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:

Early Starts

Ohio State (-17/60) at Indiana, 12 p.m. ET, FOX: Hoosiers defensive coordinator Kane Wommack provided the Buckeyes some bulletin board material by saying his unit will look to take shots at QB Justin Fields every chance they get. After covering a 26-point spread in Columbus last season in a game it held a second-quarter lead in, Indiana is looking to avoid a 25th straight setback at the hands of Ohio State. Coming off an impressive shutout of Cincinnati, new coordinator Greg Mattison will look to contain a potentially explosive IU offense currently averaging 43 points per game. Ohio State will have tougher road games ahead but needs to identify other mainstays besides top NFL prospect Chase Young, making this an excellent test for the supporting cast on both sides of the ball. The Hoosiers are 0-9 against ranked opponents since Tom Allen took over but they’ve covered in the last three after starting 0-6 ATS. QB Michael Penix is listed as a game-time decision with an injury the Hoosiers have elected to be vague about. If the talented redshirt freshman can’t go, junior Peyton Ramsey would start.

Kansas State at Mississippi State (-7.5/51.5), 12 p.m. ET, ESPN: Penn State transfer Tommy Stevens was putting on a clinic against Southern Miss, missing on just one of his 10 throws before sustaining what looked to be an arm or shoulder injury. He’s hoping to return for the biggest non-conference game of the season. True freshman Garrett Shrader would start if Stevens can’t go, which is interesting since former starter Keytaon Thompson is back on the team after exploring a transfer and available to play. Stevens was able to practice some early in the week enough to anticipate his inclusion, but you better make sure before pulling the trigger. K-State has looked fantastic thus far against inferior competition, outscoring Nicholls State and Bowling Green 101-14. QB Skylar Thompson has shown off improved accuracy and excellent command of the new offense head coach Chris Klieman and coordinator Courtney Messingham have installed. The Wildcats have showcased their depth so far, so it will be fun to see who shows up in SEC country against a Bulldogs defense led by top corner Cameron Dantzler, who left the field against Southern Miss too but should be good to go. This will be Klieman’s first-ever test against an SEC opponent and doubles as the first time in years where he’s been an underdog considering he won four FCS titles and went 69-6 at North Dakota State.

NC State (-7/46.5) at West Virginia, 12 p.m. ET, FS1: After outscoring East Carolina and FCS member Western Carolina 75-6, the Wolfpack will get a true test on the road against the Mountaineers. Neal Brown’s team comes off a 38-7 loss at Missouri and is still clearly putting things together against a new coaching staff that has installed completely different systems. QB Austin Kendall has struggled with turnovers and veteran coordinator Vic Koenning’s defense hasn’t responded. He called them “too nice” this past week. An interesting subplot here is that new Wolfpack co-DC Tony Gibson ran the unit at West Virginia for the past five years, so he’s definitely got some inside information for the NC State offensive staff. New QB Matthew McKay will be making his first road start and has had issues overthrowing receivers.

Maryland (-6.5/66.5) at Temple, 12 p.m ET, CBSSN: Mike Locksley has the Terps averaging 71 points per game after impressive home victories over Howard and Syracuse. The immediate turnaround doesn’t appear to be a fluke. Maryland has quality personnel and Virginia Tech transfer Joshua Johnson has hit the ground running, throwing seven touchdown passes. Temple won last season’s meeting 35-14 in College Park as a 15-point underdog, but it has a new coach in place too given Geoff Collins’ departure to Georgia Tech and Rod Carey’s arrival from Northern Illinois. The Owls blew out Bucknell 56-12 to begin the season and have had a bye week to prepare. QB Anthony Russo topped the 400-yard mark against the Bison and was at the controls for last season’s upset. Temple is seeking its third win in four tries over Maryland and will have top tight ends Kenny Yeboah and David Martin-Robinson available despite a few nicks.

