2018 College Football’s Top 21-40 By Jim Feist

It’s time to kick off a new football season!  College football begins on August 25, so here’s a look at the top teams, starting with my top 21-40.  I have the odds to win the NCAA Championship next to team name (if they have odds) and the odds to win their respective conference championship next to that.  Let’s get started with teams 40 through 21.

 

 

 

 

  1. Georgia Tech: 50/1 ACC
    Returning Starters: 13 (8 offense, 5 defense, 1 QB)
    Last Year’s Record: 5-6
    Projected Finish: 6-6
    The ACC is one of the tougher FBS conferences with Boston College, Clemson, Duke, Miami and a host of equally competent teams. That means Georgia Tech will be up against the wall again this year to produce wins but could eek out 6-6 record and be bowl eligible with some luck. HC Paul Johnson is in rebuild mode and had one of the better recruiting classes to build that foundation upon. The defense is mediocre, ranking somewhere between 50 to 66 for the last five years. Taquon Marshall returns at QB after a good 2017 season. Marshall worked on his passing this offseason and with eight returners on his side of the ball should be further improved for 2018.

    39.  Iowa State: 20/1 Big 12

    Returning Starters: 12 (6 offense, 6 defense)
    Last Year’s Record: 8-5
    Projected Finish: 7-5
    Iowa State shocked many last year with perhaps its biggest road win ever over Oklahoma and followed that up with a shocking win over then No.4 TCU.  In the Liberty Bowl the Cyclones held the vaunted offense of Memphis to just 20 points. So, what can they do for 2018? This team isn’t a top 25 club, but they could be knocking on the door soon. The offensive line should be better this year and that’s good news for the running attack. The wide receivers will be a question mark though. Kyle Kempt returns at QB and has some very good downfield instincts (just ask Oklahoma).  This club has some rough road games in 2018, at Iowa, TCU, Oklahoma State and Texas. They need every home win they can get but should make another bowl.
  2. Texas Tech: 500/1 NCAA, 33/1 Big 12
    Returning Starters: 16 (6 offense, 10 defense)
    Last Year’s Record: 6-7
    Projected Finish: 7-5
    Kliff Kingsbury is on the hot seat at Tech after averaging just 5.5 wins over the last four seasons. This edition of the football team has a new starting QB to break-in with McLane Carter the leading favorite at signal-caller. The receiving core is plagued by turnovers and the departure of three seniors. The best part of this team might be the defense, which returns 10 starters to a unit that held opponents to 24 or fewer points in five of their six wins. This team will be better this year, but not by much with a very questionable offense.
  3. Duke: 75/1 ACC
    Returning Starters: 15 (7 offense, 8 defense)
    Last Year’s Record: 7-6
    Projected Finish: 7-5
    Duke makes my top 40, but they could easily be ranked higher if not for a tough 2018 schedule. HC David Cutcliffe has a young group of players to work with this year, including 15 returning starters. QB Daniel Jones returns and has a lot of targets to work with. Moreover, the backfield is bolstered by the return of RB Brittain Brown. The issue with be with the offensive line, that is in a rebuilding mode this year. Again, the biggest issue is a tough ACC schedule. This makes their projected wins a very difficult task with what I see as a half dozen toss-ups on their schedule. This team can still build on their big win over Northern Illinois in the Quick Lane Bowl. Lots of positives around this team, but can they traverse a tough ACC schedule?

36.Florida Atlantic: 5/6 Conference USA
Returning Starters: 15 (5 offense, 10 defense)
Last Year’s Record: 11-3
Projected Finish: 8-4
The FAU football team finished atop the Conference USA standing last year with their 8-0 conference record and 11-3 overall mark under first year coach Lane Kiffin. Kiffin so impressed the school, that they signed him to a 10-year deal. The offense returns just five, but one of those is RB Devin Singletary who set school records for rushing (1,920 yards) and TD’s (32). The schedule has tough road games at Oklahoma and UCF. They also have a tough home gave vs Air Force. However, the conference schedule looks like another undefeated season for FAU and while they will struggle early, they should finish at least 8-4 on the season.

