This week, our Top 20 with the college football season kicking off August 28.
20. Marshall: Primed for another strong season after going 8-4 that included a stunning 27-20 upset at Kansas State as a +22 dog. Coach Bob Pruett has senior QB Stan Hill (1,767 yards, 15 TDs and 7 INTs), who connected on a stellar 69 percent of his throws. Hill is fully recovered from a knee injury that ailed him last fall. The Thundering Herd offense averaged a remarkable 196 yards rushing and 244.6 passing per game.
WR Josh Davis (66 catches, 823 yards) and RB Earl Charles (1,039 yards, 12 TDs, 5.1 ypc) provide ample senior leadership and offensive production alongside Hill. The defense has eight starters back, led by senior DE Jamus Martin. The schedule is tough, with September road games at Ohio State and Georgia, but Marshall went 2-0 ATS last September against Tennessee and K-State away from home.
19. Clemson: Seven starters return on both offense and defense for the Tigers, who look to keep the 4-0 SU/ATS run at the end of last season. That run included a 26-10 upset of Florida State and a 27-14 bowl smacking of Tennessee. The Tigers were +17 and +4 dogs in those games.
Coach Tommy Bowden loves to throw the ball and the offense will again feature a wide-open air game behind junior QB Charlie Whitehurst (3,561 yards, 21 TDs, 13 INTs) and senior WR Airese Currie. The offense averaged 28 points and 283 passing yards per game. Clemson went 8-4 ATS and "over" results were 5-3.
18. Oregon State: The offense might not match last year’s sizzling totals (33 points, 463 total yards, 328 passing ypg). Mike Riley’s Beavers do have a lot of weapons returning to a team that outgained Pac 10 opponents by 141 yards a contest, a better number than USC. RB Steven Jackson is off to the NFL, but the ground game returns a magnificent offensive line, anchored by senior T Doug Nienhuis and C Matt Brock.
The passing game should be strong with 6-6 QB Derek Anderson (4,058 passing yards) and WR Mike Haas (1,013 yards, 7 TDs). Anderson threw 24 TDs, but 24 INTs. The senior needs to return to his sophomore form when he had 25 TDs, 13 picks. The defense is led by LB JonathonPollard and a standout secondary. The Ducks get USC (Nov. 6) in Corvallis, where they outscored opponents by a 36-18 average. Oregon State is 27-4 SU and 19-7 ATS at home in the last five years.
17. Auburn: The pressure of high expectations choked the Tigers last September during their 0-2 SU/ATS flop against USC and Georgia Tech. With the pressure off, Tommy Tuberville’s team quietly went 8-3 SU/6-4 ATS after that. Auburn outscored opponents by a 26-16 average, with 184 yards rushing and 192 passing per game. With 13 starters back (seven on offense) they should be a force in the SEC.
Senior QB Jason Campbell is a mobile leader (2,267 yards passing, 10 TDs, 8 INTs) and forms an outstanding backfield with senior RBs Carnell Williams (5.4 ypc, 1,307 yds, 17 TDs) and Ronnie Brown (446 yds). Instead of opening against USC and Georgia Tech, Auburn should get easy confidence-building wins against Louisiana Monroe and Mississippi State. Auburn averaged 33 ppg at home last season, but just 14 ppg on the road where they went 2-3 SU/ATS.
16. Maryland: The Terrapins have an imaginative and innovative coach in Ralph Friedgen. King Ralph knows how to rip apart opposing defenses not named Florida State. Maryland showed great balance on offense, averaging 31 points, 191 yards rushing and 230 passing per game last fall.
Quarterback is still up in the air, but the ground game will be strong behind senior running backs Josh Allen (922 yards, 8 TDs) and Sam Maldonado. The defense is deep and talented, allowing just 15.8 points per game in 2003. Maryland misses Miami and gets Florida State (Oct. 30) in College Park. Maryland was 7-0 SU (5-1 ATS) at home last season. The Terps are 20-1 SU and 16-3 ATS at home the last three years.
15. Purdue: The defense is rebuilding after allowing just 17 ppg, but the offense is loaded. Senior QB Kyle Orton (2,885 yards passing, 15 TDs, 7 INTs) has eight starters back on an offense that averaged 26.8 points, 149 yards rushing and 224 passing.
Junior RB Jerod Void (952 yards, 13 TDs) anchors a strong ground game while Orton has plenty of targets in senior WR Taylor Stubblefield and 6-9 sophomore Kyle Ingraham. The Boilermakers have a rough seven-week stretch in midseason that includes five road contests. On the plus side, Ohio State and Michigan visit West Lafayette.
14. Missouri: There are great expectations in Columbia for Gary Pinkel’s Tigers. Junior QB Brad Smith returns to a team that averaged 237 rushing yards and outscored opponents by an eight-point margin (30-22). This is a fast team, but struggles badly (2-4 SU, 0-4 ATS) on the road. Missouri was 6-1 at home, but improve on a 19-point scoring average away from home.
