North Carolina Tar Heels at South Carolina Gamecocks (-12.5, 57.5)
South Carolina has never received the amount of preseason publicity that's flooded its way this summer, putting the No.7 Gamecocks in the national conversation heading into their season opener Thursday against visiting North Carolina. South Carolina is at an all-time high in the preseason polls thanks to one of the country's premier players in junior Jadeveon Clowney, who was voted the nation’s top defensive end last season and finished sixth in the Heisman Trophy balloting. South Carolina also returns starting quarterback Connor Shaw, who has never lost at home as a starter for the Gamecocks.
North Carolina also returns a talented quarterback in senior Bryn Renner, who has thrown for more than 3,000 yards each of the last two seasons. Renner also welcomes back his No. 1 target in wide receiver Quinshad Davis, a South Carolina native who set freshman school records last season for receptions (61) and receiving yardage (776). Protecting Renner’s blind side will be 6-7, 305-pound left tackle James Hurst, while redshirt freshman Jon Heck won the starting job at right tackle. Both figure to be tested all night against Clowney, who recorded 13 sacks last season.
Key betting stat: Tar Heels are 1-5 ATS in their last six road games.
UNLV Runnin' Rebels at Minnesota Golden Gophers (-14, 51)
Minnesota, coming off its first bowl appearance since 2009, hosts UNLV on Thursday in the season opener for both teams. The Gophers doubled their win total from three to six last season, including a 30-27, triple-overtime win at UNLV in their 2012 opener. This matchup should have a similar feel as the teams combine to return 34 of their 44 starters from last season.
Highlighting the Gophers’ 16 returning starters is defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman, who had a breakout season as a junior in 2012. However, Hageman and the Minnesota defense will have their hands full with UNLV’s rushing attack, especially senior running back Tim Cornett. The Rebels enter this season with new coordinators on offense and defense, including Tim Hauck – the younger brother of coach Bobby Hauck – running the defense.
Key betting stat: Under is 8-2 in Golden Gophers' last 10 home games.
Utah State Aggies at Utah Utes (-2.5, 51)
Utah will look for its 13th win in its last 14 games against visiting Utah State as the longtime in-state rivalry continues on Thursday. The Battle of the Brothers is the 12th-longest standing rivalry in college football and heads toward its 111th installment. The Utes are 77-29-4 all-time against the Aggies and had won 12 straight before Utah State won 27-20 in overtime last season.
Utah sophomore quarterback Travis Wilson will look to turn the program around this season after starting seven games last season and throwing for seven touchdowns and 1,311 yards. The Aggies, led by junior signal caller Chuckie Keeton, are trying to build off one of the best seasons in school history.
Key betting stat: Road team is 5-1-1 ATS in their last seven meetings.
Mississippi Rebels at Vanderbilt Commodores (+3.5, 53)
Vanderbilt looks to build on the most successful two-year stretch in school history when it hosts Ole Miss on Thursday in the season opener for both teams. Senior Austyn Carta-Samuels takes over at quarterback for the Commodores, who were picked to finish fourth in the SEC East preseason media poll after a tumultuous offseason. Expectations are also high at Ole Miss, which aims to end a nine-game losing streak in SEC openers.
The Rebels signed one of the top recruiting classes in the country last spring, and several freshmen figure to play in the opener, including highly touted defensive end Robert Nkemdiche. The game features two of the top wide receivers in the conference in Vanderbilt senior Jordan Matthews and Ole Miss junior Donte Moncrief, who caught 10 touchdown passes last season. Matthews had a season-high 153 receiving yards against the Rebels last year, when Vanderbilt won its third straight game in the series.
Key betting stat: Rebels are 2-10 ATS in their last 12 meetings.
Rutgers Scarlet Knights at Fresno State Bulldogs (-10.5, 54.5)
Thursday’s season opener against Rutgers can’t come soon enough for Fresno State, which has been eager to get back on the field since its embarrassing loss to SMU in the Hawaii Bowl. Rutgers is looking to build on coach Kyle Flood’s successful first year, when the Scarlet Knights claimed a share of the Big East title. The teams are meeting for the second time ever, with Fresno State winning 24-7 in Rutgers nearly five years ago to the day.
The Bulldogs feature the Mountain West preseason offensive and defensive players of the year in quarterback Derek Carr and safety Derron Smith, and they were a near-unanimous pick to win the West Division of the Mountain West in the preseason media poll. Expectations are also high at Rutgers, which is playing one year in the new American Athletic Conference before joining the Big Ten next season. The Scarlett Knights will be tested at Bulldog Stadium, where Fresno State went 6-0 last season and outscored opponents by a total of 190 points.
Key betting stat: Bulldogs are 13-3 ATS in their last 16 games overall.
USC Trojans at Hawaii Warriors (+23, 53.5)
The Matt Barkley era is over at Southern California and his replacement as quarterback is still in flux as the No. 24 Trojans visit Hawaii in Thursday’s season-opening contest. Coach Lane Kiffin said that sophomores Max Wittek and Cody Kessler will share the duties against the Warriors and that he won’t name a starter until after the squad arrives in Honolulu. Former USC offensive coordinator Norm Chow is head coach of Hawaii and is also running the offense.
The Warriors also feature a new quarterback as Ohio State transfer Taylor Graham – son of former NFL signal caller Kent Graham – beat out incumbent Sean Schroeder (11 touchdowns, 12 interceptions in 2012) for the starting job and is being counted on to rev up an attack that ranked 118th out of 120 FBS teams in total offense (297.4 yards) and scored only 21.2 points per game last season. While the Trojans are sorting out the quarterbacking situation, there are no issues with junior Marqise Lee, who finished fourth in Heisman Trophy voting and won the Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s best receiver after setting a school record with 118 receptions. USC senior running back Silas Redd (905 rushing yards, nine TDs in 2012) will miss the contest after undergoing knee surgery five months ago to repair a meniscus tear.
Key betting stat: Trojans are 0-7 ATS in their last seven road games.