by Jim Feist
It's time to kick off a new football season! College football begins September 3rd, so here's a look at the top teams, starting with my top 21-40.
40. Miami: The Canes haven’t been covering numbers (6-15 ATS run) but Al Golden’s team returns dazzling sophomore QB Brad Kaaya (3,198 yards, 26 TDs, 12 INTs). They averaged 29.3 points and 250 yards passing. The Hurricanes had one of the better offensive lines in the ACC, allowing only 21 sacks, helping rushers average 5.3 yards per carry. The defense lacks a pass rush but allowed 24.3 ppg and returns a deep LB corps, including soph Al-Quadin Muhammad, who was suspended last season. They will start 2-0 before hosting Nebraska (Sept. 19), a revenge game after a 41-31 road loss.
39. Northern Illinois: A slow start and a hot finish have the Huskies primed to dominant the MAC in 2015 after going 11-3. The offense struck for 31.5 points, 192 yards passing and 249 yards rushing. Junior QB Drew Hare (18 TDs, 2 INTs) solidified the passing game and senior WR Tommylee Lewis is a big play threat who was on the shelf most of last fall. The ground attack returns Joel Bouagnon (655 yards, 5.8 ypc), plus All-MAC center Andrew Ness and guard Aidan Conlon return for their fourth years in the starting lineup. The defense excelled down the stretch (7-4 run under the total) and the Huskies return seven of their top eight linemen, five of sixLBs, and eight of nine defensive backs. They need to survive a tough stretch September 19 playing 4 of 5 away – beginning at Ohio State!
38. North Carolina: Coach Larry Fedora runs attacking offenses and his team returns 10 starters on offense, 6 on defense. This offense averaged 33.2 points, 151 yards rushing and 278 passing (28th) and returns senior QB Marquise Williams (21 TDs, 9 INTs). 5 starters are back on offensive line that gave up just 25 ACC sacks. Junior RB T.J. Logan (582 yards) and Elijah Hood are back, a former top-10 RB prospect. The WRs loaded behind 6-4 senior Quinshad Davis and sophomore All-American return ace Ryan Switzer (757 yards). New defensive coordinator Gene Chizk overhauls a unit that allowed 39 ppg, returning a strong secondary and an experienced LB corps.
37. Cincinnati: Tommy Tuberville’s Bearcats scorched defenses last year averaging 34 points and 303.6 yards passing (13th in the nation). They will be fine behind 6-4 junior QB Gunner Kiel (31 TDs, 13 INTs) and senior WR Shaq Washington (761 yards) leading this four-wideout offense. The D-line is a weak spot, but the secondary is strong behind ball-hawking safety Zach Edwards (121 tackles) and cornerback Adrian Witty, who missed time last year. They don’t play Ohio State like in 2014, so the schedule is much easier.
36. Penn State: The offense can’t be as bad as 2014 and the defense should be one of the best in the Big 10. Senior DE Garrett Sickels and tackle Anthony Zettel return up front to a Nittany Lions defense that ranked seventh in the nation allowing 18.6 ppg. The offense was terrible under first-year coach James Franklin allowing a Big Ten-worst 44 sacks. 6-7 Juco transfer Tackle Paris Palmer is aboard to help the line for talented 6-4 junior QB Christian Hackenberg (12 TDs, 15 INTs). He has fine targets in sophomore WR DaeSean Hamilton (899 yards) and junior WR Geno Lewis (751 yards). Hard to believe Penn State is on a 21-13 run over the total.
35. Utah: Kyle Whittingham’s team won 9 games and returns 6 on offense, 5 on defense. This balanced attack averaged 31.3 points and over 190 yards rushing and passing. The offense will be fine returning 6-6 seniors QB Travis Wilson (18 TDs, 5 INTs) and RB Devontae Booker (1,512 yards, 5.2 ypc). Marcus Williams returns to the defensive line after posting 59 tackles along with Tevin Carter and Andre Godfrey. The defense allowed 24.9 ppg (43rd) and the Utes are on a 17-9 run under the total
34. Virginia Tech: It’s now or never for Frank Beamer’s Hokies to get back to the 10-win mark. 9 starters are back on offense, 8 on D. The offense has been a problem (24 ppg) and sophomore QB Andrew Ford would probably be a better choice over senior QB Michael Brewer (18 TDs, 15 INTs). The skill positions on offense are good and the defense should be great after allowing 20 ppg (14th in the nation). Sack artist senior DT Luther Maddy returns with cornerback Brandon Facyson to what should be one of the ACC’s top defenses. But can this offense improve? V-Tech is on a 31-19-2 run under the total.
