UMass Minutemen at Wisconsin Badgers (-44.5, 53.5)
If Gary Andersen can repeat at Wisconsin what he accomplished in his last head coaching job, Saturday's season opening non-conference game against visiting Massachusetts will be only the beginning of great things in Madison. Andersen, 49, comes to Wisconsin from Utah State, where he orchestrated a remarkable turnaround that saw the school win 26 games in his four seasons after winning just six in the previous three years. He replaces Bret Bielema, who won 68 games in his seven years before departing to Arkansas.
UMass head coach Charley Molnar expects marked improvement in his team, which was outscored 482-152 in its first season in the FBS. Sophomore Mike Wegzyn, who threw more interceptions than touchdowns last season, will lead an offense that will be without tight end Rob Blanchflower (undisclosed) and running back Jordan Broadnax (knee) for this game due to injury. Ricardo Miller, a senior transfer from Michigan, will start at tight end and Stacey Bedell will start at running back.
Key betting stat: Badgers are 0-6 ATS in their last six non-conference games.
Buffalo Bulls at Ohio State Buckeyes (-34.5, 55.5)
Ohio State brings the nation’s longest winning streak into its season opener Saturday against visiting Buffalo. The No. 2 Buckeyes have won 12 consecutive games since their four-game losing streak to finish off the 2011 season. Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller begins his junior season as a strong candidate to win the Heisman Trophy. Another player to watch is freshman speedster Dontre Wilson, who is expected to return the opening kickoff and fill other key roles for the Buckeyes.
Buffalo is led by one of the top linebackers in the nation in senior Khalil Mack, who is projected as a first-round pick at next year's NFL draft. Mack, at 6-3, 248 pounds, has 56 tackles for a loss in his career at Buffalo, leaving him 19 shy of the NCAA record. The Bulls return six other starters on defense and nine on offense, led by quarterback Joe Licata, who started the final four games last season and led Buffalo to a 3-1 record.
Key betting stat: Buckeyes are 5-1 ATS in their last six vs. MAC.
Toledo Rockets at Florida Gators (-23.5, 56)
After a disappointing debut season, head coach Will Muschamp had the Florida Gators back in the top 10 in his second season, and that's where they begin Muschamp's third year in Gainesville. The 10th-ranked Gators begin a challenging non-conference slate by hosting Toledo on Saturday in the Swamp, where they are 129-18 since 1990 - the best home winning percentage in the nation over that span. The Gators look to erase the bitter taste of a loss to Louisville in last season's Sugar Bowl, while the Rockets are after a signature win to start the year.
The Gators are rebuilding a defense that carried them to a top-10 ranking in 2012, as they were fifth in the nation in both scoring defense (14.5 points per game) and total defense (287.5 yards per game). Toledo is coming off its third straight winning season after capturing nine games and going to a bowl game under first-year head coach Matt Campbell. The Rockets are 7-12 all-time against top-25 opponents, including a 1-1 mark last year with a win over then-No. 18 Cincinnati and a loss to then-No. 16 Utah State in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.
Key betting stat: Gators are 2-6 ATS in their last eight vs. MAC.
Rice Owls at Texas A&M Aggies (-27, 66.5)
Johnny Football will not become Johnny Sidelined after all - at least not for long. Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel's murky eligibility status was resolved Wednesday, when the NCAA and No. 6 Texas A&M agreed to suspend the star quarterback for the first half of Saturday's season opener against visiting Rice. Manziel escaped severe punishment when the NCAA could not prove he accepted cash for signing autographs, the latest saga in his controversy-filled offseason.
With the eligibility issue behind him, Manziel now gets to build on a wondrous 2012 season that saw him become the first freshman to win the Heisman. Rice, a member of the retooled Conference USA, returns 18 starters and hopes to carry the momentum from last season, when it won its final five games and destroyed Air Force in the Armed Forces Bowl. The defense, among the nation's worst over the first half last year, made marked strides during the winning streak.
Key betting stat: Owls are 4-0 ATS in their last 4 non-conference games.
Central Michigan Chippewas at Michigan Wolverines (-31.5, 52)
Junior quarterback Devin Gardner has taken the reins of the Michigan offense and will lead the 17th-ranked Wolverines against visiting Central Michigan on Saturday. After the converted wide receiver replaced an injured Denard Robinson midway through last season, he threw for 1,480 yards and 13 touchdowns and was intercepted six times in five games. Now he’s back to try to lead the Wolverines to their first Big Ten title since 2004, when they shared the crown with Iowa.
