The NCAA football season kicks off Thursday with 17 games on the schedule for bettors to choose from. We give you the essential tidbits on five of them to make your wagers.
Minnesota Golden Gophers at UNLV Runnin' Rebels (+8.5, 50)
Jerry Kill's first season as the head coach in Minnesota resulted in a 3-9 record. Kill, a kidney cancer survivor, suffered two seizures last year, including one on the field against New Mexico State on Sept. 10. Minnesota ranked 110th in total offense in 2011 and will rely heavily on senior quarterback MarQueis Gray to improve the offense this season.
UNLV’s passing offense ranked 118th out of 120 FBS programs with an average of just 109.6 YPG. If quarterback Caleb Herring doesn’t show he’s improved since last season, 6-foot-5 freshman Nick Sherry could get a shot at running the offense.
Washington State Cougars at BYU Cougars (-12, 65)
Mike Leach became well known for his "Air Raid" offense while at Texas Tech and will bring similar schemes to Washington State this season. The Cougars ranked ninth in the nation in passing (322.3 YPG) last season and should only improve on that mark under the tutelage of Leach.
BYU is coming off of a 10-3 season and has a returning starter at quarterback. Senior Riley Nelson, who went 6-1 in games he started last season, is already considered a candidate for the 2012 Davey O'Brien Award.
UCLA Bruins at Rice Owls (+15.5, 56)
Jim Mora Jr's first game as a college head coach is on the road against Rice. The Bruins are 60-28-5 all-time in season openers, but are still searching for a No. 1 quarterback to lead the offense this season. Senior Richard Brehaut is the most likely candidate for the starting gig, but Kevin Prince and redshirt freshman Brett Hundley have been impressive in camp.
The Owls missed the bowl season for the third consecutive season and finished fourth in the C-USA's West Division last year. Head coach David Bailiff spent a significant amount of time reviewing Arizona State tape with his players to break down the schemes that Noel Mazzone, UCLA’s new offensive coordinator, used during his tenure with the Sun Devils.
South Carolina Gamecocks (9) at Vanderbilt Commodores (+7, 46)
South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw missed most of practice Thursday because of back spasms, just a week before the ninth-ranked Gamecocks open the season at Vanderbilt. Shaw is a junior beginning his first full season as starting quarterback. He took over last fall for Stephen Garcia, who was dismissed from the program.
Running back Warren Norman will see his first game action since Oct. 30, 2010, because of injuries. Remember, Norman broke Herschel Walker’s SEC single-season freshman all-purpose yardage record in 2009 and should be a force this season for Vandy.
Central Florida Knights at Akron Zips (+23.5, 46.5)
The Knights hold a 21-12 record in openers and have won their last six. The Knights went 5-7 in 2011 with a 3-5 mark in Conference USA. Central Florida had six selections to the C-USA All-Freshman Team, marking the most by a league school since 2008.
The Zips have six quarterbacks on their roster, five of which are either freshmen or redshirt freshmen. The only pivot with collegiate experience is senior Dalton Williams, who was the backup quarterback at Stephen F. Austin from 2008-11. The Zips are 3-0 all-time when hosting the Knights.