33. Arizona State: Coach Todd Graham is off a pair of 10-win seasons and returns 6 starters on offense, 7 on defense. Senior QB Mike Bercovici (12 TDs, 4 INTs) shared time with Taylor Kelly, but had back-to-back games against USC and UCLA throwing for 488 and 510 yards, 8 TDs, 2 picks. Senior RB D.J. Foster (1,081 yards, 5.6 ypc) also caught 62 passes for 688 yards. The defense (27.9 ppg allowed) returns senior NT Jaxon Hood and senior safety Jordan Simone to a unit that has upside. They open against Texas A&M at Houston’s NRG stadium and have only two tough road games (UCLA, Utah). The Sun Devils are on a 16-11 run over the total.
32. Tennessee: It’s taken three years but Coach Butch Jones has built a rising newcomer and the Vols see this as their breakthrough season. 11 starters are back on offense, 8 on defense. Junior QB Joshua Dobbs (9 TDs, 6 INTs) operates a fast-pace attack with sophomore RB Jalen Hurd (889 yards) and a slew of wideouts. The main concern is an offensive line that is experienced but allowed 43 sacks. The defense gave up just 24.2 ppg and is loaded, led by sophomore DE Derek Barnett and DT Owen Williams. They had the SEC's second-best third-down defense (34 percent). The Vols host Oklahoma in Week 2 (a 34-10 loss in 2014), and the toughest road games are at Florida, Bama and Missouri. Tennessee is on a 22-13-2 run over the total run.
31. Louisville: Head Coach Bobby Petrino is off a 9-4 season but returns only 4 starters on both sides of the ball. The good news is junior QB Will Gardner (12 TDs, 3 picks) returns along with 5-9 junior RB Brandon Radcliff (737 yards). 3 QBs combined for 21 TDs, 10 picks. The defense was strong (21.8 ppg allowed) but lost its top players up front. The secondary adds Georgia transfers Shaq Wiggins and Josh Harvey-Clemons. The Cardinals have been dangerous as a dog: 3 years ago they beat Florida in the Sugar bowl, 33-23, as a +14 dog and in 2013 whipped Miami, 36-9 as -5 chalk. Last year they won at Notre Dame (31-28) as +3 dog and lost 23-17 at Clemson as +9.
30. Oklahoma State: Mike Gundy’s no-huddle offense returns senior QB J.W. Walsh, who barely played in 2014 because of injuries. Senior QB Daxx Garman (12 TDs, 12 INTs) is also back along with 6-4 sophomore QB Mason Rudolph (6 TDs, 4 INTs, 853 yards). The ground game disappeared (136 yards per game) as the porous O-line allowed 40 sacks. On the plus side, the wide receivers are deep. The defense slipped from 21st in points allowed to 94th (31.2 ppg). DE Emmanuel Ogbah, LB Ryan Simmons and CB Kevin Peterson anchor a unit that should bounce back. Instead of opening vs. Florida State like last year, they open with Central Michigan, Central Arkansas, UTSA, then at Texas.
29. Nebraska: Bo Pelini is out, but the Huskers scooped up former Oregon State coach Mike Riley and his pro-style offense. The offense averaged 37.8 points and returns junior QB Tommy Armstrong (22 TDs, 12 INTs) plus senior RB Imani Cross (384 yards, 5.1 ypc). The shaky defense returns 5 starters, but allowed 59, 28, 34 and 45 the last four (1-3). The schedule is in their favor, with 4 of 6 at home to start, plus road games at Miami, Minnesota, Purdue and Rutgers are winnable. Nebraska is 22-12 SU/21-11 ATS on the road.
28. Texas: Coach Charlie Strong improved the defense (23.8 ppg allowed) and the offense will be more stable after a chaotic 2014 with suspensions and injuries. 5 starters are back on the offensive line along with senior RB Johnathan Gray. 6-4 junior QB Tyrone Swoopes (13 TDs, 11 INTs) will be pressed by freshman QB Kai Locksley, a four-star recruit who flipped from Florida State to Texas. The Texas defense held opponents to just 4.7 yards per play and adds freshman LB Malik Jefferson, one of the top high school LBs, a big coup. They open at Notre Dame and totals’ bettors take note: The Longhorns are on a 17-9 run under the total.
