It’s time to kick off the football season! College football begins Sept. 1.
Here’s a look at the top teams, starting with my top 21-40 this week.
40. Georgia Tech: So when are the Yellow Jackets going to turn the corner? They’ve had plenty of talent the last few seasons, but have been pretty much a .500 team (7-5 SU/6-5 ATS last fall.) The Yellow Jackets defense is very good (19 ppg allowed).
However, a mistake prone offense was very erratic (-13 turnover margin). Junior QB Reggie Ball has started since his freshman year. Senior tailback P.J. Daniels ran for 714 yards, 8 TDs, 4.6 ypc.
The ground game is in great shape and the defense allowed just 106 rush yards per game and 300 total yards. The defense (7-3 "under" the total) will be tough again behind two-time all-ACC defensive end Eric Henderson. Tech allowed just 16 ppg on the road, going 3-1 SU and 4-0 ATS in that span.
39. Washington St: The Cougars look to bounce back after a disappointing 5-6 SU, 3-8 ATS campaign under third-year coach Mike Doba. Nine starters return on offense and six on defense. The linebacking corps is strong, led by senior co-captain LB Will Derting and junior LB Scott Davis. Offensively, there are plenty of returnees to a team that averaged 25 points and 240 passing yards.
Junior QB Josh Swogger (13 TDs and 7 INTs) has help with RB Jerome Harrison (900 yards, 9 TDs) and junior WRs Chris Jordan and Jason Hill. Oddly, Washington State was 4-2 SU on the road, yet 1-4 SU, 0-5 ATS at home! That’s not likely to happen again and their toughest stretch is back-to-back October road games against Cal and USC.
38. Maryland: It’s a bounce-back season for the Terps and Head Coach Ralph Friedgen. He was averaging 10 wins per season the previous three years, until everything went wrong in 2004 during a frustrating 5-6 campaign. The problem was offense. The Terrapins went 8-2 "under" the total, including 5-0 at home. Maryland was forced to rotate three quarterbacks because of injuries and ineffectiveness.
All three are back and junior QB Joel Statham (8 TDs, 15 picks) has the most experience. WR Derrick Freener and senior TE Derek Miller are very good, while the defense allowed just 20 points and 3.4 yards per rush. Junior tackle Rob Armstrong anchors the defense. Miami is off the schedule, but starting Oct. 20 Maryland has to play Virginia Tech, Florida State, North Carolina, newcomer Boston College and NC State. Three of the five are on the road.
37. Michigan St: Spartans third-year head coach John L. Smith said, "2004 was a season of missed opportunities. It was disappointing to lose so many close games because we weren’t mentally tough enough to finish." State certainly wasn’t tough on the road, going 1-5 SU, 2-4 ATS away from home where they allowed 33 ppg.
MSU should be better with junior QB Drew Stanton (2,288 yards, 14 TDs) and WRs Jerramy Scott, Kyle Brown and 6-foot-6 senior Matt Trannon. The offense was terrific, averaging 29 points, 238 yards rushing and 221 passing. The defense was weak, so Smith moves senior Eric Smith, a two-year starter at strong safety, to the bandit position. Former WR sophomore Irving Campbell has been trying cornerback.
36. Notre Dame: A new era begins with Head Coach Charlie Weis, who was an NFL offensive coordinator for much of the last 15 years. Weis won three of the last four Super Bowls as coordinator for Bill Belichick and the Patriots. His mark is operating an aggressive, spread offense that shows many different formations. This will be in stark contrast to Notre Dame’s "cloud of dust" football for much of the last few years.
Weis has a weapon in junior QB Brady Quinn (17 TDs, 10 INTs, 2,586 pass yards). Four of five skill position starters return led by senior WRs Maurice Stovall and Rhema McKnight. The defense allowed just 88 rushing yards, 2.6 yards per carry, though several key players are gone. If you like revenge-situations, the Irish gave up 41 each to Pitt and USC. Notre Dame is just 6-6 SU, 4-8 ATS the last two seasons at home.
35. Nebraska: Year One of the Bill Callahan experiment was a flop during a 5-6 campaign. For the first time in decades Nebraska passed for more yards (186 pg) than it ran for (176). The Huskers get rid of QB Joe Dailey (17 TDs, 19 INTs), who transferred out, and turn things over to JC transfer Zach Taylor, who has a strong arm. He appears more comfortable in Callahan’s West Coast attack.
