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NCAAF – Week 1 – Saturday night college football preview

SMU at Arkansas State (-2.5/56.5), 7 p.m. ET: Mustangs head coach Sonny Dykes didn’t reach a bowl with the school’s all-time leading passer, Ben Hicks, who transferred to Arkansas after learning his job wouldn’t be guaranteed and should start there. Former Longhorns starter Shane Buechele will start and has an impressive receiving corps that should put up numbers and will look to match the production the RedWolves should come up with through impressive WRs Kirk Merritt and Dahu Green. An inexperienced line needs to buy time for QB Logan Bonner, who takes over for reigning Sun Belt Player of the Year Justice Hansen. Veteran head coach Blake Anderson has taken a leave of absence due to the unfortunate death of his wife less than two weeks ago. New defensive coordinator David Duggan will fill in as the interim.

Middle Tennessee State at Michigan (-34.5/54.5), 7:30 p.m. ET, BTN: Jim Harbaugh has won 10 games in three of the last four seasons but has nonetheless not lived up to expectations. He’s kept exceptional defensive coordinator Don Brown but has rehauled the offense, bringing in Alabama co-coordinator Josh Gattis to install a no-huddle spread that will hopefully get the most out of Ole Miss transfer Shea Patterson, who came up short in the Wolverines’ biggest games. Although RB Karan Higdon is now with the Texans, there is still plenty of offensive talent that includes a loaded line expected to win most battles up front. The Blue Raiders arrive with a new quarterback since head coach Rick Stockstill’s son Brent, who threw for over 10,000 yards, graduated. He won’t tip his hand as to who will start, but sophomores Asher O’Hara and Chase Cunningham have experience in the system and will likely both see time.

Miami (OH) at Iowa (-22/47), 7:30 p.m. ET, FS1: The Hawkeyes have won 16 of 18 home openers but did lose to a MAC school the last time they were upset, falling to Northern Illinois in ’13. With Nate Stanley back at QB, hopes are high that this group can compete for another Big Ten title if it can rebuild its defensive line with around standout pass-rusher AJ Epenesa. Tight ends TJ Hockenson and Noah Fant, both Top-20 NFL Draft picks, must also be replaced. The Redhawks are replacing long-time QB Gus Ragland and will be on the road against a disciplined team, so Chuck Martin will have his work cut out for him after not finishing with a losing record for the first time in his five-year tenure last season.

Georgia Southern at LSU (-27.5/52.5), 7:30 p.m. ET, SEC: The Eagles won 10 games last season after losing 10 and should be able to compete for a Sun Belt title given the offensive line they’ve got returning and the fact QB Shai Werts to run the show. A triple-option attack doesn’t figure to do well against LSU’s monstrous defensive front, especially when you consider they’ve had weeks to prepare, but the Tigers could get caught looking ahead to next week’s visit to Austin to battle Texas in the game all eyes will be on. QB Joe Burrow will have a new offense to run with a host of receivers expected to get touches and freshman RB John Emery is likely to be the future and the truth, but it remains to be see how much Ed Oregeron is willing to put on film with next week’s road trip being what it is.

Georgia (-22.5/57.5) at Vanderbilt, 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN: Vandy is still seeking its first winning season under Derek Mason but has beaten Tennessee three straight years and reached a bowl in two of those seasons. RB Ke’Shawn Vaughn, WR Kalija Lipscomb and TE Jared Pinkney are among the nation’s best at their positions, but being able to seriously threaten the visiting ‘Dawgs hinges on QB play. Ball State grad transfer Riley Neal and dual-threat Deuce Wallace will look to move it against a fearsome defense. The Commodores have been pretty solid defensively over the past few years but have a lot of talent to replace, which gives UGA QB Jake Fromm and RB D’Andre Swift a great chance to put up gaudy numbers. Left tackle Andrew Thomas may be the first non-QB drafted next April. Head coach Kirby Smart lost to the ‘Dores 17-16 in his first season but has beat them twice since by a combined margin of 86-27.

Virginia (-2.5/46.5) at Pittsburgh, 7:30 p.m. ET, ACC: This would be a pick’em if not for the fact UVa closed last season so strong. Apparently oddsmakers forgot the Panthers won last season’s meeting 23-13 and haven’t lost to the Cavaliers since 2014. Bronco Mendenhall will want to get even, but he’s lost multiple key defensive players that helped shut out South Carolina in the Belk Bowl and also saw top receiver Olamide Zaccheaus and 1,000-yard rusher Jordan Ellis graduate. QB Bryce Perkins is back for his senior year. Virginia has dropped its last three road openers but is hoping to take advantage of the fact Pitt lost two 1,000-yard rushers and its best big-play receiver. Junior QB Kenny Pickett is prone to inconsistency but has a QB whisperer in place with veteran coach Mark Whipple on staff. This one could come down to field position and special teams, which favor Pitt given the presence of stud returner Maurice Ffrench and kicker Alex Kessman.

Missouri (-16.5/54) at Wyoming, 7:30 p.m. ET, CBSSN: QB Kelly Bryant didn’t get his championship ring despite starting four games at Clemson last season, but he’s looking to resurface and pick up some hardware and increase his draft profile in the SEC by filling standout Drew Lock’s shoes. There are certainly a ton of weapons and after back-to-back winning seasons for the first time since reaching consecutive league title games in ’13 and ’14, but this first month looks tricky. This appears to be a trap game given the altitude in Laramie and a well-disciplined Cowboys team waiting to pull a major home upset after falling to Oregon and Washington State when they came through town. Wyoming lost to Mizzou 40-13 in Columbia last season but feel good about the development of redshirt freshman Sean Chambers, who has a little Josh Allen.

Oregon at Auburn (-3.5/55), 7:30 p.m. ET, ABC: This is the game set to captivate the nation’s attention unless there’s a high-profile upset. The Ducks welcome back QB Justin Herbert, who would’ve been a first-round pick but opted to return to try and become more polished. He won’t have top target Dillon Mitchell back and will be looking for targets to step up and help move the ball against an experienced Auburn secondary. The Tigers may have the nation’s defensive line and Oregon is loaded up front, so the battle up front should be tremendous. Finally, there’s true freshman QB Bo Nix making his debut as he attempts to ensure Gus Malzahn sees an eighth year on the Plains. The son of former Auburn standout Patrick Nix is considered the real deal. We’ll find out whether that’s true immediately.

Louisiana Tech at Texas (-20/55), 8 p.m. ET, LHN: Pulling a Sugar Bowl upset of Georgia in January’s Sugar Bowl to pull off the school’s first 10-game win season since ’09 means Texas is back right? The Longhorns won’t be able to answer that question until next week’s home date with LSU, which means we probably won’t see much out of their bag of tricks as they try to get past the visiting Bulldogs and get to next week. Keontay Ingram will play coming off a bone bruise but freshmen Jordan Whittington and true freshman Roschon Johnson, a highly-rated QB, will get carries. Sam Ehlinger, a Heisman frontrunner if he indeed can bring Texas back, has a lot of receiving options. La Tech HC Skip Holtz called him Tebow-like in his impact and is 1-12 against power-fives, but he’s 7-4 ATS over the past five years, beating Illinois outright in a bowl game. QB J’Mar Smith is a veteran who threw for 330 on LSU last season and has an excellent primary target to work with in junior Adrian Hardy. If Texas is too vanilla, veteran defensive coordinator Bob Diaco may find a way to keep this closer than expected.

Late-night Snacks

New Mexico State at Washington State (-31.5/64.5), 10 p.m. ET, Pac-12: Replacing Gardner Minshew has been the big story in Pullman since top candidates Anthony Gordon and Gage Gubrud staged one great battle to fill Mike Leach’s vacancy. Gordon won but Guburd, a grad transfer from FCS power Eastern Washington, will also get time. That should be the case here so long as the Cougs handle their business on defense and are able to work on their precision passing game with little game pressure. The visiting Aggies are in their second season back in the Indy ranks and get Alabama next week, so it’s unlikely head coach Doug Martin will be playing his regulars trying to earn a backdoor cover late if this is a blowout. If it’s not, it means sophomore Josh Adkins has found a way to generate points against a legitimate defense, something the Aggies struggled with last season. Baylor grad transfer WR Tony Nicholson will be a top target.

Fresno State at USC (-13.5/52/5), 10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN: Jeff Tedford’s Bulldogs crushed UCLA last season and handled Arizona State in the Las Vegas Bowl the last time they took the field, so the Trojans can’t possibly come into this overconfident. Of course, most of the guys responsible for the success Tedford has enjoyed in his return to coaching (22-6 SU) are gone, so we’ll see whether he’s had enough to coach up a new group in order to improve to 3-1 against the Pac-12 with Fresno. Jorge Reyna takes over for Marcus McMaryion and is familiar with the system but won’t have a target like KeeSean Johnson to deal with since he’ll have a huge role alongside Kyler Murray in Arizona. USC has a lot of young talent that is projected to reach the next level and will be looking to try and wipe the stench of last season’s 5-7 disaster off them. Sophomore QB J.T. Daniels has Clay Helton’s employment in his hands and has reportedly looked more decisive in camp.

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