Saturday’s Essentials

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

Early Starts

Ohio U. at Pittsburgh (-5.5/54), 11 a.m. ET, ACCN: The Bobcats struggled to stop Rhode Island on a few occasions last week and failed to cover, so this will be quite the test on the road at Heinz Field. An offensive line that replaced three key starters held up, but they too will come under fire against the Panthers, who will looking to avoid an 0-2 start after losing to Virginia since they’ll play Penn State and UCF next and would likely be headed for an 0-4 start if they’re upset here. Pitt QB Kenny Pickett missed a lot of throws against the Cavaliers and was intercepted twice in the second half, so he could be under fire if he struggles again. Pitt’s offensive line and receivers also struggled in its ACC opener and you best believe that senior QB Nathan Rourke and a disciplined Bobcats team that has a shot at a 10-win season will take advantage if they struggle again. The Ohio money line is coming off at +180 and early action dropped the line down from 6.5.

Old Dominion at Virginia Tech (-28/56), 12 p.m. ET, ESPNU: Legendary Hokies defensive coordinator Bud Foster’s swansong began in dubious fashion as Boston College racked up 35 points in an upset win in Chestnut Hill but he’ll be matched with a familiar face since ODU run-game coordinator Bryan Stinespring ran the o-line and recruiting for Va Tech for over a decade. This final home opener for him may mandate that he replace standout sophomore rush end TyJuan Garbutt, who was injured on a block against BC. DE Zion Debose is expected to be sidelined a while and a couple of others are banged up, so we’ll get to see what kind of defensive depth the Hokies are working with after a rough ACC opener. The Monarchs (+27) beat Virginia Tech 49-35 last season in one of the season’s biggest upsets but return only a handful of key players on both sides of the ball and narrowly beat FCS member Norfolk State 24-21 last week.

UAB (-9.5/46.5) at Akron, 12 p.m. ET, CBSSN: The Blazers looked lifeless in their season-opening win over Alabama State and narrowly escaped 24-19 despite being listed as a 40-point favorite at some books. UAB played vanilla and then found itself in a battle it wasn’t expecting, so we’ll likely get a much better indication of what to expect from its group coming off last season’s 11-win and first-ever bowl victory, but there’s definitely concern. Most of last season’s key contributors are gone and the win over the Hornets featured an abundance of brutal miscues. UAB was 1-for-13 on third down. The Zips were trounced 42-3 at Illinois as dual threat QB Kato Nelson found very little space to run and spent most of the day running for his life. Clearly, first-year Akron head coach Tom Arth has his work cut out for him as he takes over for Terry Bowden, who had been present for every home opener since 2012.

Army at Michigan (-22/47), 12 p.m ET, FOX: The Black Knights barely survived Rice 14-7 and take the field in Ann Arbor for their biggest challenge until November’s visit to Air Force and December’s date with Navy, so expect them to take their shot. Senior QB Kelvin Hopkins ran and threw for over 1,000 yards last season, so his arm gives Army a dimension it typically wouldn’t have and gives it a puncher’s chance to hang around with the bigger, more talented Wolverines if they can effectively utilize the element of surprise. Remember, Army took Kyler Murray-led Oklahoma to overtime last season as a 30-point underdog and hung 70 points on Houston in last December’s Armed Forces Bowl. The Wolverines weren’t as stifling as they were expected to be against Middle Tennessee, surrendering 21 points. That total is higher than any surrendered last season with the exception of games against Notre Dame, Ohio State and the bowl loss to Florida. Blindly betting the under here is awfully tempting given the presence of Army and Jim Harbaugh, but with Shea Patterson and Dylan McCaffrey splitting snaps and Michigan pushing tempo, that’s no longer a gimme.

