’04, only better

Aug 22, 2006 1:06 AM

EDITORS NOTE: Last year’s national championship game came down to Vince Young’s dramatic fourth down run to the end zone against USC giving Texas the title. As for this season, check Jim Feist’s Top 40 with the first games set for Aug. 31.

1. Auburn: Quite a two-year run for Auburn and Coach Tommy Tuberville: A 13-0 dream season in 2004 and a 9-3 SU, 8-2 ATS campaign in 2005. Behind a stacked offensive line, the Tigers have averaged 204, 184, 183 and 194 yards rushing each of the last four seasons! Junior QB Brandon Cox (15 TDs, 8 INTs) returns along with senior RBs Kenny Irons (1,293 yards, 5.1 ypc, 13 TDs) and Tre Smith. The defense yielded just 15.5 ppg last year and returns six starters. Auburn’s toughest games (Florida and Georgia) are at home.

2. Ohio State: The Buckeyes went 10-2 SU, 9-3 ATS, with the only losses by a total of 10 points to Penn State and eventual champ Texas. OSU lost a lot on defense, but the offense is loaded with eight starters returning. Senior QB Troy Smith (611 rush yards, 16 TDs, 4 INTs) leads a unit that averaged 32 points, 196.7 yards rushing (4.7 ypc) and 225.7 passing. Junior RB Antonio Pittman (1,331 yards) and all-purpose speedster Ted Ginn (803 receiving yards) provide balance to the attack. The big rematch with Texas is Sept. 9 at Austin. The Buckeyes do get Penn State and Michigan in Columbus.

3. Florida: This season marks the 100th year of Florida football. Second-year coach Urban Meyer hopes to have better luck, as injuries decimated his offense in 2005. Six starters from that unit return, led by senior QB Chris Leak (20 TDs, 6 INTs), who has been starting since his freshman year. There is a ton of speed and depth at wideout in seniors Dallas Baker, Jemalle Cornelius and Andre Caldwell. The defense has six starters back. The D-line was magnificent against the run, allowing 94 rush yards (3.1 ypc). The ”˜under’ was 8-4 last year in UF games. The Gators will be challenged with huge road tests at Tennessee, Auburn and Florida State.

4. Miami: Coach Larry Coker brought in a lot of new assistant coaches and returns a veteran offense. Junior QB Kyle Wright (18 TDs, 10 INTs) has fine targets in senior WR Ryan Moore and 6-foot-6 junior TE Greg Olsen. Senior TB Tyrone Moss leads the running game, while the stellar defense allowed just 14 points and 3.0 ypc. The secondary is in good shape, along with run stuffers like DE Bryan Pata and senior DT Baraka Atkins. The Canes open at home with FSU and also face Virginia Tech and BC in Miami.

5. USC: The Trojans can be very good again if they get over the shock of losing to Texas in the Rose Bowl. John David Booty steps in at QB for Matt Leinart. Fortunately, the best wideout duo in the country returns in senior Steve Smith (957 yards) and junior Dwayne Jarrett (1,274 yards, 16 TDs). No Reggie Bush, but USC is 20-0 SU, 14-6 ATS at home the last three seasons.

6. Louisville: Coach Bobby Petrino is an offensive wizard. The Cardinals averaged 43 points and 188 yards rushing and 293 passing per game. The offense will be terrific again, led by junior QB Brian Brohm (19 TDs, 5 INTs), 6-foot-6 sophomore WR Mario Urrutia, senior RB Michael Bush (1,143 yards) and a stellar offensive line. The Ville gets West Virginia at home in a revenge spot. Louisville is 16-8 ATS over the past two seasons.

7. Georgia: The Bulldogs were close to an unbeaten season a year ago, losing to Florida, Auburn and WVU by a combined eight points. Senior QB Joe Tereshinski steps in for D.J. Shockley. The ground attack is strong behind juniors Thomas Brown and Danny Ware. Georgia averaged 29 points and 162 rushing yards pg. Georgia is 21-6 SU/17-10 ATS on the road under Mark Richt.

8. West Virginia: Speed to burn! Rich Rodriguez has developed a fantastic program, predicated on speed for the artificial turf at home. WVU was very young in 2005, yet went 11-1 SU, 9-2 ATS averaging 32 ppg. The Mountaineers averaged 272 yards rushing and 5.2 per carry. Sophomore QB Pat White ran for 952 yards (7.3 ypc) and teams with speedy sophomore RB Steve Slaton. The Big East showdown could be Nov. 2 at Louisville.

