College football is just a few weeks away, and with it will come another exciting season with plenty of twists and turns. To keep you safely on track, we’ve put together an analysis of the Top 40 teams in the country. This week we’ll review teams 21-40, with the Top 20 slated for next week in GamingToday.
40 Colorado St: Sonny Lubick’s Rams have won or shared the MWC title five of the last nine years. CSU is well-balanced (174 yards rushing, 140 yards passing in 2001). QB Bradlee Van Pelt (1,792 total yards, 12 TDs) is tall (6-foot-3) agile and just a junior. Leading rusher Henri Childs returns and RB Cecil Sapp is back from ankle surgery. With 13 of 22 starters back, the Rams should be tough again.
39 Middle Tennessee St: The Blue Raiders (8-3) were fifth nationally in total offense (37 ppg) and returns most of that unit. RB Dwone Hicks has averaged nearly 20 TDs the past two years. The only concern for head coach Andy McCollum is at QB, where freshman Adrico Hines and Andre Green will have to learn fast. The defensive averages just 219 pounds. The offense (237 rpg, 243 ppg) could rule the Sun Belt if able to survive September games with Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky. MTSU went 1-2 vs. the SEC last year. Should be a good OVER team.
38 Oregon State: 15 starters return for Dennis Erickson. The bad news is the QB and leading rusher are gone. Sophomore RB Steven Jackson takes over and mobile, 6-foot-6 redshirt-freshman QB Derek Anderson is a highly touted prospect. Junior WR James Newson (968 yds, 5 TDs) is a prime target. Oregon State (11-1 in 2000) emphasizes speed on defense and has eight starters back. An easy early schedule could find the Beavers 4-0 before opening Pac-10 play.
37 Alabama: Second-year coach Dennis Franchione is a proponent of ball control. The Tide averaged nearly 208 yards and 27 points per game last year. Senior RB Ahmaad Galloway and junior Santonio Beard provide a quality 1-2 punch on the ground. Senior QB Tyler Watts is a better runner than passer. The defense is experienced, holding teams to 19 ppg. A tough schedule features road games at Oklahoma (Sept. 7), Arkansas, Tennessee and LSU.
36 Michigan State: Coach Bobby Williams has assembled a talented group that averaged 31.2 ppg last year. Junior QB Jeff Smoker (2,203 yds, 18 TDs, 7 INTs) and the entire offensive line are back along with explosive WR Charles Rogers (12 TDs). State returns 15 of 22 starters, including seven on a defense that picked off 18 passes. MSU opens with five straight home games (only one road contest before November) and will play on natural grass at East Lansing for the first time since 1968.
35 Arizona: Points are no problem for the Wildcats, who averaged 29 per game and return nine offensive starters. Senior QB Jason Johnson (19 TDs) has his leading rusher (junior Clarence Farmer) and leading receiver (Bobby Wade) back. In the pass-happy Pac-10, Arizona will be able to run-and-gun. A porous defense (34 ppg) gets some help from incoming DE Andre Torrey (6-4, 250). Leading tackler and sacks-leader Lance Briggs provides senior leadership. Junior Michael Jolivette (5 INT) is the top DB.
34 Mississippi: All pass, but what a weapon. Junior QB Eli Manning (Peyton’s brother) threw 31 TDs and just 9 INTs as Ole Miss averaged 270 yards in the air and scored over 35 per game. WR Chris Collins and TE Doug Ziegler return, so look for an aerial assault again. The defense allowed 28 ppg and lacks size upfront. New coordinator Chuck Driesbach has installed an unusual 4-2-5 scheme that relies on speed. Leading tackler LB Eddie Strong and sacks leader L.P. Spence are quality veterans.
33 Boise State: The potent Broncos outscored teams by a 34-23 average in 2001, averaging 444 yards per game. Boise returns junior QB Ryan Dinwiddie (28 TDs, 10 INTs), WR Jay Swillie and RBs Brock Forsey and David Mikell (a combined 1,699 rushing yds, 19 TDs). Three-time All-WAC safety Quintin Mikell leads an experienced defense. The Broncs have an easier schedule than a year ago, playing the league’s best (Fresno State, Hawaii and Louisiana Tech) in Boise.
32 LSU: Coach Nick Saban’s Tigers lost their two best players on offense, so winning a second straight SEC title will be a stretch. There’s still a lot of talent on a club that averaged 32 points and 426 total yards per game. RB LaBrandon Toefield and four offensive linemen are back There’s WR depth in Michael Clayton and Reggie Robinson, which makes the QB transition easier. Sophomore Matt Mauck came off the bench in the SEC title game after Rohan Davey was injured and helped lead the Tigers to victory over Tennessee.
31 Southern Mississippi: As usual, the Golden Eagles were an outstanding defensive team in 2001, holding clubs to just under 17 ppg. They should be tough again with junior MLB Rod Davis, S Etric Pruitt and senior LB Joe Henley. A solid defense will take heat off an offense that needs to find better balance (95 rushing yards per game) and replace QB Jeff Kelly. Sophomore QBs Mickey D’Angelo and Zac White have the luxury of experienced offensive weapons in senior TE Bob Garner, senior WRs LeRoy Handy and Kenneth Johnson, and RB Tim Blackwell.