Central Michigan will lean on senior running back Zurlon Tipton in attempting to defeat its in-state rival for the first time. Tipton rushed for 1,492 yards and 19 touchdowns last season. Junior quarterback Cody Kater, who will make his first start for the Chippewas, has career passing totals of 2-for-4 for 12 yards.
Key betting stat: Wolverines are 11-5-1 ATS in their last 17 non-conference games.
Temple Owls at Notre Dame Fighting Irish (-29.5, 53)
Expectations are higher than they have been in decades for No. 11 Notre Dame coming off an appearance in the BCS Championship Game. The Fighting Irish have faced significant roster changes since that loss to Alabama, but they will show off their new look when they host Temple in their season opener on Saturday. Notre Dame will take the field without 2012 Heisman Trophy finalist Manti Te'o, along with starting quarterback Everett Golson.
Golson was suspended by the university for the first semester due to academic problems, but the Irish have an experienced backup ready to take his place in Tommy Rees. The Owls are under the guidance of new coach Matt Rhule, who spent last season in the NFL as an assistant with the New York Giants. Temple is one of 10 members of the new American Athletic Conference, which formed in the wake of the Big East's breakup.
Key betting stat: Under is 20-7 in Fighting Irish's last 27 home games.
Mississippi State Bulldogs at Oklahoma State Cowboys (-12, 62)
Oklahoma State has emerged as a major player on the college football scene behind a high-powered offense that annually ranks among the nation's best. The 14th-ranked Cowboys will receive a tough early test when they open the season against Mississippi State on Saturday at Houston's Reliant Stadium. Oklahoma State is favored to win the Big 12 Conference and has the pieces in place to be another offensive juggernaut, but the defense must show improvement to compete with the nation's elite.
Mississippi State is also a program on the rise, appearing in a bowl game in each of the last three seasons, but it has the misfortune to play in a conference (Southeastern) that has produced the last seven BCS national champions. The Bulldogs bolted to a 7-0 start a year ago before a string of games against conference heavyweights stalled their momentum en route to an 8-5 finish. Mississippi State has four four straight season openers and the Cowboys have been victorious in their last five.
Key betting stat: Bulldogs are 0-6 ATS in their last six games in August.
Nicholls State Colonels at Oregon Ducks (-59)
High-flying Oregon no longer has Chip Kelly in charge and familiar ringmaster Mark Helfrich makes his head-coaching debut when the No. 3 Ducks host overmatched Nicholls State on Saturday. Helfrich was promoted from offensive coordinator after helping Oregon go 46-7 in his four seasons in that role, including a 12-1 mark last season before Kelly left to become head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles. Nicholls State’s lone win a season ago was against NAIA school Evangel.
Sophomore quarterback Marcus Mariota is a leading Heisman Trophy candidate after throwing a school-record 32 touchdowns passes and setting another Oregon mark with a 68.5 completion percentage in 2012. The Ducks averaged 44.7 points and 501.1 yards in Helfrich’s four seasons of overseeing the offense, and the new offensive coordinator is former Nebraska quarterback Scott Frost. Nicholls State’s last visit to the state of Oregon didn’t go well – the FCS Colonels lost 77-3 to Oregon State to end their 2012 campaign.
Key betting stat: Over is 25-8-1 in Ducks' last 34 home games.
Alabama Crimson Tide at Virginia Tech Hokies (+20.5, 45.5)
No. 1 Alabama is bidding to win an unprecedented three straight National Championships and four in five years. That quest begins with a tough opener on Saturday, when the Crimson Tide play Virginia Tech in Atlanta. Alabama rolled over Notre Dame in last January’s BCS National Championship Game but waved goodbye to most of its starting offensive line and some key performers on a standout defense.
Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban has regularly sent defensive players into the first round of the NFL draft but has no problem rebuilding year after year. Alabama again brought in one of the top recruiting classes in the country and returns starting quarterback A.J. McCarron. The Hokies enter the season unranked after a disappointing 2012 campaign.
Key betting stat: Hokies are 2-7-1 ATS in their last 10 non-conference games.
