The countdown continues! Last week we looked at my Top 21-40, this week is my Top 20. The college football season kicks off Sept. 1. Here’s a look at college football’s best.
20. Arizona St: Pass happy coach Dirk Koetter begins his fifth season at ASU with imaginative, wide-open offenses. The big story is junior QB Sam Keller, who saw significant time in 2004, passing for 606 yards, with five TDs, one INT. He completed 59 percent of his passes, better than Andrew Walter, who had 30 TDs and nine picks. With nine starters back on offense and six on defense, ASU could be in for a strong campaign.
Koetter’s passing attack helped ASU average 30 points and 317 passing yards. The offense was 16th in the nation, fifth in passing. The air game leads the way behind explosive senior WR Derek Hagan (83 grabs, 1,248 yards, 10 TDs) and junior Terry Richardson (679, 6 TDs). Koetter likes the team speed, so the offense dropped the fullbacks, added H-backs along with a new double tight end formation last season that worked wonders. Arizona State was 6-0 SU, 4-2 ATS at home, but just 4-8 SU/3-9 ATS on the road the last two seasons.
19. Miami: Miami has 15 starters back, but they need a new QB and star CB Antrel Rolle is off to the NFL. The offense has sophomore QBs Kyle Wright and Kirby Freeman battling it out. Wright is the guy to watch, as he was a super-talented sought after prep player. There is good WR depth with senior Roscoe Parrish (693 yards, 8 TDs), Sinorice Moss and junior Akieen Jolla. Tailback Tyrone Moss and four returning starters on the offensive line anchor the ground game.
The defense allowed just 17 points per game and has the defensive front back. They were susceptible at times to strong running teams, giving up 155 yards rushing per game and 3.88 ypc. The Canes allowed 279 rushing yards to North Carolina, 180 to Louisville, 221 to Virginia and 149 to Virginia Tech. Defensive tackle Orien Harris leads the way and while experience is great, you need to stop the run.
18. Alabama: Coach Mike Shula hopes for good health after a frustrating 2004 season. A banged up offense and a terrific defense is why Alabama was 8-3 "under" the total. There’s hope for the Tide with seven starters back on offense and nine on defense. Senior QB Brodie Croyle only played the first three games of ’04, completing 66 percent of his passes for six TDs and no picks before an injury. In 2003, Croyle passed for 16 TDs, 13 INTs, good for 2,303 yards.
Sophomore WRs Matt Caddell and Keith Brown are solid targets, while the running game has senior Kenneth Darby (1,062 yards, 8 TDs, 4.8 ypc). The defense was hard hitting a year ago, allowing just 246 total yards and 3.3 yards per rush. The schedule features their toughest opponents at home (Florida, Tennessee, LSU) until the season-ender at Auburn.
17. NC State: Turnovers killed State’s chances in 2004, despite a remarkable defense that allowed just 220 total yards per game. In fact, the Wolfpack had an edge in total yards each game by a whopping 350-220 average! The defense improved immensely under first year defensive coordinator Reggie Herring. Junior defensive ends Mario Williams and Manny Lawson anchor a big, tall and talented line.
Coach Chuck Amato has seven starters back on offense and a new offensive coordinator in Marc Trestman. The offensive line is in good shape, and they have bruising junior RB Reggie Davis. Senior QB Jay Davis (12 TDs, 15 INTs) should benefit from a new coordinator but needs to stop throwing to the other team. Back-to-back November road games at FSU and BC will test this group.
16. Auburn: The Tigers can’t get any better than last season, with QB Jason Campbell and star RBs Cadillac Williams and Ronnie Brown off to the NFL. Sophomore QB Brandon Cox (4 TDs, 2 INT last season) steps in. Coach Tommy Tuberville likes the running game as Auburn has averaged 204, 184 and 183 yards in each of the last three seasons.
The backfield has new faces in RBs Tre Smith and Alex Howell. Fortunately, some strong offensive linemen return in junior LG Jon Palmer and senior Ts Troy Reddick and Marcus McNeil. The defense allowed 11 points per game and returns junior LB Lemarcus Rowell and senior NG T.J. Jackson. Auburn doesn’t play a road game until Oct. 15, but that begins a stretch where they play 4-of- 5 on the road, including stops at LSU, Arkansas and Georgia. All three will be out for revenge.
15. Texas A&M: After getting smoked by Utah in the opener, things came together quickly for head coach Dennis Franchione. The Aggies ripped off six straight wins (5-1 ATS), including a road victory against Oklahoma State as a +7 dog. A&M also gave Oklahoma and Texas all it could handle. The Aggies return 18 starters, including eight on a defense that allowed just 3.5 yards per rush.
