Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 9:57 AM

Saturday's Essentials

Here’s a look at what must be considered before wagering on Saturday's slate in all FBS vs. FBS matchups. Odds courtesy of the Westgate Superbook:

Early Starts

Florida Atlantic at Ohio State (-27.5/63.5), 12 p.m. ET, FOX: Lane Kiffin’s Owls have been outscored 105-34 in his first two season-openers at the school. Since Deondre Francois wound up at Hampton, QB Chris Robison is expected to see the majority of the snaps despite a student-newspaper story dropping this week alleging that a complaint against him for sexual assault wasn’t properly investigated. The Oklahoma transfer likely won’t be the only FAU player to line up under the center but is expected to do the bulk of the work. How quickly will the Buckeyes overcome any jitters as Georgia transfer Justin Fields takes his first snaps at quarterback as head coach Ryan Day settling in full-time? With Cincinnati in town next week, Ohio State wouldn’t want to see RB JK Dobbins overloaded with work behind an offensive line that must be patched together since multiple starters went off to the NFL.

South Alabama at Nebraska (-36/66), 12 p.m. ET, ESPN: The Huskers still haven’t divulged if top RB Maurice Washington will play after pleading not guilty to a revenge porn charge in California back in April, so former Georgia Tech standout Dedrick Mills might be worth the fantasy nod. After an 0-6 start to ‘18, Scott Frost won’t have his team looking ahead to next weekend’s visit to Colorado but probably will withhold any real wrinkles unless it’s necessary. South Alabama’s chances hinge on QB Cephus Johnson being more accurate since he completed just 36.8 of his passes last season.

East Carolina vs. NC State (-17.5/52), 12 p.m. ET, ACCN: Ryan Finley lit it up for the NFL’s Bengals all preseason and the Wolfpack’s two 1,000-yard receivers are also gone, so it will be interesting to see what this offense looks like with co-coordinators replacing Eli Drinkwitz, who took over as Appalachian State’s head coach. Sophomore Matt McKay beat out ex-FSU commit Bailey Hockman for first crack at replacing Finley. ECU’s Holton Ahlers impressed before being hurt last season and will open under center as a sophomore after leading the team rushing yards, rushing scores and TD passes despite making only five starts. Mike Houston, who had a great run at FCS-member James Madison, lost to N.C. State 24-13 in last season’s opener when he was with the Dukes, so the entire coaching staff will be familiar with the Pack. ECU won 33-30 in 2016 at home but fell in Raleigh 58-3 to close out last year’s disastrous season.

Akron at Illinois (-18/61), 12 p.m ET, BTN: Lovie Smith is 3-0 in lid-lifters since taking over the Illini but hasn’t covered the past two against MAC foes. With Michigan transfer Brandon Peters in to run the show, Smith has the most talented quarterback he’s had at the position since he returned to the college game. The schedule lays out for Illinois to open 3-0 for the first time since 2011 if they take care of business as a favorite. Akron moved on from Terry Bowden, so we’ll see what things look like under Tom Arth, a former QB tasked with upgrading an offense that was held to single-digits in three of last season’s final four game. Defensively, Illinois will likely stay away from dangerous DB Alvin Davis, the unquestioned leader of a revamped secondary.

Ball State vs. Indiana (-18/60.5), 12 p.m. ET, CBSSN: This game is being played at Lucas Oil Stadium. For Ball State, it’s an opportunity to knock off the first power-five of the Mike Neu era, which is entering an important fourth year. The Cardinals have covered at Indiana, Illinois and Notre Dame during his tenure but fell 38-10 at the Hoosiers last season. Junior QB Drew Plitt threw more picks than TD passes last season but has a lot of receiving weapons. Indiana will start redshirt freshman QB Michael Penix, who tore his ACL last season but showed real promise in limited action and has a number of wideouts back. RB Stevie Scott accounted for over 1,200 yards and 11 scores as a freshman.

Toledo at Kentucky (-11.5/61.5), 12 p.m. ET, SEC: After a dream season that delivered 10 wins for the first time in 41 years and a bowl upset over Penn State, the Wildcats will adjust to life without top rusher Bennie Snell and sack master Josh Allen, justifiably the faces of the program. There’s definitely plenty back, starting with electric QB Terry Wilson, who would make life much easier if he can eliminate mistakes. Mitchell Guadagni won back the QB gig at Toledo and had moments of brilliance as a junior, but this is by far the toughest task Jason Candle has had to open a season since taking over as head coach. The Rockets suffered a major blow when center Bryce Harris (knee) was lost for the season. His presence stabilizing the offensive line will be missed in Lexington. Toledo comes off its first losing season on the road since 2009.

