TCU, Georgia Tech bookend Top 21-40 of College Football

TCU, Georgia Tech bookend Top 21-40 of College Football

August 21, 2018 3:01 AM
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It’s time to kick off a new football season! College football begins Saturday, so here’s a look at the top 40 teams, working our way to No. 1 next week.

I have the odds to win the NCAA Championship next to team name and odds to win their respective conference championship next to that. Let’s get started with teams 40 through 21.

40. Georgia Tech

500/1; ACC 25/1

Returning Starters: 13

(8 offense, 5 defense)

Last Year’s Record: 5-6

Projected Finish: 6-6

The ACC is one of the tougher FBS conferences with Boston College, Clemson, Duke, Miami and a host of equally competent teams. That means Georgia Tech will be up against the wall again to produce wins but could eek out a 6-6 record and be bowl eligible with some luck. HC Paul Johnson is in rebuild mode and had one of the better recruiting classes to build that foundation upon. The defense is mediocre, ranking somewhere between 50 to 66 for the last five years. Taquon Marshall returns at QB after a good 2017. Marshall worked on his passing this offseason and with eight returners on his side of the ball should be further improved for 2018.

39. Iowa State

300/1; Big 12 30/1

Returning Starters: 12 

(6 offense, 6 defense)

Last Year’s Record: 8-5

Projected Finish: 7-5

Iowa State shocked many last year with perhaps its biggest road win ever over Oklahoma and followed that up with a shocking victory over then No. 4 TCU. In the Liberty Bowl the Cyclones held the vaunted Memphis offense to just 20 points. ISU isn’t a top 25 club, but could be knocking on the door soon. The offensive line should be better and that’s good news for the running attack. The wide receivers will be a question mark though. Kyle Kempt returns at QB and has some very good downfield instincts (just ask Oklahoma). This club has some rough road games at Iowa, TCU, Oklahoma State and Texas. They need every home win they can get but should make another bowl.

38. Texas Tech

500/1; Big 12 60/1 

Returning Starters: 16 

(6 offense, 10 defense)

Last Year’s Record: 6-7

Projected Finish: 7-5

HC Kliff Kingsbury is on the hot seat in Lubbock after averaging just 5.5 wins over the last four seasons. This edition has a new starting QB to break-in with McLane Carter the leading favorite. The receiving core is plagued by turnovers and the departure of three seniors. The best part of the Red Raiders might be the defense, which returns 10 starters that held opponents to 24 or fewer points in five of their six wins. Tech will be better, but not by much with a very questionable offense.

37. Duke

1000/1; ACC 40/1 

Returning Starters: 15

(7 offense, 8 defense)

Last Year’s Record: 7-6

Projected Finish: 7-5

Duke makes my top 40, but could easily be ranked higher if not for a tough schedule. HC David Cutcliffe has a young group of players to work with, including 15 returning starters. QB Daniel Jones returns and has a lot of targets. Moreover, the backfield is bolstered by the return of RB Brittain Brown. The issue will be with the offensive line, in a rebuilding mode. Again, the biggest issue is a tough ACC grind. This makes projected wins a very difficult task with what I see as a half dozen toss-ups on their schedule. The Blue Devils can still build on their big bowl win over Northern Illinois. Lots of positives around this team, but need to traverse that tough ACC schedule.

36. Florida Atlantic

1000/1 C-USA 10/11

Returning Starters: 15 

(5 offense, 10 defense)

Last Year’s Record: 11-3

Projected Finish: 8-4

FAU finished atop Conference USA last year with an 8-0 conference record and 11-3 overall mark under first year coach Lane Kiffin, who so impressed the school they signed him to a 10-year deal. The offense returns just five, but one of those is RB Devin Singletary who set school records for rushing (1,920 yards) and TD’s (32). The schedule has tough road games at Oklahoma and Central Florida. They also have a challenging home game vs. Air Force. However, the conference schedule looks like another undefeated season and while the Owls will struggle early, they should finish at least 8-4.