Miami (OH) at Cincinnati (-17.5/49.5), 12 p.m. ET, ESPNU: The RedHawks haven’t held up the Victory Bell in 14 years and were blanked 21-0 last season, snapping a run that had seen them cover the number in five straight matchups between these neighbors. Coming off the program’s first shutout loss since 2005, Luke Fickell is hoping his team reacts positively to a “humbling experience.” Last year’s team didn’t lose consecutive games. RB Michael Warren was held to 15 yards on 10 carries and QB Desmond Ridder struggled due to a lack of protection and briefly left the field after suffering a shoulder injury that isn’t expected to be an issue. Miami true freshman QB Brett Gabbert, younger brother of former NFL first-round pick Blaine, wasn’t intimidated at Iowa and doesn’t appear to be the type who is easily rattled. He’s got solid targets in Jack Sorenson and Luke Mayock, nephew of the Raiders GM and former NFL Network analyst.

Pittsburgh at Penn State (-17/53.5), 12 p.m. ET, ABC: The Nittany Lions weren’t able to overcome Saquon Barkley’s departure enough to post double-digit wins last season and were going to start seeing whether they’ll be able to overcome losing record-setting QB Trace McSorley. Early results have been positive considering they’ve averaged 62 points in victories over Idaho and Buffalo, but they’ll face the best defense they’ll see until they run into the Big Ten’s big boys. Pitt safety Damar Hamlin is one of the nation’s best at his position and Pitt will be out for revenge after losing last year’s meeting 51-6 at Heinz Field. His matchup with PSU WR KJ Hamler will be one all NFL scouts will have their eyes on. Pitt HC Pat Narduzzi won the first meeting against James Franklin’s Nittany Lions 42-39 in 2016 but has seen his team outscored 84-20 in two losses since. This is the 100th and final scheduled meeting between these in-state rivals. The coaches aren’t necessarily friendly which is worth knowing if you’re laying points here since Penn State isn’t likely to let up if it has a chance to run up the score late.

Eastern Michigan at Illinois (-7/56) at Maryland, 12 p.m. ET, BTN: The Eagles come off a disappointing 38-17 loss to Kentucky in which it was pushed around up front, something they’ve been able to avoid with increasing regularity under Chris Creighton as the program has managed to turn things around in reaching two bowls over the past three seasons after nearly a 30-year drought. Eastern Michigan has struggled to establish and stop the run despite coming in 1-1 after an upset at Coastal Carolina and last weekend’s loss in Lexington. QB Mike Glass and RB Shaq Vann are proven playmakers looking to help keep the Illini from opening 3-0 for the first time since they won their first six games in Ron Zook’s last stand back in 2011. The Illini has played two of the worst FBS programs in the country thus far, so ranking in the top 10 nationally in tackles for loss and rushing yards allowed is tempered some as a result. QB Brandon Peters has thrown seven TD passes, but the Michigan transfer will be facing a much better secondary than he’s faced to date given the presence of All-MAC CB Kevin McGill and safeties Vince Calhoun and Brody Hoying. Illinois should have RB Reggie Corbin back from a hip pointer, which should make a big difference considering they lost top back Mike Epstein to a season-ending injury in Week 1.

Arkansas State at Georgia (-33/58), 12 p.m. ET, ESPN2: The ‘Dawgs will face the best offense they’ve run into date with the Red Wolves in town. The perennial Sun Belt power saw head coach Blake Anderson return to the sideline after a one-week absence following the death of his wife, who succumbed to cancer just before the season began. Arkansas State went out to Vegas and crushed the Rebels 43-17 with a dominant effort on both sides of the ball. Georgia hasn’t been perfect this season, sputtering offensively against Vandy and struggling with consistency on the defensive end against overmatched Murray State, so perhaps we’ll see a complete effort here if it gives the visitors the respect the game tape commands. That’s the only way this spread gets covered. Receivers Omar Bayless and Kirk Merritt will be sky high to play their best against an SEC secondary, so QB Logan Bonner could continue a big season if he’s accurate. He’s thrown for an average of over 300 yards with six TDs and just one interception against SMU and UNLV.

