Saturday’s Essentials

Here’s a look at what must be considered before wagering on Saturday's slate in select FBS vs. FBS matchups:

Early Starts

Louisiana-Monroe at Iowa State (-18.5/55), 12 p.m. ET, FS1: The Warhawks were prepared to go into a third OT with FSU last time they were on the field but saw their kicker blow the extra point in a grueling 45-44 loss in Tallahassee. With a week off to heal up, ULM will take another shot at a power-five and catches Iowa State in a vulnerable spot. The Cyclones suffered a disappointing 18-17 home loss to rival Iowa when a muffed punt prevented one last Brock Purdy-led drive. Big 12 play opens next week at Baylor. Matt Campbell faces a difficult task in getting his team focused on handling business against a dangerous team that comes to town with a veteran offensive line and a senior QB in Caleb Evans. RB Josh Johnson played sparingly last season but the former Ole Miss commit ranks fifth in the country in rushing yards.

Connecticut at Indiana (-27.5/56.5), 12 p.m. ET, BTN: The Huskies turned to Jack Zergiotis, a true freshman from Montreal, after senior transfer Mike Beaudry was banged up and have now committed to him as the guy the rest of the way. It makes sense to let the kid grow into the role considering UConn will be an underdog in the majority of their remaining games, and head coach Randy Edsall plans to give him a long leash in airing it out to senior Ardell Brown and freshmen Matt Drayton and Cameron Ross. A young roster will make their first road appearance of the season and got good news as tackle Matt Peart overcame an injury scare and will anchor the line. The Hoosiers come off a 51-10 home loss to Ohio State, missing dual-threat QB Michael Penix due to an upper body injury. His status for this one remains up in the air and it looks increasingly likely that junior backup Peyton Ramsey will start. UConn owns a 2-0 lead in this series.

Michigan State (-9/37) at Northwestern, 12 p.m. ET, ABC: Both teams have already lost to Pac-12 schools entering this conference opener, so the loser faces the season going off the rails before the first month. Mark Dantonio’s seat is suddenly feeling warm on the heels of a 7-6 season and discord could grow louder if his team falls to 22-20 over the past three years with a loss in Evanston. Northwestern has won the last three matchups, last losing to Sparty in ’13. Brian Lewerke has been inconsistent and the team is on yet another left tackle due to injury with Tyler Higby stepping in for Kevin Jarvis. Clayton Thorson never lost to Michigan State, but Clemson transfer Hunter Johnson is just getting comfortable and threw his first touchdown pass against UNLV in a game the Wildcats failed to cover. It’s time to see if Northwestern has any weapons capable of doing damage against a Michigan State unit that ranks third in the country in total defense. Early returns against Stanford weren’t promising. Kyric McGowan and JJ Jefferson must generate plays downfield to keep the Spartan defense from locking down RB Drake Anderson as they look to keep Northwestern from reaching its projected team total of 13.5/14 points.

Boston College (-18/57.5) at Rutgers, 12 p.m ET, BTN: The Scarlet Knights won’t have starting QB McLane Carter, the effective Texas Tech transfer, who hasn’t cleared concussion protocol after being dinged up at Iowa. Sophomore Art Sitkowski will see his first action of the season after throwing 18 interceptions and just four touchdowns as a true freshman. Coming off a 30-0 loss at the Hawkeyes, Rutgers will look to end a 14-game losing streak against fellow Power-5 schools. The Eagles will attempt to bounce back from an embarrassing home loss to Kansas in which they surrendered 567 yards. First-year defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan better get things figured out here since BC’s ACC slate the rest of the way is taxing and there’s a visit to Notre Dame the whole program has been pointing toward. Losing to the Jayhawks can derail a season in terms of finger-pointing, so this trip to Piscataway has acquired increased importance.

Western Michigan at Syracuse (-4.5/65.5), 12 p.m. ET, ACCN: Dino Babers will look to get his season back on track against a familiar foe given his history of success in the MAC at Bowling Green and at ‘Cuse, where he’s 2-0 against teams from his old league since taking over. That includes a 55-42 win in Kalamazoo last season, but Eric Dungey ran for 200 yards and had to come into keep that game from getting away from the Orange. Tommy DeVito has really struggled with miscues in blowout losses to Maryland and Clemson and didn’t look sharp at Liberty so this will be a big spot for him to start generating some momentum against a defense he should be able to move the ball against. Another rough outing could lead to an upset inside the Dome since the Broncos are coming off a 57-10 rout of the same Georgia State team that went into Tennessee and won. Senior QB Jon Wassink has put up nice numbers of late and has a reliable receiving corps and RB LeVante Bellamy leads the MAC’s top stable of backs. If the Broncos offensive line can win their share of battles this game should come down to the final minutes.