Vanderbilt at Purdue (-7/55.5), 12 p.m. ET, BTN: The Commodores generated little offense against Georgia in a 30-6 loss, but head coach Derek Mason diffused any talk of a quarterback controversy and will stick with Ball State transfer Riley Neal over backup Deuce Wallace. Between blanket coverage from the Dawgs and some awful snaps from new center Grant Miller that had him on his heels all night, Neal found no rhythm and will now be asked to generate some momentum on the road as he returns to his home state. The Boilermakers will be attempting to bounce back after blowing a double-digit lead at Nevada due to an awful, mistake-filled second half. Nick Holt couldn’t get his pass defense to get a stop when he needed it most on a windy night. Purdue opened 0-3 last season and will host TCU next week before settling in for Big Ten play, so we’re going to learn a lot about who it is over the next two weeks. DT Lorenzo Neal is likely out again due to a knee injury that has kept him out of camp and top corner Kenneth Major is questionable after leaving the Nevada loss. Boilers QB Elijah Sindelar threw for 423 yards and four scores, so there’s reason to be encouraged despite the early hiccup. Electric receiver Rondale Moore isn’t going to blow any more games making mistakes on punt returns.

Rutgers at Iowa (-20/49.5), 12 p.m. ET, FS1: The Scarlet Knights gave up 21 first-quarter points to UMass before settling in and clamping down, but they wouldn’t be able to bounce back from that type of start if they start slowly in Iowa City. Texas Tech transfer QB McLane Carter is a playmaker. He’ll make mistakes, but the lefty is the best passer Rutgers has had in years. Isaih Pacheco and Raheem Blackshear are powerful runners who will be able to get forward if the line opens holes. Rutgers hasn’t won on the road since 2017 and have won only one of their last 15 Big Ten roadies, so this will be a huge challenge. The Hawkeyes are on another level than the Minutemen but only beat Rutgers 14-7 when these teams met last in ’16 and visit Iowa State next week. They trailed Miami (Ohio) 7-3 in the second quarter before getting going last week and have to overcome injury-related absences along the offensive line and at corner.

Syracuse at Maryland (-1.5/57), 12 p.m. ET, ESPN2: The Orange didn’t put a lot on tape last week that the Terps coaching staff could use outside of Dino Babers doing pushups and waving at Liberty’s Hugh Freeze up in the press box. QB Tommy DeVito threw two costly picks and showed a lack of chemistry with his receivers that has to be a concern as the level of competition increases. The Terps obliterated overmatched Howard 79-0, so this will be the first real look at what they can do under new head coach Mike Locksley. Virginia Tech transfer QB Joshua Jackson has weapons around him and plenty of experience against ACC defenses, so we’re going to learn a lot about both programs after this one.

West Virginia at Missouri (-13.5/62.5), 12 p.m. ET, ESPN: Kelly Bryant put up big numbers in his debut but the Tigers couldn’t hold a lead at Wyoming and ultimately lost a 37-31 shootout in Laramie. Mizzou’s next five games will all be at home, which could make for an uncomfortable situation for Barry Odom if his team’s level doesn’t pick up. The Tigers are 5-19 when they fail to score 40 points since he took over for Gary Pinkel, so there’s immense pressure to get things turned around defensively. West Virginia will be playing its first FBS foe under new head coach Neal Brown, but the Mountaineers were definitely tested by FCS power James Madison. Oklahoma transfer Austin Kendall will be a competent replacement for Will Grier, but West Virginia will rely on its ground game much more than it did under Dana Holgorsen and has four competent backs led by senior leader Kennedy McKoy.

Cincinnati at Ohio State (-15.5/54), 12 p.m. ET, ABC: Luke Fickell returns home with bad intentions as he brings the Bearcats into Columbus. The former Ohio State nose guard turned defensive coach never coached will be facing his alma mater for the first time since leaving and has a reasonable shot of snapping the Buckeyes’ 41-game winning streak against in-state opponents. QB Justin Fields looked sharp early in his Ohio State debut before the offense sputtered, but this Bearcats defense is far superior to what he saw against the Owls. Cincinnati QB Desmond Ridder can make plays with his arm and his feet, while RB Michael Warren is a horse who will make it his mission to outperform JK Dobbins. The Bearcats defeated UCLA without star safety James Wiggins (torn ACL), but his absence will be felt here. It’s going to be on Fickell’s schemes and Ridder’s playmaking to overcome not having his impact. Cincinnati is +600 on the moneyline at Westgate.

