Feist Facts by Jim Feist | It’s time to kick off a new football season. College football begins Aug. 28 and here’s a look at the top teams, starting with my top 21-40.
40. Central Michigan: The Chippewas (8-6 SU, 8-5 ATS) were better than that record, losing to Kansas, Clemson and Purdue (twice). CMU has one of the most dazzling offenses in the nation with eight starters back on both sides of the ball. The Chippewas averaged 278 yards passing and 42 points in MAC play.
Junior QB Dan LeFevour threw for 3,652 yards, 27 TDs and 13 INTs, while running for 1,122 yards, 20 rushing TDs! He and Tim Tebow are the only QBs to run and throw for 20 TDs in the same season. His top two targets return in junior WR Bryan Anderson (1,132 yards) and sophomore WR Antonio Brown (1,003 yards). The combination of great offense and weak defense is why CMU was 11-2 over the total.
39. Georgia Tech: The Yellow Jackets dumped Chan Gailey and brought in Paul Johnson, the former Navy coach who did wonders at Annapolis. This was a run-oriented team last fall, averaging 199 yards rushing, 185 passing and 26 points. Navy still will be, but Johnson recruits speed for his option-attack.
QB Taylor Bennett, last year’s starter, has transferred out, so sophomore Josh Nesbitt and Calvin Booker are battling it out. Both QBs are athletic enough to run Johnson’s option offense. Five starters return to a defense that has been the backbone of the team for years. Georgia Tech carries a 7-4 run over the total into the new season.
38. Utah: With eight starters back on offense and six on ‘D’, hopes are high in 2008. The spread offense is strong, though the key is keeping senior QB Brian Johnson healthy. He sat out 2006 to rehab his knee and had a broken collarbone in the 2007 season opener. They have experienced targets, plus senior RB Darrel Mack (1,204 yards, 4.8 ypc, 12 TDs).
The Utes return six starters to a defense that allowed 16.8 points, 145 yards rushing (just 3.9 ypc) and 183 yards passing. The secondary is in great shape with second-team all-league senior cornerback Brice McCain. Utah opens at Michigan, but the key Mountain West games (BYU, TCU) are at home. Utah is 25-6 SU, 20-8-1 ATS its last 31 home games.
37. Virginia: Coach Al Groh’s Cavaliers runs a fine program and turns the reigns of the offense over to 6-foot-5 sophomore QB Peter Lalich, a big, drop-back passer. Junior WR Kevin Ogletree, Virginia’s top wide receiver in 2006, suffered a serious knee injury a year ago and was redshirted. Ogletree will team with junior RB Mikell Simpson, who had 570 yards rushing (5.0 ypc) and caught 43 passes for 402 yards, a talented dual threat.
Senior RB Cedric Peerman (585 yards, 5.2) leads a deep backfield. Bob Pruett, the former Marshall head coach, is Virginia’s new defensive coordinator. This is an experienced unit, with seven starters back. Virginia is 26-7 SU/22-11 ATS at home the last five seasons.
36. Fresno State: Fresno bounced back with an impressive 9-4 SU, 7-5 ATS season under 11-year coach Pat Hill. With eight starters back on offense and seven on defense, hopes are high for 2008. This offense averaged 32.8 points, 210 yards rushing and 208 passing per game. The Bulldogs have a new offensive coordinator in Doug Nussmeier, the ex-quarterback coach for the St. Louis Rams. He likes wide-open attacks.
Senior QB Tom Brandstater (15 TDs, 5 picks) leads the way with junior WR Marlin Moore and junior RB Ryan Mathews (866 yards, 6.0 ypc, 14 TDs). This offense looks loaded. The regular season finale at Boise (November 28) might decide the WAC.
35. Florida St: The Seminoles return seven starters on offense, eight on defense. Senior QB Drew Weatherford (9 TDs, 3 INT’s) has two key weapons in 6-foot-6 senior WR Greg Carr (4 TDs, 795 yards) and sophomore WR Preston Parker.
The Florida State defense was strong up front, allowing 116 yards rushing per game, just 3.3 yards per carry. The Noles will be without a slew of suspended players for the first three games (Western Carolina, Chattanooga, Wake Forest) – all at home.
34. Colorado: The Buffaloes took a major step forward in 2007 under Coach Dan Hawkins, going 6-6 SU/ATS and shocking then-No. 3 Oklahoma as a 23-point dog, 27-24. Colorado averaged 29 points, 165 yards rushing and 221 yards passing in Big 12 play. Sophomore Cody Hawkins got the offense moving as a freshman, passing for 3,015 yards, 22 TDs and 17 INTs.
