Last week we looked at my Top 21-40, this week is my Top 20. The college football season kicks off this Thursday.
1. Georgia: Quietly had a 10-game winning streak, losing only to No. 1 LSU, No. 5 Boise, No. 12 South Carolina and No. 17 Michigan State – two by a total of 6 points, one in triple OT. Georgia averaged 32 points, 244.5 yards passing and 164 rushing. Junior QB Aaron Murray (35 TDs, 14 INTs, 3,149 yds) and sophomore WR Malcolm Mitchell (665 yds) lead passing attack. The ground game has speedy freshman Keith Marshall. Georgia allowed 20.6 ppg with 10 starters back on defense. No games with Bama, LSU or Arkansas for second straight year.
My take: Georgia is 42-16 SU/32-26 ATS on the road under Head Coach Mark Richt. This is Richt’s best team in years.
2. Oklahoma: Sooners “disappointed” at 10-3, losing top RB and WR to mid-season injuries. Even higher hopes this fall with boatload of talent. The offense has senior QB Landry Jones (29 TDs, 15 INTs, 4,463 yds) after averaging 39.5 ppg, 163 yards rushing and 349 passing. The passing attack was fifth in the country. The offense returns four OL along with junior WRs Ken Stills (849) and Jaz Reynolds (715). Top TB Dominique Whaley (5.5 ypc) also is coming back from a broken ankle. The offense threw the ball 558 times, but the line gave up only nine sacks.
My take: Defense must replace some pass rushers, but the secondary returns three. OU is 38-5 SU, 20-16 ATS at home last six seasons.
3. LSU: Though flogged by Bama in the national final, LSU was dominant defensively and has 14 starters back. Eight of the top 10 DL return, led by junior DEs Sam Montgomery (9 sacks) and Barkevious Mingo. LSU was No. 2 in points allowed (11.3 ppg). The veteran OL returns along with junior RBs Mike Ford (756 yds) and Spencer Ware (707). The No. 22 rushing attack averaged 202.6 yds. Passing is a question with 6-foot-5, 250-lb QB Zach Mettenberger (a Georgia transfer) and incoming freshman Gunner Kiel.
My take: The Tigers play 8 home games and are at SEC West foes Texas A&M and Arkansas. The schedule is easier than last two years.
4. Oregon: The Ducks run no ordinary offense under HC Chip Kelly, spreading the field with the no-huddle and burning up defenses. Oregon was No. 3 in the nation in scoring (46.1 ppg), with 223.6 yds passing and 299.2 rushing per contest. The Ducks are three-time defending Pac-12 champions and return 12 starters. Things look bright for 2012 behind speedy sophomore De’Anthony Thomas (10.8 ypc) and senior RB Kenjon Barner (939 yards) replacing star RB LaMichael James. Thomas ran for 595 yards and the leading receiver with 605.
My take: Oregon going with 6-4 freshman Marcus Mariota, a 4-star recruit, at QB. Ducks on a 23-9 run OVER the total.
5. Alabama: The defending national champs boast the nation’s top-ranked defense. HC Nick Saban has to rebuild on both sides of the ball, with only nine starters back. The O-line looks solid behind All-American OT Barrett Jones and junior RB Eddie Lacy (674 yds, 7.1 ypc) while junior QB A.J. McCarron (16 TDs, 5 INTs) is reliable. The D-line is in good shape with ends Damion Square, Jesse Williams and Quinton Dial. The LB corps is young but gifted.
My take: Bama opens Sept. 1 with Michigan plus visits Arkansas (Sept. 15) and LSU (Nov. 3). Can’t possibly allow 8.2 ppg again.
6. Notre Dame: HC Brian Kelly upgraded the defense. Offensively, ND continues to be attacking and no-huddle. Must cut down turnovers. Junior QB Tommy Rees (20 TDs, 14 INTs) and junior RB Cierre Wood (1,102 yds) are back as is TE Tyler Eifert (803 yds). WR Theo Riddick and T.J. Jones also return to unit that averaged 29.2 pts and 252.6 yds passing. The No. 24 defense allowed only 20.7 ppg. They should be outstanding up front, led by sophomore DE Aaron Lynch (5.5 sacks), junior NG Louis Nix and sophomore DE Stephon Tuitt. Senior Manti Te’o turned down the NFL Draft and will anchor a strong LB corps.
My take: Tough sked with nine games against bowl teams, including at Michigan State, Oklahoma and USC. Opener vs Navy in Ireland!
