In the fourth and final installment of this four-part series Jim's Top 10 for the 2009 season is revealed. And it looks like same song, third verse for Urban Meyer and the Florida Gators.
10. Mississippi: Think Houston Nutt can coach? Only one team didn't win an SEC game in 2007 (0-8), and that was the Rebels. Nutt took over last season and the Rebels made huge strides, going 9-4 SU, 9-3 ATS. The offense was much better, averaging 30.8 points, 182 yards rushing and 215 passing and the defense made even bigger strides, allowing just 17.8 ppg. As an underdog, they flattened Texas Tech in the Cotton bowl, 47-34, and were the only team to beat Florida, 31-30 – in the Swamp. Nutt was honored as SEC Coach of the Year for the third time.
Six starters return on offense, led by junior QB Jevan Snead (26 TDs, 13 picks). Senior WR Shay Hodge (725 yards) returns, along with 5-foot-8 senior RB/WR Dexter McCluster (625 yards). Eight starters return on defense, led by seniors Marshay Green, who was Defensive MVP of the Cotton Bowl. Ole Miss was 3-2 SU, 4-1 ATS on the road. Auburn and South Carolina are the only two tough road games, so expectations are high.
9. L.S.U: The Tigers have done very well under fifth-year head coach Les Miles, back to back 11-2 season followed by 2007's 12-2 national title team and last year's 8-5 squad. They are loaded with talent for 2009. Last year the Tigers averaged 30.3 points, 167 yards rushing and 204 passing. Sophomore QB Jarrett Lee returns (13 TDs and 16 picks) but 2008 Parade All-American QB Russell Shepard is in the wings.
The Tigers got great news with the decisions by OT Ciron Black and WR Brandon LaFell to come back for their final seasons. LaFell was the leading receiver, with 63 receptions for 929 yards and 8 TDs. This offensive line is terrific, opening holes for senior RB Charles Scott (1,174 yards, 18 TDs, 5.4 yards per carry) and senior RB Keiland Williams (417 yards). LSU lost five starters on the defensive side of the ball, but return senior defensive end Rahim Alem (8 sacks) for new defensive coordinator John Chavis. LSU is 13-5 SU, 8-7 ATS on the road the last four seasons.
8. Oklahoma State: The Cowboys (9-4 SU, 8-4 ATS in 2008) begin their fifth season under head coach Mike Gundy and his electric offense. They go with a no-huddle at times and dazzled with 41 points, 256 yards rushing and 233 passing per game! Oklahoma State finished sixth in the nation in total offense, was ninth in scoring, fifth in passing efficiency and eighth in rushing offense. Best off all, they get almost everyone back with eight starters returning.
Senior QB Zac Robinson is off a strong junior season with 3,064 yards, 65% completions, 25 TDs and 10 picks. He's an electric runner, rushing for 847 and 562 yards the last two seasons. He teams with fast, 5-foot-8 senior RB Kendall Hunter (1,555 yards, 6.5 ypc) and senior RB Keith Toston (686 yards, 6.7 ypc). Speedy senior WR Dez Bryant (1,480 yards, 19 TDs) is a keeper, while 6-foot-5 junior WR Damian Davis (414) averaged 21 yards per catch as a sophomore. This group is outstanding, so there is plenty of pop in the offense. The Cowboy defensive front was last in the Big 12 in sacks and struggled against top offenses. Yes, they are 17-14 over the total the last three years and look like an offensive machine in 2009.
7. Ohio State: Last season the Buckeyes went 10-3 SU, 6-6 ATS, but flopped against top competition. USC hammered them, 35-3, and they lost to Penn State (13-6) and Texas (24-21). The dynamite defense lost its top players, but the offense should be better behind sophomore QB Terrelle Pryor (1,311 yards, 12 TDs, 4 picks), who used his quick feet to rush for 631 yards.
Power back Chris Wells jumped to the NFL, but sophomore RB Daniel Herron impressed with 439 yards and 4.9 ypc. When opponents stuffed the run,, the Buckeyes' offense wilted, so they want to opening up the passing game. The defense returns hard-hitting junior LB Ross Homan, while senior SS Kurt Coleman is terrific in the secondary. Note that Ohio State is 47-4 SU, 28-19-1 ATS their last 51 home games! The big game comes early: September 12 hosting USC.
6. Georgia: Head coach Mark Richt is one of the best in the business: Georgia is 34-8 SU/25-17 ATS on the road under Richt. The big story in 2009 is senior QB Joe Cox, who threw 2 TDs and no picks and 151 yards last season, though he has seen action in each of the last three years. The passing game should be fine with 6-foot-4 sophomore WR A.J. Green, who exploded as a freshman with 963 yards and 8 TDs, leading the team.
The defense is experienced and should be fine against the run with senior DT Kade Weston. Georgia junior LB Rennie Curran and senior defensive tackle Jeff Owens have been named to the 2009 Lott Trophy Watch List. They open at Oklahoma State, and have SEC road games at Arkansas and Tennessee. They probably won't beat Florida, but will be very good again.
5. Texas: Everyone remembers Oklahoma winning the Big 12 title game then losing to Florida in the national championship game. What they may forget is that Texas upset Oklahoma during the regular season, tied for first (7-1) in the Big 12 with the Sooners, then got jobbed as a committee chose Oklahoma over Texas to go to the Big 12 title game. That should add some motivation to a talented team, especially one with four-year starter QB Colt McCoy back. The Longhorns are loaded on offense once again, on a unit that averaged 44 points, 177 yards rushing and 299 passing.