Smith (60 percent completions) is a complete player, rushing for 1,406 yards, 18 TDs, 6.6 yards per carry, while passing for 1,977 yards, 11 TDs and 7 INTs. The defense has nine starters back, highlighted by the speedy linebacking tandem of James Kinney and Dave Richard. Playing at Texas and at Nebraska will test how far the program has come, not to mention a Nov. 6 showdown at home against Kansas State.
13. Iowa: Let’s give coach Kirk Ferentz his due. He lost QB Brad Banks and still went 10-3 SU/ATS last fall. The Hawkeyes should have more balance offensively with gifted sophomore QB Drew Tate and senior RB Jermelle Lewis (5.2 ypc). The defense has seven starters back and will make things easier for the evolving offense.
Linebackers Abdul Hodge and Chad Greenway along with senior DE Matt Roth anchor a group that allowed 16.2 points per game. Iowa is dominant in Iowa City (18-2 SU, 17-3 ATS) over the last three years.
12. Texas: Offense will carry the Longhorns to another winning season. The line and backfield are loaded on a team that averaged 41 points and 232 rushing yards per game. Texas has two QBs in soph Vince Young (998 rushing yards) and senior Chance Mock. TB Cedric Benson (1,360 yards, 21 TDs, 5.3 ypc) leads a running attack that will be potent.
The defense was porous at times, but returns seven starters. The unit surrendered 38 to Arkansas, 40 to Texas Tech and 65 to Oklahoma. Texas has two bye weeks, misses K-State and plays Missouri and A&M at home. Sports bettors take note: The last four seasons after losing to Oklahoma (a 65-13 defeat in 2003), the Longhorns are 26-4 SU/14-9-2 ATS.
11. Kansas State: The Wildcats allowed 16.3 points and 283 total yards per game. K-State welcomes back a terrific defensive front, led by seniors Jermaine Berry and 6-8 Kevin Huntley. The "under" was 7-3 as the defense limited Oklahoma, Nebraska, Missouri and Texas to an average of 13.5 points.
The offense loses star QB QB El Roberson, but features mobile sophomore Dylan Meier (149 rushing yards, 9.4 ypc) and a remarkable crop of running backs that averaged 228 yards per game. Senior RB Darren Sproles is a Heisman candidate after a monster 2003 when he ran for 1,948 yards, 15 TDs, and averaged 6.6 yards per carry. The Wildcats have a relatively easy schedule, with Big 12 rivals Oklahoma and Nebraska visiting Manhattan this season.
10. Michigan: Losing a top QB and RB would cripple many teams, but not the Wolverines. The offensive line returns along with a slew of speedy wide outs. The Michigan offense that averaged 35 points, 176 yards rushing and 270 passing yards. Capable soph QB Matt Gutierrez will replace John Navarre. The good news is that senior WR Braylon Edwards (14 TDs, 1,031 yards) returns along with junior Jason Avant.
Seven starters return to a talented defense that allowed just 16.8 points per game. There were a few meltdowns on the road, but the Wolverines outscored opponents by a 35-11 average at home. Michigan was 7-1 SU and 6-2 ATS in Ann Arbor. The schedule is favorable until the Nov. 20 finale at Ohio State.
9. California: This is one great coaching staff at
Cal, led by HC Jeff Tedford. He’s an offensive wizard (1-10 SU before
JT, 7-5 and 8-6 after) The offenses averaged 35.6 points and 247 yards passing
(2002) and 32.6 points and 264 yards passing (2003).
Junior QB Aaron Rodgers 19 TDs, 5 INTs, 2,903 yards, 61.6 percent is coming off a great year. His favorite target is WR Geoff McArthur (85 catches, 1,504 yards, 10 TDs) while RB Marcus O’Keith steps into the backfield (230 yards, 5.8 ypc). The offense should score a bundle and the defense has nine starters back. Remember, Cal handed USC its only loss (34-31 in OT). The Golden Bears are 18-8 ATS under Tedford (10-4 last season).
8. Ohio State: Jim Tressel’s Buckeyes are 25-2 the last two seasons with one national title. There is some rebuilding to do, but they’re not short on talent or great coaching. Defense will again lead the way behind junior LB A.J. Hawk and aggressive senior cornerback Dustin Fox. The tough "D" is why the Buckeyes are 16-0 SU/10-6 ATS in Columbus the last two seasons.
Tressel hopes to have a productive young passing attack with strong-armed sophomore QB Justin Zwick and WR Santonio Holmes (549 yards as a freshman). The reliable running attack features senior Lydell Ross (826 yards, 10 TDs). November is a challenge, with road games at Michigan State and Purdue right before facing rival Michigan at home.
7. Miami: Hurricanes had good balance in 2003, amassing 179 yards per game on the ground and 215 passing. Miami outscored opponents by a 28-16 average and will again be led by QB Brock Berlin (2,419 yards, 12 TDs). The senior needs to cut down on his 17 interceptions. Sophomore Ryan Moore (637 yards, 3 TDs) was the top receiver, while the running game features sophomore Tyrone Moss (511 yards, 5 TDs) and Frank Gore. The latter has looked good in practice after knee surgery.