Michigan at Wisconsin (-3.5/45), 12 p.m. ET, FOX: Jim Harbaugh’s Wolverines enter a game as an underdog for the first time since losing to Ohio State at home in 2017. Nearly losing to Army after failing to hammer Middle Tennessee has shaken confidence in Michigan despite all that talent on their roster. WR Donovan Peoples-Jones may debut and QB Shea Patterson should be able to move around a little better than he has after suffering an early oblique injury, which gives Michigan hope it can win in Camp Randall for the first time since 2001. The Badgers have outscored South Florida and Central Michigan by a combined margin of 110-0 behind a dominant defense and rushing attack. Safety Scott Nelson has been lost for the season and the caliber of competition is about to skyrocket, so we’re going to see what Wisconsin is all about on the heels of a 35-13 loss when these teams met in Ann Arbor last October. QB Jack Coan is off to a strong start and will need to be the x-factor in avoiding mistakes against Michigan’s defense.

California at Ole Miss (-2.5/42.5), 12 p.m. ET, ESPNU: Teams from the Sun Belt, Mountain West and American have joined the Big Ten, Big 12 and ACC in taking down SEC squads already this season. The Pac-12 still hasn’t broken through due to Auburn’s last-second comeback over Oregon but has a decent shot here if the Golden Bears are able to get their body clocks up for work earlier than usual. Cal’s defense is legit, coming through to fuel wins over an FCS power, nationally-ranked Washington in Seattle and last week’s win over North Texas and active NCAA passing leader Mason Fine. None of those teams has managed 20 points against the Bears, so Ole Miss will face a major test after figuring a few things out over the past few weeks against Arkansas and overmatched Southeastern Louisiana. Freshman Matt Corral-to-sophomore Elijah Moore isn’t as imposing as the punch the Rebels have packed in the past, but RB Scottie Phillips has picked up the slack and gives the offense balance. Cal shut down Ole Miss in 2017 as Justin Wilcox and Matt Luke met as first-year head coaches, winning 27-16 in Berkeley.

Tennessee at Florida (-14/49), 12 p.m. ET, ESPN: With QB Feleipe Franks done for the season, the Gators will turn to Kyle Trask, who backed up Houston’s D’Eriq King in high school and is therefore making his first start in six years at any level as he takes the field to face the Vols. Trask helped Florida hold off Kentucky in Lexington and will look to help continue their run of dominance over Tennessee to 14 wins in 15 tries. A sturdy Gators defense may have a number of injury-related obstacles to overcome with DE Jabari Zuniga and corner CJ Henderson nursing ankle injuries. An already thin Florida secondary wouldn’t easily overcome the loss of Henderson, so keep an eye on that as Jarrett Guarantano comes into Gainesville looking to rebound from a brutal, a 7-for-18, 2-pick game in his only game against Todd Grantham’s UF defense. The Vols will welcome back corner Bryce Thompson, a Freshman All-American last season.

Southern Miss at Alabama (-38/61.5), 12 p.m. ET, ESPN2: The Crimson Tide surrendered 324 passing yards as South Carolina’s Ryan Hilinski fired off 57 throws, completing 36 as the Gamecocks tested their freshman against an elite defense all afternoon in Columbia. Alabama will see the most prolific passer it has faced to date in Southern Miss’ senior QB Jack Abraham, who threw for 463 yards and two scores last week in completing his first 17 passes against Troy. The national leader in completion percentage as a junior threw for a modest 215 yards against Auburn and wasn’t helped by Southern Miss rushing for 2.1 yards per carry in a 24-13 loss against the defense most comparable to what they’ll see against the Tide here. Tua Tagovailoa and the ‘Bama offense has averaged over 50 points per game through the season’s first three games and faces a secondary that surrendered over 500 yards through the air against Troy last week. Top linebacker Racheem Boothe left last week’s game but is expected to return despite sporting a walking boot. It wouldn’t be too surprising to see Alabama surpass the 62-point mark themselves here.

LSU (-24/62.5) at Vanderbilt, 12 p.m. ET, SECN: Joe Burrow has been the nation’s most efficient quarterback this season and will look for a better showing against the winless Commodores than Georgia’s Jake Fromm and Purdue’s Elijah Sindelar, who each put up good numbers in blowing out Vandy. LSU’s offense is averaging 55 points entering this trip to Nashville and faces a defense that has surrendered over 500 yards per game. LSU should benefit from Vandy injuries on both sides of the ball. Vandy is the most penalized team at FBS level through two games and lists left tackle Devin Cochran as a game-time decision. If he doesn’t go, it’s hard to imagine the offense gaining much traction.