Air Force at Colorado (-3.5/58), 1 p.m. ET, Pac-12: This line inspired a double-take considering how well the Buffs have played through the first two games of the Mel Tucker era, which has produced a blowout of Colorado State and a riveting comeback win over Nebraska. If there’s a hangover from rallying past the ‘Huskers as this number projects, it could manifest in being unable to properly deal with the nuances of the triple option. Air Force is playing Colorado for the first time in 45 years and opens Pac-12 play next week but Tucker refuses to call this a “trap” game and expects his team to remain disciplined. The long-time coordinator and defensive backs coach has worked at the highest levels, so he hasn’t seen much of the triple option. The Falcons threw just one pass in their opener but will need to diversify the offense more to pull off an upset. Donald Hammond III and Isaiah Sanders are each capable of throwing it around but Air Force did lose its top two receivers. Buffs WR Laviska Shenault has scored just one touchdown this season, so he could be poised to break out as well.

Florida Atlantic (-2.5/64.5) at Ball State, 2 p.m. ET, ESPN+: After coming up empty against ranked opponents in Ohio State and UCF, FAU gets someone in its weight class, albeit on the road, where it has dropped a dozen consecutive non-conference games. Ball State head coach Mike Neu beat the Owls in Boca Raton in his first season 31-27, but that win came against Lane Kiffin’s predecessor, Charlie Partridge. To take down the visiting Owls, the Cardinals will likely need another big day from QB Drew Plitt, who threw for 439 yards and six TDs in Saturday’s 57-29 win over Fordham. The Owls have been sacked nine times and is hoping to get QB Chris Robison into a sustained rhythm. FAU lost its top rushers from last season and has seen RB BJ Emmons (broken ankle), Malcolm Davidson (undisclosed) and Daniel Leconte (concussion) all miss time already. Freshman Larry McCammon might be pressed into significant action, but the Owls are going to have to make plays through the air to win in Muncie.

New Mexico at Notre Dame (-34.5/64), 2:30 p.m. ET, NBC: Bob Davie won’t coach after being hospitalized following the season-opening win over Sam Houston State. Divulging only that he suffered a serious medical incident, Davie will watch from home as his Lobos try to hang with the Fighting Irish despite the absence of starting QB Brandt Hughes (labrum) and top nose tackle Aaron Blackwell, who tore his ACL. Saga Tuitele will fill-in for Davie and speedy senior Sherrion Jones is expected to start under center. Notre Dame defeated Louisville to open the season and is looking for Ian Book to polish some things up ahead of next week’s massive trip to Georgia. Unless the Irish dominate the first half and put the game out of reach by the fourth quarter, covering the team’s largest spread since 1996 will likely come down to backups and the running game since Brian Kelly isn’t likely to throw to run up the score late. RB Kyren Williams should see a significant role down the stretch.

Afternoon Delights

Akron at Central Michigan (-1/44.5), 3 p.m. ET, ESPN+: These teams were picked to finish near the bottom of their respective divisions, but one of them will end up 1-0 to open up MAC play. The Zips have struggled in that they didn’t score their first touchdown until the fourth quarter of their second game after Illinois and UAB had already gone up by substantial amounts. They catch a break in facing the Chippewas without QB Quinten Dormady, RB Jonathan Ward and DE Amir Siddiq, all of whom are out with injuries for the foreseeable future. QB David Moore, who played at Memphis briefly a few years ago, will start for Central Michigan. Akron QB Kato Nelson finally warmed up against Blazers backups in throwing his first two touchdown passes but did lead his team to an upset of Northwestern and a pair of MAC wins last season, including a 17-10 win over the Chips.

