(235) SOUTH ALABAMA at (236) SOUTHERN MISS
Southern Miss is set at quarterback with Jack Abraham, who passed for 3,496 yards and 19 TDs last season, but five of his top seven receivers are gone. One who is back, though, is senior Tim Jones, who had a team-high 73 catches for 902 yards and three TDs a year ago. Abraham completed 73% of his passes in 2018 and 68% last season, but he also threw 15 interceptions in 2019. The Golden Eagles’ biggest problem has been turnovers. They ranked 121st in the country last season with 26. New offensive coordinator Matt Kubik hopes to get the running attack going, an area that has been lacking. The Golden Eagles, who went 7-6 last year and lost to Tulane in the Armed Forces Bowl, averaged just 3.5 yards per carry. In an Aug. 22 scrimmage, freshman Frank Gore Jr. ran for 72 yards on 11 carries. South Alabama is coming off a 2-10 season. Sophomore QB Desmond Trotter started the final four games last season and gets the nod to start the opener. His top target will likely be Kawaan Baker, who led the team with 35 catches for 574 yards and three scores last season. Jalen Tolbert is also back, and he averaged more than 19 yards per catch with a team-high six scores. It’s no surprise Southern Miss is more than a two-touchdown favorite. South Alabama allowed 30.7 points per game last season. The second quarter was the Jaguars’ downfall, getting outscored 114-34 in that period.
(237) ARKANSAS STATE at (238) MEMPHIS
The underdog might end up being the sharp side, but the recent line move in this game was not driven by sharp money. Memphis was listed as a 20½-point favorite Monday morning before star running back Kenneth Gainwell announced he was opting out of the season because of concerns about the coronavirus pandemic. The line dropped to 16 as a result. Gainwell was an all-around weapon as a redshirt freshman, rushing for 1,459 yards and adding 610 receiving yards while totaling 16 touchdowns. He was the only FBS player to top 1,000 yards rushing and 500 yards receiving last season. The Tigers won 12 games, and with that success came a loss as Mike Norvell left to coach Florida State. Ryan Silverfield, an assistant to Norvell and previously an NFL assistant coach with the Minnesota Vikings, takes over a talented team. The key to continued success is quarterback Brady White, who passed for 4,014 yards and 33 touchdowns with 11 interceptions. But White will miss Gainwell and Antonio Gibson, who had 735 yards receiving and eight touchdowns. Gibson was a third-round pick by Washington, which is using him as a running back. That’s a lot of firepower for the Tigers to replace, especially with a limited preseason camp. Arkansas State is an established Sun Belt threat under coach Blake Anderson, who has guided the Red Wolves to two conference titles and six straight bowls. Anderson brings back two proven quarterbacks — Logan Bonner and former Alabama walk-on Layne Hatcher — and an offensive line with eight players who have a combined 128 career starts. This looks like a dog-or-pass situation.
(239) SMU at (240) TEXAS STATE
Coming off its first 10-win season since 1984 and a bowl appearance, SMU looks to get off to another strong start Saturday. The Mustangs routed Texas State 47-17 in Game 3 last season en route to an 8-0 start, and it could be more of the same. SMU welcomes back QB Shane Buechele and WR Reggie Roberson Jr. Buechele is one of 30 players on the College Football Performance Award’s National Performer of the Year Trophy watch list. The former Texas Longhorn threw for 3,929 yards and 34 touchdowns in 2019, both SMU records. He had three games of 400+ yards — but not against Texas State. Buechele was just 14 of 18 for 219 yards and two TDs against the Bobcats, but his passing wasn’t needed against a poor rushing defense. TJ McDaniel, a freshman last season, ran wild, gaining 159 yards on eight carries. Texas State allowed 229.6 rushing yards per game a year ago. SMU’s defense had its own struggles last season, allowing 500+ total yards in five of its last six games. The Mustangs’ defensive front seven was rebuilt in the offseason. Texas State was 3-9 last year, its fifth straight losing season. The ground game was terrible, finishing last in the Sun Belt Conference with only 76.8 yards per game. Brady McBride, a transfer from Memphis, has replaced Tyler Vitt at quarterback. Heading into the 2020 season, Buechele ranks second on active career FBS lists for completions (710), passing yards (8,565) and total offense (8,928). Roberson finished second on the team with 43 receptions for 803 yards and six touchdowns in 2019. He started the first eight games before being sidelined with a foot injury.
(241) MIDDLE TENNESSEE at (242) ARMY
In a different world, Middle Tennessee would be going into the season with one of the most feared offenses in Conference USA. The Blue Raiders have an experienced quarterback and planned to have an explosive running back tandem with transfers Martell Pettaway from West Virginia and Amir Rasul from Florida State. However, both opted out of the season with COVID-19 concerns. That means coach Rick Stockstill will lean even more on Asher O’Hara, who passed for 2,616 yards and 20 touchdowns while leading the team in rushing with 1,044 yards and nine touchdowns. The Blue Raiders, who slipped to 4-8 last season, still will put points on the board — and they will need to because the defense has several holes. Army’s triple-option ground attack is capable of punching through and wearing down Middle Tennessee’s thin defensive front. The Black Knights will try to replace star quarterback Kelvin Hopkins with Christian Anderson, who’s an exceptional runner, or Jabari Laws, who’s the better passer. Army dropped from 11 wins in 2018 to 5-8 last year, when the Knights faced a tougher schedule and went 1-4 in one-score games. The defense appears better on paper, so coach Jeff Monken is set for a bounce-back year if the quarterback play is efficient. This is a lean to Army at -3, a number available at several books.
(243) BRIGHAM YOUNG at (244) NAVY
A hyped season opener against Notre Dame was canceled because of the coronavirus, so Navy searched for a scheduling match and found Brigham Young in need of a game. In this case, opposites do attract. While the Midshipmen focus on running the ball, the Cougars attack mainly through the air. This is not exactly a marquee matchup, but it’s on ESPN in prime time, so it will generate a strong wagering handle Monday night. The early money is on BYU, which opened as a 2½-point underdog and has flipped to a one-point favorite at the Westgate SuperBook. Navy finished 11-2 last season thanks to a strong defense and the superb playmaking of quarterback Malcolm Perry, who’s trying to make it as a receiver in the NFL after being a seventh-round pick by Miami. Perry, who accounted for 28 touchdowns while rushing for 2,017 yards and passing for 1,084, will be difficult for coach Ken Niumatalolo to replace. Unknown senior Dalen Morris is the probable starter. The Midshipmen’s defensive backs might struggle to keep up with speedy receivers, and can they put enough pressure on the passer? The Cougars will start Zach Wilson, a freshman sensation in 2018, though backups Baylor Romney and Jaren Hall are capable after getting quality playing time while Wilson was injured last season. The personnel edges are with BYU, which returns its top seven offensive linemen and six of its top seven defensive linemen. But the coaching edge rarely goes to Kalani Sitake, who makes more than his share of game-management errors. Still, the sharper money is siding with the Cougars, who are more of a known commodity. The Midshipmen must answer a big question at quarterback.