30 N.C. State: Coach Chuck Amato produced a 7-4 regular season that earned a Tangerine Bowl bid. The Wolfpack lost 23-19 to ACC champion Maryland and won 34-28 at Florida State as an 18-point dog. The offense is strong with junior QB Philip Rivers (41 TDs, 17 INTs the last two years) and senior WR Bryan Peterson. State outscored teams by a 27-20 average and continues to be a team to watch.
29 Oregon: The Ducks lose QB Joey Harrington from an offense that had outstanding balance (394 ypg) and outscored foes by a 34-21 average. Junior RB Onterrio Smith (1,007 yards) averaged an impressive 6.3 per carry. Junior QB Jason Fife had a good spring and saw some action last year. The defense returns six starts from a unit that yielded 21 ppg. Top players are sacks leader Kevin Mitchell and LB Dave Moretti. Oregon has won 25 of 26 games at Autzen Stadium, which adds 12,000 seats and hosts eight home contests this season.
28 South Carolina: Lou Holtz and the Gamecocks will have a new look with athletic, mobile and strong-armed QB Corey Jenkins. South Carolina averaged 171 yards rushing per game, so don’t look for Holtz to deviate from his usual ball-control formula. The defense took a graduation hit, but still has leading tackler S Rashad Faison and a budding star in 6-foot-5 sophomore DE George Gause. The Gamecocks play Tennessee, Arkansas and Georgia at home, where they went 6-1 last season.
27 Purdue: The Boilermakers return 17 starters. Sophomore QB Kyle Orton took over late last year and will be aided by the team’s top offensive threats in senior RB Montrell Lowe and WR Taylor Stubblefield. The defense is anchored by remarkable junior FS Stuart Schweigert, who has led the team in tackles and INTs in each of his first two seasons. Coach Joe Tiller went with youth the past two years and the choice should pay dividends. Purdue has seven home games, including Big Ten rivals Michigan and Ohio State.
26 Kansas State: A strong defense, a returning QB and an easy schedule should be enough to get K-State back to its winning ways. The defense allowed 17 ppg in 2001 and has seven starters back, including DT Tank Reese and DE Andrew Shull. The offense has a whole crop of JC transfers who have to step in at the skill positions. Three top OL (Thomas Barnett, Steve Washington, Nick Leckey) and QB El Roberson return to a unit that averaged 236 yards rushing. K-State plays four road games, but only one against a team off a winning season (Colorado).
25 Auburn: Defense keys the Tigers with junior LB Dontarrious Thomas, junior DE Reggie Torbo (sacks leader) and Karlos Dansby (5 INTs). Auburn was good enough to pull off upsets of Florida and Georgia and coach Tommy Tuberville wants a more aggressive group this fall. The offense had good balance averaging 138 yards rushing/190 passing per game. Sophomore RB Carnell Williams is an enormous talent who looks to bounce back from a broken collarbone. QBs Daniel Cobb and Jason Campbell will battle for consistency and RB Ronnie Brown rounds out a deep backfield. Damon Duval, one of the best kickers in the nation.
24 Wisconsin: Junior LB Jeff Mack must lead a defense that returns just three starters and allowed 26 ppg. But there are no concerns on offense with eight starters back. Senior QB Brooks Bollinger is a threat with his arm (6 TDs, 1,257 yds passing) and his legs (6 TDs, 388 yds rushing), despite injuries limiting his playing time. Sophomore RB Anthony Davis is a budding star with 11 TDs and 1,466 yards last year. WR Lee Evans is an outstanding talent (1,545 yds, 9 TDs), though a severe spring knee injury leaves his status uncertain. Eight home games and a soft early-season schedule make the Badgers a good bet to bounce back.
23 Arkansas: The Razorbacks averaged 162.5 yards rushing per game in 2001 and have plenty of strong legs returning. Leading rusher Fred Talley returns for his senior season along with RB Cedric Cobbs. Sophomore QB Matt Jones is an outstanding runner, but speedy WRs George Wilson and Richard Smith will force defenses to think about the pass. Seven starters return to a defense that had 26 takeaways (tied for first in the SEC). Sacks leader Jermaine Brooks is back, along with LB Caleb Miller and CBs Lawrence Richardson and Eddie Jackson. The Hogs should benefit from eight home games.
22 Louisville: The Cardinals return a ton of talent to a club that went 11-2, outscoring teams by 30-17 average. QB Dave Ragone (23 TDs, 7 INTs) looks to impress NFL scouts by topping his 3,056 yards passing. Speedy, but tiny Damien Dorsey should be Ragone’s favorite target after an injury-plagued 2001. The defense returns 10 starters, anchored by FS Anthony Floyd and DE Dewayne White. The Cards could be 4-0 heading into a Sept. 26 date against Florida State in Louisville.
21 Georgia Tech: Chan Gailey takes over a club that was 8-5 in 2001 and upset Stanford 24-14 in the Seattle Bowl. The defense, with nine starters back, will give the young offense time to develop. The Yellow Jackets return sack leaders Keyaron Fox and Greg Gathers and all three linebackers. Tennessee transfer A.J. Suggs and Damarius Bilbo will compete for the starting QB job.
We’ll finish up next week with the Top 20 teams.