Eastern Washington Eagles at Oregon State Beavers (-27)
Oregon State won’t be able to surprise foes this season and the No. 25 Beavers aim to sidestep the upset attempt of visiting Eastern Washington in Saturday’s season opener. Oregon State tripled its 2011 win total of three with a stunning rise last year, and the Beavers are seeking their eighth bowl bid in the last 11 seasons. The Eagles are ranked fourth in the FCS preseason poll and have put scares into Washington and Washington State over the past two seasons.
The Beavers conducted a spirited quarterback competition, and junior Sean Mannion edged senior Cody Vaz for the job. Mannion started eight games last season when he passed for 2,446 yards and 15 touchdowns in a campaign interrupted by October knee surgery, while Vaz started five times and threw for 1,480 yards and 11 scores. Eastern Washington lost 24-20 at Washington State last season and 30-27 at Washington in 2011.
Key betting stat: Over is 7-2 in Beavers last 9 non-conference games.
UL Monroe Warhawks at Oklahoma Sooners (-21, 61)
Blake Knight has a difficult act to follow, but he's off to a strong start as he leads the 16th-ranked Oklahoma Sooners into Saturday's season-opening tilt with Louisiana-Monroe. Knight beat out junior Blake Bell to take the Sooners' starting quarterback job vacated when Landry Jones bolted for the NFL. He leads the Sooners in search of their fourth consecutive season-opening victory against a Warhawks team that is no stranger to Week 1 upsets.
Oklahoma comes into the season looking to erase the memories of last year's embarrassing 41-13 Cotton Bowl defeat to the Texas A&M Aggies. "We've got a challenging year ahead of us, and it really starts from the beginning," head coach Bob Stoops said. Louisiana-Monroe finished 8-5 last season - and kicked things off in style, defeating then-No. 8 Arkansas 34-31 in overtime in an opening-week stunner.
Key betting stat: Over is 6-0-1 in Warhawks' last seven non-conference games.
Wyoming Cowboys at Nebraska Cornhuskers (-30, 67)
Despite closing last season on a sour note, No. 18 Nebraska has its sights on extending the nation’s longest winning streak in season openers to 28 games Saturday against the visiting Wyoming Cowboys. Nebraska finished atop the Big Ten Legends division thanks to a six-game winning streak. However, the Huskers’ Rose Bowl hopes were dashed following a 70-31 rout by Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship before they suffered a 45-31 loss to Georgia in the Capital One Bowl.
Nebraska believes it has one of the best secondaries in the conference, but it – along with an unproven front seven – figures to get tested by a non-conference schedule full of spread offenses, starting with the Cowboys. Wyoming quarterback Brett Smith averaged 308 yards in total offense and threw 27 touchdown passes against six interceptions in 2012, besting the Huskers’ Taylor Martinez in every category. The Cowboys overcame a miserable start to win three of their final four games last season, but are 0-6 all-time against Nebraska.
Key betting stat: Cornhuskers are 6-1-1 ATS in their last eight home games.
Georgia Bulldogs at Clemson Tigers (+1.5, 71)
College football dives headfirst into the 2013 season Saturday night when No. 5 Georgia and No. 8 Clemson square off in a showdown featuring BCS dreams and elite quarterbacks. Aaron Murray came five yards shy of leading the Bulldogs to the BCS Championship Game as a junior last season before time ran out against eventual national champion Alabama. Tajh Boyd enjoyed a record-setting junior campaign for Clemson and joins Murray as a preseason candidate to take home the Heisman Trophy.
Murray, whose 95 touchdown passes are more than any active FBS player, was named the preseason SEC player of the year despite the presence of Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, the reigning Heisman winner. Boyd, meanwhile, threw for 3,896 yards and 36 touchdowns in 2012 en route to winning ACC player of the year honors. In addition to the top-tier quarterbacks, the Bulldogs and Tigers possess electrifying complementary players such as Georgia running back Todd Gurley and Clemson wideout Sammy Watkins.
Key betting stat: Bulldogs are 9-3-1 ATS in their last 13 vs. ACC.