  1. Iowa: 25/1 Big 10
    Returning Starters: 13 (7 offense, 6 defense)
    Last Year’s Record: 8-5
    Projected Finish: 7-5
    Head Coach Kirk Ferentz begins his 21st season as head coach and his 19th at Iowa. Iowa finished 2017 with an 8-5 winning record last season, but could manage only a 4-5 Big 10 mark. This team is usually good for at least seven wins a season and a bowl bid. They return seven on offense, including QB Nate Stanley and two of his top three receivers, all his tight ends and both tackles. This group ranked 23rd in passing and should be just as good again this year. The defense returns 10 but lost their stud cornerback Josh Jackson to the NFL’s Green Bay Packers. The running game will not be any better than the 105th it finished last year. This year they will once again have to rely on Stanley and the receivers. All in all, this team looks about as good as last year, give or take a game. They should finish anywhere from 7-5 to 9-3.

    34. Kansas State: 25/1 Big 12
    Returning Starters: 13 (8 offense, 5 defense)
    Last Year’s Record: 8-5
    Projected Finish: 8-5
    HC Bill Snyder looks like he will face a tough season with four top 25 teams, but so did the Wildcats last year and look how they finished. Kansas State won five of their last six games in 2017, including its impressive blowout win over UCLA in the Cactus Bowl, 35-17. Snyder has been around 27 seasons and this year he welcomes two new coordinators and must deal with a question at quarterback.  QB’s Alex Delton and Skylar Thompson could platoon at the position in 2018. At least they have a good returning cast on offense including their three leading running backs and a pair of top receivers. In addition, all the starting linemen from last year return too. It’s a tough schedule, but Snyder finds ways to get it done and will do so again this year.

    33. West Virginia: 100/1 NCAA, 8/1 Big 12
    Returning Starters: 12 (7 offense, 5 defense)
    Last Year’s Record: 7-6
    Projected Finish: 6-6
    West Virginia had a tough road last season but did finish at 7-6 after their Heart of Dallas Bowl loss to Utah, 14-30.  HC Dana Holgorsen enters his ninth season and has built a fine 53-37 record.  This could be Holgorsen’s most talented group of players in many years. QB Will Grier returns and had led this team to one of the top offenses in the nation until he went down with an injury to the middle finger on his throwing hand against Texas. Grier is considered by many to be one of the top QB’s in college football this year and a Heisman candidate.  The Mountaineers were 7-3 with Grier last year and 0-3 after he went down with his injury. The schedule is packed with powerhouse teams, including road games at Oklahoma State, Texas, Iowa State, NC State and Texas Tech.  If Grier returns to form, they could do better than the 6-6 and contend for the Big 12 Championship.