27. BYU: The Cougars have great stability with 11-year Coach Bronco Mendenhall. This offense has exceptional balance after averaging 37.1 points, 278.7 yards passing and 181.8 yards rushing and returns dual-threat senior QB Taysom Hill (7 TDs, 3 INTs). Two years ago he threw 19 TDs and ran for 1,344 yards. They were 4-0 in 2014 before Hill broke his leg. He teams with senior RB Jamaal Williams (775, 1,233 and 518 yds the last 3 years) and talented WR Mitch Mathews (922 yds). The defense took a step back prompting Mendenhall to get more involved. This should be a highly motivated squad, after a bowl loss to Memphis (55-48) followed by a postgame brawl. BYU is on an 8-2 run over the total, as well as 3-8 ATS.
26. UCLA: Fourth-year coach Jim Mora, Jr, has to replace star QB Brett Hundley but he thinks he found the next “Mr. Football” in 6-4 freshman Josh “Chosen” Rosen, the No. 1 quarterback prospect in the nation. Fortunately the skill positions are deep with junior RB Paul Perkins (1,575 yards, 6.3 ypc), and senior WRs Devin Fuller, Jordan Payton (954 yards) and 6-3 junior Thomas Duarte (540 yards). The defense (28 ppg allowed) has 6 starters back and a new defensive coordinator for the second straight year in Tom Bradley. Road games are at Arizona, Stanford, Utah and USC (Utah is a revenge game after a 28-20 loss as -13 chalk).
25. Kansas State: Is there a better coach than Bill Snyder? He continues to amaze, on a 15-5 SU, 15-7 ATS run. 6 starters are back on offense, 8 on defense. The Wildcats averaged 35.8 ppg but have a relatively new QB in junior Joe Hubener (235 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT). The offensive line returns four starters, including standout left tackle Cody Whitehair, and junior RB Charles Jones (540 yards). The defense has been Top 30 in points allowed in each of the last two seasons and should be strong with safety Dante Barnett, defensive lineman Travis Britz, CB Morgan Burns. They get 5 bowl teams at home and the only tough road games are at Ok-State and Texas.
24. Clemson: Clemson has 11, 11 and 10 wins the last three years for Coach Dabo Swinney, though only 4 starters are back on offense, 2 on defense. 6-3 sophomore QB Deshaun Watson (14 TDs, 2 picks) returns (67.9% completions) along with a deep wide receiver crop, including junior Mike Williams (1,030 yds, 18.1 ypc). The defensive line lost its top players, so junior DE Shaq Lawson steps up to a unit that was third in the nation allowing 16.7 ppg. The Tigers are 32-21 ATS the last four years.
23. Oklahoma: Bob Stoops has 7 starters back on offense, 6 on defense. This ground attack ranked 11th in the nation with 261 yards per game and returns Junior QB Trevor Knight (14 TDs, 12 INTs) and sophomore RB Samaje Perine (1,713 yards, 21 TDs, 6.5 ypc) was a beast as a freshman. New offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley comes over from East Carolina where they ran uptempo attacks. The linebacking corps returns intact, plus LB Frank Shannon is back after a suspension, a former 4-star recruit. The defensive front has junior DT Matt Romar and senior DE Charles Tapper. Oklahoma is on a 24-12-1 run over the total.
22. Arizona: Fourth-year Coach Rich Rodriguez runs a zone-read spread option attack that struck for 34.5 points, 281 yards passing and 182 rushing per contest. He found a gem in Sophomore QB Anu Solomon, (28 TDs, 9 INTs). Teamed with Junior RB Nick Wilson (1,375 yards, 5.8 ypc, 16 TDs) and senior WR Cayleb Jones (1,018 yards) this offense should hum. Only 5 starters are back on defense, but one is amazing LB Scooby Wright. They will start 3-0, then host UCLA and go to Stanford. They won’t play Oregon (a 51-13 loss), unless they meet in the Pac 12 title game.
21. Boise State: No slowing down the Broncos, who won 12 games and return 17 starters. 9 starters return on offense, though sophomore QB Ryan Finley (161 yards) has to step in. The offense averaged 39.7 points, 280 yards passing and 214 rushing. They won’t score as much, but the defense is loaded (26.8 ppg allowed) led by M-West sack leader Kamalei Correa (12), Darian Thompson (7 picks) and cornerback Donte Deayon (6 picks, 2 TDs). They have September road tests at BYU and Virginia.