Afternoon Delights

UCF (-11/61) at Pittsburgh, 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC: The Knights won’t play another Power-5 until a bowl game, which if they get their wish, would be part of the national semifinals. UCF still must clear road hurdles at Cincinnati, Temple and Tulane, but it will be favored in every remaining regular-season contest and would have swept both its scheduled games against “big boys” if it handles business here after routing Stanford in Orlando last weekend. Freshman Dillon Gabriel has emerged as the top quarterback in the program, winning the starter’s gig over Notre Dame transfer Brandon Wimbush and junior holdover Darriel Mack, Jr., who has returned from injury. Following the footsteps of fellow Hawaiian McKenzie Milton, Gabriel secured his spot by throwing for 347 yards and four TDs against the Cardinal and has been incredible with his reads and ball placement down the field. He’ll be facing another highly thought of NFL prospect in safety Damar Hamlin after connecting with top WR Gabriel Davis to repeatedly torch Stanford CB Paulson Adebo, so a full national coming-out party is possible given the national broadcast. Pitt lost 45-14 to UCF in Central Florida last season but does have weapons on both sides of the ball that can make this a much closer game.

Washington (-8.5/49) at BYU, 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2: The Huskies dropped their Pac-12 opener to Cal and seem likely to take a step back from contention after 32 wins in the past three years, but Chris Petersen has repeated proven he shouldn’t be written off. We’ll know more about whether a down year is indeed inevitable after this one since we’re not really sure how good BYU is either. Washington had a late 35-0 lead before the Cougs scored a late TD in last year’s meeting in Seattle, but this game is expected to be much closer. After opening the season with a lopsided loss to rival Utah, wins against Tennessee and USC has restored hope in Provo. Zach Wilson has gone from next-in-line to ordinary to favorite son again, answering questions about being the Mormon Manziel. The Cougs defense has risen up when they’ve needed to late in games but could be without linebacker Zayne Anderson and safety Sawyer Powell. BYU is staging a “white-out” to try and pull off an upset by rattling QB Jacob Eason in his first road start with U-Dub after transferring in from Georgia. Creating mistakes with pressure will be essential to a BYU upset bid.

Appalachian State at North Carolina (-2.5/58), 3:30 p.m. ET: The Mountaineers have dominated the first two games of the Eli Drinkwitz era but get their crack at their Super Bowl for the season as they visit Chapel Hill. The former NC State offensive coordinator should be well-versed in the Tar Heels’ personnel but will have to adjust to Mack Brown and his staff, who have certainly put a lot of their tendencies on tap since they’ve been involved in so many tight games to open the season. Freshman QB Sam Howell has lived up to the hype, showing poise beyond his years and a great ability to make plays, and he won’t be looking past this game since his parents are alumni and his brother and sister are Mountaineers. He’s been at his best in fourth quarters and should be tough to contain if this is close. Appalachian State is roughly three hours from Chapel Hill and will provide the final opportunity for standout QB Zac Thomas to light up a Power-5 this season given the Sun Belt’s bowl ties. A hot, sunny day could set the stage for a shootout.

Auburn at Texas A&M (-4/48), 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS: Freshman Bo Nix will make his first true road start as the Tigers look to win a third straight game in this series. Before the Sept. 7 loss to Clemson, last season’s 28-24 loss at Auburn was the Aggies’ most recent defeat under Jimbo Fisher, so this SEC opener has been circled on the schedule as a true springboard game for how this season is going to go for A&M considering they host Alabama on Oct. 12 and close with visits to Georgia at LSU. The pretender or contender thing will be decided today for both teams since Auburn will face all of those teams too, but starting 4-0 would certainly make for an easier ride for Gus Malzahn, who has already escaped disaster once thanks to a frantic comeback over Oregon in Week 1. A&M blew a 10-point fourth-quarter lead at Auburn last season that Kellen Mond had a hand in squandering, so he’ll need to respond by protecting the ball against the Tigers’ defensive front and minimizing miscues while keeping plays alive. The Ags are 9-1-1 ATS over their past 11 games at Kyle Field, with the lone loss coming in that 7OT win over LSU that the Tigers covered despite a 74-72 loss. The lesson here is that A&M has grown pretty reliable at covering the number at home.

Louisville at Florida State (-6.5/60.5), 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN: The ‘Noles dropped their home opener to Boise State and the ACC opener at Virginia last week, but Willie Taggart’s buyout is too large for him not to get another season so long as his team doesn’t continue embarrassing him. FSU has played above-average teams and have had chances to win before sabotaging itself with defensive breakdowns and mental errors like penalties and turnovers, so there’s hope the team can still turn things around. It sounds like QB James Blackman is losing his grip on the job since the plan is to take a look at Wisconsin transfer Alex Hornibrook early in a series here. Scott Satterfield has been forced to play three quarterbacks through three games due to injuries and lists Puma Pass as a game-time decision. Malik Cunningham is also available to start and freshman Evan Conley could see more action, so there are a lot of variables in play. Whoever starts will be doing plenty of handing off to redshirt freshman RB Javian Hawkins, who ranks 11th nationally in rushing and will be playing back in his home state.

Follow Tony Mejia on Twitter at @TonyMejiaNBA