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Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 13:57 PM

Saturday's Essentials

Editor's Note: NCAA Football Totals leader Antony Dinero is 4-1 on totals this week and has connected on 21 of his last 30 over-under plays (70%, +1110) since Sept. 19. Don't miss out on NFL winners from Antony Dinero on this sesaon. Click to win!

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

Early Starts

Northwestern at Wisconsin (-24/46), 12 p.m. ET, ABC: The Badgers have outscored opponents 100-0 in the first half of games but won’t have the top safeties on their depth chart for the opening 30 minutes since starters Eric Burrell and Reggie Pearson were each suspended for targeting against Michigan. Projected starter Scott Nelson has already been lost for the season and top backup Madison Cone is questionable with a leg injury, so the program’s depth at the position is about to be tested. We’ll see if the Wildcats are able to take shots on the road and take advantage, but new QB Hunter Johnson has really struggled and went for 6-for-17 in his first road game against a Stanford defense nowhere near as good as Wisconsin’s. Northwestern should get WR Bennett Skowronek back but is likely to be without starting corner Trae Williams for a second straight contest. The Wildcats last won in Madison in 2015 (13-7) and won last season’s game 31-17, so Paul Chryst should have no problem motivating the Badgers as he seeks to improve to 3-2 against Pat Fitzgerald.

BYU (-2.5/61) at Toledo, 12 p.m ET, ESPN+: The Rockets failed to win last year’s high-profile home game against Miami but took down Tulsa, Fresno State and Iowa State in succession the previous three years, so BYU must be wary coming into the Glass Bowl favored. Toledo is 17-3 at home under Jason Candle, who just won at Colorado State thanks to RB Bryant Roback’s 228 rushing yards and four touchdowns. BYU has seen better teams than the Rockets all season but will be playing for the fifth time in as many weeks after home games against Utah, USC and Washington and a wild comeback road win at Tennessee the last time it left Provo. With a bye up next, we’re about to see what the Cougars have left in the tank in a critical swing game to their season. BYU ranks 116th in the country in stopping the run and will face a team that uses tempo more than anyone they’ve seen, though Toledo’s use of it against the Cougs’ bigger athletes will be predicated on how successful they are on first down. BYU’s defense is down senior LB Zayne Anderson (shoulder) and freshman Keenan Pili while the offense lost speedy South Carolina transfer RB Ty’Son Williams. Rice grad transfer Supe Eskupa is now likely to get more carries.

Rutgers at Michigan (-27.5/49), 12 p.m. ET, BTN: Jim Harbaugh’s seat is scalding and nothing the Wolverines do here is going to relieve that pressure. Opportunities to rebound start with next week’s homecoming game against Iowa, so this matchup with a heavy underdog that the Wolverines have beaten by a combined margin of 204-37 over the past four years will provide one last chance for younger players on the back end of the roster to get playing time. Turnover-prone Scarlet Knights sophomore Art Sitkowski had some nice moments against Boston College and should again get the start with McLane Carter dealing with a concussion. Wolverines backup QB Dylan McCaffrey took an awful hit against Wisconsin and is doubtful to play, so covering this large a spread may end up in the hands of a run game and redshirt freshman Joe Milton, particularly since starter Shea Patterson has looked banged up. Milton is raw but definitely the most promising QB prospect on the roster. Starting TE Sean McKeon won’t play.

Middle Tennessee at Iowa (-24/51), 12 p.m. ET, ESPN: The Blue Raiders haven’t suffered much offensively in years but are struggling to run the ball well while understandably sputtering without all-time leading passer Brent Stockstill, who threw for over 10,000 career yards before graduating. QB Asher O’Hara has accounted for 79 percent of the team’s offense but is more of a runner who should struggle against a physical defense. The Hawkeyes have Michigan game film to watch for next week’s clash and will therefore see a ton of that Week 1 MTSU film so they’ll be well prepared. The Blue Raiders are 0-16 against ranked foes but have covered in each of their last two outings. Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz is just 17-17 coming off a bye.

