Western Michigan Broncos at Michigan State Spartans (-28, 44.5)
Michigan State’s offensive identity remains a mystery heading into its season opener on Friday against visiting Western Michigan, which was picked to finish fifth in the MAC’s West Division. Fortunately for the Spartans, their vaunted defense again should rank among the nation’s best this season. Even with an offense that’s a work in progress, Michigan State figures to be a difficult matchup for the Broncos and 32-year-old first-year head coach P.J. Fleck.
Spartans head coach Mark Dantonio held an open competition at quarterback before finally naming senior Andrew Maxwell as his starter on Tuesday, but sophomore Connor Cook also is expected to play in the season opener. Thanks to a forgiving early-season schedule, Michigan State has some time to figure out its offense before visiting Notre Dame on Sept. 21. The Spartans should be able to rely on their defense to get past Western Michigan, which faces three Big Ten teams in the first four weeks.
Key betting stat: Broncos are 1-8 ATS in their last nine vs. Big Ten.
Florida Atlantic Owls at Miami Hurricanes (-31.5, 53.5)
With expectations on the rise, Miami looks to begin its season in impressive fashion when Florida Atlantic visits on Friday night. Al Golden, starting his third season as the Hurricanes’ coach, admitted this week that he has “a lot of concerns” about his team, even though Miami is the preseason favorite to win the ACC Coastal Division. Those concerns do not include senior quarterback Stephen Morris, who is coming off a terrific 2012 season.
Morris passed for 3,345 yards last year – the fifth-highest single-season total in Hurricanes history. In his final four games, Morris completed 60 percent of his passes for 1,131 yards with 11 touchdowns and no interceptions. In addition to Morris, Florida Atlantic will have its hands full with Duke Johnson, Miami’s electrifying running back who racked up 2,060 all-purpose yards as a freshman last season.
Key betting stat: Under is 42-19-1 in Hurricanes' last 62 home games.
Texas Tech Red Raiders at SMU Mustangs (+4, 59.5)
Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury won’t be alone in making his debut in a high-profile role Friday at SMU. The Red Raiders are expected to rotate freshmen quarterbacks Davis Webb and Baker Mayfield as projected starter Michael Brewer is battling a back injury. Kingsbury, who guided Johnny Manziel to the Heisman Trophy as the offensive coordinator at Texas A&M last season, turned 34 earlier this month but remains the second-youngest active head coach in college football.
SMU will have an experienced quarterback operating its pass-heavy offense. Garrett Gilbert spent parts of three seasons at Texas - starting every game in 2010 - and is pegged to lead the Mustangs for a second straight year. Cutting down on turnovers will be key as Gilbert helps transition SMU into the newly formed American Athletic Conference. He committed five turnovers after taking over for injured starter Colt McCoy in the loss to Alabama in the 2010 BCS title game, was intercepted 17 times as the starter the following year and picked off 15 times last season.
Key betting stat: Mustangs are 5-15-1 ATS in their last 21 vs. Big 12.
North Dakota State Bison at Kansas State Wildcats (-13)
Kansas State briefly flirted with an undefeated season and a spot in the BCS Championship Game last season behind quarterback and Heisman Trophy finalist Collin Klein before settling for the Big 12 title. Klein is gone, along with most of the defensive front seven, giving the Wildcats a new look when they begin the 2013 campaign by hosting North Dakota State on Friday. The Football Championship Series power is trying to knock off an FBS school for the fourth straight season.
The Bison have claimed back-to-back FCS Championships and won at Kansas in 2010, versus Minnesota in 2011 and at Colorado State in 2012. The experienced squad takes on a Kansas State team that is going into the season unranked despite a BCS Bowl appearance in January. The Wildcats still are trying to settle on a starting quarterback as Jake Waters and Daniel Sams battle for the position.
Key betting stat: Over is 9-1 in Wildcats' last 10 home games.
Southern Jaguars at Houston Cougars (-40)
The Houston Cougars begin what they hope will be a bounceback season in the new American Athletic Conference when they host Southern University in the opener for both teams Friday at Reliant Stadium. After a 13-1 record and a TicketCity Bowl win in 2011, Houston stumbled to a 5-7 mark last year in head coach Tony Levine's first full season. However, the Cougars return 10 starters from an offense that averaged 32.4 points.
Junior quarterback David Piland is back for a third year under center after producing 2,929 passing yards and 16 touchdowns last season, the program's last in Robertson Stadium. He will lead a squad that will play its home games at three different locations before moving into a new stadium in 2014. Southern, which has not had a winning campaign since 2009, is entering its first full season under head coach Dawson Odums, who served on an interim basis for the final nine games in 2012.
Key betting stat: Over is 6-2 in Cougars' last eight Friday games.
Northern Arizona Lumberjacks at Arizona Wildcats (-34.5)
A pair of running backs will be in the spotlight when Arizona hosts Northern Arizona on Friday. Arizona junior Ka'Deem Carey led the nation in rushing yards (1,929) in 2012 and Northern Arizona senior Zach Bauman, a 2013 nominee on the Walter Payton Award watch list, is coming off his third consecutive 1,000-yard season. The Wildcats and Lumberjacks last met in 2011, with the Wildcats scoring an easy 41-10 victory in coach Rich Rodriguez's Arizona debut.
Both teams are replacing their starting quarterbacks. Cary Grossart, a two-year starter for Northern Arizona, leaves as the school's all-time leader in completion percentage (66.3). Arizona is in the process of finding a successor to Matt Scott, who ranked second in the Pac-12 in completions (301) and passing yards (3,620) last season.
Key betting stat: Wildcats are 5-1 ATS in their last six Friday games.