Road to No. 1 in college football starts with Top 40

Aug 18, 2009 5:07 PM
Feist Facts by Jim Feist |

It’s time to kick off a new football season. College football begins September 3rd and here’s a look at the top teams, starting with my top 21-40. Next week, we’ll profile the Top 20.

40. Western Michigan: Fifth-year head coach Bill Cubit runs a fine program, off a 9-4 SU, 5-7 ATS season. The Broncos return seven starters on offense, led by 6-foot-4 senior QB Tim Hiller (36 TDs, 10 picks). The offense was explosive in 2008, with 121 yards rushing, 301 yards passing and 29.8 ppg. He’s been starting since his freshman season.

Western Michigan has a legitimate 1-2 punch in the backfield with senior Brandon West (1,026 yards, 5.0 ypc) and sophomore Aaron Winchester, plus deep threat junior WR Juan Nunez. The defense returns just four starters to a unit that was decent, allowing 23.8 ppg.

39. Rutgers: The Knights have a great coach in Greg Schiano, off an 8-5 SU, 7-5 ATS campaign. They outscored teams by a 29-18 average with an explosive offense that rolled up 128 yards rushing and 266 yards passing per game. They are loaded in the running game and the O-line has the potential to be among the best in school history.

Senior RB Kordell Young (554 yards), junior RB Jourdan Brooks (516 yards, 5.2 ypc), junior Joe Martinek (404) and junior Mason Robinson all return, combining for a mixture of speed and power. The passing game will take its lumps with senior QB Jabu Lovelace, who’s a better athlete than a passer. His top two targets are back in 6-foot-4 senior WR Kenny Britt (1,371 yards) and senior WR Tim Brown (565 yards). The defense is tough, led by senior DE George Johnson, a transfer from Virginia, on a physical front line.

38. South Florida: There’s no secret anymore about the South Florida Bulls and head coach Jim Leavitt, off another winning season at 8-5. The top players on offense and defense return. They run an up-tempo spread offense behind electric senior QB Matt Grothe (18 TDs, 14 picks, 591 rush yards).

The defense returns pass rushing terror senior George Selvie, trying to recapture his All-America form of 2007 after an ankle injury bothered him in 2008. South Florida is 19-5 SU, 15-6 ATS at home the last four years. This is a program on the rise and a fourth straight bowl game is likely.

37. Nebraska: Nebraska has been a beast offensively, even under Bo Pelini, but they lose QB Joe Ganz and all the top playmakers, so this is really the first real look at the Pelini offense. Sophomore QB Patrick Witt is trying to prove he’s ready for the big time, while QB Kody Spano is in the mix. The ground game has junior RB Roy Helu Jr. (803 yards), a sizzling 6.4 yards per carry, and junior RB Quentin Castille (467 yards), plus the wide receiving corps is very good.

The defense allowed 29 ppg and has a ways to go, though Pelini said he is happy with the way All-Big 12 defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh is taking charge of the defense. Early road trips to Virginia Tech and Missouri will tell a lot about the defense and new QB.

36. Central Michigan: The Chippewas (8-5 SU, 4-6-1 ATS) have had an electrifying offense the last few years under coach Butch Jones and QB Dan LeFevour. Central Michigan averaged 292 yards passing, 30 points and 132 yards rushing. Senior QB LeFevour is the MAC’s best player and threw for 2,784 yards, 21 TDs, 6 picks while running for 592 yards.

His top two targets return in senior WR Bryan Anderson (865 yards) and junior WR Antonio Brown (998 yards). This offense should be explosive. Central Michigan is 13-5 SU, 12-4 ATS at home the last three years. Bettors beware: Central is 11-5 ATS its last 16 as a dog!

35. Virginia: Coach Al Groh’s Cavaliers brought in former Bowling Green head coach Gregg Brandon to supercharge an offense that has been weak, trying a spread attack for 2009. Four starters return to anchor the O-line and there is a QB battle between senior Jameel Sewell and junior Marc Verica. On defense, they allowed 21.7 ppg and are thin at linebacker. At least the defensive line has seven of the top eight returning. Virginia is 31-9 SU/25-14 ATS at home the last six seasons, but 12-22 SU/12-20 ATS on the road.

34. Boise State: The Boise State Broncos continue to roll, going 13-0, 10-3 and 12-1 the last three seasons under head coach Chris Peterson. Boise averaged 39 points, 162 yards rushing and 294 passing per game and returns sophomore QB Kellen Moore (25 TDs, 10 INTs), who had a terrific freshman campaign, throwing for 3,486 yards and 69% completions.

There is ample wideout experience with senior WR Jeremy Childs (802 yards) and junior WR Austin Pettis. The ground game has a new offensive line blocking for 5-foot-9 junior RB Jeremy Avery, who ran for 672 and 614 yards the last two seasons. The defense was outstanding, allowing 12 points per game. Since 1999, Boise is 65-2 SU, 39-17 ATS at home on the blue carpet – the strongest home field edge in the nation!