Stanford at UCF (-9/59.5), 3:30 p.m ET, ESPN: The Knights could have Darriel Mack, Jr. back in the lineup for his first start, but freshman Dillon Gabriel could make his second straight start. Notre Dame transfer Brandon Wimbush is expected to be available after missing last week’s win at FAU, so UCF head coach Josh Heupel has a number of quality options he can utilize to win a home game that ranks among the most important in UCF history. He’s keeping his decision to himself, whereas Stanford counterpart David Shaw has made no secret that senior K.J. Costello is “full go” to return after missing last week’s loss to USC. Top tackle Walker Little is out for the season after knee surgery, while a defense that got torched in the second half at USC will now have to deal with one of college football’s fastest offenses thousands of miles from home. UCF has won 16 consecutive home games.

Alabama (-25/56.5) at South Carolina, 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS: True freshman Ryan Hilinski debuted with a 16-for-19 effort and three touchdowns against Charleston Southern so of course he’s now ready to face Alabama. The Gamecocks are massive underdogs despite being at home in Columbia, where they beat the Tide back in 2010. South Carolina has won three of the last five against ‘Bama and is 1-1 against Nick Saban, who has excelled against East Division teams and has dominated on the road in conference play. Duke and New Mexico State haven’t tested a new-look Crimson Tide defense that has been weakened by injuries so this game should be telling since it’s going to be their toughest test until they visit Texas A&M on Oct. 12. Tua Tagovailoa has put up gaudy stats but agreed with Saban’s assessment that the passing game has looked sloppy. My expectation is that we’ll still see him in the game come fourth quarter.

East Carolina at Navy (-7.5/53.5), 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN+: Mike Houston picked up his first victory as ECU head coach in a 48-9 rout of Gardner-Webb but faces a difficult opening game in American Athletic Conference play. The Midshipmen have averaged 55.5 points in their two most recent wins against the Pirates and will be looking to get off to a strong start after falling off and losing 10 games last season. Ken Niumatololo didn’t have to show off much in a 45-7 rout of Holy Cross but has a visit to Memphis up next and will be looking to get explosive senior Malcolm Perry more comfortable under center as a passer.

Army (-17/45) at Texas-San Antonio, 3:30 p.m. ET, NFLN: UTSA got lit up for multiple touchdowns in every quarter against Baylor last week and will need to improve on its tackling and fundamentals with the Black Knights in town. After narrowly missing out on a monumental upset at Michigan, Army is back on the road looking to make sure the disappointment over coming up short in double-overtime against the Wolverines doesn’t beat them twice. The Roadrunners failed to prevent the big play against the Bears but should be well prepared for the triple option since defensive coordinator Jason Rollins gained plenty of experience against it while at Tulane. Army has won at least two true road games outright in each of the last three seasons to put an end to a 1-24 run from ’11-’15.

USC (-4/55.5) at BYU, 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC: The Trojans put together a huge second half to rout Stanford last week and now arrive in Provo hoping a road atmosphere doesn’t slow true freshman Kedon Slovis. He set a school record for most passing yards by a true freshman in his first start, finishing 28-for-33 for 377 yards with three TDs. Between taking control of the team immediately to showing off an accurate arm, Kurt Warner’s protégé looks like the real deal and will look to generate more confidence entering a grueling three-game stretch where USC must square off against Utah, Washington and Notre Dame. The Cougars looked headed to 0-2 before pulling off a miracle comeback at Tennessee, but BYU fans have grown restless watching Kalani Sitake drop big games and could turn against this group if they fall behind early. Sophomore QB Zach Wilson has struggled thus far but did make big throws when he needed to most in helping beat the Vols. USC is 2-0 all-time vs. BYU (’03-’04)..

