College football is finally here.
Although the real fun starts next week with Week 1, there are seven FBS vs. FBS matches scheduled for Saturday. The headliner is the Big Ten game in Ireland between Nebraska and the North West. Elsewhere, there are a few American Conference 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, along with a few sides I’m looking at from a betting perspective.
(All times ET, BetMGM odds)
What are the best games?
Nebraska at Northwestern (12:30 p.m., Fox)
After a miserable 3-9 record in 2021, Scott Frost is just 15-29 in 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 tricky conference game against Northwestern in Ireland.
On the heels of a season in which they went 0-8 in one-scored games, the Huskers would like to start the season on a high note. Maybe some of the changes on offense — the addition of ex-Texas QB Casey Thompson and ex-Pitt OC Mark Whipple — will help that cause.
Northwestern is also looking for 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 solid double with Evan Hull and Cam Porter at running back, but the quarterback and 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 unhappy with his team’s offensive performance. Bielema brought in Barry Lunney of UTSA to implement a new system that will likely feature a lot more tempo. The Illini also added Syracuse transfer Tommy DeVito to QB and the return of two potential all-conference players in RB Chase Brown and WR Isaiah Williams.
Wyoming struggled in the Mountain West game, but reached a bowling game for the fourth time in six years last fall. Craig Bohl’s teams are always physical in defense and rely on the ground game in attack. 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 next level. Both teams played bowl games last year and could be quiet contenders in C-USA this year. This might be the most competitive game of the day.
And the other games?
UConn in the State of Utah (4 p.m., FS1): UConn is 4-32 combined the past three seasons and will open the Jim Mora on the road against defending champions Mountain West. Good luck.
Duquesne at Florida State (5 p.m., ACCN): It took until Oct. 2 for Florida State to claim 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 to 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 considered a quick riser in the coaching world. The FAU, meanwhile, are looking for signs of improvement in attack in Year Three under Willie Taggart.
Florida A&M in North Carolina (8:15 p.m., ACCN): UNC was one of the most disappointing teams in the nation in 2021, finishing 6-7 after starting the year in the top 10. With new QB Drake Maye under center, the Tar Heels start 2022 with a surefire victory.
Nevada to New Mexico State (10 p.m., ESPN2): Nevada saw coach Jay Norvell and several of its best players leave for Colorado State. We’ll see what’s left as the Wolf Pack open the season in Las Cruces for Jerry Kill’s debut as NMSU head coach.
Vanderbilt in Hawaii (10:30 p.m., CBSSN): Timmy Chang, the legendary Hawaii quarterback, is now in charge of his alma mater. Can the Warriors upset a debuting SEC opponent? 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 as a running back, but I don’t trust Wyoming’s offense beyond him at all after transferring so many top players. The ball control style that Craig Bohl loves 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 also lost several defensive starters against the Portal. 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 disappointing in attack under Willie Taggart. Add to that the number of new faces in the defense and coaching staff, and I’m pretty skeptical of the Owls overall. Charlotte has slowly built its program under Will Healy and I think this team could make it to a bowl. I wouldn’t be surprised by an outright upset here, but I’ll take the points.