Mississippi State (-19.5/60) vs. Louisiana, 12 p.m. ET, ESPNU: This game is being played at the Superdome in New Orleans and will see Penn State grad transfer Tommy Stevens debut in a system he knows well, giving Joe Moorhead a downfield passing attack that wasn’t feasible under the Tim Tebow-like Nick Fitzgerald, who set an SEC record for all-time rushing yards from a QB. Three NFL first-round picks are gone from last season’s swarming defense, so we’ll see what veteran coordinator Bob Shoop comes up with out of the gate as he looks to keep talented Ragin’ Cajuns RB Trey Ragas from finding a rhythm behind an offensive line dealing with significant attrition since center Cole Prudhomme is out and guard Kevin Dotson is questionable. QB Levi Lewis is the unquestioned starter and has legitimate threats in WRs Ja’Marcus Bradley and “Bam” Jackson, but Louisiana lost last season’s game in Starkville 56-10.

Ole Miss at Memphis (-4.5/64.5), 12 p.m. ET, ABC: The Rebels and Tigers are getting together for the first time since 2016 and the fact Memphis last upset an SEC foe when Ole Miss came through the Liberty Bowl in ’15 makes this all the more interesting. Head coach Mike Norvell nearly beat UCF twice last season and defeated UCLA at home two years ago, but he’s got to replace RB Darrell Henderson, who accounted for over 2,300 yards and 25 touchdowns and made life much easier for QB Brady White. The Rebs have their own offensive concerns considering their top receivers are all gone, which means redshirt freshman QB Matt Corral could have his work cut out for him. He got in four games last season and impressed with his ability to mix it up. Getting senior RB Scottie Phillips off to take some pressure off Corral is head coach Matt Luke’s chief objective.

Boise State at Florida State (-6.5/54.5), 12 p.m. ET, ESPNN: This game was supposed to be played in Jacksonville but was moved to Tallahassee due to the impending threat of Hurricane Dorian, which makes this a true home game for the ‘Noles. Books voided action and have put a new number on this one as a write-in game. For the Broncos, the task gets more difficult since FSU will come out of its home locker room and enjoy more of an edge, but their ability to pull an upset was always going to hinge on how their experienced offensive line holds up against a defense looking to turn the page after an awful 2018. Willie Taggart is already on the hot seat and hired Kendal Briles to help coordinate an offense that was also a disaster in Year 1 but gets QB James Blackman back in addition to elite playmakers in RB Cam Akers and WR Tamorrion Terry.

Afternoon Delights

Georgia State at Tennessee (-26.5/57.5), 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU: Jeremy Pruitt is under pressure to keep the Vols from a third straight losing season that would be their seventh in a 10-year span, so winning this one easily would be reassuring. His run started horribly in a 40-14 loss to West Virginia a year ago and his defense faded in surrendering 88 points in season-ending losses to Mizzou and Vandy. QB Jarrett Guarantano is now a junior and should be among the SEC’s top quarterbacks given that the entire offense is back, while the league’s returning sack leader, Darrell Taylor, should team with a talented secondary to get things turned around. It all sounds great, but Tennessee needs to prove it on the field. Georgia State won just twice last season after reaching a bowl in HC Shawn Elliott’s first season. This will be their lone game against a power-five, so they’ll be hyped out of the gate. Senior QB Dan Ellington led the team in passing and rushing, so if you’re on the Panthers to cover, he’ll have to do his part.

Eastern Michigan (-6/53) at Coastal Carolina, 3:30 p.m ET: With two bowl trips rewarding a pair of winning seasons over the last three years, it’s fair to say Chris Creighton has turned around EMU, but building a consistent winner in a program that has notoriously produced little takes even more work. Last season’s upset at Purdue was monumental and sets up a pair of big games for the program at Kentucky and Illinois in the next week. How much momentum they take into that hinges on how well QB Mike Glass picks up where he left off in the Camellia Bowl. The Eagles are 16-3 ATS over their last 19 road games, so keep that in mind before blindly backing the host Chanticleers. Coastal does return a defense featuring many familiar faces. Head coach Jamey Chadwell picked Fred Payton, Jr. to start ahead of Bryce Carpenter in the spread option. Both appeared as true freshmen and put up similar numbers, so look for each to appear against the visiting Eagles.