Northern Illinois at Vanderbilt (-7/52.5), 12 p.m. ET, SECN: The Commodores came into the season looking for the first winning season of the Derek Mason era and are dangerously close to having realistically no shot at a second straight bowl bid before September even ends. Holding serve here would definitely help stabilize matters before an important and winnable game at Ole Miss next week. NIU comes off its first bye week under new head coach Thomas Hammock, so expect to see a few wrinkles from a team looking for the program’s second SEC win in 12 tries, having last defeated pre-Nick Saban Alabama in 2003. After a 44-8 loss at Nebraska that featured onside kicks, multiple pooch punts and a fake punt, NIU is certain to change things up and obviously isn’t shy about taking risks. Cal transfer Ross Bowers and returning MAC Championship MVP Marcus Childers are competent QBs, while Ball State grad transfer Riley Neal has shown improvement for Vandy over the past few weeks and has plenty of experience against NIU in MAC play over the past few years.

Kansas at TCU (-14.5/49), 12 p.m. ET, FS1: The Jayhawks followed their impressive upset of Boston College up by hanging with West Virginia, so Les Miles has at least succeeded in upgrading the quality of play early. We’ll see if Kansas wears down once we get deeper into Big 12 play, but Gary Patterson’s Horned Frogs are going to see a much improved team on tape and should therefore have no excuse to suffer a letdown coming off an upset loss to SMU. Freshman Max Duggan nearly rallied TCU past the Mustangs in last week’s fourth quarter and will continue to start ahead of junior Mike Collins. Kansas stunned TCU in Lawrence 27-26 last season and has a chance to win again with Pooka Williams expected to get more touches, loosening up a Frogs defense for Carter Stanley to try and take advantage. If he plays well, expect the Jayhawks to hang around.

Texas Tech at Oklahoma (-27/70), 12 p.m. ET, FOX: The Red Raiders will need Alan Bowman’s backups to do thir part in order to keep this from getting ugly. With Texas Tech’s top passer sidelined, winning a shootout is out the window and new head coach Matt Wells will seek to try and keep Jalen Hurts off the field by moving the chains via dual-threat QB Jett Duffey and Rice transfer Jackson Tyner and the short passing game. It’s a shame we won’t see Bowman but that makes it clear Tech’s hopes of hanging around for more than a half hinge on a defense that has looked improved despite losing key linebacker Dakota Allen to the NFL. Jordyn Brooks is headed there too, but probably needs more help to handle the Sooners. Jalen Hurts is the national leader in QBR but deflected any Heisman talk this week, calling it rat poison. This should be one of those games where he’s able to pad stats if Lincoln Riley plays him deep into the third quarter and it’s not too windy. Thunderstorms could be in the equation for the second half which makes Sooners 1H bets awfully appealing.

Arkansas at Texas A&M (-23/61), 12 p.m. ET, ESPN: The Razorbacks come off an embarrassing loss to San Jose State that has them at the low point of the Chad Morris era. That speaks volumes considering they went winless in SEC play last season and have a run of losses in 17 of 18 conference games going, which includes 12 in succession. Left tackle Colton Jackson should be back, so the offensive line play should be better. The Hogs will have a motivated starter going in A&M transfer Nick Starkel, who couldn’t beat out Kellen Bond and couldn’t beat the Spartans last week after throwing five interceptions. We’ll see if he can rebound with the fan base turning on the entire program at this point. Suiting up and performing in front of the 12th Man is therefore less daunting than going out and facing the music in Fayetteville, but Starkel is nonetheless up against a great challenge even with this game being played in Arlington instead of College Station. Texas A&M has defeated the Hogs in seven straight, though four of the last five have been in seven-point games that came down to the final few plays.

Afternoon Delights

Iowa State (-3/55.5) at Baylor, 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN: The Bears are unbeaten but haven’t been tested, having taken down FCS member Stephen F. Austin that is currently 0-4 and a pair of C-USA lightweights that enter Saturday 0-7 vs. FBS foes. Baylor lost at Iowa State last season but covered and outgained the Cyclones, so this will be an excellent first test to see if they’re going to factor in the Big 12 race or if they’re still another year away. Brock Purdy piled up a school-record combined 510 total yards in last weekend’s 72-20 win over ULM, finally showing off some offensive continuity after sputtering against Northern Iowa and Iowa in an uneven start to the season. Tarique Milton is emerging as a potential replacement for current pro Hakeem Butler, coming in as one of a handful of receivers currently averaging over 100 yards per game. Baylor has its own above-average QB-WR combo in Charlie Brewer and Denzel Mims, but wind and rain could mess with plans for a big day from both teams.