35. Iowa

300/1; Big 10 25/1 

Returning Starters: 13

(7 offense, 6 defense)

Last Year’s Record: 8-5

Projected Finish: 7-5

Head Coach Kirk Ferentz begins his 21st season and 19th in Iowa City. Iowa finished 2017 with an 8-5 winning record, but could manage only a 4-5 Big 10 mark. The Hawkeyes are usually good for at least seven wins a season and a bowl bid. They return seven on offense, including QB Nate Stanley and two of his top three receivers, all his tight ends and both tackles. This group ranked 23rd in passing and should be just as good again. The defense returns 10 but lost their stud cornerback Josh Jackson to the NFL Green Bay Packers. The running game will not be any better than the 105th finish last year. Iowa will again have to rely on Stanley and the receivers. All in all, this team looks like 2017 and should finish anywhere from 7-5 to 9-3.

34. Kansas State

300/1; Big 12 20/1 

Returning Starters: 13 

(8 offense, 5 defense)

Last Year’s Record: 8-5

Projected Finish: 8-5

HC Bill Snyder looks like he will face a tough season with four top 25 teams, but so did the Wildcats last year and look how they finished. Kansas State won five of their last six including an impressive 35-17 blowout win over UCLA in the Cactus Bowl. Snyder has been around 27 seasons and welcomes two new coordinators, but must deal with a question at quarterback where Alex Delton and Skylar Thompson could platoon at the position. At least they have a good returning cast on offense including their three leading running backs and a pair of top receivers. In addition, all the starting linemen from last year return. It’s a tough schedule, but Snyder finds ways to get it done.

33. West Virginia

60/1; Big 12 5/1 

Returning Starters: 12 

(7 offense, 5 defense)

Last Year’s Record: 7-6

Projected Finish: 6-6

West Virginia had a tough road last season but did finish at 7-6 after their Heart of Dallas Bowl loss to Utah, 30-14. HC Dana Holgorsen enters his ninth season and has built a fine 53-37 record. This could be Holgorsen’s most talented group of players in many years. QB Will Grier returns and led one of the top offenses in the nation until he went down with an injury to the middle finger of his throwing hand against Texas. Grier is considered by many to be a Heisman candidate. The Mountaineers were 7-3 with Grier last year and 0-3 after he went down with his injury. The schedule is packed with powerhouse teams, including road games at Oklahoma State, Texas, Iowa State, NC State and Texas Tech. If Grier returns to form, the Mountaineers could do better than the 6-6 and contend for the Big 12 Championship.

32. Northwestern

500/1; Big 10 40/1 

Returning Starters: 14 

(7 offense, 7 defense)

Last Year’s Record: 10-3

Projected Finish: 8-4

Gone is all-time leading rusher Justin Jackson. The big question is whether QB Clay Thorson can return from his torn ACL, which he suffered in December at the Music City Bowl. HC Pat Fitzgerald won 10 games for the second time in his tenure at Northwestern and had back-to-back bowl wins. The Wildcats have their sights set on a first Big 10 title since 2000. The schedule is tough though with Michigan, Michigan State, Notre Dame and Wisconsin to name a few. The Cats really needs a healthy Thorson and if he returns in time for the start of the season, 8-4 is not out of the question. However, a 6-6 campaign is very possible if he’s not 100 percent or is reinjured. With three OT wins last year, that 10-3 record could have easily been much different.

31. Louisville

500/1; ACC 30/1

Returning Starters: 11 

(7 offense, 4 defense)

Last Year’s Record: 8-5

Projected Finish: 7-5

This 8-5 team loses Heisman winner Lamar Jackson to the NFL

Baltimore Ravens, but HC Bobby Petrino hasn’t lasted 10 years to let that bother him. Jackson was arguably the best player ever in Louisville football history, so replacing him won’t happen easily. Jawon Pass will try and fill his shoes with the perfect quarterback name. Pass will have three quality receivers returning and four starters on the offensive line that have a combined 77 starts. Gone is DC Peter Sirmon and in is Brian ­VanGorder, who was linebackers’ coach under Petrino at the Atlanta Falcons, so these guys are well acquainted. VanGorder only has four starters returning, but may not be as bad as last year’s horrible defense. There are likely seven games that can go either way and the Cardinals should be a favorite in at least eight. The offense will be good again, but the defense is the big question mark.