7. South Carolina: The Gamecocks went 11-2 SU/7-6 ATS and whipped Nebraska in a bowl, 30-13. HC Steve Spurrier brings back eight starters on offense, including TB Marcus Lattimore, out much of 2011 with a knee injury. Junior QB Connor Shaw (14 TDs, 6 INTs) led a balanced attack that averaged 30 pts, 181.5 yds passing and 192 rushing. The No. 3 rated defense was sensational, allowing 18.4 ppg. Gamecocks boast one of the best front 7’s and D.J. Swearinger is a star in the secondary. DC Ellis Johnson left to be HC at Southern Miss.
My take: S.C. plays seven at home with rough roadies at LSU (Oct. 13) and Florida (Oct. 20). Spurrier is 19-16 SU, 21-14 ATS on the road.
8. Nebraska: HC Bo Pelini has 8 defensive starters back. On offense, The Cornhuskers averaged 217 yards rushing and 29.2 pts last year. They return junior QB Taylor Martinez (13 TDs, 8 INTs), who ran for 874 yds, and senior RB Rex Burkhead (1,357 yds, 15 TDs). The defense is strong up front. Linebackers Alonzo Whaley and David Santos return for new DC John Papuchis. Huskers were smoked by Wisconsin (48 points), Michigan (45) and South Carolina (30).
My take: When behind and having to pass, Martinez can’t do it. The Huskers are 13-7 SU/ATS on the road under Pelini.
9. Florida: The Gators started 4-0 under HC Will Muschamp, but then came injuries on offense and a 0-4 finish. OC Charlie Weis left, but UF will still run a pro-style attack. The defense (20.3 ppg allowed) returns all 11 starters. Replacing Weis is former Boise State OC Brent Pease. QBs Jacoby Brissett and sophomore Jeff Driskel are raw, but talented. They are surrounded by incredible speed with senior RB Mike Gillislee and junior WR Andre Debose (432 yds, 27 ypc).
My take: D-line loaded with speed and talent. Florida 43-9 SU, 25-21-1 ATS at home in the Swamp the last seven years.
10. Michigan: HC Brady Hoke produced a surprising 11-2 campaign. Both lines have holes to fill but the key skill position player, senior QB Denard Robinson (20 TDs, 15 INTs, 2,173 yards), returns. Robinson led in rushing with 1,176 yds and 16 TDs on an offense that struck for 33.3 pts, 182.8 yds passing and 221.8 rushing (No. 13 nationally). DC Greg Mattison came over from the Baltimore Ravens and created an attacking unit that allowed 17.4 ppg, sixth in the country. MLB Kenny Demens is a star, but the D-line lost its top players.
My take: Tough roadies against Bama, Notre Dame, Nebraska and Ohio St. Wolverines 14-14 SU/12-16 ATS last 28 road games.
11. Florida St: HC Jimbo Fisher, off a nine win season, has seven offensive starters back and nine on defense. This offense has plenty of punch, averaging 30.6 pts, 112 yds rushing and 257 passing. The Seminoles return senior QB E.J. Manuel (18 TDs, 8 INTs), soph RB Devonte Freeman (579 yards, 4.8 ypc), soph WR Rashad Greene, 6-6 senior WR Rodney Smith and soph Christian Green, the top three targets. The O-line did allow 3.2 sacks per game and rushers averaged only 3.3 ypc. The No. 4 rated defense under Mark Stoops allowed 15.1 ppg.
My take: A lot of talent led by DEs Brandon Jenkins and Bjoern Werner, who combined for 15 sacks. Noles 17-7 UNDER last 24.
12: Texas: From no bowl in 2010 to a win over Cal in the Holiday Bowl last year, 21-10. HC Mack Brown has 13 starters back. The passing game didn’t impress but returns both soph QBs David Ash and Case McCoy (7 TDs, 4 INTs). The No. 21 rated ground game is loaded, averaging 202.6 yds. Sophomore RBs Malcolm Brown (742 yards) and Joe Bergeron (463) are back. Freshman Johnathan Gray is a top recruit. The talented defense is led by senior DE Alex Okafor and junior Jackson Jeffcoat (8 sacks). The entire secondary is back.
My take: Horns have three revenge games after giving up 55 to Oklahoma, 38 to Okie St and 48 at Baylor (all losses).
13. Wisconsin: The Badgers are off two straight 11-win seasons. QB Russell Wilson (Seattle Seahawks) is gone so soph Joe Brennan, Joel Stave and Danny O’Brien are competing. O’Brien started 17 games at Maryland over two seasons. The ground game averaged 235 ypg, returning junior RB James White (713) and senior Montee Ball (1,923 yards, 6.3 ypc). The No. 13 defense is strong up front and allowed just 19 ppg, though the secondary has new faces.
My take: Only tough road games at Nebraska and finale at Penn State. UW 51-5 SU, 31-19 ATS the last eight years in Madison.