Minnesota (-1.5/54) at Purdue, 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2: Hopefully we get confirmation of Elijah Sindelar’s inclusion here since the senior QB is attempting to return from a concussion that kept him out of the Boilers’ Sept. 14 loss to TCU. Off to a 1-2 start in a season where everyone involved with the program expected them to be 3-0 at this point entering the Big Ten opener coming off a bye, we should see Purdue come out with a sense of urgency and some extra pep if Sindelar is indeed a go. It’s important to wait and see if he’s going to play since there would certainly be value in the Boilers as a home ‘dog if it’s confirmed that he’s playing but a lack of practice time would be a concern. The Gophers have gotten solid play from Tanner Morgan at QB as he’s proven particularly adept at making clutch throws on third down, which meant everything in rallying to win at Fresno State in their only road game thus far. With RBs Mohamed Ibrahim and Rodney Smith good to go, the Gophers have a loaded backfield to work with as they attempt to beat Purdue for the sixth time in seven tries.

Indiana at Michigan State (-14/44), 3:30 p.m. ET, BTN: The Hoosiers still haven’t divulged whether freshman dual threat QB Michael Penix will be available. The Spartans are stifling defensively and would be able to tee off on Peyton Ramsey if the junior passer is again pressed into action. Penix actually threw passes and got reps, so he should be able to return from an arm injury to give the Spartans a look they won’t be able to solve as easily as a stationary pocket passer who would have to overcome the absence of left tackle Coy Cronk, who was lost for the season last week. Michigan State’s defense is surrendering an average of 11 points per game and has really harassed opposing quarterbacks. The Spartans are relatively healthy outside of some offensive line issues and list tight end Matt Dotson as questionable. Michigan State is 15-2 against IU over the last 17 meetings and haven’t been upset in East Lansing by the Hoosiers since 2001.

Virginia at Notre Dame (-11/47), 3:30 p.m. ET, NBC: The Fighting Irish fared better at Georgia than most expected they would but face a tough bounce-back game with the Cavaliers coming through town. UVa has lost both meetings against the Golden Domers (’89, ’15) but comes in unbeaten and off to a great start in ACC play after victories over FSU and Virginia. The status of key offensive linemen Victor Oluwatimi and Tyler Fannin is of concern if you’re riding the visitors, while the Irish got out of Athens bruised but otherwise in good shape. Game-changing tight end Cole Kmet returned and had an impact against the Dawgs, which helps get Ian Book a top target to help offset all the early injuries to receivers. Rain is in the forecast for South Bend on Saturday morning but should clear up by kickoff.

Late-night Snacks

Washington State at Utah (-6/56.5), 10 p.m. ET, FS1: The Cougs come off a terrible loss to UCLA in which they gave up 50 second-half points in regulation to lose 67-63, so this is probably the right time to go out on the road as they won’t be back in Pullman for a game until homecoming on Oct. 19. A defense that has a lot of blushes to atone for may not have to deal with top RB Zack Moss, who missed the second half of last week’s disappointing loss to USC. QB Tyler Huntley was also rumored to be leaning toward sitting after suffering a foot injury and limping off against the Trojans but he’s defiantly said he’ll be out there for this one. With a bye on deck for the Utes, expect those that can gut out the game to do so, but head coach Kyle Whittingham isn’t likely to push it with Moss’ shoulder. Before you pull the trigger on the ‘over’ based on last week’s lack of defense from both of these teams, be aware that there could be severe weather to deal with on Saturday night in Salt Lake City.

UCLA at Arizona (-6/72), 10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN: After last week's thrilling comeback victory, the mood around Chip Kelly's football team is far different than it has been after a disappointing 0-3 start. Chip Kelly and his QB, Dorian Thompson-Robinson, now get a chance to try and get to 3-3 by their Oct. 12 bye week since they'll be favored at home against Oregon State next week. Demetric Felton is looking to emerge as one of the Pac-12's top home run hitters after last week's breakthrough, while Khalil Tate is probably the guy most capable of taking off for 80 yards every time he touches the ball. There have been at least 61 points scored in each of the past four meetings between these schools.

Follow Tony Mejia on Twitter at @TonyMejiaNBA

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