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2008 Surprise College FB ATS Teams

   by Al McMordie - 08/28/2008

College football season kicks off this weekend. While all the attention is focused on teams like Florida, USC and defending champion LSU, sports bettors are more interested in teams that are going to cover the weekly number. Every year there are teams that rise and fall based on expectations.

A year ago in this column I had Georgia as a team to keep an eye on. The Bulldogs had a tough defense, plus they returned 13 of 26 starters off the 2006 Chick-fil-A Bowl Championship team, one that ended the season on a 3-0 SU/2-0-1 ATS run while topping Virginia Tech. Georgia indeed was a money-maker last fall at 8-4 ATS (2-0 SU/ATS as a dog).

Of course, the Dawgs aren’t a sleeper team in 2008, sitting at No. 1 in some polls. Here are a few college football teams that may surprise against the spread, sailing a bit under everyone's radar.

Georgia Tech: Georgia last year, I’ll take Tech in 08. They will be under the radar as sophomore quarterback Josh Nesbitt takes charge, one of 13 or more Jackets who’ll make their first college start. This has been a .500 team much of the last six years, so little is expected with so much youth.

However, there’s a new coach in town in Paul Johnson, the former Navy coach who did wonders at Annapolis. Johnson knows how to coach and how to recruit, particularly speed for his option-attack. The new young QBs are athletic enough to run Johnson's option offense. The Georgia Tech offensive backfield contains two Parade All American running backs while five starters return to a very good defense. The Yellow Jackets are 6-2-1 ATS their last nine as a dog.

Oregon: All the focus is on USC in the Pac 10, but coach Mike Bellotti returns 12 starters to a team that was one injury away from playing in the national title game. They won’t have QB Nate Costa for the opener this week (knee), but backup sophomore QB Justin Roper started in the Sun Bowl win over South Florida and was outstanding, 17-of-30 passing for 180 yards, 4 TDs and no picks.

Remember that offensive coordinator Chip Kelly came to Oregon last season and brought a dynamite spread attack that averaged 38 points and over 215 yards rushing and passing! The Ducks also return a strong offensive line, led by senior All-America center Max Unger. They might be under the radar for the second straight season, after going 7-3 ATS as chalk and 2-0 SU/ATS as a dog in 2007.

Texas A&M: You won’t recognize the Aggies this season. Coach Dennis Franchione is gone and new Head Coach Mike Sherman takes over. Franchione liked to run the football all day, but Sherman and has brought in a pro-style attack. He also inherits a good nucleus of talent, with mobile quarterback senior Stephen McGee and junior RB Mike Goodson (711 yards).

The Aggies have major changes on defense, going to a 4-3 scheme under new coordinator Joe Kines. A year ago under a different coaching regime, the Aggies started two seniors at linebacker — Mark Dodge and Misi Tupe — in a 4-2-5 scheme. Kines prefers an aggressive, blitzing unit. With a favorable early schedule, the Aggies could be 4-0 when Big 12 play starts.

Arizona: Mike Stoops came to the Wildcats five years ago with great fanfare. But they have not made a bowl game, so the Arizona heat is on. Stoops has retooled with a young defense, one that has excess speed. Fortunately, the offense is loaded with 10 starters back.

Arizona had its most productive offense in Stoops' four-year tenure in 2007 under first-year offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes, averaging 38 points and 385 yards. Senior quarterback Willie Tuitama and his receivers should be even more comfortable and productive in their second year in the spread system. He's been starting since late in his freshman season. Senior WR Mike Thomas led the conference with 83 catches and 11 TDs.

UA is supposed to be 3-0 going into its Pac-10 opener at UCLA and new Bruins coach Rick Neuheisel on Sept. 20. In fact, they open the conference schedule with winnable games against UCLA, Washington and Stanford. This is the year for a bowl, and note that Arizona is 14-8 ATS its last 22 as an underdog. Good luck, as always...Al McMordie.

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