The offense revolves around mobile senior QB Reggie McNeal, who passed for 2,791 yards with 14 TDs and just four 4 picks. McNeal completed 58 percent of his passes, while also rushing for 718 yards, 8 TDs, 4.8 ypc. The Aggies appear ready to take a step up, but must reverse a 1-10 SU, 2-9 ATS mark the last two seasons as a dog.
14. Virginia Tech: The Hokies won the ACC with a 7-1 conference mark in their inaugural 2004 season. They did it with offensive balance and a bone-crushing defense. The defense will again lead the way, having allowed just 13 points per game and 268 total yards a year ago. Senior CB Jimmy Williams and Aaron Rouse lead a dominating defense that whipped ACC opponents by a 29-14 average.
The offense returns eight starters and is about balance, with 31 points, 178 yards rushing and 187 passing per game. Junior QBs Sean Glennon and Marcus Vick (Mike’s brother) will battle behind center. The offense returns RB Cedric Humes and WR Josh Hyman. Tech went 8-4 "under" the total behind Frank Beamer’s defense.
13. Texas: RB Cedric Benson and his 1,834 yards are off to the NFL. So now the second leading rusher, QB Vince Young, will get more chances to shine. Young ran for 1,079 yards, 14 TDs, 6.5 yards per carry while passing for 1,849 yards. The defense played very well in 2004 (18 ppg) under new coordinator Greg Robinson.
Nine starters are back on defense. Texas is off an 11-1 season, losing only to Oklahoma, 12-0. The last four seasons after falling to the Sooners, the Longhorns are 33-4 SU and 19-11-2 ATS the rest of the season.
12. Louisville — Louisville joins the Big East this fall. Coach Bobby Petrino is an offensive wizard as the Cardinals averaged 50 points along with over 250 yards rushing and passing per game. Sophomore QB Brian Brohm passed for 819 yards in limited action and takes over as the starter. The Cardinals return five starters on the offensive line, along with starting WRs Montrell Jones, Broderick Clark and Joshua Tinch.
Junior RB Michael Bush (734 yards) averaged 5.6 yards per carry, so the offense should be strong and versatile. The defense (20 ppg allowed) has stars in senior defensive end Elvis Dumervil and LB Brandon Johnson. Louisville carries a 10-2 spread run into this season.
11. Ohio State — The Buckeyes thumped Michigan at home in 2004”¦.and still finished 4-4 in the Big 10. Head coach Jim Tressel hopes for more consistency this fall, especially on offense. As usual, Ohio State was terrific at home (6-1 SU, 5-2 ATS), but 2-3 SU/ATS on the road. Mobile sophomore QB Troy Smith (8 TDs and 3 picks) came on late last fall and sparked the offense.
One player to watch is speedy junior WR Ted Ginn, who ran for just 113 yards but averaged 8.7 yards per carry. Ginn is a speedster, who the coaching staff is determined to get more involved in the offense. The defense is always tough, allowing 18 points and 130 rush yards per game, 3.5 yards per carry. Ashton Youboty is back at cornerback, with LB Marcus Freeman making things rough on opposing ball carriers. Ohio State has seven home games, including the first four of the season.
10. LSU: Coach Nick Saban is off to the NFL, but he didn’t leave the cupboard bare for incoming Les Miles with 20 starters back. LSU was primarily a running team under Saban, rushing for 193 yards per game last season, but Miles likes to pass the ball. It will be interesting to see what he can do with sophomore QB JaMarcus Russell (9 TDs, 4 INTs). The ground game returns senior Joseph Addai, who averaged over six yards per carry, though they lost junior RB Alley Broussard (867 yards) last week for the season.
The offensive line is outstanding, led by senior OT Andrew Whitworth. The defensive line is deep with sophomore DT Glenn Dorsey, DE Carnell Stewart, and senior DTs Brandon Washington and Claude Wroten. Remember the Tigers held mighty Auburn to just 10 points. LSU gets its toughest opponents at home (Florida, Tennessee, Auburn, Arkansas) and has seven of its 11 games at Baton Rouge.
9. Purdue: Injuries derailed the Purdue juggernaut last season, finishing 2-5 after a 5-0 start. Barring as much bad luck, the Boilermakers are in for a fine season with seven starters back on offense and all 11 on defense. Senior QB Brandon Kirsch, who played well in place of Kyle Orton last year. Kirsch (711 yards, 7 TDs, 3 INT) had a better completion percentage (61.7) than Orton.