  2. Northwestern: 33/1 Big 10
    Returning Starters: 14 (7 offense, 7 defense)
    Last Year’s Record: 10-3
    Projected Finish: 8-4
    Gone from this year’s team is all-time leading rusher Justin Jackson. The big question is whether QB Clay Thorson can return from his torn ACL, which he suffered in December at the Music City Bowl. HC Pat Fitzgerald won 10 games for the second time in his tenure at Northwestern and had back-to-back bowl wins. They have their sights set on their first Big 10 title since 2000. The schedule is tough though with Michigan, Michigan State, Notre Dame and Wisconsin to name a few. This team really needs a healthy Thorson back at the helm and if he does return in time for the start of the season, 8-4 is not out of the question. However, a 6-6 campaign is very possible if he’s not 100% or is reinjured. With three OT wins last year, that 10-3 record could have easily been much different. I look for a better team if Thorson is healthy.
  3. Louisville: 40/1 ACC
    Returning Starters: 11 (7 offense, 4 defense)
    Last Year’s Record: 8-5
    Projected Finish: 7-5
    Gone is Lamar Jackson to the NFL from this team that finished 8-5 last season. But Bobby Petrino hasn’t lasted 10 years as a head coach to let that bother him. Jackson was arguably the best player ever in Louisville football history, so replacing him won’t happen easily. Jawon Pass will try and fill his shoes with the perfect quarterback name. Pass will have three quality receivers returning and four starters on the offensive line that have a combined 77 starts. Gone is defensive coordinator Peter Sirmon and in is Brian VanGorder. VanGorder was linebackers’ coach under Petrino at the Atlanta Falcons, so these guys are well acquainted. VanGorder only has four starters returning to his unit, but that may not be bad as last year’s defense was horrible. It’s going to be a close season as they have seven games that can go either way and should be a favorite in at least eight games. The offense will be good again, but the defense is the big question mark.
  4. South Carolina: 30/1 SEC
    Returning Starters: 14 (8 offense, 6 defense)
    Last Year’s Record: 9-4
    Projected Finish: 7-5
    South Carolina opens the season on September 1st with a softball against Coastal Carolina. HC Will Muschamp has lots to be optimistic about this year with the return of QB Jake Bently and WR Deebo Samuel. Samuel looked amazing before breaking his leg 11 quarters into the 2017 season. Samuel had 474 all purpose yards and six TD’s. The Gamecocks were great for bettors last year, going 7-1 ATS with five upset wins. The defense returns six starters but will be young in the secondary. If South Carolina can get out to a fast start, they could make some waves in the SEC and national rankings.
  5. Oklahoma State: 250/1 NCAA, 8/1 Big 12
    Returning Starters: 12 (5 offense, 7 defense)
    Last Year’s Record: 10-3
    Projected Finish: 8-4
    Oklahoma State finished third in the Big 12 last year, winning 10 games overall and six in conference. They beat Virginia Tech in the Camping World Bowl, 30-21. Surprisingly, they were a perfect 6-0 on the road and just 3-3 at home. Mike Gundy begins his 14th year as a head coach at Oklahoma State and has compiled a 114-53 record with the Cowboys. The Cowboys have a new defensive cording in Jim Knowles which returns seven starters. The defense will be talented in the front seven, but very young in the secondary. Expect Ok State to jump out to a fast start with an early, easy schedule. However, road games at Oklahoma and TCU late will be tough and could jeopardize any hopes for a conference title.
  6. Virginia Tech: 100/1 NCAA, 14/1 ACC
    Returning Starters: 12 (7 offense, 5 defense)
    Last Year’s Record: 9-4
    Projected Finish: 8-4
    The Hokies had a young team in 2017, but still finished with a 9-4 record. They will return last year’s starting QB Josh Jackson for head coach Justin Fuente’s group. Jackson had almost 3,000 yards passing with 20 TD’s and nine INT’s. Jackson will have to be very good with a depleted receiving core after all-time leading pass catcher Cam Phillips departed for the Buffalo Bills this season. The heart of this team will once again be the defense, fourth best in 2017 in points allowed at 14.8 ppg. The defense suffered a lot of losses to graduation though. They also lost Adonis Alexander (ineligible) and JC recruit Jeremy Web (Achilles). This looks to be a challenging year for Fuentes, with losses on defense and an offense lacking in receivers.  Is another division title in the works? Not as likely as last year.

 

 