30. South Carolina

300/1; SEC 40/1 

Returning Starters: 14 

(8 offense, 6 defense)

Last Year’s Record: 9-4

Projected Finish: 7-5

South Carolina opens the season on Sept. 1 with a softball against Coastal Carolina. HC Will Muschamp has lots to be optimistic about with the return of QB Jake Bentley and WR Deebo Samuel, who looked amazing before breaking his leg 11 quarters into the 2017 season. Samuel had 474 all purpose yards and six TD’s. The Gamecocks were great for bettors last year, going 7-1 ATS with five upset wins. The defense returns six starters but will be young in the secondary. If South Carolina can get out to a fast start, they could make some waves in the SEC and national rankings.

29. Oklahoma State

300/1; Big 12 8/1 

Returning Starters: 12 

(5 offense, 7 defense)

Last Year’s Record: 10-3

Projected Finish: 8-4

Oklahoma State finished third in the Big 12 last year, winning 10 games overall and six in conference. The Cowboys beat Virginia Tech in the Camping World Bowl, 30-21. Surprisingly, they were a perfect 6-0 on the road and just 3-3 at home. Mike Gundy begins his 14th year as a head coach and has compiled a 114-53 record in Stillwater. The Cowboys have a new DC in Jim Knowles and his unit returns seven starters. The defense will be talented in the front seven, but very young in the secondary. Expect State to jump out to a fast start with an early, easy schedule. However, road games at Oklahoma and TCU late will be tough and could jeopardize any hopes for a conference title.

28. Virginia Tech

80/1; ACC 12/1 

Returning Starters: 12 

(7 offense, 5 defense)

Last Year’s Record: 9-4

Projected Finish: 8-4

The Hokies had a young team in 2017, but still finished with a 9-4 record. They will return last year’s starting QB Josh Jackson for head coach Justin Fuente. Jackson had almost 3,000 yards passing with 20 TD’s and nine INT’s. He will have to be very good with a depleted receiving core after all-time leading pass catcher Cam Phillips departed for the NFL Buffalo Bills. The heart of VT again will be the defense, fourth best in 2017 in points allowed at 14.8 ppg. The defense suffered a lot of losses to graduation plus was without Adonis Alexander (ineligible) and JC recruit Jeremy Webb (Achilles). This looks to be a challenging year for Fuentes, with losses on defense and an offense lacking in receivers. Another division title is not as likely as last year.

27. Missouri

300/1; SEC 30/1 

Returning Starters: 16 

(9 offense, 7 defense)

Last Year’s Record: 7-6

Projected Finish: 7-5

Tough SEC schedule for the Tigers, especially on the road where they must play at South Carolina, Alabama, Florida and Tennessee. The good news is HC Barry Odom has a very good offense that returns nine starters and a very strong defensive front seven. Back is QB Drew Lock, who leads an explosive offensive unit. Mizzou has a new OC in Derek Dooley, so we’ll have to see how that effects the offense. The Tigers have potential to win 10 games, but a tough road schedule, a questionable secondary and a new OC will all come into play.

26. Oregon

100/1; PAC-12 8/1 

Returning Starters: 14 

(7 offense, 7 defense)

Last Year’s Record: 7-6

Projected Finish: 9-3

HC Mario Cristobal takes over and looks to return the Ducks to their old glory ways. QB Justin Herbert returns from an injury plagued 2017. When healthy, Herbert led the Ducks to a 6-1 record where they averaged 52 points per game. In addition, Herbert completed 68 percent of his pass attempts and was on a pace for 3,000 yards passing if not for his injury. The schedule looks promising too, with only a pair of top-20 teams (Stanford and Washington) as obstacles, plus both visit Eugene. If Herbert remains healthy, this could be a very good Oregon team with nine or 10 wins entirely possible.