Senior WR Kyle Ingraham (7 TDs) and junior Dorien Bryant (584 yards) also return. Purdue averaged 321 passing yards and 32 points. The defense was also strong, allowing 17 points and just 105 rush yards per game. Purdue misses Michigan and Ohio State on the schedule. Not ready for prime time? The last two seasons Purdue is 0-4 SU, 1-2-1 ATS as an underdog.
8. Georgia: The Bulldogs have Head Coach Mark Richt, one of the best in the business, and his Georgia teams have gone 13-1, 11-3 SU and 10-2 the last three seasons. Senior quarterback D.J. Shockley gets the full time nod with David Greene graduated. Junior TE Leonard Pope along with sophomore RBs Thomas Brown (875 yards) and Danny Ware (692 yards) return to an offense that was very balanced.
Georgia averaged 28 points while running for 156 yards and passing for 247 per game. The defense allowed just 17 ppg, and has returnees Tim Jennings and DL Gerald Anderson. This fall they get Auburn and Arkansas at home and play only four road games. Sports bettors take note: Georgia is 16-5 SU/13-8 ATS on the road under Richt.
7. Oklahoma: The Sooners lose QB Jason White (35 TDs, 9 INTs), so 6-foot-7 sophomore Tommy Grady and Paul Thompson have to step in. Fortunately, they won’t have to carry the offense as sophomore RB Adrian Peterson returns. Peterson ran for 1,925 yards, 15 TDs and 5.7 yards per carry as a freshman. RB Kejeun Jones also returns along with WR Travis Wilson (11 TDs) providing help for the new QB.
The defense has excellent talent and depth behind DE Larry Birdine and a fierce linebacking corps with Rufus Alexander and Clint Ingram. Oklahoma gets rivals Kansas State, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M at home. The last two seasons Oklahoma is a combined 3-7 ATS on the road.
6. Iowa: You can make the argument that Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz is the best coach in the Big 10 and perhaps the country. The last three years Iowa has gone 11-2, 10-3 and 10-2. Ferentz was named Big 10 Coach of the Year in 2004. With seven starters back on offense and five on ”˜D’, it should be another winning season for Iowa. The defense is tough after allowing 18 points and just 92 rush yards per game, 2.8 ypc. Iowa has won 18 straight home games and is 24-2 SU, 21-4-1 ATS at home the last four years!
The offense should be better and more balanced. Injuries decimated the running game. The Hawkeyes averaged just 77 yards rushing, while passing for 240. Sophomore RBs Damian Sims and Tom Busch are healthy, while senior QB Drew Tate passed for 2,786 yards with 20 TDs, 14 picks, 62 percent completions. He has his best targets back in senior WRs Clinton Solomon and Ed Hinkel (7 TDs). Late season road games at Michigan, Purdue and Wisconsin could prove crucial to who rules the Big 10.
5. Michigan: Big Blue roared to a 7-1 Big 10 season on the backs of some talented youngsters and WR Braylon Edwards, who is now with the NFL’s Cleveland Browns. The Wolverines are still in good shape. Sophomore QB Chad Henne stepped in as a freshman and threw 25 TDs, 12 picks for 2,743 yards, completing 60 percent of his passes. Isn’t this the school that produced Tom Brady? Michigan averaged 31 points, 153 yards rushing and 232 passing last season.
The running game has junior Michael Hart (1,455 yards, 9 TDs, 5.2 ypc). WRs Steve Breaston and senior Jason Avant will get more looks. The defense allowed just 3.3 yards per carry and has excellent depth with LBs Chris Graham, David Harris and Scott McClintock. The Wolverines host Ohio State, which gives them a leg up on their rival. It’s also a revenge spot, with Michigan suffering its only Big 10 loss in a 37-21 defeat at Columbus.
4. Tennessee: The young Volunteers surprised many by making the SEC title game, despite getting rolled over twice by Auburn. Tennessee still has the power running attack led by senior RB Gerald Riggs (1,107 yards) and 345-lb sophomore offensive tackle Albert Toeaina. They had QB injuries all season, so this year’s team has a lot of experience behind center with senior Rick Clausen and sophomore Erik Ainge (1,452 yards, 17 TDs, 9 INTs.)
Tennessee had great balance in ’04 averaging 186 yards rushing and 213 passing. The defense has sophomore DT Jesse Mahelona up front alongside senior DT Greg Jones. The Vols are 9-1 SU/7-3 ATS on the road the last two seasons.