14. Virginia Tech: The Hokies (11-3 SU, 4-9-1 ATS) were again terrific for HC Frank Beamer, but didn’t cover many. Only three starters are back on offense, but that includes 6-6 junior QB Logan Thomas (19 TDs, 10 INTs) who ran for 11 TDs. The O-line returns only 1 starter, but the No. 7 defense (17.6 ppg) returns 8 that allowed 17.6 ppg). A great LB corps led by Bruce Taylor, plus top DB’s Antone Exum and Kyle Fuller for top-notch DC Bud Foster.
My take: Have won 10 or more games 8 straight years. On 9-3-1 UNDER run and 21-6 SU/17-10-1 ATS away the last five years.
15. Auburn: The Tigers followed up that 14-0 SU/10-3 ATS national title season for HC Gene Chizik with an 8-5 SU/5-7 ATS and a bowl win. The Tigers return 16 starters, but lose top OC Gus Malzahn. Heat is on new OC Scot Loeffler on a unit that averaged 25.7 pts, 155.5 yds passing and 182.3 rushing. Sophomore QB Kiehl Frazier completed only 41.7% of his throws, rushing for 327 yards. The O-line is strong as is RB Onterio McCalebb, and senior WR Emory Blake (612 yds).
My take: Defense torched in losses to Clemson, Georgia, LSU, Alabama and Arkansas. Opens with Clemson in Georgia Dome.
16. Boise St.: Broncos (12-1 SU/5-8 ATS in 2011) have to replace standout QB Kellen Moore and 10 defensive starters. Junior QB Joe Southwick (918 yards) has excellent talent with senior RB D.J. Harper (557 yards) and top receivers in soph Matt Miller (679 yards), senior WR Mitch Burroughs and junior Geraldo Boldewijn. The Broncos (No. 5 on offense) averaged 44.2 pts, 172 yards rushing and 309 passing. A stout defense allowed 18.7 ppg. Tackles Mike Atkinson and Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe should be fine. Senior J.C. Percy leads the LB corps.
My take: No TCU (only 2011 defeat), but opens at Michigan State. On 7-2 OVER run and 83-3 SU, 46-28 ATS at home since ’99!
17. Michigan St.: The Spartans (11-3 SU, 10-4 ATS) lose QB Kirk Cousins, but return 8 starters on one of the best defenses in the nation (18.4 ppg allowed). Junior QB Andrew Maxwell (171 yards) has 4 starters back along the O-line and both junior RB Le’Veon Bell (948 yards) and senior RB Larry Caper. The defense should be among the Big Ten’s best with junior LB Max Bullough (89 tackles) and junior sack master LB Denicos Allen (11 sacks).
My take: Early home games vs ND and Ohio St. Later back-to-back at Michigan and Wisconsin. MSU 20-28 ATS last 48 at East Lansing.
18. Tennessee: The Vols (5-7) started 3-1 before injuries decimated HC Derek Dooley’s squad, but 17 starters are back. Junior QB Tyler Bray (17 TDs, 6 INTs) has thrown 17 and 18 TDs the last two years and leads a passing attack that is loaded with junior WRs Da’Rick Rogers (1,040 yards) and 6-4 junior Justin Hunter. The offense averaged 242 yards passing and should be one of the most potent in the nation. The defense wasn’t bad, allowing 22.6 ppg, but has little pass rush and brings in new coordinator Sal Sunseri, who adds a 3-4 scheme.
My take: Only four road games. Vols 19-21 SU/21-18-1 ATS on the road the last eight seasons, plus on a 6-2-1 UNDER run.
19. USC: The Trojans have a ton of returning talent on offense, but with only 75 scholarship players the next three seasons one has to wonder about their depth. The offense (35.8 ppg) will be humming behind senior QB Matt Barkley (39 TDs, 7 INTs), senior RB Curtis McNeal (1,005 yards, 6.9 ypc) and dynamite WRs in junior Robert Woods (1,292 yards) and sophomore Marqise Lee (1,143). Four starters are back on the O-line, though losing LT Matt Kalil to the NFL Draft was a big blow. Defense is a concern, losing three starters.
My take: USC carries a 6-4 OVER run into 2012. Will that continue with their great offense and suspect ‘D’?
20 W. Virginia: New HC Dana Holgorsen has turned the Mountaineers into a pass-happy group, averaging 37.6 points while winning 10 games and whipping Clemson in the Orange Bowl, 70-33. WVU returns 14 starters, including senior QB Geno Smith (31 TDs, 7 picks, 4,385 yards) to one of the top receiving corps in the country with junior Stedman Bailey (1,279 yards) and 5-foot-9 senior Tavon Austin (1,186). The O-line has three starters back. New co-defensive coordinators Keith Patterson and Joe DeForest have some rebuilding to do.
My take: Defense allowed 27 or more in four of last six games. Mountaineers move to the Big 12 this season. On a 9-2 OVER run.
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