Bowling Green at Kansas State (-14.5/48.5), 12 p.m. ET: Both of these teams got off to fast starts under new head coaches and feature dynamic dual threat quarterbacks. Darius Wade, who started at Boston College and in ’17 and spent last season at Delaware, debuted for Bowling Green against Morgan State and threw for three scores to get Scot Loeffler his first victory. The Falcons outgained the FCS-member Bears 620-70, so we’ll see how they fare fighting an uphill battle on the road. Transfer QB Matt McMahon, another BC transfer who was expected to start ahead of Wade, still hasn’t been cleared to play by the NCAA. The Wildcats won easily in Chris Klieman’s debut, routing Nicholls State 49-14. Skylar Thompson, who split the gig the past few years, has a chance to take the next step as a junior and shined in his debut in a new system that will allow him to showcase his passing. After such dominant openers, we’ll get a better feel for these teams after this one.

Northern Illinois at Utah (-23.5/58.5), 1 p.m. ET, Pac-12: Former Huskies running back Thomas Hammock has taken over as head coach after Rod Carey’s departure to Temple and led NIU to a 24-10 win over FCS member Illinois State. The game was tied 3-3 at the break and Cal grad transfer Ross Bowers has controversially replaced returning junior starter Marcus Childers, a former MAC Freshman of the Year who played hero in last year’s conference title game. It wouldn’t be surprising if a divided group arrives in Salt Lake City, which wouldn’t bode well for the Huskies’ chances of pulling an upset against a defense expected to be among the nation’s best. Utah looked the part in hammering BYU, getting a pick-six from rover Francis Bernard and excellent play from the secondary that included Tareke Lewis shining opposite standout Jaylon Johnson. NIU’s projected team total has been set at 10.5..

South Florida at Georgia Tech (-6/61.5), 2 p.m. ET, ACCN: The Bulls were destroyed at home by Wisconsin 49-0 while the Yellow Jackets landed a few punches against Clemson but were thoroughly dominated. Blake Barnett will have top slot guy Johnny Ford back and hopes to find an early rhythm that eluded what was expected to be a fast-paced USF offense. Georgia Tech was able to move the ball some on Clemson before sputtering around the goal line. It has replaced Paul Johnson’s triple-option with a shotgun spread and will ultimately start junior Lucas Johnson ahead of Tobias Oliver, but they’re expected to go with the sophomore runner here. Last year’s 49-38 loss down in Tampa saw Georgia Tech surrender a pair of crucial kickoff returns for touchdowns, so we’ll see how a new-look special teams holds up.

Afternoon Delights

Nebraska (-4/65) at Colorado, 3:30 p.m. ET, FOX: The ‘Huskers sputtered offensively in the opener against South Alabama, struggling up front and scoring just two offensive touchdowns in a 35-14 where the defense and special teams outscored Scott Frost’s high-octane attack. QB Adrian Martinez has vowed to play better and RB Maurice Washington, suspended for a half and in the midst of a revenge porn court case that has been pushed back another week, is expected to see more action alongside Georgia Tech transfer Dedric Mills, who scored both Nebraska offensive touchdowns. Colorado pulled away from Colorado State to capture another Rocky Mountain Showdown. QB Steven Montez looks healthy and took advantage of the attention the Rams paid to star WR Laviska Shenault in order to help score 52 points. The Buffs won the first installment of this rivalry since 2010 in Lincoln last season on a Montez-Shenault hookup with 1:06 left. Colorado is just 2-7-1 against the ‘Huskers in Boulder since 1991.