Senior QB Colt McCoy had another strong season, with 3,859 yards, 76% completions, 34 TDs and 8 picks. The running game usually is a staple at Texas, but has been a disappointment, as McCoy led the team in rushing. Four starters are back on the offensive front, along with junior RB Vondrell McGee. Defensive coordinator Will Muschamp installed a more physical attacking unit that allowed 18.6 ppg. Texas is 45-7 SU, 35-16 ATS the last four seasons, 7-1 SU/8-0 ATS as a dog and on a 30-14-2 OVER the total run.
4. Penn State: Joe Paterno is off an 11-2 SU, 7-4-1 ATS season that saw a Big 10 title (7-1) and another Rose Bowl. This offense is about balance, averaging 40 points, 211 yards rushing and 240 passing. Fifth-year senior QB Daryll Clark is a strong runner who impressed with his passing skills, throwing for 2,592 yards, 19 TDs, 6 picks in 2008, plus running for 282 yards.
The main concern is on the offensive line, which lost its top players. Guard Stefen Wisniewski might be the best in the country, but he's one of just two returning starters. The offensive backfield is loaded with QB Clark and running backs junior Evan Royster (1,236 yards, 6.5 ypc) and sophomore RB Stephfon Green (578 yards, 5.5 ypc). The physical defense returns a terrific linebacking corps led by senior LB Sean Lee (back from a knee injury) to join Josh Hull and Navorro Bowman forming one of the nation's best linebacking corps. Penn State is 0-6 SU/ATS its last 6 as a dog, and just 9-7 SU, 7-7-1 ATS its last 16 on the road. Of course, at home the Lions are 28-2 SU, 19-9 ATS their last 30!
3. Oklahoma: OU is off a 12-2 SU, 10-3 ATS season with a powerhouse team, one that outscored opponents by a 54-24 average. Junior QB Sam Bradford decided to stay rather than be the first pick in the NFL draft on an offense that averaged 205 yards rushing and 356 passing. Bradford had 50 TDs, 8 picks and 4,720 yards! Great news is that senior Jermaine Gresham (950 yards, 14 TDs) is one of the nation's best tight ends.
The offensive line is a concern, though the ground game is loaded with junior RB DeMarco Murray (1,002 yards, 5.6 ypc) and senior RB Chris Brown (1,220 yards, 5.6 ypc). On defense, senior DT DeMarcus Granger anchors a solid line, though the usually strong linebacker corps has some new looks. Oklahoma is 20-3 SU, 14-6 ATS at home the last three seasons. The schedule is easy, outside of a revenge game with Texas on October 17. A rematch with Florida? By the way, the Sooners are on an 8-1 run over the total.
2. U.S.C: Southern Cal opened in Vegas as the team to beat for the national title in 2007 and again in 2008, falling short, but not by much. Now in his ninth year, head coach Pete Carroll's team is stocked despite losing a ton of talent to the NFL. The Trojans are off a 12-1 SU, 7-5-1 ATS season, which makes Carroll 71-7 SU, 46-31-1 against the spread the last six years. USC outscored opponents by an astounding 37.5-7.8 last season.
The offense has to find a new QB, but there are plenty of options with junior QB Mitch Mustain, a talented transfer from Arkansas, 6-4 sophomore QB Aaron Corp, and freshman QB Matt Barkley. They will inherit an offense that averaged 206 yards rushing and 247 yards passing. The offensive line is loaded, as this backfield with tailbacks senior C.J. Gable (617 yards yards), senior Stafon Johnson (705 yards, 5.1 ypc) and speedy junior Joe McKnight (659 yards, 7.4 ypc). The defense lost a lot to the NFL, but they keep reloading with top talent. With this great defense, USC is 16-4 under the total the last two years. USC is 38-1 SU, 25-13-1 ATS at home the last six seasons.
1. Florida: National champs, again! 2006 was the 100th year of Florida football, and the Gators certainly made it memorable by winning the national championship, trouncing Ohio State as an underdog, 41-14. A very young team in 2008 went 13-1 SU, 9-4 ATS with some ups and downs, but it paid dividends last season as the Gators rolled to another title (13-1 SU, 11-2 ATS), topping Oklahoma in the BCS Championship game.
Urban Meyer has only been here four years and has two titles. The triple-option attack was deadly in 2008, averaging 45 points, 229 yards rushing and 212 passing per game. They are loaded for 2009 with 7 starters back! Senior QB Tim Tebow passed for 2,746 yards, 30 TDs, 4 picks and led the team with 673 yards and 12 TDs.
As great as the offense is, the defense allowed just 12.8 ppg and returns all 11 starters. The entire two-deep depth chart returns from a defense that led the nation in interceptions, ranked fourth in scoring defense and finished ninth in the nation in total defense. Florida's first-team defense did not allow a touchdown in five of the last eight. Florida was 6-1 SU/4-2 ATS in The Swamp last season, which makes Meyer 27-3 SU, 18-10 ATS at home. The schedule is easy, with the only difficult road games at LSU and South Carolina – teams they whipped last season. The Gators will be playing in January and could run the table.
Read Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3; follow Jim on Twitter.