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The road to No. 1

Aug 28, 2007 3:13 AM

Feist’s 2nd 20

21 Iowa 31 S.Miss
22 Alabama 32 Tex Tech
23 Boston Col 33 W.Forest
24 Ohio St 34 Boise St
25 Hawaii 35 Oregon
26 Okla St 36 Purdue
27 Texas A&M 37 Arkansas
28 UCLA 38 Rutgers
29 Notre Dame 39 Kansas
30 TCU 40 So.Florida

The countdown continues! Last week, we looked at 21-40. The college football season kicks off this Thursday so here’s my top 20 rankings.

1. Texas: Mack Brown followed up a national championship season with a 10-3 "rebuilding" campaign. The Longhorns return 14 starters — seven on offense and defense. QB Colt McCoy was outstanding last year as a freshman, passing for 2,570 yards, 29 TDs and 7 INTs while hitting 68 percent of his throws. The offense averaged 36 points per game. The OVER is 18-7 in Texas games during the last two seasons. The running game is loaded and the schedule easier. The Horns are 23-3 SU, 17-8 ATS since 2005 and 5-0 SU / ATS in the last five as a dog.

2. USC: The Trojans opened as the team to beat for the national title in 2007. Head coach Pete Carroll’s team is loaded, with 6 starters back on offense and 10 on defense. They are off a "rebuilding" 11-2 season. USC is 48-4 SU, 32-20 ATS the last four years. Almost everyone returns on a defense that allowed 15 ppg and 3.0 yards per rush. The offense is led by senior QB John David Booty (3,347 yards, 29 TDs, 9 INT as a first-year starter.) The Trojans average 30 points, 130.8 yards rushing and 261 passing. The schedule is challenging, with games at Nebraska, Notre Dame and Cal. At home, USC is 26-0 SU, 18-8 ATS the past four seasons!

3. Virginia Tech: More than a chance to bring some joy to the Hokie community after the awful events of April shattered the campus. The defense is loaded, allowing 11 points, 91 yards rushing and 128 passing. The UNDER was 8-4. Tech returns 16 starters, eight on each unit. The power running game features junior Branden Ore (1,137 yards, 4.7 ypc, 16 TDs). The defense ranked first in the nation! Road games at LSU, Georgia Tech and Clemson will be challenging.

4. Florida: 2006 was the 100th year of Florida football and it was certainly memorable. The Gators won the national championship as a touchdown underdog, trouncing Ohio State, 41-14. Head coach Urban Meyer’s offense averaged 28.8 points, 160 yards rushing and 237 passing. However, it was a ferocious defense (13.5 ppg) that paved the way to the title. Sophomore QB Tim Tebow gets the full time nod. The offense has senior WR Andre Caldwell, but the defense returns just 2 starters. The line was magnificent against the run, allowing 78 yards and 2.8 per carry. Time to rebuild. The UNDER is 16-8 in UF games the last two seasons. The Gators travel to LSU, but at least get Auburn, Florida State and Tennessee at home.

5. Michigan: It’s the 10-year anniversary of Michigan’s 1997 national title team. The Wolverines were close to another last season, starting 11-0 before losses to Ohio State and USC in the Rose Bowl. Michigan had a potent and balanced offense averaging 29 points, 175 yards rushing and 195 passing. Offense looks to be Michigan’s strength with 7 starters returning. Seniors Chad Henne (22 passing TDs, 8 INTs) and senior Michael Hart (1,562 yards rushing, 14 TDs) provide balance. Henne has good targets led by speedy junior WR Mario Manningham (703 yards rec, 9 TDs). Ohio State, Notre Dame, Oregon and Penn State come to the Big House. Michigan is 4-1 SU, 5-0 ATS its last 5 road games.

6. West Virginia: Speed to burn! Rich Rodriguez has developed a fantastic program in Morgantown, predicated on speed for the artificial turf at Mountaineer Field. The Mounties were explosive offensively last season, averaging 38 points and 303 rushing yards. WVU returns 15 starters, including seven on offense. Junior QB Pat White (1,655 pass yards, 13 TDs, 7 INTs) ran for 1,219, 18 TDs and averaged 7.4 per carry. White teams with speedy junior RB Steve Slaton (1,744 rush yards, 16 TDs, 7.0 ypc.) There is a revenge game at home against Louisville, which took advantage last year of a Mounties pass defense that allowed 243 yards per contest.

7. Auburn: Coach Tommy Tuberville is 33-5 the last three seasons on the Plains. The Tigers are loaded, returning 7 seven starters on defense. The offense gets most of its key skill players back, including senior QB Brandon Cox (14 TDs, 9 INTs) and a deep backfield. The defense allowed 13.9 points and just 168 yards passing per contest. Auburn is 4-1 SU, 5-0 ATS the last three years as an underdog, along with a stellar 11-3 ATS mark the last 14 when getting points. The Tigers were the only team to defeat national champion Florida, a 27-17 victory as a +2 dog. Auburn is a sizzling 12-1 SU, 9-4 ATS its last 13 on the road.