Georgia Southern at Minnesota (-16.5.5/51), 3:30 p.m. ET, BTN: The Eagles still don’t know if they’ll have QB Shai Werts, who missed last week’s win over Maine with a shoulder injury. Redshirt freshman Justin Tomlin would start if Werts can’t go. The Gophers have survived against South Dakota State and Fresno State behind Tanner Morgan, who is 6-2 as the starter and has gained the trust of PJ Fleck and the rest of the staff due to his poise under pressure. With an entire Big Ten schedule ahead after this game and next week’s bye, this will be a test of Minnesota’s focus. The Gophers have to prepare for a triple option they won’t see again all season, setting this up to be a “trap” game, particularly if Werts can go. Georgia Southern is 1-10 in 11 non-conference road games since moving up to FBS.:

UNLV at Northwestern (-18/52.5), 3:30 p.m. ET, BTN: The Rebels come off an embarrassing loss to Arkansas State where they fell 43-17 despite closing as a slight favorite. Armani Rodgers will start for UNLV, but redshirt freshman Kenyon Oblad will play and appears to be gaining on unseating the junior starter. He’ll probably get his chance to impress here given the likelihood this ends up lopsided and requires mop-up duty. Northwestern lost QB T.J. Green to a season-ending foot injury against Stanford, so Clemson transfer Hunter Johnson is going to be the guy in Evanston. He’ll need to improve on a dreadful outing against the Cardinal where he finished 6-for-17 for 55 yards, threw two picks and fumbled on a sack to doom all Northwestern bettors of a certain cover. The Wildcats play five consecutive heavyweights after this contest;.

Oklahoma State at Tulsa (-14/64), 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2: The Cowboys have already imposed their will at Oregon State and won easily against McNeese State, so they’re building up to Big 12 play that opens next week with a trip to Austin to battle Texas. Redshirt freshman Spencer Sanders has settled in as the quarterback in a run-heavy attack that takes advantage of the speed and power of playmakers Tylan Wallace and Chuba Hubbard. The Golden Hurricane come off a win at San Jose State after generating little offense at Michigan State. Baylor transfer Zach Smith won’t blink in front of a talented Cowboys defense but may not have junior RB Corey Taylor due to an upper body injury that would leave Shamari Brooks and TK Wilkerson as the team’s primary backs. Tulsa has won 12 of 13 home openers but has dropped six straight against Oklahoma State.

Memphis (-19.5/55) at South Alabama, 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU: The Tigers hit the road for the first time and should know enough not to overlook the Jaguars, who they were tied against at the break when the teams met at the Liberty Bowl just last season. Memphis pulled away for a 52-35 win. Top safety La’Andre Thomas didn’t play in that game and has had an uneven season since he was ejected for targeting against Ole Miss, so he could have a big impact. The Tigers haven’t won their road opener in any of Mike Norvell’s three seasons at the helm. RB Patrick Taylor is out with a foot injury. Evan Orth torched the Tigers last season but graduated, so Cephus Johnson will start. Top DE Tyree Turner is out with an ankle injury. Despite his absence, the Jaguars’ defense looks much improved, as does Memphis.

Iowa at Iowa State (-1/42.5), 4 p.m. ET, FS1: ESPN’s GameDay is in Ames for CyHawk, so Iowa has to deal with an electric atmosphere as they look to snap a four-game losing streak. Iowa State head coach Matt Campbell is 0-3 against the big state school and has managed just three points in a pair of losses in Iowa City. At home, ISU lost 44-41 as three-point underdogs in OT back in 2017. Cyclones QB Brock Purdy hasn’t participated in a loss at home while Kirk Ferentz can rely on Nate Stanley, who led the frantic comeback as a sophomore, winning the game in OT. If the number is any indication, we’ll likely get a competitive game that goes down to the wire. Standout edge rusher AJ Epenesa has the ability to disrupt Iowa State’s offense, while the Iowa attack can rely on Stanley but centers on an effective ground game, so it’s no surprise to see this total emerge as the lowest of the day.

