Week zero college football: Nebraska-Northwestern is one to watch


The college football season kicks off Saturday with one of the most peculiar traditions that has taken hold in recent years: Week 0, when a handful of teams open their seasons the weekend before the generally accepted start date of the Labor Day weekend.

There are two ways for Football Bowl Subdivision teams to play in Week 0: by requesting a waiver from the NCAA or by being a team that must travel to play Hawaii at some point in the season (the NCAA allows these teams to recover the travel costs to Hawaii by scheduling a 13th game). Vanderbilt, Western Kentucky, Duquesne, Nevada, Wyoming, Utah State and UNLV will travel to face the Rainbow Warriors this season, and all play Saturday.

So while there won’t be many big-name teams in action on Saturday, Week 0 will still serve to whet our appetites for the season ahead.

Western Kentucky vs. Austin Peay

Northwest vs. