Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 9:56 AM

Saturday's Essentials - Week 9

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

Early Starts

Mississippi State at Texas A&M (-11/50.5), 12 p.m. ET, SEC: Neither team has performed to expectations, so the loser is looking at an uphill climb if they’re to be anywhere but home come bowl season. The Aggies close with road games at LSU and Georgia so they can’t afford an upset at home since the 12th Man has already witnessed losses to Auburn and Alabama. Mississippi State has won three straight games in this series, winning by a combined margin of 98-55. Both quarterbacks can tuck and run, but junior Kellen Mond has had a disappointing run in terms of consistency while true freshman Garrett Shrader has really opened eyes with his toughness and willingness to mix it up. Both teams are relying on a lot of youth, but Mississippi State’s kids are 0-2 in true road games, getting outscored 76-33, so Joe Moorhead will need to settle his group down as they try to get off to a strong start. The Bulldogs have been outscored 44-28 in the first quarter of games this season and has scored just one touchdown over the past three games, coming up with that after falling behind 21-0 at Auburn. The Ags won eight of their first nine in College Station under Jimbo Fisher before dropping their past two games.

Oklahoma (-23.5/59.5) at Kansas State, 12 p.m. ET, ABC: Although Chris Klieman’s Wildcats dropped their first two Big 12 games, you’re going to have a hard time finding anyone displeased with the job he’s done attempting to build on what the legendary Bill Snyder has built. He finally picked up that first conference win last week in a 24-17 upset of TCU. The Sooners come through Manhattan for K-State’s marquee home game of Klieman’s first season and will need to avoid the penalties and self-inflicted miscues that have hindered their undefeated season thus far, costing them cover in three of their seven wins. Oklahoma got backdoored by Houston, Kansas and Texas but come in averaging just over 50 points per game behind Alabama transfer Jalen Hurts, who will get a bye week to heal up for a challenging November slate following this one. Hurts will have to deal with the best defense he’s seen since a 34-27 win over Texas that represents OU’s lowest-scoring output of the season. The K-State secondary has clamped down and helped surrender just 153 yards per game through the air. Hurts is by far the top QB that K-State has seen. Baylor’s Charlie Brewer would be next-best and helped burn the Wildcats for 31 points, the largest output they’ve surrendered.






Miami at Pittsburgh (-5/42.5), 12 p.m ET, ESPN: Manny Diaz’s first season at the helm of the U has been incredibly disappointing given the talent the ‘Canes have on board, which is why his “rebuilding” comment fell so flat that he was forced to backtrack from it. Miami has lost four games by seven or fewer points, but it was favored in three of the losses and now faces an uphill battle trying to finish the season at .500. An upset here would help, but the Panthers are working on something special, bringing a four-game win streak into Heinz Field. They’ll need someone to trip up Virginia since they would lose a head-to-head tiebreaker against the ‘Hoos, but winning the Coastal is definitely possible for Pat Narduzzi’s team, which has never won five straight since he took over prior to ’15. Expect rain to play a role since showers are in the forecast. Miami held Pitt to just 200 yards of offense in a 24-3 win last season, sacking QB Kenny Pickett six times. Look for Pitt to try and run the ball on early downs to try and keep things manageable, so expect that to go a long way in deciding this one. The Hurricanes will be starting N’Kosi Perry despite a separated shoulder in his non-throwing arm. Jarren Williams, a freshman who started the first five games, is likely to see action. Miami had a huge issue with missed tackles in an OT home loss to Georgia Tech last week and has depth issues on that side of the ball. RB DeeJay Dallas is dealing with an knee injury, leaving sophomores Cam’Ron Harris and Robert Burns as the likely backs.

Wisconsin at Ohio State (-14.5/49), 12 p.m. ET, FOX: The Badgers are a heavy underdog despite surrendering a national-low 7.6 points per game thanks to four shutouts. Coming off last week’s stunning 24-23 loss to Illinois in a game that it looked to have under control, Wisconsin will have an opportunity to bounce back immediately in what was always, at least on paper, expected to be its most challenging game of the season. There are still tough matchups ahead, but winning in Columbus gives them an opportunity to control their own destiny entering a season finale at Minnesota that would currently decide the West Division. This game will be played in the rain and therefore should be decided in the trenches and by the running game, putting Jonathan Taylor and JK Dobbins in the spotlight. Ohio State has left tackle Thayer Munford back and lists DE Jonathon Cooper as a game-time decision, so they’ll be ready as it attempts to beat the Badgers for the 10th time in 11 tries. The disparity between Jack Coan and Buckeyes’ standout Justin Fields at the QB position is the biggest reason for the size of this spread, especially with Coan catching blame for the loss to the Illini. Fields has accounted for 30 touchdowns already and is by far the most talented signal caller that the Badgers have seen so far. Wisconsin is 1-5 SU (3-3 ATS) as an underdog of eight or more points under Paul Chryst.

Afternoon Delights

Penn State (-5/43.5) at Michigan State, 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC: These teams will be in a race against the rain, so it will be interesting to see who winds up being the aggressor considering you’re not going to want to be trailing when the skies open. The second half is almost certain to feature Mother Nature in a starring role, but neither of these teams are going to shrink in the face of a squall or two. The Nittany Lions have lost their last two trips into East Lansing, including a 27-24 setback in ’17 that was interrupted by a weather delay of over three hours. James Franklin is just 1-4 against Mark Dantonio’s Spartans and has dropped two of the three games in which his team has been favored. Sparty QB Brian Lewerke has had his ups and downs but has produced against Penn State, throwing for 659 yards and four scores in two wins. Michigan State’s defense will look to keep a PSU offense that produced a season-low 283 yards in last Saturday’s 28-21 win over Michigan from finding a rhythm on the road. The Nittany Lions haven’t produced 300 yards of offense in edging Iowa the previous week, but the defense has been impressive. Receivers Darrell Stewart, KJ Hamler and Jahan Dotson will each have opportunities to make plays downfield until the rain hits and could have an advantage if things get sloppy. Last season’s game was the first between Franklin and Dantonio that failed to produce over 40 points.

Maryland at Minnesota (-18.5/62), 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN: The Gophers still have to face Penn State and Wisconsin, but both have to come into Minneapolis, which makes it crucial to continue setting the tone at home. The team is 13-5 under PJ Fleck at TCF Bank Stadium and have covered both Big Ten games there this month, outscoring the Illini and ‘Huskers by a combined margin of 74-24. After struggling to beat South Dakota and Georgia Southern to open the season, Minnesota can’t afford to overlook anyone. Maryland has dropped four of five games but won last season’s meeting 42-13 and gets sophomore RB Anthony McFarland back from a high ankle sprain just in time to face a team he torched for 112 yards and two scores on just six carries. QB Josh Jackson is also available to return from an ankle injury, so he’s likely to get time ahead of Tyrrell Pigrome, who is a more limited passer. The Gophers are off next week, so expect Fleck to utilize his entire roster liberally. RB Rodney Smith has continued to be a touchdown machine while QB Tanner Morgan has really protected the football, throwing just three picks to go with his 16 TD passes.

Texas (-18.5/62) at TCU, 3:30 p.m. ET, FOX: The Longhorns are 5-2 but come off an embarrassing win over Kansas, surviving 50-48. With a bye week on deck, the results of this road rivalry game is going to drastically alter how the program looks entering a manageable November slate. Texas lost its two games against current unbeatens LSU and Oklahoma by seven points apiece and will likely be favored in its final four regular-season contests provided it manages to get out of this trip to Fort Worth unscathed. TCU has dropped consecutive games, so this certainly would appear to be a trap line. Texas’ defense has taken a beating, figuratively and literally, but the offense remains formidable thanks to Sam Ehlinger, whose 21 passing TDs lead the Big 12. The Longhorns’ have been victimized by injuries in the secondary and will need to buckle up to try and contain speedy Jalen Reagor, TCU’s most explosive threat. If Frogs’ RBs Darius Anderson and Sewo Olonilua can get the ground game going, big plays will be inevitable if freshman Max Duggan delivers the ball accurately. Tom Herman got the ‘Horns on the board after four straight losses to TCU, which has made unbelievable strides in stepping out of the little brother role to the big school in Austin under Gary Patterson.

Virginia (-3.5/51.5) at Louisville, 3:30 p.m. ET, ACCN: The Cardinals look to bounce back from a 45-10 loss to Clemson as they try to avoid losing consecutive games for the first time under Scott Satterfield. The Cavaliers snapped a two-game losing streak with a 48-14 win over Duke but are hoping for their first home win since their Aug. 31 conquest at Pitt that currently gives them the inside track in the Coastal. The rest of the schedule looks awfully favorable if they can survive this road trip and next week’s jaunt to Chapel Hill. Bryce Perkins is a poor man’s Lamar Jackson, but that’s not exactly a slight. He’s been extremely effective and has been the driving force for the ‘Hoos when he’s been able to get rolling as a dual threat. Both Notre Dame and Miami were able to rattle him in throwing off his rhythm, but he’ll be facing a ‘Ville defense that has surrendered 44.5 points over the last four games. Virginia snapped its losing streak against Louisville with a 27-3 blowout last season but is likely to have a much tougher time here as it looks to improve on a 5-25 record in ACC road games since 2012.

Auburn at LSU (-10.5/58), 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS: This battle of Tigers features the visitors from the Plains looking to rattle the seemingly unflappable Joe Burrow in order to ruin LSU’s unbeaten season. Auburn still doesn’t have RB Boobie Whitlow, so they’ll have to manufacture offense without their top playmaker to keep pace with an LSU offense that has dominated by piling up nearly 540 yards per game and 50.1 points every time out. The Tigers will hope to shut down the run with their respected defensive front and challenge Burrow to remain accurate despite 15-20 mile-per-hour wind gusts that are expected in Baton Rouge. DE Marlon Davidson will be tasked with trying to disrupt Burrow, who has thrown for a national-best 29 touchdowns. Auburn will need freshman Bo Nix to flourish in what will be his final true road start of the season since his team closes the season with four November home games and will need hookups with Seth Williams to help make up for Winslow’s absence. LSU has won three of four in this series thanks to back-to-back comeback wins, which included rallying from down 20-0 in 2017.

Late-night Snacks

California at Utah (-21/36.5), 8 p.m. ET, FS1: The Utes are hoping they’ll get help from someone down the road in order to finish ahead of USC in the South Division but they’re going to be in good shape so long as they handle business against Cal and Washington this week and next. Tyler Huntley doesn’t sound like he’ll be resting a troublesome calf injury, intending to be out there to deal with an aggressive Cal defense. The Bears haven’t allowed more than 24 points per game but haven’t cracked 28 themselves and have dropped three straight in averaging 13.7 points due to a lack of a passing threat under center. Freshman Spencer Brasch will start for Cal, becoming its fifth starter since the beginning of last season. He’s the first freshman to start with Jared Goff, but given the projected team total of 7.5-to-9 points projected wherever those numbers are available, the Bears aren’t likely to make much headway against a stingy Utah defense.

Utah State at Air Force (-6/60), 10:15 p.m. ET, ESPN2: The Falcons aren’t letting on what quarterback they’ll utilize as they look to hand the Aggies their first loss in Mountain West play. They’re planning a white-out in Colorado Springs and may have Donald Hammond, Jr. available after he’s been sidelined by a shoulder injury. Isaiah Sanders is also dealing with a leg injury but could also be available to play in front of Mike Schmidt, who accounted for four touchdowns in last week’s 30-point win over Hawai’i. Gary Andersen’s team beat Air Force 42-32 last season and should be able to move the ball effectively through the air with Jordan Love at the controls. The junior will face an Air Force secondary that put together one of the wildest plays you’ll see at any level with a 100-yard pick-six against the Warriors.

Washington State at Oregon (-14/67.5), 10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN: The Ducks would be part of the national picture if they hadn’t surrendered a last-second touchdown to Auburn on Aug. 31, but their defense has been dominant since and did enough to help pull off a win at Washington last week. If Oregon holds serve here, it should be favored at banged-up USC next week and is likely to climb into the national top 10 despite how weak the Pac-12 has been. Washington State had lost three straight before a 41-10 blowout of Colorado last week and is surrendering 44.7 points per game in its three defeats. The Ducks are led by QB Justin Herbert, who held up nicely against a solid U-Dub defense, throwing for 280 and four touchdowns in a hostile atmosphere. He’ll have RBs CJ Verdell and Travis Dye available, which should help balance the offense. Washington State has owned this series of late, winning each of the last four meetings by an average margin of 40.8-25.

Follow Tony Mejia on Twitter at @TonyMejiaNBA

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