25. Boise State

200/1; MWC 4/7 

Returning Starters: 16 

(6 offense, 10 defense)

Last Year’s Record: 11-3

Projected Finish: 10-2

Boise State HC Bryan Harsin begins his fifth season and looks poised to have another Mountain West title team on his hands. Last year, the Broncos won their first MWC crown in the last three years behind a solid defensive unit that returns 10 starters. The offense returns QB senior starter Brett Rypien and almost all the offensive wide outs except for star WR Cedrick Wilson. The defense is expected to be one of the best in the country with 10 returners and solid performers at every position. At 4/7 the Broncos are expected to win the league again, but doubt they run the table at 12-0 having road games at Oklahoma State and Wyoming. However, it’s not out of the question. Expect another excellent season.

24. Utah

300/1;  PAC-12 15/1 

 Returning Starters: 14 

(8 offense, 6 defense)

Last Year’s Record: 7-6

Projected Finish: 7-5

Utah returns eight players to a very skilled offense led by returning QB Tyler Huntley, who has a full squad of skill players around him that should provide plenty of offensive explosiveness. While many of the players are still young sophomores and junior college transfers. HC Kyle Whittingham should have a team that will only get better with the next few years. The defense is solid and returns impact players to a squad that will again will keep Utah in games. Nineteen of their last 30 games have been decided by seven points or less. The biggest question for the Utes will be the four new starters on the offensive line. Utah could pressure USC for a PAC-12 South title but the schedule will be tough.

23. LSU

80/1; SEC 30/1 

Returning Starters: 10

(5 offense, 5 defense)

Last Year’s Record: 9-4

Projected Finish: 7-5

HC Ed Orgeron begins his second full season and has a 15-6 record with the Tigers. The biggest obstacle is the schedule, which could have seven top 25 teams including three in the top six. The SEC is so tough that despite being ranked as the fourth best team in the West Division and an overall projected 7-5 record, the Tigers still garner a top-25 ranking. LSU has a new OC in Steve Ensminger, a former LSU quarterback. Ensminger was OC back in 2016 and took over the team four games into the season, increasing the yards per play by 1.3 and points per game by 11. His biggest task will be at running back, where the ground game has been efficient but not spectacular. Defense will again be in the competent hands of DC Dave Aranda, one of the best in college football. Aranda has not had a defense ranked worse than 21st in the NCAA in his last six seasons. If the offense can come around under Ensminger, the Bayou Bengals will be better than 7-5.

22. Florida

100/1; SEC 25/1 

Returning Starters: 19 

(10 offense, 9 defense)

Last Year’s Record: 4-7

Projected Finish: 7-5

Head coach and one-time Gators OC Dan Mullen looks to return the Gators to their once dominating form. First up, getting last year’s 4-7 bad taste from their collective mouths. That will be made much easier with an SEC schedule devoid of such powerhouses as Alabama and Auburn. When Mullen was OC at Florida, he was part of two National Championship teams.

QB has been an issue for some time now. Feleipe Franks was mediocre at best in 2017, suffering 29 sacks. Sophomore Kyle Trask, more the pure passer of the two, will push Franks for the starting spot. There are plenty of running backs returning, including junior Jordan Scarlett, Lamical Perine and Adarius Lemons – all three with potential breakout possibilities. The offensive line returns five starters and will be the backbone of this unit. The defense welcomes new DC Todd Grantham, who has nine starters back. The schedule is a plus the Gators.

21. TCU

100/1; Big 12 5/1 

Returning Starters: 10 

(5 offense, 6 defense)

Last Year’s Record: 11-3

Projected Finish: 8-4

The Horned Frogs have won at least 11 games in three of the last four seasons. The offense returns only five starters from last year’s unit, but they do have both RB Darius Anderson and WR Jalen Reagor back. TCU is always solid on defense and even though just six starters return, they are deep at most positions. The schedule will help a lot once they get past their meeting with Ohio State in Arlington, Texas on Sept. 15. The battle for the Big 12 will again be between TCU, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. The rest of the conference will be bunched-up in the middle. The starting QB is still a question, but HC Gary Patterson may have given a clue with Shawn Robinson going to Big 12 media day. The competition is still between Robinson and Michael Collins. If one of these signal-callers can step up and the defense plays like it should, TCU could win the Big 12.

Next week: Countdown 20 to No. 1