New Mexico State Aggies at Texas Longhorns (-42, 57.5)
No. 15 Texas hopes the offseason momentum it's been riding since a comeback win against Oregon State in December's Alamo Bowl will continue into the new season, which starts Saturday against visiting New Mexico State. Coach Mack Brown is eager to see how junior quarterback David Ash and the Longhorns execute the no-huddle offense Texas debuted in the bowl game. The Aggies are also shifting to an up-tempo attack under first-year head coach Doug Martin after New Mexico State lost its last 11 games of 2012 by an average of 25.4 points.
Martin, who returns to New Mexico State after serving as the Aggies' offensive coordinator in 2011 before taking the same position at Boston College last year, has a new quarterback and a thin running back corps in his new offense. Texas, meanwhile, has 19 starters returning, including 10 on offense. "(Ash) finished on such a positive the fourth quarter of the bowl game, that momentum and confidence has carried through the spring and the summer," Brown said during his weekly press conference Monday. "He's more comfortable and excited about the offense."
Key betting stat: Aggies are 0-5 ATS in their last five vs. Big 12.
LSU Tigers vs. TCU Horned Frogs (+4, 50)
Despite losing a school-record nine players to the NFL draft, No. 13 Louisiana State has national title aspirations as it opens the season with an intriguing non-conference clash against No. 20 Texas Christian on Saturday in Arlington, Texas. The game marks the fifth Cowboys Classic. LSU and TCU have each appeared once and come away victorious.
The Tigers, who lost a ton of defensive talent but return their key offensive pieces, get to measure themselves in preparation for a brutal schedule that features Georgia and Florida from the SEC East. Horned Frogs coach Gary Patterson has yet to announce a starting quarterback for the game. It will be either Trevone Boykin or Casey Pachall, who started the first four games last season before leaving the team as a result of a drunk driving arrest.
Key betting stat: Horned Frogs are 0-6 ATS in their last six neutral-site games.
Nevada Wolf Pack at UCLA Bruins (-21, 67.5)
Jim Mora turned UCLA's fate around in his first season at Westwood. The former NFL coach led the Bruins to victories in nine of their first 11 games to claim the Pac-12 South crown. Mora has even grander visions in 2013 as his No. 21 Bruins begin an unlikely quest at a national title when they host Nevada in the season opener for both teams on Saturday night.
Quarterback Brett Hundley, who set single-season records for total offense, yards passing and completions in his freshman season, guided the Bruins to a strong start before the team wilted down the stretch - losing its final three games. Nevada will be no easy task. The Mountain West foe has earned bowl berths in eight straight seasons.
Key betting stat: Bruins are 9-3 ATS in their last 12 vs. MWC.
Boise State Broncos at Washington Huskies (-4, 52)
A $261 million stadium renovation is complete and Washington returns to its lakeside home venue for the first time in 21-plus months when it hosts No. 19 Boise State in Saturday’s season-opening contest. The 93-year-old facility got an extensive facelift to modernize it and the Huskies are hoping to have a glitzy high-powered team to match. Boise State defeated Washington in last season’s Las Vegas Bowl and is vying for its eighth straight 10-win season.
Broncos coach Chris Petersen has an 84-8 record in seven seasons, including four campaigns of 12 or more victories. Boise State is opening away from home against a BCS opponent for the fourth straight season, beating Virginia Tech (2010) and Georgia (2011) before losing to Michigan State (2012). Washington junior tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins (69 receptions, 850 yards) will miss the game due to a suspension for an offseason DUI offense but the Huskies still have a formidable pass-catching target in junior receiver Kasen Williams (77 receptions).
Key betting stat: Over is 8-2 in Broncos' last 10 road games.
Northwestern Wildcats at California Golden Bears (+5.5, 60)
The Sonny Dykes era kicks off at California on Saturday night as the Golden Bears host No. 22 Northwestern, a squad that hopes to build on a 10-3 finish in 2012 that included a 34-20 victory over Mississippi State in the Gator Bowl. It's only the second all-time meeting between the two schools. The first one came in the 1949 Rose Bowl, with Northwestern posting a 20-14 victory.
Dykes takes over for Jeff Tedford, who was fired after finishing 3-9 in his 11th season. Dykes will incorporate the same type of pass-happy spread offensive attack that he used with great success at Louisiana Tech. The Bulldogs led the nation in both total offense (577.9 yards) and scoring offense (51.5) last year en route to a 9-3 finish.
Key betting stat: Wildcats are 5-0 ATS in their last five non-conference games.