Texas A&M at Clemson (-17.5/64), 3:30 p.m ET, ABC: Kellen Mond looked extremely sharp against Texas State and is one of the most physically gifted quarterbacks in the country, so if he’s able to find a rhythm, the Aggies can supply headaches as the rare SEC double-digit dog in a non-conference game. They’ll need Trevor Lawrence to struggle the way he did against Georgia Tech after he was visibly off, throwing two interceptions and missing various throws. Tigers slot WR Amari Rodgers is expected to suit up six months after tearing his ACL, so he’ll add a dimension to an already explosive passing attack. Travis Etienne dominated the opener with a career-high 205 yards on the ground but will go up against an A&M defense that held Texas State to eight rushing yards and did a nice job last year in nearly engineering a home upset, losing 28-26 last Sept. 8. The top six tacklers from that group are gone, but talented defensive coordinator Mike Elko does bring a talented group into Death Valley.

Central Michigan at Wisconsin (-35/51.5), 3:30 p.m. ET, BTN: The Badgers blanked South Florida and could blank another opponent as the Chippewas visit Camp Randall. Over the past four years under head coach Paul Chryst, Wisconsin has won its first home game by an average score of roughly 51-6. The Chips’ team total is around 7.5 despite the presence of senior RB Jonathan Ward, who racked up over 200 yards against Albany and has done damage against Power-5 schools before. Tennessee transfer Quinten Dormady debuted with 285 passing yards and two scores last week. Former Florida head coach Jim McElwain will learn a lot about his new team here. Jonathan Taylor should have another big game given his form and how poorly they’ve stopped the run, but the x-factor to who notches this cover will likely be Badgers QB Jack Coan, who should have one-on-one opportunities he’ll need to capitalize on to convince dubious Badger nation that he should be playing ahead of prized freshman Graham Mertz.

Charlotte at Appalachian State (-22.5/53.5), 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN+: The Mountaineers have won 41 games over the past four seasons, but that success got Scot Satterfield the Louisville job and he took most of the coaching staff with him. Talented offensive mind Eli Drinkwitz has taken over, inheriting 16 starters who helped open the season with a blowout win. App State is heavily favored here with Charlotte undergoing a facelift in Year 1 of the Will Healy era. The 33-year old wants to push tempo and figures to take some risks, so this will be a measuring-stick game for the 49ers prior to next week’s home date against UMass. The 49 points they scored last week in beating Gardner-Webb were a program-high since moving up to the FBS level. Appalachian State won last season’s meeting 45-9 and will have a week off to prepare for statement game at North Carolina.

Southern Miss at Mississippi State (-16.5/52), 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU: The Golden Eagles have posted three consecutive winning seasons and are expected to be one of Conference USA’s top teams this season, so they’re hoping to be around to steal this come fourth quarter. Louisiana hung around with the Bulldogs for the better part of four quarters last week, but that game was played in New Orleans. The atmosphere should be much friendlier in Starkville, where they’ll be getting a look at Penn State senior grad transfer Tommy Stevens, who won the QB job from Keytaon Thompson in the offseason but will have to continue fighting him off since the junior who had long served as Nick Fitzgerald’s backup took his name out of the transfer protocol and returned to practice this past week. Southern Miss QB Jack Abraham led the nation in completion percentage last season. The Eagles are 1-4 against SEC foes under head coach Jay Hopson but have covered the number in three of those games.

