Courtesy of Jim Feist
The countdown continues! Last week we looked at my Top 21-40, this week is my Top 20. The college football season kicks off August 28th and here's a look at college football's best!
20. BYU: The Cougars are off an 8-5 SU, 5-7-1 ATS campaign and should be better with 8 starters back on offense, 6 on a rock solid D. Dual-threat junior QB Taysom Hill (19 TDs, 14 INTs) ran for 1,344 yards, 5.5 ypc, 10 TDs, tops on the team. He teams with junior RB Jamaal Williams (775 + 1,233 yds the last 2 years) on an offense that averaged 30.2 points, 226 yards passing and 267.3 yards rushing (10th).
The defense has been a force allowing 20, 14 and 22 ppg the last three years. With Bronson Kaufusi moving to linebacker junior Remington Peck is the lone starter returning. The secondary is strong and the schedule is easy outside of road trips to Texas and Boise. Run-oriented BYU is on a 9-4 under the total with that tough defense.
19. Florida: Think the heat is on Will Muschamp after a 4-8 SU/4-8 ATS disaster? New OC Kurt Roper (Duke) brings in an uptempo, no-huddle attack - and they need it: the passing game has ranked 118th and 114th in the nation the last two years! Senior QB Jeff Driskel (2 TDs, 3 INTs) is back after an injury marred season and freshman QB Will Grier is aboard, who threw for 837 yards in a high school playoff victory.
The WRs are loaded with Quinton Dunbar (548 yds) and soph Demarcus Robinson, and this offensive line is talented after getting decimated by injuries last fall. As bad as the offense was, the defense was great allowing 21.1 ppg (15th in the country). Nine starters return, led by senior LB Neiron Ball and DT Leon Orr. Florida is on a 5-13 ATS run, plus 8-5 under the total. With only 4 road games, the chances are good for a badly needed bounce back campaign.
18. Duke: Wow! Dave Cutcliffe did a phenomenal job as Duke went 10-4 SU/ATS. Can they be just as good? 8 starters are back on offense, 6 on defense. Senior QB Anthony Boone (13 TD, 13 INTs, 2,260 yds; 10-2 as starter) shared time with senior Brandon Connette (13 TD, 6 INTs, 1,212 yds) and both are back. Connette will be used as a runner (he ran for 337 yards, 3.3 ypc).
This offense averaged 32.8 points, 178 yards rushing and 248 yards passing. The passing game is loaded with senior WR Jamison Crowder (1,360 yds), junior WR Max McCaffrey (282) and senior TE Braxton Deaver (600). 3 starters are back on the O-line as Duke was tops in ACC in fewest sacks allowed per passing attempt. The defense was adequate (26.6 ppg). NG Jamal Bruce is back, but had surgery on January 9 to repair a broken foot suffered in the bowl vs. Texas A&M (52-48 loss as +13.5 dog).
17. Wisconsin: Coach Gary Andersen has a terrific offensive mind and is off an impressive 9-4 SU, 9-3-1 ATS inaugural season. 5 starters are back on offense, just 3 on defense. 4 starters on the O-line are back, along with junior QB Joel Stave (22 TDs, 13 INTs) and junior RB Melvin Gordon (1,609 yds, 7.8 ypc, 12 TDs). The WRs are inexperienced.
The defense was dominant allowing 16.3 ppg (6th) but loses its best players up front. The linebacking corps is the good shape while the secondary needs work after ranking 17th in the nation. The opener is tough against LSU at Reliant Stadium (Houston, TX). Wisconsin has been great at home, 63-8 SU, 40-25 ATS the last 10 years.
16. Missouri: The Tigers are off a sizzling 12-2 SU/11-3 ATS campaign, but are rebuilding for Coach Gary Pinkel. Sophomore QB Matt Mauk (11 TDs, 2 INTs, 1,071 yards; 229 yds rushing) was pressed into service (4 starts) when James Franklin got injured. This offense averaged 39 points, 253 yds passing and 237.9 yds rushing (16th).