8. Oklahoma: After an 11-3 SU, 8-4 ATS season, Coach Bob Stoops returns 9 starters on offense, 8 on defense. Adrian Peterson may be off to the NFL (Vikings), but another AP (Allen Patrick) exploded for 761 yards as a junior. The offense had good balance, averaging 30 points, 171 yards rushing and 191 passing. Redshirt freshman QB Sam Bradford won the starting job. Eight starters return to a defense that allowed 3.3 yards per rush, explaining a 9-5 UNDER mark. Mike Reed and Lewis Bake anchor the always-fierce linebacking corps.

9. LSU: The Tigers produced back-to-back 11-2 records under Les Miles, who took over for Nick Saban as head coach two years ago. Miles likes wide-open offense and last fall, the Tigers averaged 33.7 points, 166 yards rushing and 251. Junior QB JaMarcus Russell was drafted #1 overall by the NFL Raiders, so senior Matt Flynn steps in. Gary Crowton is the new offensive coordinator, having operated wide-open attacks at BYU and Oregon. The defense has been awesome and returns 8 starters. The front seven should be dominant, led by All-America DT Glenn Dorsey and senior LB Ali Highsmith. The Tigers were 9-0 SU, 5-3 ATS last fall in Baton Rouge, where they yielded 7 ppg!

10. Louisville: QB Brian Brohm decided to return for his senior season, rather than go to the pros. Brohm leads an offense that averaged 37.8 points and 475 yards a game. Offensive wizard Bobby Petrino left for the NFL Falcons, so the Cardinals moved quickly. They hired Steve Kragthorpe, who ran Tulsa’s wide-open offenses. His units were explosive and there’s a lot of talent at Louisville. The Cards return 14 starters, including 8 on offense. Brohm passed for 3,049 yards, 16 TDs, 5 INTs. His prime targets are 6-foot-6 junior WR Mario Urrutia and senior Harry Douglas (1,265 yards). Louisville is built for speed at home — 17-0 SU, 15-2 ATS the last three years! Louisville carries a 25-12 spread run into this season.

11. South Carolina: Coach Steve Spurrier has done a marvelous job with limited talent, going 8-5 SU, 9-3 ATS last season. Senior QB Blake Mitchell is back, after a fine season with 1,789 yards, 10 TDs, 6 picks while completing 66.8 percent of his passes. Mitchell, however, could miss the Gamecocks opener against UL-Lafayette due to alleged absences from summer school classes. He’s appealing. This passing game is loaded with junior WR Kenny McKinley and 6-5 junior TE Jared Cook. A terrific defense returns 10 starters. Spurrier is 7-3 SU, 9-1 ATS on the road. Circle Nov. 10 on your calendar: defending champion Florida at South Carolina in Spurrier Bowl 3.

12. Wisconsin: The Badgers began a new era with Bret Bielema moving up from defensive coordinator to head coach. Wisconsin is off a sensational 12-1 SU, 9-2 ATS mark, allowing 12 points per game. With 9 starters returning on offense and 7 on defense, the Badgers are stocked. The offense has senior QB Tyler Donovan (4 TDs, 2 INTs, 564 yards) stepping in and the talent at wideout is deep. The fierce defense returns seniors Nick Hayden and DT Justin Ostrowski up front. Wisconsin is 19-2 SU, 13-5 ATS at home the last three years.

13. California: Golden Bears head coach Jeff Tedford has 7 starters back on offense and 5 on defense from last season’s 10-3 team. Cal’s offense averaged 32.8 points, 253 yards passing, returns the nation’s best receiving corps and junior QB Nate Longshore (24 TDs, 13 INTs). There is great speed at wideout with junior WR DeSean Jackson (1,060 yards, 9 TDs) and junior WR LaVelle Hawkins. They need to tighten up a pass defense that allowed 240 yards in the air per game. Cal is 33-26 ATS under Tedford. The G’Bears open the season with a revenge game hosting Tennessee and "the big one" Nov. 10 in Berkeley against USC.

14. Tennessee: Offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe help jumpstart a Vols offense that struck for 27.8 points and 264 pass yards per contest. The 6-foot-6 senior QB Erik Ainge returns after throwing for 19 TDs, 9 picks and 67 percent completions. The ground game returns junior RB Arian Foster, but loses top back LaMarcus Coker (696 yards) to a suspension. Tennessee is 5-15 ATS its last 20 in Knoxville, and 15-6 SU/13-7-1 ATS on the road.

15. Florida State: It was a bust of a season for Florida State (7-6), barely making a bowl game. Bobby Bowden has 7 starters returning on offense and 8 on defense. Five new assistants including new offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher join the Noles. Fisher helped LSU to a national title in 2003. Junior QB Drew Weatherford threw for 325 yards in a 44-27 win at the Emerald Bowl against UCLA. The Florida State defense is loaded and allowed just 2.9 yards per rush. The Seminoles are 4-0 ATS their last four games as a dog (three straight up wins).

16. Missouri: What an offense! Mizzou averaged 30 points, 149 yards rushing, 276 passing and return 10 starters. Junior QB Chase Daniel set school records in passing touchdowns (28), passing yards (3,527) and total offense (3,906). The Tigers ranked eighth nationally in total offense (425.6 ypg). A three-game stretch against Nebraska, at Oklahoma and Texas Tech will be key. Missouri