9. LSU: The Tigers did well (11-2) last year, the first under Coach Les Miles. Junior QB JaMarcus Russell (15 TDs, 9 INTs) returns despite a serious shoulder injury late last season. Alley Broussard and Justin Vincent anchor a strong and experienced ground game, though both are back off knee injuries. The defense is still awesome and was the heart of their 2003 title run. The schedule is tough with road games at Auburn, Florida, Tennessee and Arkansas. However, LSU was 5-0 SU, 4-0 ATS away from Baton Rouge.

10. Notre Dame: Think Charlie Weis knows something about offense? Weis electrified the Irish attack in his first year as head coach, averaging 36.7 points, 147 yards rushing and 330 passing. Seven starters return on offense, led by QB Brady Quinn (32 TDs, 7 INTs, 3,919 passing) and junior RB Darius Walker (1,196 yards, 9 TDs). The ”˜over’ was 8-4 in Notre Dame’s games.

11. Iowa: The defense lost a lot, but the offense is loaded after averaging 30 points, 174.7 yards rushing, and 257.8 passing. Senior QB Drew Tate (22 TDs, 7 INTs) and sophomore TE Tony Moeaki lead the way. The Hawkeyes are 24-5-2 ATS in Iowa City the last four years and have seven at home this year. Michigan in Ann Arbor is the only tough road game.

12. Tennessee: The Vols flopped bigtime last year, missing a bowl game for the first time since 1988. In comes offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe after spending six years as head coach at Mississippi. QB Erik Ainge, a 6-foot-6 junior, looks to bounce back after a sophomore slump. The ground game returns sophomore Arian Foster (879 yards), along with three top receivers. The defense finished second in the nation against the run (82 yards per game, 2.5 ypc). Tennessee opens with four straight home games and has Florida and LSU visiting Knoxville later in the year. The last two seasons the Vols are an anwful 2-12 ATS at home.

13. Texas: Hats off to Mack Brown for winning his first national championship. He wasn’t afraid to make changes to his coaching staff over the years when it needed tweaking. The 41-38 upset of Southern Cal as a +7 dog was the culmination of a 13-0 SU, 11-2 ATS season, national title and 13-0 ”˜over’ mark. The big story is QB with Vince Young’s replacement coming from two freshmen Colt McCoy and Jevan Sneed. Texas hasn’t lost since a 12-0 setback to Oklahoma on Oct. 12, 2004. The Horns are on a 20-game win streak and are 41-4 SU, 25-13-2 the past five years after facing OU.

14. California: Coach Jeff Tedford has former Parade All-American QB Nate Longshore back , after losing him in the 2005 opener (broken leg). The Bears still averaged 33 ppg behind a stellar attack that featured junior RB Marshawn Lynch (1,246 yards, 6.4 ypc, 10 TDs), and speedy wideouts in sophomore DeSean Jackson and junior LaVelle Hawkins. Cal has a classic opener at Tennessee.

15. Michigan: "I don’t think there’s anybody in this program who wants to go through that kind of season again," Coach Lloyd Carr said after a 7-5 campaign. The Wolverines outscored opponents by an impressive 28.8-20.3 average. Junior QB Chad Henne (23 TDs, eight picks, 2,526 yards) is a force. The running game has junior RB Michael Hart. The Wolverines play at Notre Dame, Penn State and Ohio State in a tough road schedule.

16. Virginia Tech: Defense leads the way, allowing 12.9 points, 93 yards rushing and 154 passing. NG Carlton Powell and LB Vince Hall, both juniors, lead another fast unit. QB is the big story with flaky Marcus Vick leaving for the NFL. The offense is about balance, after averaging 190.7 yards rushing and 190 passing. The only tough games on paper are Oct. 12 at Boston College and Nov. 4 at Miami. That Miami game is a revenge spot, the Hokies losing 27-7 in Blacksburg last year.

17. Florida State: The Seminoles lost a lot of defensive stars to the NFL, but still have talent. The offense has sophomore QB Drew Weatherford, senior RB Lorenzo Booker and 6-foot-6 sophomore WR Greg Carr (9 TDs). The defense allowed just 2.8 yards per rush! Sophomore DT Aaron Jones anchors what will be a young unit. The Noles open Sept. 5 at home against Miami and get all their tough opponents in Tallahassee other than the finale at Florida.

18. Oklahoma: Bob Stoops has to rebuild the offensive line, but brings back a lot of talent. The offense has good balance, averaging 177.5 yards rushing and 177.6 passing per game. Senior QB Paul Peterson won’t have to carry the offense with junior RB Adrian Peterson returning. Peterson battled injuries (1,108 yards, 14 TDs), but looks to return to his 2004 form (1,925 yards). A young defense returns much of its key players.