South Carolina (-11.5/63.5) vs. North Carolina, 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN: Charlotte’s Bank of America Stadium will host Mack Brown’s return to coaching, so we’ll see what he’s come up with in the lab as he tries to help the Tar Heels bounce back from consecutive nine-loss seasons. Improvement may be gradual, but it should come over time with true freshman QB Sam Howell at the helm. The highly-rated recruit won the job and will have RB Javonte Williams in addition to WRs Dazz Newsome and Dyami Brown to help stretch the field. UNC wants to push tempo, but it remains to be seen how effective it will be with an SEC defense on tap this week and Miami’s solid group coming through Chapel Hill next week. Will Muschamp’s Gamecocks were blanked by Virginia in the Belk Bowl and are looking for senior QB Jake Bentley to produce his best season yet without the services of Deebo Samuel, who should have a big role with the 49ers as a rookie. RB Rico Dowdle and a number of capable wideouts will look to fill the void.

Duke vs. Alabama (-33.5/57), 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC: You know David Cutcliffe would love to have Daniel Jones back for at least one more game, but he does have a senior in Quentin Harris, who has started a few games in place of the latest N.Y. Giants’ first-round pick over the years. The Blue Devils have posted winning seasons in five of the past six years, so Nick Saban should have no problem putting a scare into his Crimson Tide that they better not collectively overlook the smart kids. It will be a ‘Bama “home” game at Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which they’ve played in three times already. Tua Tagovailoa will lead an explosive offense featuring the nation’s highest-regarded WR in Jerry Jeudy and a host of other toys. The Tide may need to put their foot on the gas since a defense that comes off getting sliced up by Oklahoma and Clemson in last season’s playoffs lost multiple key figures. Top tackler Dylan Moses was supposed to lead the way from his linebacker position but injured his knee in practice on Tuesday and is now out for the season.

Northwestern at Stanford (-6/47), 4 p.m. ET, FOX: There certainly isn’t as much buzz surrounding the Cardinal as there has been in recent years, so maybe flying under the radar some will do this group so good. QB KJ Costello, tight end Colby Parkinson and safety Paulson Adebo could be among the best in the country at their positions, but RB Bryce Love, star WR J.J. Arcega-Whiteside and a number of key offensive linemen are gone. The Wildcats therefore look like a live ‘dog since they bring a streak of wins in eight consecutive true road games into this one and notched an upset of Pac-12 favorite Utah in the Holiday Bowl in their most recent outing. If a talented defense can keep Costello from finding a rhythm, they’ll limit the burden facing Clemson transfer Hunter Johnson, who will likely start ahead of senior TJ Green as Northwestern attempts to replace four-year starter Clayton Thorson, who owns most school passing records.

Virginia Tech (-4.5/58.5) at Boston College, 4 p.m. ET, ACCN: The ACC is putting a few of its teams up against each other this opening weekend and has a beauty of a matchup here. Legendary Hokies defensive coordinator Bud Foster is beginning his final season before retiring and has to worry about how he’s going to contain RB A.J. Dillon, considered one of the league’s top backs alongside Clemson’s Travis Etienne. After a horrible season stopping the run, this will be a great opportunity to see whether a group that returns most guys up front can improve and key a resurgence after a rare losing season in Blacksburg. VA Tech QB Ryan Willis threw 24 TD passes last season after transferring in from Kansas and will take aim at a BC secondary that lost a ton of talent. With Dillon likely to be the focal point of the Hokies’ defensive attention, Eagles QB Anthony Brown will play x-factor given the opportunities that should become available. He’s 1-1 against Virginia Tech, beating them in Blacksburg last season.

Syracuse (-18.5/68) at Liberty, 6 p.m. ET: The Flames moved up to the FBS level last season and blew out Old Dominion 52-10 in finishing 5-1 at home, so this isn’t exactly a gimme for the Orange. With Turner Gill retiring, former Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze was hired to help capitalize on the presence of Buckshot Calvert, who threw for over 3,000 yards last season. The Flames saw Auburn transfer Malik Willis get denied immediate eligibility by the NCAA, removing a major wrinkle from Freeze’s toolbox and lightening the load for Syracuse defensive coordinator Brian Ward. Offensively, the Orange will unleash Tommy DeVito as a full-time starting QB after he gained experience behind gutsy dual-threat Eric Dungey, Dino Babers’ first conductor to the high-octane circus that is the SU attack, which helped average 40.2 points last season.

Follow Tony Mejia on Twitter at @TonyMejiaNBA or e-mail him at [email protected]

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