College football is finally here.
Although the real fun starts next week with Week 1, there are seven FBS vs. FBS games on Saturday’s schedule. The headliner is the Big Ten Ireland game 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, as well as some sides I look at 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 seen as his last chance to turn things around at his alma mater, and that effort begins with a potentially tough conference game against Northwestern in Ireland.
After a season in which they went 0-8 in one-score games, the Huskers would like to start the season on a positive note. Perhaps some of the changes on offense — the addition of former Texas QB Casey Thompson and former 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 punch at running back Evan Hull and Cam Porter, but quarterback and defense are big question marks.
Wyoming at Illinois (4 p.m., BTN)
Illinois went 5-7 in Bret Bielema’s first season, but the coach wasn’t satisfied with his team’s performance on offense. Bielema brought in Barry Lunney from UTSA to implement a new system that will likely have a lot more pace. 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 the caliber of UTSA and UAB in Conference USA, but they’re probably at that next level. 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 has gone a combined 4-32 over the past three seasons and will open for 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 earn its first win of the 2021 season. It shouldn’t be that long this year against 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 championship game. Charlotte is 14-17 in three seasons under Will Healy, once considered 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 starting the year ranked in the top 10. With new QB Drake Maye under center, the Tar Heels start 2022 with a winning streak.
Nevada to the State of New Mexico (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 opens the season in Las Cruces for Jerry Kill’s NMSU head coaching debut.
Vanderbilt in 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 its debut? Vanderbilt, coming off a 2-10 season, is favored by one 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 beyond him at all after so many top players transferred. The ball-control style that Craig Bohl likes works quite often in the Mountain West, but I don’t see it working against Illinois, especially with so many young starters up front for the Cowboys. Wyoming also lost several defensive starters out of the gate. I trust Bret Bielema to have his team ready to roll and cover that number quite comfortably.
Charlotte (+7.5) at Florida Atlantic
FAU was very sluggish on offense under Willie Taggart. Combine that with the number of new faces on defense and the coaching staff, and I’m pretty skeptical of the Owls as a whole. Charlotte is slowly building their program under Will Healy and I think this team could make it to a bowl. I wouldn’t be surprised by a clean sweep here, but I’ll take the points.