Six targets caught over 200 yards as the Buffs spread the ball around. CU adds one of the nation’s top running back recruits in freshman Darrell Scott. This team was 8-5 over the total with a strong offense and a weak secondary.Colorado is 2-9 SU, 3-8 ATS on the road under Hawkins.
33. Boise St: The Broncos continue to roll, going 13-0 and 10-3 the last two seasons under head coach Chris Peterson. Boise averaged 42 points, 185 yards rushing and 282 passing per game. QB is the big story. Senior QB Bush Hamdan threw only six passes in 2007, and will be pressed by sophomore QB Nick Lomax, the son of former NFL QB Neil Lomax.
There is ample wideout experience, led by junior WR Jeremy Childs (82 catches for 1,045 yards). The ground game returns a monster back in senior Ian Johnson, who heads into his senior season as the nation’s career rushing leader (3,418 yards). Eight starters return on ‘D’. Since 1999, Boise is 59-2 SU, 37-14 ATS at home on the blue carpet!
32. Boston Col: A veteran BC team went 11-3 SU, 8-5 ATS under first-year head coach Jeff Jagodzinski. Senior QB Chris Crane steps in after being Matt Ryan’s understudy the last two seasons. A guy to watch is 5-9 true freshman RB Josh Haden, who has breakaway speed.
The defense is fast and outstanding allowing 20 points per game and just 2.4 yards per rush. The unit has two potential all-leaguers in senior DT B.J. Raji and senior LB Brian Toal, who are coming off the shelf after missing last season. The Eagles are 14-2 SU, 9-5 ATS at home the last two years and 10-1 SU/ATS as a dog.
31. Michigan: The Wolverines are changing philosophies, from the Bo Schembechler/Lloyd Carr offenses to one predicated on speed under new coach Rich Rodriguez. Who will quarterback? A pair of tall candidates with little experience will battle it out in 6-foot-7 junior David Cone and 6-foot-6 sophomore Steve Threet.
There is good speed in the backfield and at wideout. The defense was terrific in 2007, allowing 18 points, 119 yards rushing (3.7 ypc) and just 142 yards passing in Big 10 play. Senior Nose-tackle Terrance Taylor and senior DT Will Johnson anchor a very good line. Michigan is 12-4 under the total in Big 10 play the last two years and 8-2 SU/ATS in its last 10 road games.
30. California: Golden Bears Coach Jeff Tedford has something to prove, after his team wilted from a 2-6 SU, 1-7 ATS run down the stretch. Cal sent five players to the NFL from an offense that averaged 29 points, 153 yards rushing and 224 yards passing. Back this season is senior QB Nate Longshore (16 TDs, 13 INTs).
Cal is set on the O-line with senior All-American Alex Mack at center. Mack anchored an offensive line which allowed a Pac-10-best 11 sacks. The defense returns eight starters to a solid unit. September dates at Washington State and Maryland back-to-back will be challenging.
29. So. Miss: Jeff Bower is gone after 16 years in Hattiesburg, but he left the cupboard loaded. New coach Larry Fedora comes to Southern Miss after spending the last three seasons as the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma St.
Fedora brings in a more wide-open, spread attack. The Golden Eagles will lean heavily on one-back formations and no-huddle sets. A guy to watch is freshman WR DeAndre Brown, a top recruit who spurned several SEC schools to play for USM. Southern Miss also has a stud in junior RB Damion Fletcher.
28. Oregon: Mike Bellotti is in his 14th season as coach and off a splendid 9-4 SU/ATS campaign. The Ducks took down USC, 24-17, and had a shot at the national title game before injuries decimated them down the stretch. Six starters are back on offense and six on defense. Oregon did lose RB Jon Stewart to the NFL, plus electric QB Dennis Dixon.
Sophomore QB Justin Roper started in the Sun Bowl win over South Florida and was terrific (17-of-30, 180 yds, 4 TDs, 0 INT). Oregon returns a strong offensive line, led by senior All-America center Max Unger and senior right guard Mark Lewis. A player to keep an eye on is junior RB LaGarrette Blount, a heralded 230-pound transfer from East Mississippi Junior College, adding some muscle to the backfield.
27. Texas A&M: Coach Dennis Franchione is gone and new Head Coach Mike Sherman takes over. Sherman likes a balanced offense and inherits a good ground game that averaged 211 yards. This team is off a winning season (7-6) and averaged 28 ppg, so he inherits a decent nucleus. The big story will be behind center, with running senior QB Stephen McGee battling Tommy Dorman and sophomore QB Jerrod Johnson. McGee had 12 TDs and eight picks, while running for 899 yards to lead the team.