  1. Missouri: 35/1 SEC
    Returning Starters: 16 (9 offense, 7 defense)
    Last Year’s Record: 7-6
    Projected Finish: 7-5
    Tough SEC schedule for the Tigers, especially on the road where they must play at South Carolina, Alabama, Florida and Tennessee. The good news is that HC Barry Odom has a very good offense that returns nine starters and a very strong defensive front seven. Back is QB Drew Lock, who leads an explosive offensive unit. They do have a new offensive coordinator in Derek Dooley, so we’ll have to see how that effects the offense. This Missouri team has the potential to win 10 games, but a tough road schedule, a questionable secondary and a new OC will all come into play.
  2. Oregon: 100/1 NCAA, 8-1 Pac 12
    Returning Starters: 14 (7 offense, 7 defense)
    Last Year’s Record: 7-6
    Projected Finish: 9-3
    Mario Cristobal takes over as head coach of this Oregon Ducks team and looks to return them to their old glory ways. QB Justin Herbert returns from an injury plagued 2017. When healthy, Herbert led the Ducks to a 6-1 record and averaged 52-points per game. In addition, Herbert completed 68% of his pass attempts and was on a pace for 3,000 yards passing if not for his injury. The schedule looks promising too, with only a pair of top-20 teams (Stanford and Washington) as obstacles and both will be visiting Eugene. If Herbert remains healthy, this could be a very good Oregon team with nine or 10 wins entirely possible.
  3. Boise State: 4/7 Mountain West
    Returning Starters: 16 (6 offense, 10 defense)
    Last Year’s Record: 11-3
    Projected Finish: 10-2
    Boise State HC Bryan Harsin begins his fifth season and looks poised to have another Mountain West Title team on his hands. The Broncos won their first Mountain West Title in 2017 in the last three years behind a solid defensive unit that returns 10 starters. QB returns senior starter Brett Rypien. Almost all the offensive wide outs return, except for star WR Cedrick Wilson. The defense is expected to be one of the best in the country this year with 10 returners and solid performers at every position. At 4/7 the Broncos are expected to be the winner again of this conference, but can they run the table at 12-0? I doubt it, with road games at Oklahoma State and Wyoming. However, it’s not out of the question either. Expect another excellent season from Boise State.
  4. Utah: 14/1 PAC-12
    Returning Starters: 14 (8 offense, 6 defense)
    Last Year’s Record: 7-6
    Projected Finish: 7-5
    Utah returns eight players to a very skilled offense led by returning QB Tyler Huntley. Huntley has a full squad of skill players around him that should provide plenty of offensive explosiveness this season. While many of the players are still young sophomores and junior college transfers, HC Kyle Whittingham should have team that will only get better with the next few years. The defense is solid and returns impact players to a squad that will once again will keep Utah in games.  Nineteen of their last 30 games have been decided by seven points or less. The biggest question for the Utes will be the four new starters on the offensive line. Utah could pressure USC for a PAC-12 South Championship but the schedule will be tough.
  5. LSU: 66/1 NCAA, 25/1 SEC
    Returning Starters: 10 (5 offense, 5 defense)
    Last Year’s Record: 9-4
    Projected Finish: 7-5
    Head coach Ed Orgeron begins his second full season as head coach of LSU and has a 15-6 record with the Tigers. The biggest obstacle is the schedule, which could have seven top 25 teams including three of those in the top six. The SEC is such a tough conference that despite being ranked as the fourth best team in the WEST and an overall projected 7-5 record, they still garner a top-25 ranking. LSU has a new offensive coordinator in Steve Ensminger, a former LSU quarterback. Ensminger was OC back in 2016 and took over the team four games into the season, increasing the yards per play by 1.3 and points per game by 11 per game. His biggest task will be at running back, where the ground game has been efficient but not spectacular. Defense will again be in the competent hands of Dave Aranda, one of the best in college football. Aranda has not had a defense ranked worse than 21st in the NCAA in his last six seasons. If the offense can come around under Ensminger, then this team will be better than 7-5.

  6. Florida: 100/1 NCAA, 16/1 SEC
    Returning Starters: 19 (10 offense, 9 defense)
    Last Year’s Record: 4-7
    Projected Finish: 7-5
    Head coach and one-time Gators OC, Dan Mullen, looks to return the Gators football program back to its once dominating form. First up, getting last year’s 4-7 bad taste from their collective mouths. That will be made much easier with a SEC schedule that is devoid of such powerhouses as Alabama and Auburn.  When Mullen was OC at Florida, he was part of two National Championship teams. QB has been an issue for some time now. Feleipe Franks was mediocre at best in 2017, suffering 29 sacks. Sophomore Kyle Trask, more the pure passer of the two, will push Franks for the starting spot. There are plenty of running backs returning, including Jr Jordan Scarlett, Lamical Perine and Adarius Lemons – all three with potential breakout possibilities.  The offensive line returns five starters and will be the backbone of this unit.  The defense welcomes new DC Todd Grantham and he will get back nine starters from last year. The schedule is a plus for Mullen and the Gators, which could see glimmers of glory past.
  7. TCU: 66/1 NCAA, 6/1 Big 12
    Returning Starters: 10 (5 offense, 6 defense)
    Last Year’s Record: 11-3
    Projected Finish: 8-4
    The Horned Frogs have won at least 11 games in three of the last four seasons. The offense returns only five starters from last year’s unit, but they do have RB Darius Anderson and WR Jalen Reagor both back. TCU is always solid at defense and even though just six starters return, they are deep at most positions. The schedule will help a lot once they get past their meeting with Ohio State in Arlington Texas on Sept 15. The battle for the Big 12 will once again be between TCU, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. The rest of the conference will be bunched-up in the middle. It’s still a question who will be the TCU starting QB, but HC Gary Patterson may have given a clue with Shawn Robinson going to Big 12 media day. The competition is still between Robinson and Michael Collins. If one of these signal-callers can step up and the defense plays like it should, TCU could win the Big 12 as at 6-to-1.