There are good RBs in junior Russell Hansbrough (685 yds, 6 ypc) and senior Marcus Murphy (6.5 ypc), but 2 of top 3 WRs gone. The defense forced 32 turnovers and allowed 23 ppg (34th). Missouri led the SEC with 41 QB sacks, fourth best in the nation, and returns junior LB Kentrell Brothers (70 tackles) and DE Shane Ray. The secondary got torched (98th nationally) and 2 sophomores will start at cornerback. Missouri is 56-22 SU, 35-33-2 ATS its last 78 home games.
15. UCLA: It's now or never for the Bruins! Expectations are sky-high for third-year coach Jim Mora, Jr, with 7 starters back on offense, 8 on defense. Dual-threat junior QB Brett Hundley (24 TDs, 9 INTs, 3,071 yds, 67.2%) leads an offense that struck for 36.9 points, 251.8 yds passing and 196.6 yds rushing.
The offensive line is in great shape and there is plenty of skill position talent with RB senior Jordon James (534 yards, 5.3 ypc) plus junior WRs Devin Fuller (471) Jordan Payton (440) and Devin Lucien. New defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich has a strong all-around unit that allowed 23.2 ppg. The schedule is tough, playing 5 of the first 8 on the road. They open at Virginia, then at Texas in Week 3.
14: Notre Dame: Brian Kelly has upgraded the Irish defense allowing 12.8 and 22.4 ppg the last two years, on a 6-1 run under the total. 6 starters return on offense, 5 on defense. The offense was good (27.2 points pg) and will be better with junior QB Everett Golson back after sitting out a year. In 2012 he had 12 TDs, 6 INTs.
This offense averaged 254.8 yds passing (39th) and 151 yds rushing. 3 starters on the O-line are back for RB Amir Carlisle (4.3 ypc). The schedule is challenging, hosting Michigan (Sept. 6) and Stanford (Oct. 4), at Florida State (Oct 18), at Arizona State (Nov. 8) and at USC (Nov. 29). Michigan is a revenge game after a 41-30 Irish loss.
13. Texas: New coach Charlie Strong takes over an 8-5 team that has 5 starters back on offense, 8 on defense. Strong has talked of instilling a tough mindset in Austin since he arrived in January. Senior QB David Ash (7 TDs, 2 INTs) missed 10 games last year with concussion-like symptoms. He had 19 TDs, 8 INTs in 2012. The backfield is loaded with junior RB Jonathan Gray (780, 4.9 ypc), senior RB Malcolm Brown (904 yds, 4.2 ypc) and Joe Bergeron, the top 3 runners.
New defensive coordinator Vance Bedford has superstar talent at linebacker and loads of experience returning in the secondary behind CB Quandre Diggs. 6-6 senior DE Cedric Reed (9 sacks) thought about NFL draft but is returning. The new coach's specialty is defense and this Texas team allowed 40 to BYU, 44 to Ole Miss, 40 to West Virginia and 38 to Oklahoma State. Despite that, the Longhorns are on an 8-5 run under the total.
12. Clemson: Coming off back to back 11-2 seasons for Coach Dabo Swinney and OC Chad Morris, Clemson returns 5 on offense, 7 on D. QB Tajh Boyd (34 TDs, 11 INTs) is gone, so senior QB Cole Stoudt (415 yds, 5 TDs, 0 INTs) steps in, though highly touted Chad Kelly (58 yds) is available. This attacking offense averaged 40.2 points, 333 yards passing (9th) and 174.6 yards rushing.
The defensive line, led by All-American sack artist Vic Beasley, doesn't lose a single participant. Defense coordinator Brent Venables begins his third season and last year ranked 24th in the nation allowing 22.2 ppg. Look for a pair of revenge games against South Carolina and Florida State, the only teams Clemson hasn't beaten the last two years (0-4). The Tigers are 26-14 ATS the last three years.
11. Baylor: What can you do for an encore, Art Briles? Briles is a master at recruiting speed and offensive talent. Last season Baylor was tops in the nation in scoring (52.4 ppg) averaging 359 yards passing (5th) and 259.7 rushing (13th) pg. The offensive line is in good shape protecting senior QB Bryce Petty (32 TDs, 3 INTs, 4,200 yards, 62%). The WRs are loaded in senior WR Antwan Goodley (1,339 yds, 18.9 ypc), senior WR Levi Norwood (733 yds) and Corey Coleman (527 yds).