33. Notre Dame: The Irish have been up and down under Charlie Weis, looking better in 2008, a 7-6 campaign, though they lost at home to a horrible Syracuse squad, 24-23, as a 20-point favorite. There is reason for some optimism, with a lot of returning talent and a soft schedule.

Junior QB Jimmy Clausen (3,172 yards, 25 TDs, 17 picks) has been forced to carry the load and has top target junior WR Golden Tate (1,080 yards, 10 TDs). Weis will resume calling plays for the Irish. Seven starters are back to a defense that hasn’t been very good. Notre Dame is 15-9 under the total the last two years.

32. Colorado: Last season injuries derailed what should have been a good offense for Coach Dan Hawkins, going 5-7 SU, 4-7 ATS. Eight starters return on offense, behind junior QB Cody Hawkins (17 TDs, 10 picks), a starter since his freshman season. 5-foot-6 sophomore RB Rodney Stewart (622 yards) led the team as a freshman and ran for a strong 4.7 yards per carry.

Defensively, senior Bryan Stengel and soph Brandon Gouin lead a good LB corps. A good season is possible, though note they are 2-13 SU, 3-12 ATS on the road under Hawkins and 4-17 SU/ATS on the road the last four years.

31. Tennessee: The Volunteers went 9-4 and 10-4 in two straight seasons (10-4 ATS in 2007), then fell off the map last season in a 5-7 campaign that cost Coach Phil Fulmer his job. New coach Lane Kiffin has a dynamite staff around him, including Ed Orgereon (former Ole Miss coach) and his father, Monte Kiffin, who will run the defense

Jim Chaney is the new OC after spending the last three seasons as an assistant with the St. Louis Rams. The key will be 6-4 senior QB Jonathan Crompton (4 TDs, 5 INTs), who struggled badly. The overlooked defense was great, allowing 16.8 points per contest, with junior LB Rico McCoy back and senior DB Derrick Furlow in the secondary. They are on a 7-0-1 run under the total and 18-14 SU/18-13-1 ATS on the road the last six seasons.

30. T.C.U: Undervalued again! TCU went 11-2 SU, 8-4 ATS last season, 32-16 ATS the last four years. Coach Gary Patterson has 6 starters back on offense and 4 on defense. Patterson likes offensive balance and in 2008 the Frogs averaged 35 points, 215 yards rushing and 201 pass yards. Junior QB Andy Dalton has been playing since his freshman season and threw 11 TDs, 5 picks last fall for 2,242 yards.

The Horned Frogs’ top rusher is back in senior RB Joseph Turner (577 yards, 4.0 ypc), plus QB Dalton ran for 432 yards. Three key players are back on the O-line, while junior WR Jimmy Young (988 yards) is back. The defense has 4 starters back, including DE Jerry Hughes. TCU allowed just 10.9 ppg and is on an 11-1 SU/10-1 ATS run at home. (Follow Jim on Twitter at

29. Missouri: Mizzou was explosive offensively last season, averaging 42 points, 157 yards rushing and 340 yards passing. They lost their top offensive threats to the NFL, so head coach Gary Pinkel turns to sophomore QBs 6-foot-5 Blaine Gabbert and Jimmy Costello. New offensive coordinator Dave Yost is expected to tweak the spread offense a bit and use more power running.

The focus will be on junior RB Derrick Washington, who ran for 1,036 yards, 5.9 yards per carry as a sophomore. LB Sean Weatherspoon is back to anchor a good linebacking corps. Mizzou is 14-6 over the total the last two years, 30-11 SU, 20-16 ATS its last 41 home games. They should go bowling, but won’t be as dominant offensively.

28. Iowa: Kirk Ferentz has 6 starters back on offense and 8 on a defense that was 12th in the nation while allowing 13.3 ppg. The offense was mainly running, averaging 30 points, 189 yards rushing, 4.8 ypc, and 184 passing. Junior QB Rick Stanzi had a strong sophomore season, with 1,956 yards, 14 TDs and 9 picks.

5-foot-9 sophomore RB Jewel Hampton (463 yards, 5.1 yc) is back along with top receivers junior WR Derrell Johnson-Koulianos (639 yards) and senior WR Andy Brodell. The defense led the Big Ten in pass efficiency D and gets the entire linebacking corps back. The only drawback is the schedule, with road games at Penn State, Wisconsin, Michigan State and Ohio State. Iowa is 38-8 SU, 28-14-2 ATS at home.