The defensive front is terrific, anchored by junior Orien Harris, and the secondary has ace CB Antrel Rolle. This season, the first in the ACC, the Canes play five road games in seven contests during midseason. Miami was 6-1 SU at home, but a poor 1-6 ATS in ’03.
6. Tennessee: Up and down QB Casey Clausen is gone, so the Volunteers may get back to their characteristic power running game. The ground attack is in good shape with seniors Cedric Houston (720 yards), Jabari Davis (559) and Gerald Riggs. Senior quarterback C.J. Leak lacks experience but has a lot of tools and finally gets his chance to shine.
The defense will be tough again, allowing just 18 points per game last fall. The Vols have five of the front seven back, led by linebackers Kevin Simon and Kevin Burnett. A big plus is the schedule, with seven home games. The toughest road matchup comes Oct. 9 at Georgia.
5. Georgia: Head Coach Mark Richt is one of the best in the business. His Georgia teams have gone 13-1 and 11-3 SU the last two seasons. During that time, the Bulldogs are 18-9-1 ATS. The offense is deep, revolving around senior QB David Green (13 TDs, 11 INTs, 3,307 yards) and WRs Fred Gibson and Reggie Brown.
Junior RB Michael Cooper anchors a ground game on an offense that averaged 26.5 points, 135 yards rushing and 245 passing. The defense allowed just 14.5 ppg and has SEC Defensive Player of the Year DE David Pollack (92 tackles, 7.5 sacks) back. The Dawgs play five of their first six between the hedges in Athens, including LSU and Tennessee. Sports bettors take note: Georgia is 12-3 SU/10-4-1 ATS on the road under Richt.
4. LSU: Coach Nick Saban’s Tigers are the defending champs and a brilliant defense (seven starters back) will anchor another strong season. The Tigers lost some talent on the defensive line, but still have DE Marcus Spears and All-America CB Corey Webster on a unit that allowed just 11 points per game. The stellar "D" led the way during a 13-1 SU, 11-2 ATS national title campaign.
The offense finds senior QB Marcus Randall (just 40 pass attempts) stepping in for departed Matt Mauck. Saban will look toward the ground game to pound its way through opponents. LSU has averaged 197 and 185 yards rushing per game the last two years. The Tigers were 6-0 SU/5-1 ATS away from Baton Rouge, outscoring opponents by a 33-9 average.
3. Florida State: It’s been a while since we heard from Florida State in the Top 5, but Bobby Bowden has a deep and talented team that is ready to make waves in the new-look ACC. Senior QB Chris Rix (52 percent completions, 13 TDs, 7 INTs) becomes the first four-year starter under Bowden at FSU. Nine starters return on offense.
The Seminoles should have great balance behind Rix with senior WR Craphonso Thorpe and all five offensive linemen back. There’s a revenge game Sept. 6 at Miami, a nationally televised Monday night clash. "You know motivation is not going to be a problem," said Bowden of the annual in-state war. Miami topped FSU twice a year ago, 22-14 and 16-14. It’s hard to believe, but the ACC title might be decided Labor Day weekend.
2. Oklahoma: When last we saw the Sooners, they were going 0-2 SU/ATS. The Okies fell 35-7 to Kansas State and 21-14 to LSU as 13 and 6-point favorites respectively in the biggest games of the season. It was an embarrassing fall for a team that was No. 1 most of 2003. However, weep not for the Sooners. Coach Bob Stoops has seven starters returning on defense and 10 on offense for a squad that ripped opponents by a 43-15 average.
Oklahoma returns 2003 Heisman Trophy winner senior QB Jason White (3,846 yards passing, 40 TDs, 10 INTs.) Senior WRs Mark Clayton (15 TDs) and Brandon Jones (8 TDs) along with junior RB Kejuan Jones (866 yards) spells bad news for opposing defenses. The Sooners, which averaged 146 yards rushing and 292 passing per game, get Nebraska and Texas Tech at home.
1. USC: Head Coach Pete Carroll and offensive coordinator Norm Chow have collaborated beautifully to turn the Trojans back into a powerhouse in just three years. USC was 12-1 SU, a sizzling 11-2 ATS and carries a nine-game win streak into the year. This season the Men of Troy are thinking national championship game, with 13 starters back and a relatively easy schedule.
The defense allowed just 18 points per game for the second year in a row, remarkable in the pass-happy Pac 10. Seniors Shaun Cody and Mike Patterson anchor a defense that has six starters returning. The offense found a new star in junior QB Matt Leinart, who hit 63 percent of his throws. Leinart (3,556 passing yards, 38 TDs, 9 INTs) leads an offense that averaged 41 points, 156 yards rushing and 291 passing each game.
Junior RB LenDale White (754 yards) heads a deep backfield and there is a talented crop of speedy receivers. USC was 6-0 SU and 5-1 ATS at the L.A. Coliseum, where the Trojans outscored opponents by a 47-22 average! USC hosts Cal (the only team to beat them) along with Notre Dame. The furthest USC travels is the Aug. 28 opener in Washington, D.C. against Virginia Tech in the BCA Football Clas