Junior RB Brandon Jackson and Cory Ross anchor the ground game while speedy junior sprinter Isaiah Fluellen (nine catches, 158 yards) is a weapon. Nebraska was simply an awful road team, allowing 39 ppg while going 1-4 SU, 2-3 ATS. Nebraska plays just four road games and opens the season with five straight home games, including Maine, Wake Forest and Iowa State.
34. Toledo: The 2004 MAC Champions run a wide-open offense that has gone 10-1, 10-2, 9-4, 8-4 and 9-4 the last five seasons averaging over 32 points each time. Fifth-year head coach Tom Amstutz has six starters back on offense and eight on defense, including a remarkable senior quarterback returning. QB Bruce Gradkowski passed for 3,518 yards, 27 TDs, 8 INTs while completing 70 percent of his passes!
As a sophomore in 2003 he passed for 3,210 yards, 29 TDs and just 7 INTs, completing a ridiculous 71.2 percent of his passes! Toledo averaged 298 passing and Gradkowski has his favorite targets in junior WR Steve Odom and junior RB Scooter McDougle. The Rockets are 30-1 SU its last 31 home games, including 5-1 (4-2 ATS) last fall.
33. Wisconsin: Win one for Barry? Coach Barry Alvarez begins his 16th and final season as Badgers head coach, stepping down to become AD. Wisconsin is off a bizarre 9-3 season, going 0-3 SU/ATS to end the year after a 9-0 start. The Badgers were terrific at Madison (6-1 SU, 4-1 ATS) where the defense allowed just 10 points per game. The defensive front has sophomore Nick Hayden and junior LBs Andy Crooks and Mark Zalewski. This was a terrific defense until Michigan State bludgeoned them for 551 yards, including 430 rush yards!
New coordinator Paul Chryst comes over from Oregon State and plans to open up what was a conservative, plodding offense. Junior QB John Stocco returns for his second season as a starter along with speedy senior WR Brandon Williams. The Badgers were 9-3 "under" the total, though the Chryst may change that. Wisconsin has a favorable schedule, missing Ohio State and getting Michigan, Iowa and Purdue at home. They do play five of their final seven on the road, including stops at Minnesota and Hawaii.
32. Missouri: The Tigers were one of the most disappointing teams in the nation in 2004. Despite multi-talented QB Brad Smith, Missouri flopped in Big 12 play (3-5) and went 1-5 to end the year. Smith is back for his senior season and passed for 17 TDs, 11 INTs, while rushing for 553 yards.
Smith’s favorite target, 6-foot-5 senior WR Sean Coffey, returns along with tall TE Martin Rucker. The duo caught 14 of Smith’s TDs. The defense is rebuilding, but expect a better season by this talented offense. Missouri plays its home games on turf. Note: On the road, the Tigers are 8-22 SU in their last 30 road games.
31. TCU: Texas Christian joins the Mountain West Conference from Conference USA. It was a disappointing campaign for Coach Gary Patterson at 5-6 SU, 3-8 ATS, but five starters are back on offense and seven on ”˜D’. The offense should be outstanding after averaging 33 points, 166 yards rushing and 264 yards passing.
Senior QB Tye Gunn is 10-2 as a starter and hopes for a healthy season. The running back duo is brilliant in junior Robert Merrill (753 yards) and senior Lonta Hobbs (647 yards), so the offense is loaded. Hobbs has 31 TDs on the ground the last three seasons. The defense was the problem, allowing 34 points and 304 passing yards each game! The offense will score, but the poor ”˜D’ is why they went 7-3 "over" the total.
30. Clemson: Coach Tommy Bowden’s team started 1-4 SU, 0-5 ATS in 2004, then got hot. The Tigers went 5-1 the rest of the way squeezing out another winning season. They should be better with an improved defense and QB Charlie Whitehurst, who has tons of experience. Whitehurst is looking to overcome a miserable season (7 TDs, 17 INTs). As a sophomore in 2003 he had 21 TDs, 13 picks, so last season was a mystery.
Clemson’s defense played well, allowing 21 points and just 3.2 yards per rush. The offense has seven starters returning, but the improved defense is why the Tigers went 7-4 "under" the total. Clemson has started slow in each of the last two seasons and it doesn’t help that they open 2005 against Texas A&M, Maryland and Miami.
29. Bowling Green: The Falcons have gone 11-3 and 9-3 the last two seasons under third-year head coach Gregg Brandon, who followed Urban Meyer. The offense has been deadly, averaging 44 points and 506 yards in 2004 (8-3 "over" the total). The ground game produced 168 ypg and is led by senior RB P.J. Pope (1,098 yards)
Senior QB Omar Jacobs is off a brilliant campaign where he passed for 4,006 yards, with 41 TDs, 4 INTs. His top two targets return in senior WRs Charles Sharon (1,070 yards, 15 TDs) and Steve Sanders. This group averaged 338 yards passing and will light up MAC scoreboards again.
