In the first of a four-part series this week, Jim lists No. 31-40 where we find old standards such as Nebraska and Notre Dame mixed in with the some of the lesser knowns like Central Michigan and Boise St.
It’s time to kick off a new football season. College football begins September 3, and here’s a look at my Top 40 countdown!
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 6-4 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. Western Michigan was 9-6 over the total the last two falls.
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 averaging with an explosive offense that rolled up 128 yards rushing and 266 yards passing per game. They are loaded in the running game, so don't be surprised if Rutgers returns to a power running style. The offensive 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, 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 former transfer from Virginia, on a physical front line. Another winning season and a bowl will be in the cards.
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 each on offense and defense return. They run an uptempo spread offense behind electric senior QB Matt Grothe (18 TDs, 14 picks, 591 rush yards).
The defense returns pass rushing terror senior George Selvie returns, 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 Spanos 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.
Can they approach last season's offensive numbers: 36 points, with 173 yards rushing and 284 yards passing per game? 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. Nebraska is 2-2 SU, 3-1 ATS under Pelini on the road. 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 have been up and down while rebuilding the last few years. On offense, former Bowling Green head coach Gregg Brandon has been brought to Charlottesville to supercharge an offense that has been weak, trying a spread attack for 2009. Four starters return to anchor the offensive line and there is a QB battle between senior Jameel Sewell and junior Marc Verica. Sewell started all 13 games in 2007 and led the team to nine wins and a New Year’s Day bowl game.
On defense, they allowed 21.7 ppg and are thin at linebacker. That's a concern, as in Groh's 3-4 defense, playmaking linebackers are an absolute must. 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 and loses monster back Ian Johnson. So look 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!
33. Notre Dame: You never know which Irish team under Charlie Weis is going to show up. They looked a little better in 2008, a 7-6 campaign, but they got smacked around by BC and USC, and lost at home to a horrible Syracuse squad, 24-23, as a 20-point favorite. There is reason for some optimism, with good recruiting classes, 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 behind a weak offensive line. Top target junior WR Golden Tate returns and was outstanding, with 58 catches for 1,080 yards and 10 TDs. Weis will resume calling plays for the Irish. 7 starters are back to a defense that hasn’t been very good under him. 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. Remember that two years ago they shocked then-No. 3 Oklahoma, 27-24 as a 23-point dog. 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. They added one of the nation's top running backs in Darrell Scott, who stumbled as a freshman behind the banged-up offensive line.
Defensively, senior Bryan Stengel and soph Brandon Gouin lead a good LB corps. Because of the weak offense, Colorado was 6-3-1 under the total, but remember when they were healthy on offense in 2007 they went 8-5 over the total with a strong offense and a weak secondary. 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. Such is life in the competitive SEC! New Lane Kiffin doesn't have much of a resume, but does have a dynamite staff around him, including Ed Orgereon (former Ole Miss coach) and his father, Monte Kiffin, who will run the defense.
The main concern is the offense, which was a disaster. 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.
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