19. Arizona State: Coach Dirk Koetter loves the wide-open passing attack, which explains ASU averaging 36.8 points and 373 passing yards per game. The offense should again be brilliant, led by the lethal quarterback duo of senior Sam Keller and sophomore Rudy Carpenter. Keller threw 20 TDs, 2,165 yards and just nine picks before he broke a leg. Carpenter stepped in and was even better with 17 TDs, two picks and 2,273 yards! The Sun Devils must improve in total defense, finishing 116th in the nation, and in road success — 7-10 SU, 5-12 ATS the last three seasons.

20. TCU: The Horned Frogs enjoyed a memorable 2005 campaign at 11-1 SU, 9-3 ATS. They upset Oklahoma 17-10 as a 24-point road dog and finished 8-0 SU, 7-1 ATS in the Mountain West. Coach Gary Patterson has senior QB Jeff Ballard returning to an offense that averaged 33 points, 192 yards rushing and 208 passing. First-team All-MWC tackle Herbert Taylor anchors the offensive line blocking for senior RB Robert Merrill (911 yards). Both leading receivers return and the defense (18.6 ppg allowed, 2.8 rush) led the nation in turnover margin.

21. Boston College: BC joined the ACC last season and went 9-3 under excellent head coach Tom O’Brien. The offensive line returns its best players to an offense that averaged 145 yards rushing and 242 passing. Junior QB Matt Ryan (8 TDs, 5 INTs) returns along with junior RB Andre Callender. The schedule is manageable, with the exception of tough road games at Florida State and Miami.

22. Iowa State: The Cyclones have senior QB Bret Meyer (19 TDs, 10 INTs) and top targets junior WR Todd Blythe (1,000 yards, 9 TDs) and senior WR Austin Flynn. Kansas was 8-3 "over" the total in 2005. ISU is 4-11 SU/5-10 ATS on the road the last three seasons.

23. Texas A&M: The Aggies were a lot better than that 5-6 record, losing to Texas and Oklahoma by a combined 17 points. The offense returns seven starters, including WR Chad Schroeder, TE Martellus Bennett and RB Courtney Lewis. A&M must improve upon 1-14 SU and 4-11 ATS the last three seasons as an underdog.

24. Oregon: Coach Mike Bellotti has 15 starters back from a 10-2 SU, 7-4 ATS squad. The offense was electric, averaging 34 points and 304 yards passing! This is the second season for the spread option. The key battle is at QB between juniors Dennis Dixon and Brady Leaf. Bellotti has named Dixon as the starter.

25. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders averaged 388 yards passing for Coach Mike Leach with sophomore QB Graham Harrell running the attack. The improved defense allowed 18.8 ppg in 2005. Tech averaged just 21 ppg on the road (2-3 SU, 1-4 ATS) compared to 52 in Lubbock, where they went 7-0.

26. Michigan State: The Spartans offense is terrific, averaging 33 points, 201 yards rushing and 295 passing. Senior QB Drew Stanton had a brilliant junior campaign with 3,077 yards, 66.5 percent completions, 22 TDs and 12 INTs. The defense has been a problem for two straight seasons, so the offense may again have to carry the load.

27. Boise State: Chris Peterson moves from offensive coordinator to head coach, replacing Dan Hawkins. The Broncos averaged 36 points, 202 yards rushing and 222 passing. Boise returns nine starters on both offense and defense, led by junior QB Jared Zabransky. Since 1999, BSU is 45-2 SU, 30-11 ATS at home on the blue carpet!

28. Oregon State: Mike Riley’s Beavers weren’t as bad as that 5-6 record. They had a terrific offense, averaging 26.6 points, 122 yards rushing and 296 passing. Senior QB Matt Moore returns after throwing for 2,711 yards and offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf will try for more balance to help limit turnovers. OSU is 2-10 SU, 4-8 ATS its last 12 as a dog.

29. Nebraska: Senior QB Zach Taylor fits Bill Callahan’s West Coast offense, with 19 TDs, 12 INTs and 2,653 yards. All his top targets are back. The defense made great strides, allowing 207 pass yards per game and 3.2 per rush. The Huskers haven’t been a good road team under Callahan, going 3-6 SU, 4-5 ATS.

30. Penn State: Joe Paterno’s Nittany Lions (11-1 SU, 8-3 ATS) were one of the great sto