28. Boston College: Fresh off a 9-3 season in the Big East, Boston College joins the ACC this season. Head Coach Tom O’Brien runs a fine program with seven starters back on offense and eight on defense. O’Brien likes a balanced attack (25 points, 140 yards rushing, 245 passing per game). The Eagles have good options at QB, but need to replace graduated Paul Petersen.
Senior QB Quinton Porter and sophomore Matt Ryan will be rotated unless someone steps up. Freshman WR Brandon Robinson has good speed, along with senior WR Larry Lester. Sophomore RB Andre Callender (637 yards) was the leading runner. The defense has excellent depth with Justin Bell and Ron Brace in the middle. BC received great news when star senior DE Mathias Kiwanuka decided to forgo the NFL draft and play for the Eagles this fall.
27. Texas Tech: So does Mike Leach have a new quarterback in his gimmick offense to light up the Big 12 skies again? He sure does, in senior QB Cody Hodges. Leach has experienced receivers in junior Jarrett Hicks and sophomore Danny Amendola. Hicks led the Red Raiders with 1,177 yards, 76 catches and 13 TDs.
While the passing offense gets all the ink, senior RB Taurean Henderson (16 TD, 840 yds, 5.2 ypc) is a terrific talent. His improved play helped bring more balance to the offense. Tech was 7-4 "under" the total, scoring a bit less than oddsmakers and the public anticipated.
26. Oregon: The rebuilding Ducks took baby steps in 2004, with a 5-6 campaign. Now comes the bust-out season. Oregon coach Mike Bellotti has a strong offense at his disposal, losing to Cal by one point (28-27). The offense averaged 158 yards rushing and 238 passing. Senior QB Kellen Clemens (2,548 yards, 22 TDs, 10 INTs) has his favorite targets back in senior WR Demetrius Williams (593 yards) and junior TE Tim Day.
Keep an eye on 6-foot-5 freshman WR Jaison Williams, who impressed in spring practice. Senior RB Terrence Whitehead (1,144 yards, 6 TDs, 5.7 ypc) provides excellent balance. Senior end Devan Long leads a defense that was strong against the run, but gave up 84 points to UCLA and Oregon State to end last season.
25. Minnesota: It’s no secret Glen Mason’s Gophers are built for the artificial turf of the Metrodome. They have speed to burn, going 6-1 SU/4-2 ATS at home where they ripped opponents by a 36-16 average. On the road was another story — 1-4 SU, 2-3 ATS averaging just 22 ppg on grass. The running game amassed 256 ypg and 5.4 yards per carry.
The ground game will again lead the way behind senior RB Laurence Maroney (1,348 yards, 12 TDs, 6.2 ypc) and senior QB Bryan Cupito (14 TDs, 7 INT, 2,097 yards). Cupito’s favorite targets return in junior WR Ernest Wheelwright (7 TDs) and senior Jarred Ellerson. Defensively, the Gophers allowed 23 per contest and far too many passing yards (266 pg). Five of the first eight games are at home, but road games at Michigan and Iowa will be tough.
24. Colorado: The Buffaloes made it to the Big 12 title game where they were squashed by Oklahoma. Still, seven starters are back on offense and 10 on defense. Senior QB Joel Klatt needs to improve his turnover margin (11 TDs, 15 INTs). Diminutive speedy junior RB Hugh Charles and Lawrence Vickers step in to help the ground game, a staple of Gary Barnett’s offense.
The defense returns almost everyone, led by NT Vaka Manapuna and LB Jordon Dizon, and sack leader DE Alex Vigon. Don’t underestimate Colorado: The Buffaloes are 26-12 ATS as a dog since 1998.
23. Boise St: The Broncos keep rolling year after year, with a devastating offense and dynamite home field edge. Junior QB Jared Zabransky (16 TDs, 12 INTs) has senior WR Drisan James (568 yards) and junior TE Derek Schouman to throw to, while senior RB Lee Marks (968 yards, 5.1 ypc) is back. Boise averaged over 229 yards rushing, 262 yards passing and 49 pppg.
Three starters return to the offensive line on a team that outscored WAC opponents by a 50-25 average! Yes, with all that offense Boise was 7-4 "over" the total. The defense loses some key players, but still has defensive coordinator Ron Collins and a solid secondary. As