Phil Bennett's defense forced 29 turnovers and saw a huge improvement, going from 37. 2 ppg allowed in 2012 to 23.5 ppg last fall, but loses 7 starters. The defensive front is strong with tackles Beau Blackshear, Andrew Billings and former Penn State transfer 6-9 DE junior Shawn Oakman. Baylor is on a 9-3 ATS run, plus 18-7 over the total.
10. Georgia: The Bulldogs are off an 8-5 SU/3-9-1 ATS campaign and have 5 starters back on offense, 10 on defense. Georgia has claimed at least a share of the East Division in 2 of last 3 years and has a shot to do so again. Senior QB Hutson Mason (5 TDs, 3 INTs, 968 yards, 61%) was pressed into surface after an injury to Aaron Murray and was good while the O-line allowed just 22 sacks. Junior RB Todd Gurley (1,385 yards, 6.2 ypc in 2012; 989 yds, 6 ypc in 2013) is a star.
The defense (29 ppg allowed) was rebuilding and slipped badly but is loaded with experience. In addition they add DC Jeremy Pruitt (Florida State), a top coordinator. He knows the SEC spending time as an assistant at Alabama. The opener August 30 is a revenge game after losing at Clemson last year, 38-35. Sports bettors note: Georgia is 48-20 SU/35-32 ATS on the road under Mark Richt.
9. South Carolina: Steve Spurrier has a talented team off 3 straight 11-2 seasons. 8 starters are back on offense, 6 on defense. This offense averaged 34 ppg, 253.8 yds passing and 198.5 rushing rushing returning senior QB Dylan Thompson (4 TDs, 3 INTs, 783 yds). A ton of WR talent returns in senior WR Damiere Byrd (575), junior WR Shaq Roland (455) and Mike Davis (352).
All-SEC junior RB Mike Davis (1,183 yds, 5.8 ypc) has a sturdy offensive line. The defensive line has been gutted by the NFL, but linebacker is deep on a unit that was 12th in the nation in points allowed. South Carolina has a showdown in the opener against Texas A&M (Aug 28). They are on an 18-0 SU run at home, a 15-10 ATS run overall.
8. Stanford: Coach David Shaw loses both offensive and defensive coordinators, but returns 4 starters on offense, 7 on defense. Junior QB Kevin Hogan (20 TDs, 9 INTs, 61%, 2,630 yds) ran for 355 yards, second on the team. He hopes to get help from senior RB Remound Wright (102) and junior RB Barry J. Sanders (42 yds, 8.4 ypc). The passing game will be fine when they need it with senior WRs Ty Montgomery (958 yds, 10 TDs) and 6-4 WR Devon Cajuste (642).
The defense was 10th in the nation in points allowed (19ppg) and is stocked with depth and talent. November will be the big month, at Oregon (Nov. 1) then hosting Utah (Nov. 15), a revenge game after a 27-21 loss. Stanford is on a 16-11 run under the total with dominant defense, run-first offense.
7. LSU: The Tigers are off a 10-3 season and return 7 starters on offense, 4 on defense. Soph QB Anthony Jennings (181 yds, 1 TD, 1 pick) started LSU's bowl game against Iowa after replacing injured Zach Mettenberger. He won't have to carry the offense as 4 of 5 starters return on the offensive line, one of the SEC's best. This offense averaged 35.8 points with over 200 yards rushing and passing.
LSU's defense returned only 3 starters last season but still finished third in the SEC and 15th nationally in total defense. There is star power all over and they held Johnny Manziel to one of his worst outings (16-for-41 for 224 yards, 2 picks). LSU opens against Wisconsin (Aug. 30) and they get Bama at home (Nov. 8). The Tigers are on an 8-14-1 ATS run.
6: Michigan State: The Big 10 champs had the No. 1 defense in the nation and return 8 starters on offense, 5 on defense. The defense lost some key players but still has talent. Bookends junior DE Shilique Calhoun (8.5 sacks) and senior Marcus Rush (5 sacks) will provide a pass rush nightmare for opposing offenses.
