
In addition, the Bulldogs signed the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year Aeris Williams, a 4-star RB. The defense looks even better (23.3 ppg allowed) as nearly everyone is back from a unit that finished fifth in the SEC in total defense, led by DT P.J. Jones. Road games at Bama, LSU and Ole Miss are toughest. They are on a 15-9-1 run under the total.

25. Arizona State: Coach Todd Graham is off a 10-win season and returns 7 starters on offense. Senior QB Taylor Kelly (28 TDs, 12 INTs, 3,635 yds) ran for 608 yds on an attack that averaged 39.7 ppg (11th), 266 yds passing and 191.4 yds rushing. Throw in junior RB D.J. Foster (501 yds, 5.4 ypc), who caught 63 passes for 653 yards, and 6-4 junior WR Jaelen Strong (1,122 yds) and this offense is loaded.
They were not good at protecting the QB, though, and the defense lost its best players with only 2 returning starters. The secondary is in rough shape after 3 All-Pac-12 picks moved on to the NFL and they lost their talented D-line. The Sun Devils are on a 15-11-1 ATS run.

24: Ole Miss: Expectations are high for Coach Hugh Freeze’s team with 6 starters back on offense, 10 on defense. Senior QB Bo Wallace (18 TDs, 10 INTs, 3,346 yards) led an offense that dazzled with 30 points, 283.3 yards passing and 190 rushing per contest. Junior RBs I'Tavius Mathers (563 yards, 5.9 ypc) and Jaylen Walton (523, 4.6 ypc) mean the top two rushers return.
Sophomore Laremy Tunsil at left tackle is an NFL prospect. The defense was very good (23.7 ppg) and could be among the SEC best. The Nkemdiche brothers (Soph DE Robert + junior LB Denzel) are back. There is experience at corner with senior Senquez Golson and junior Mike Hilton, plus All-American safety Cody Prewitt returns. They open vs. Boise (Thurs, Aug 28) and get Bama at home.

23. Kansas State: Is there a better coach than Bill Snyder? He continues to amaze, bringing 6-1 SU, 7-2 ATS runs into the new season. The surge was capped by a convincing bowl win over Michigan (31-14 as -7). All 5 of the Wildcats’ losses last season came by 10 points or less. QB Jake Waters (18 TDs, 9 INTs, 2,469 yds) returns to lead an attack that averaged 33.2 points, 224.7 yds passing and 178 rushing.
6 starters are back on offense, 5 on defense. Senior WR Tyler Lockett (1,262 yds) is one of the nation’s top return men and offensive weapons. Watch for 6-3 sophomore TE Glenn Gronkowski (the brother of Rob), who only caught 5 passes but for 194 yds (38.8 ypc). The defense finished third in the Big 12 in yards and allowed 22.9 ppg. They have some tough Big 12 road games, plus face Auburn in Week 3 (Thursday, Sept. 18).

22. Auburn: From a near national champion to being out of the Top 20? Anything’s possible in the rugged SEC. A lot went right for the Tigers during their amazing season, but don’t forget they got stomped by LSU, should have lost to Georgia, and the defense got shredded in the second half by Florida State. Coach Gus Malzahn has 7 starters back on offense, 6 on defense.
This ground game was No. 1 in the nation with 328.3 yards per game and will be deadly again with 4 O-line starters back, plus senior QB Nick Marshall (14 TDs, 6 INTs), who ran for 1,068 yards, 6.2 ypc. The defense, though, finished 12th in the conference in total yards (420.7) allowed, getting shredded in the secondary often. Transfer DE DaVonte Lambert is rated the top junior college end in the country. Road games at angry Georgia and Bama will be tough.

21. USC: New Coach Steve Sarkisian brings the up-tempo, no-huddle offense to USC, instead of the old, pro-style, I-formation. It may take the Trojans a while to adjust, but the weapons are everywhere. 6 starters return on offense, 8 on defense off of a 10-win team.
Junior QB Cody Kessler (20 TDs, 7 INTs) returns along with junior WR Nelson Agholor (918 yds. Junior RBs Javorius Allen (785 yds, 5.8 ypc) and Tre Madden (703 yds, 5.1 ypc) pack a dynamite one-two backfield punch. New DC Justin Wilcox changes the D to a 3-4 from last year’s 5-2. Junior DLs All-American Leonard Williams and Antwaun Woods return to lead a D-line that could be among the finest in the country, a unit that ranked 16th allowing 21.2 ppg. USC is on a 10-4 run under the total.

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