The ground game is terrific with junior RB Mike Goodson (711 yards, 4.6 ypc) and senior RB Jorvorskie Lane (780 yards, 4.6 ypc). The defense will have a new look with DC Joe Kines, who prefers an attacking, blitzing unit. A&M is 6-23 SU, 11-17 ATS the last five seasons as an underdog.
26. Wisconsin: The Badgers came back to earth a bit last year, going 9-4 SU, 5-7 ATS. In fact, they were 0-4 SU/ATS as a dog. Coach Bret Bielema has to find a quarterback, with mobile Allan Evridge and Dustin Sherer battling for the No. 1 job. Bielema and OC Paul Christ have toyed with the idea of adding the spread-option, if only to complement UW’s base offense and give defenses more to worry about.
The running game has 5-11, 242-pound junior P.J. Hill Jr, who has run for 1,569 and 1,212 yards the last two seasons plus a deep offensive line. The schedule isn’t that bad, with road games at Michigan, Iowa and Michigan State. Wisconsin has been great at home (26-2 SU, 17-7 ATS) the last four years in Madison.
25. South Florida: There’s no secret anymore about the Bulls and Head Coach Jim Leavitt. USF is off a 9-4 SU, 7-5 ATS season, including wins at Auburn (26-23) and over West Virginia (21-13). The Bulls return nine starters on offense, seven on defense. USF runs an uptempo, sometimes no-huddle, spread offense. Junior QB Matt Grothe led the Bulls in rushing (872 yards) and threw 14 TDs. However, he also threw 14 picks.
This offensive line is super, with four starters back. The defense is also strong, allowing 23 ppg and 3.6 yards per rush. Seven starters return, led by pass rushing terror George Selvie. South Florida is 14-3 SU, 12-3 ATS at home the last three years and a fourth straight bowl game is likely.
24. Arizona St: Dennis Erickson’s pro-style spread attack was outstanding, averaging 32 points, 141 yards rushing and 262 passing. The skill positions on offense are loaded, though ASU has have to address an offensive line that lost three starters and allowed 55 sacks. The Sun Devils will be throwing it early and often because of senior quarterback Rudy Carpenter (3,202 yards, 25 TDs and 10 picks).
Carpenter has great targets in senior WR Michael Jones (769 yards, 10 TDs), junior WR Chris McGaha (830 yards), and senior WR Kyle Williams (360). Arizona State has been a far better home team the last five years and last season was 7-1 SU, 6-2 ATS in Tempe compared to 3-2 SU, 1-4 ATS on the road.
23. Oklahoma St: The Cowboys begin their fourth season under Head Coach Mike Gundy and his electric offense. State goes with a no-huddle at times and dazzled with 34.6 points, 243 yards rushing and passing per game! OSU returns 17 starters and has a lot to prove. Despite NFL-caliber talent, the Pokes have blown too many close games, including an embarrassing choke against Texas, 38-35.
Senior QB Zac Robinson is off a strong junior season with 2,824 yards, 23 TDs and 9 INT. Robinson ran for 847 yards (6.1 ypc). He has fast, 5-foot-8 RB Kendall Hunter (696 yards) and speedy junior WR Dez Bryant, so there is plenty of pop in this offense. The defense, though, has been a dud, but has plenty of experience. The Cowboys are 15-9 over the total the last two years.
22. UCLA: Rick Neuheisel inherits a talented and experienced bunch of Bruins, with five starters back on both sides of the ball. DeWayne Walker is still running the defense and brilliant offensive coordinator Norm Chow comes over from the Tennessee Titans. Senior Ben Olson is out seven weeks, so they are scrambling for a QB.
The Bruins averaged 151 yards rushing a year ago and four of the top five tailbacks return, led by senior RB Kahlil Bell (795 yards). OC Chow knows how to revamp an offense. The Bruins were stout defensively last season, ranked 29th nationally in total defense. This is a bit of a wild card team. The offense has question marks, but the defense and coaching staffs look outstanding.
21. Illinois: You have to hand it to Coach Ron Zook, the "Man with a Plan." Zook has been a great recruiter and took Illinois to the Rose Bowl last season (9-4 SU, 7-5 ATS). That berth was keyed by a win at then-No. 1 Ohio State, 28-21. RB Rashard Mendenhall jumped to the NFL, but the offense still has mobile junior QB Juice Williams. Last season he had 13 TDs, 12 picks and 755 rushing yards.
This offense averaged 27.8 points and 256.8 yards rushing (5.6 ypc). The passing game is stocked, anchored by sophomore WR Arrelious Benn (676 yards), the 2007 Big Ten Freshman of the Year. The defense allowed 19.6 points and just 3.5 ypc in Big 10 play. Zook is 3-4 SU/2-5 ATS his last seven games as a home favorite.