Week 0 can be a confusing phrase if you’re hearing it for the first time. It might even sound completely wrong if you’re mathematically inclined. Zero is not a counting number by definition.
But the term is quite familiar to college football fans. For most schools across the country, the start of the season falls on Labor Day weekend, the traditional Week 1. In recent years, some contests have been scheduled for the previous weekend. This preliminary release date became known as Week 0, and this week is now just around the corner.
The 2022 Week 0 slate might not look all that exciting on its face. No Top 25 teams are in action during Saturday’s 11-game series featuring members of the Football Bowl Subdivision. There are, however, some things worth paying attention to during the day. First, unlike NFL preseason games, the results of these contests matter. A win is a step toward bowl eligibility. In some cases, they will even count toward the conference standings.
Here are some stories to watch as college football returns.
The Big Ten headed overseas
The day’s headliner is a true Big Ten West showdown in Dublin, Ireland, between Nebraska and Northwestern (12:30 p.m. ET, Fox). While neither the Cornhuskers nor the Wildcats are expected to compete for the league title, it’s still an important game for both programs coming into the offseason.
Nebraska easily handled the Wildcats 56-7 last Oct. 2. Unfortunately for the ‘Huskers, this was their last win of 2021, although there were admittedly several shutouts. Suffice it to say, though, that any struggles Nebraska puts up against a team it accomplished a year ago won’t be taken kindly by fans whose patience with coach Scott Frost is already wearing thin. But Pat Fitzgerald’s track record at Northwestern suggests this won’t be an Irish vacation for the Cornhuskers. Before last year’s 3-9 clunker of the season, five of the previous six years had featured winning records for the Wildcats. Nebraska appears to have the talent advantage, particularly with the arrival of QB Casey Thompson from Texas, but if Northwestern can regain its signature toughness, things could get very interesting after halftime.
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Elsewhere in the Big Ten
The other team in the Big Ten getting a Week 0 jump start on the season is Illinois, where Bret Bielema begins the second year of his rebuilding project hosting Wyoming (4 p.m. ET, BTN). But the Fighting Illini face a potentially dangerous opponent in the Cowboys, a program with few geographic advantages that nonetheless punches above its weight from time to time. The Cowboys may be in a transition year after significant losses through the transfer window, but Craig Bohl is a good coach who knows how to optimize the personnel he has. The home crowd in Champaign would like to get it on the ice quickly, but don’t be surprised if that’s not the case.
More conference calls
It won’t generate as much fanfare as the Big Ten opener, but Conference USA jumps right into the league with a pair of contests. Florida Atlantic hosts Charlotte at 7 p.m. ET on CBSSN and West Texas-El Paso has a home date at 9 p.m. ET with North Texas, available live through the Stadium. In what figures to be an open year, given the losses of C-USA members, getting an early win in the standings will be a major advantage.
Some ACC teams coming off somewhat disappointing campaigns will be hoping for easy games against Football Championship Subdivision opponents. Florida State kicks off an ACC Network doubleheader against Duquesne (5 p.m. ET), followed by North Carolina hosting Florida A&M (8:15 p.m. ET). Of course, the Seminoles were upset by another FCS member, Jacksonville State, last year, so their fans won’t be particularly forgiving if they struggle to knock off the Dukes.
First in the SEC?
Vanderbilt is the longest shot to win the SEC, but the Commodores at least have a chance to get their first league win this season. It won’t be easy, though, as Vandy makes the long trip to Hawaii for the final game of Week 0 of the day (10:30 p.m. ET, CBSSN). It’s a game the Commodores will almost certainly have to have if they want to even consider going bowling, but the Rainbow Warriors will be excited for the chance to pick off an SEC opponent.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: College football schedule Week 0: What to know and what to watch