College football is finally here.
Though the real fun begins next week with Week 1, there are seven FBS vs. FBS games on the schedule on Saturday. The headliner is the Big Ten game in Ireland between Nebraska and Northwestern. Elsewhere, there are a few Conference USA games on the slate, Florida State and North Carolina host FCS opponents and an SEC team travels to Hawaii.
Here’s what you need to know, plus a few sides I’m eyeing from a betting perspective.
(All times ET, odds from BetMGM)
What are the best games?
Nebraska at Northwestern (12:30 p.m., Fox)
Coming off a miserable 3-9 record in 2021, Scott Frost is just 15-29 in his four seasons at Nebraska. This season is widely viewed as his last chance to turn things around at his alma mater, and that effort begins with a potentially tricky conference game against Northwestern in Ireland.
On the heels of a season in which they went 0-8 in one-score games, the Huskers would love to start the season on a positive note. Perhaps some of the changes on offense — adding ex-Texas QB Casey Thompson and ex-Pitt OC Mark Whipple — will help that cause.
Northwestern is also in search of a bounce-back season. The Wildcats were the worst team in the Big Ten West last year but have won the division title in two of the last four seasons. Pat Fitzgerald’s team has a strong one-two punch with Evan Hull and Cam Porter at running back, but quarterback and the defense are major question marks.
Wyoming at Illinois (4 p.m., BTN)
Illinois went 5-7 in Bret Bielema’s first season but the coach was unsatisfied with his team’s output on offense. Bielema brought in Barry Lunney from UTSA to implement a new system that will likely feature much more tempo. The Illini also added Syracuse transfer Tommy DeVito at QB and return two potential all-conference players in RB Chase Brown and WR Isaiah Williams.
Wyoming struggled in Mountain West play but reached a bowl game for the fourth time in six years last fall. Craig Bohl’s teams are always physical on defense and rely on the ground game on offense. The Cowboys should present a nice challenge for Illinois.
North Texas at UTEP (9 p.m., Stadium)
These teams aren’t on the caliber of UTSA and UAB in Conference USA, but they’re probably in that next tier. Both teams played in bowl games last year and could be under-the-radar C-USA contenders this year. This could be the most competitive game of the day.
What about the other games?
UConn at Utah State (4 p.m., FS1): UConn went a combined 4-32 over the past three seasons and will open up the Jim Mora on the road against the reigning Mountain West champions. Good luck.
Duquesne at Florida State (5 p.m., ACCN): It took until Oct. 2 for Florida State to get its first win of the 2021 season. It shouldn’t take that long this year with Duquesne, an FCS program that went 7-3 last year, visiting Tallahassee.
Charlotte at Florida Atlantic (7 p.m., CBSSN): Here’s another C-USA league game. Charlotte is 14-17 in three seasons under Will Healy, who was once looked at as a fast riser in the coaching world. FAU, meanwhile, is looking for some signs of improvement on offense in Year 3 under Willie Taggart.
Florida A&M at North Carolina (8:15 p.m., ACCN): UNC was one of the most disappointing teams in the country in 2021, finishing 6-7 after beginning the year ranked in the top 10. With new QB Drake Maye under center, the Tar Heels begin 2022 with a surefire win.
Nevada at New Mexico State (10 p.m., ESPN2): Nevada saw coach Jay Norvell and several of its top players depart for Colorado State. We’ll see what’s left behind as the Wolf Pack open the season in Las Cruces for Jerry Kill’s debut as NMSU head coach.
Vanderbilt at Hawaii (10:30 p.m., CBSSN): Timmy Chang, the legendary Hawaii quarterback, is now in charge at his alma mater. Can the Warriors upset an SEC opponent in his debut? Vanderbilt, coming off a 2-10 season, is favored by a touchdown.
Best bets for Week 0
Wyoming at Illinois (-10.5)
Titus Swen is pretty solid at running back, but I don’t trust Wyoming’s offense at all beyond him after so many top players transferred. The ball control style Craig Bohl likes works quite often in the Mountain West, but I don’t see it working against Illinois, especially with so many new starters up front for the Cowboys. Wyoming lost several defensive starters to the portal as well. I trust Bret Bielema to have his team ready to roll and cover this number fairly comfortably.
Charlotte (+7.5) at Florida Atlantic
FAU has been very underwhelming on offense under Willie Taggart. Couple that with the number of new faces on the defense and coaching staff, and I’m pretty skeptical about the Owls on the whole. Charlotte has been slowly building up its program under Will Healy and I think this team could get to a bowl. I wouldn’t be surprised by an outright upset here, but I’ll take the points.