Illinois (-20.5/59) at UConn, 4 p.m. ET, CBSSN: The Fighting Illini put together one of last Saturday’s most impressive performances in destroying Akron 42-3, overpowering the Zips up front. Having Michigan transfer Brandon Peters under center was a big deal, but the defense Lovie Smith called and how effectively his unit carried out his orders was what stood out most. The Illini did lose RB Mike Epstein to a season-ending knee injury. Reggie Corbin will now have more of a workload and should have a huge season, health permitted. He’s expected to play despite banging up a hip against the Zips. UConn held on to beat Wagner 24-21 as Randy Edsall debuted new coordinators on both sides of the ball in addition to starting QB Mike Beaudry, a Canadian who won a D-II title at West Florida in 2017. Illinois hasn’t won a non-conference road game in 12 years but is a heavy favorite that has taken a lot of action in Vegas, moving the line from 20 to where it stands now.

UT-San Antonio at Baylor (-25.5/57), 4 p.m. ET: The Bears bounced back from a 1-11 mark in Matt Rhule’s first year to pulling off back-to-back upsets of Texas Tech and Vanderbilt in order to record a winning season and a Texas Bowl title. They could take a major step forward and compete for a spot in the Big 12 title game since Oklahoma and Texas come through Waco late in the season, but it’s going to take Charlie Brewer developing into one of the league’s top passers and an offensive line that has historically struggled to keep the better defensive teams from disrupting the team’s offensive rhythm. UT-San Antonio defeated the Bears two seasons ago as 15-point favorites and just missed covering in a 37-20 home loss at the Alamodome last year. Redshirt sophomore Frank Harris won the QB battle and had an impressive debut against Incarnate Word, bouncing back from an ACL tear last spring. The Roadrunners’ win at Baylor on their last trip into Waco remains their only victory over a Power-5. :

New Mexico State at Alabama (-55/64), 4 p.m. ET, SECN: Tua Tagovailoa will likely out of the game by halftime, so covering this substantial spread will hinge on true freshman Taulia Tagovailoa, who handed off to Jerome Ford on his late TD that ultimately buried Duke bettors. He’ll follow sophomore Mac Jones, who moved the chains against the Blue Devils and is likely to follow Tua. There’s not a lot to this one other than betting on Alabama’s overwhelming talent or expecting some complacency with the Tide’s first road game coming up next week. The Aggies lost 58-7 to Washington State last week and now heads south to collect a check here. New Mexico’s worst loss last season came in a 60-13 loss at Utah State.

San Diego State at UCLA (-7.5/45.5), 4:15 p.m. ET, Pac-12: With games against Oklahoma and Washington State following this one, Chip Kelly is going to be in a world of trouble on the heels of last year’s 3-9 run. UCLA started 0-5 last season and was shut down in a 24-14 loss at Cincinnati on Aug. 29. Dorian Thompson-Robinson missed some throws, but there’s still hope that the light will turn on for him in Kelly’s system. The Bruins will have a few extra days of preparation but will have to deal with a San Diego State defense that shut out Weber State to bail out the offense in a 6-0 season-opening dud of a win. QB Ryan Agnew has returned, but his top three targets are gone. Top RB Juwan Washington is questionable with an ankle injry. The Aztecs have never beaten the Bruins, coming in 0-21-1. Rocky Long has won four of his last five games against Pac-12 schools outright.

UL-Monroe at Florida State (-21/63), 5 p.m. ET, ACCN: It looked like the Seminoles were indeed back for the better part of their first contest. If it hadn’t been for a pair of defensive touchdowns getting called back due to replay, they may have knocked the Broncos out. Instead, Boise hung around, overcome and then dominated upon taking the lead for the first time in the fourth quarter. The ‘Noles didn’t score in the second half, which means they’ll have something to prove here regardless of what the score is at the break. James Blackman moved the offense, but new coordinator Kendal Briles is going to need to show more than he managed to in contributing to the meltdown. ULM lost its last game against a Power-5 70-21 at Ole Miss last season and fell in Tallahassee 42-10 in the final regular-season game of the ’17 season. The Warhawks handled Grambling 31-9 as former Ole Miss commit Josh Johnson finished with 173 yards on just 10 carries, scoring twice.

Follow Tony Mejia on Twitter at @TonyMejiaNBA