Colorado State at Arkansas (-10/64), 4 p.m. ET, SECN: Nick Starkel will start after SMU transfer Ben Hicks was ineffective despite having the inside track for the job due to his familiarity with Chad Morris’ system. Given the lack of production (18.5 ppg), you can expect to see a faster tempo since the Hogs have to find a rhythm this week and next against visiting San Jose State if they’re going to have any chance to be remotely competitive in SEC play. Colorado State gave up 52 points to Colorado and didn’t have much of a challenge against Western Illinois, so this will be a better barometer of where the Rams are as Mike Bobo looks to get things turned around. He’s 2-9 against Power-5 schools since taking over at CSU. Collin Hill is completing over 70 percent of his passes and has thrown seven touchdowns, so the Rams might welcome a shootout themselves.

Western Kentucky at Louisville (-10/49.5), 4 p.m. ET, Stadium: The Hilltoppers bounced back from losing to FCS-member Central Arkansas by winning their conference opener at Florida International. With his first victory at WKU under his belt, Tyson Helton now takes a shot at a second consecutive upset against another head coach only a few games into his tenure, Louisville’s Scott Satterfield. After losing to Notre Dame and crushing Eastern Kentucky, the Cards look to avoid an upset before ACC play begins next weeks with a visit to Florida State. Starting QB Puma Pass is rumored to be dealing with a foot injury, which could press sophomore Malik Cunningham into duty. He’s more of a runner, which could lead to a lower-scoring game since the WKU defense would have to respect the passing game less. Louisville won 20-17 last season as a 23-point favorite. It has won 10 straight games in the series.

Arizona State at Michigan State (-14.5/42), 4 p.m. ET, FOX: Herm Edwards posted wins over USC, Utah, UCLA and rival Arizona in his first season at ASU, but his most surprising involved a fourth-quarter comeback on Michigan State in Tempe in the regular-season’s second game. He picked up a 16-13 win over the highly respected Mark Dantonio and served notice that this return to college was no misguided diversion. Critics had assumed that the game had passed Edwards by. Beating Sparty provided validation. This time around, this game is likely to serve primarily as an education for freshman Jayden Daniels, the highly touted freshman who will start his first college road game against an excellent defense. The Sun Devils will try to make life easier for him by riding RB Eno Benjamin, who amassed just 26 yards on 13 carries last year. Michigan State QB Brian Lewerke, who went to high school in Phoenix, is looking for payback and has gotten off to a strong start in helping MSU average 39.5 points per game.

North Texas at California (-14/50.5), 4:15 p.m. ET, Pac-12: The Bears are looking to reach a bowl in consecutive years for the first time in a decade and are off to a fantastic start after pulling off a 20-19 upset of Washington in Seattle. Cal will look to open 3-0 for a third straight year under Justin Wilcox and have put together an impressive defense to serve as the backbone. Sophomore QB Chase Garbers helped set up Greg Thomas for a game-winning field goal to take down U-Dub and looks to light up a North Texas defense that is surrendering an average of 40 points per game. The Mean Green won at Arkansas 44-17 last season and are looking for their second straight Power-5 conquest under head coach Seth Littrell, who has covered all three of his games against P-5’s despite winning outright only once. QB Mason Fine is the nation’s leading active passer and will be looking to put his ability to overcome a lack of size against a talented defense on tape here, making this a crucial game for his future. Fine threw for just 152 yards last week and couldn’t complete a single pass to top receiver Rico Bussey, so massive changes are likely to be in store.

Louisiana Tech (-11.5/59) at Bowling Green, 5 p.m. ET, ESPN+: It’s homecoming at BGSU, where the Falcons hope to bounce back after suffering a humiliating 52-0 loss at Kansas State. Scott Loeffler inherited a solid offensive line. The Bulldogs have been unable to stop the run, which bodes well for Falcons RB Andrew Clair and QB Darius Wade as they try to go into MAC play over .500. La Tech has been unable to get WR Adrian Hardy on track, so that could be in play here via play action since BGSU has also struggled to stop the run and may bite on any fakes, leaving receivers in one-one-ones against suspect secondaries down the field. J’Mar Smith had productive games against Texas and Grambling and has proven he can handle a road atmosphere.

Follow Tony Mejia on Twitter at @TonyMejiaNBA

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