27. Wake Forest: Run-oriented Wake Forest has always been competitive under 9th-year Demon Deacons head coach Jim Grobe. The last three years they have been sensational, at 28-12 SU, 24-15 ATS. QB Riley Skinner (13 TDs, 7 picks) is back for a fourth season to pilot the offense while the running game by committee is loaded. The swarming defense has been great, allowing 18.3 ppg. Wake is 7-4 ATS as a dog the last two years and 11-3 SU, 10-2 ATS their last 14 home games.

26. Illinois: Ron Zook took the Illini to the Rose Bowl in 2007 and has a shot at bouncing back from a losing campaign because of the offense. They averaged 28.7 points and 169 yards rushing (5.0 ypc) and 269 yards passing and return senior QB Juice Williams (22 TDs, 16 picks, 3,173 pass yards and 719 rushing yards).

He has all his key parts back from junior WR Arrelious Benn (1,055 yards) and Jeff Cumberland and tight end Michael Hoomanawanui. Senior RB Daniel Dufrene (663 yards) is a quick back who averaged 5.7 yards per carry. The defense is a concern along with an O-line that loses three starters. Note that Zook is 6-5 SU/4-7 ATS his last 11 games as a home favorite.

25. Utah: Kyle Whittingham is off a perfect 13-0 SU, 8-4 ATS 2008 season. Utah averaged 37 points, 168 yards rushing, 4.0 ypc, and 236 passing. The offense has new faces, with junior QB Corbin Louks (a strong runner) taking over for QB Brian Johnson.

New defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake will keep the defensive scheme the same, and 7 starters return, led by senior All-America candidate LB Stevenson Sylvester. In the Sugar Bowl, he ravaged Alabama with three sacks and seven tackles. Utah is 31-6 SU, 23-10-1 ATS its last 37 home games.

24. NC State: If momentum is huge, NC State should be fired up for 2009, ending last season on a 4-1 SU, 5-0 ATS run under second-year coach Tom O’Brien. In fact, they have covered 8 straight games. The Wolfpack (6-7 SU, 10-2 ATS) found a quarterback in sophomore Russell Wilson, who was sensational with 17 TDs and only one interception! He expects to be fully recovered from a knee injury suffered in the Papa Johns Bowl.

The top pass catcher returns in 6-foot-3 junior WR Owen Spencer (609 yards, 5 TDs), along with 6-foot-4 junior WR Jarvis Williams (432 yards). The defense is a concern, giving up 26 ppg, as NC State was last in the ACC in pass defense. Safety Javon Morgan is expected to return after missing all of 2008 with a knee injury.

23. Oregon State: Mike Riley’s Beavers are off a 9-4 SU/ATS season, including a thrilling 27-21 upset of USC. They like balance and this offense averaged 32 points, 165 yards rushing and 253 passing per game. Freshman of the Year RB Jacquizz Rodgers earned numerous All-America honors after rushing for 1,253 yards and scoring 12 touchdowns.

5-foot-7 junior RB James Rodgers (607), the brother of Jacquizz, caught 51 passes for 607 yards. They are a dynamite backfield pair, though small and injury-prone. More good news is that 6-foot-4 senior QB Sean Canfield (6 TDs 2 INTs) is back, along with 5-11 senior QB Lyle Moevao (19 TDs, 13 picks, 2,534 yards). Oregon State is 11-2 SU, 8-3 ATS its last 13 home games.

22. Cincinnati: Head coach Brian Kelly has done a great job and the Bearcats are off an 11-3 season with a Big East championship. The offense rotated a lot of QBs because of injuries, but still averaged 27 points, 121 yards rushing and 251 passing. For 2009, 7 starters return, led by 6-6 senior QB Tony Pike (2,407 yards, 19 TDs and 11 picks.)

They should have the top passing attack in the Big East. The defense is being overhauled, but allowed 20 ppg. Cincy is 24-6 SU, 16-8 ATS at home the last five years, 10-3 SU on the road the last two. Sports bettors note that Cincy is 4-2 SU, 5-1 ATS as a dog the last two seasons.

21. Wisconsin: Coach Bret Bielema is a defensive guy, but the story for 2009 is the offense. They averaged 28 points, 212 yards rushing and 192 passing last fall and the offense gets back seven starters, including fifth-year senior QB Dustin Sherer (1,389 yards, 6 TDs, 5 INTs). Junior RB John Clay (884 yards, 5.7 ypc) led the team in rushing behind a solid offensive line. The schedule is soft, with only a trip to Ohio State as the killer. Wisconsin is 31-4 SU, 19-12 ATS the last five years at home. They carry a 6-2-1 run over the total into the new season.

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2009 Coaches Top 25 poll
Ohio State 
Virginia Tech 
Penn State 
Oklahoma St. 
Georgia Tech 
Boise State 
Florida State 
N. Carolina 
Notre Dame 
Oregon State 

Question? Comment? E-mail me at: Jim Fiest