The offense should be better behind junior QB Connor Cook (22 TDs, 6 INTs; 2,755 yds) and star senior tailback Jeremy Langford (1,422 yds, 4.9 ypc, 18 TDs). Cook is 9-0 as a Big 10 starter for Coach Mark Dantonio. Michigan State is on a 9-4-1 ATS run, but 23-39 ATS its last 62 home games (3-4 ATS last year)!
5. Oklahoma: Bob Stoops has his best team in a while, with 7 starters back on offense, 9 on defense. This ground attack ranked 18th in the nation with 224 yards per game and returns soph QB Trevor Knight (9 TDs, 5 INTs), who ran for 445 yards, plus they add freshman RB Joe Mixon, the No. 1 ranked all-purpose back. He's been compared to former Sooner Adrian Peterson.
Four offensive linemen return. The entire defensive front seven is back on a unit that was 22nd in the nation allowing 22 ppg, anchored by soph DT Jordan Wade and junior DE Charles Tapper. Oklahoma is 49-7 SU, 27-22 ATS at home the last 8 seasons and on a 15-8-1 run over the total.
4. Ohio State: The Buckeyes started 24-0 under Urban Meyer, but are on an 0-2 run! That losing streak will end quickly as Ohio State is loaded with 4 starters back on offense, 7 on defense. They lose senior QB Braxton Miller (24 TDs, 7 INTs) to an injury, but Meyer is a great recruiter and likes freshman T.J. Barrett. Sophomore RBs Ezekiel Elliott (262 yds) and Dontre Wilson (250 yds) both averaged over 8 yards per carry. The Nov. 8 road date at Michigan State is a revenge game for the Buckeyes and a matchup that could decide the East Division. Ohio State is on a 10-4 run over the total.
3. Oregon: The Ducks won 11 games last season and return 9 on offense, 5 on defense. Junior QB Marcus Mariota (31 TDs, 4 picks, 3,665 yds) ran for 715 yards (7.4 ypc) and 5 offensive line starters are back on an offense that averaged 45.5 pts (4th), 291.5 yds passing (21st) and 273.5 yds rushing (9th).
Don Pellum steps into the defensive coordinator roll and inherits a unit that ranked 13th in the nation allowing 20.5 ppg. They host Michigan State in Week 2 (Sept. 6) and have a revenge game against Arizona (Oct. 2), a game they lost 42-16! No-huddle Oregon is on a 37-20 run over the total.
2. Florida State: 7 starters return on both sides of the ball for the defending champs, including soph QB Jameis Winston (40 TDs, 10 INTs, 4,057 yds). 4 offensive line starters return and they are loaded at the skill positions with senior WR Rashad Greene (1,128 receiving yards) and 6-foot-4 WR Isaiah Jones, who was considered one of the nation's top receivers in the class of 2013.
Florida State has a deep group of linebackers on a defense that was tops in the nation in points allowed (12.1 ppg). When you look at the schedule, who will beat them? There are four tough games, 3 at home (Florida, Notre Dame, Clemson) and the opener against Oklahoma State at Texas Stadium in Dallas. The Seminoles have a 15-game ACC winning streak and play only four true road games (NC St, Syracuse, Louisville, Miami).
1. Alabama: A string of dynamite recruiting classes and the motivation of last year's stunning loss to Auburn will motivate the talented Tide. Nick Saban has 8 starters back on offense, 5 on defense. Senior QB Blake Sims (2 TDs, 0 INTs, 167 yds) leads a balanced offense with junior RBs T.J. Yeldon (1,235 yds, 6 ypc) and Kenyan Drake (694, 7.5 ypc), plus junior WR Amari Cooper.
The defense was No. 1 in points allowed (10.9 ppg) in 2012 and 4th last year (13.9 ppg) and returns senior NG Brandon Ivory to anchor the line. Senior LBs Trey DePriest and Reggie Ragland return to the nation's No. 5 defense. Saban's message to his 2014 team was blunt: "We lost our identity a little bit. I asked our players: 'What am I?' We've always been physical, tough, relentless, and competitive. We've always finished games. And we didn't do that at the end of the season." Watch out SEC - Bama has a chip on its shoulder!
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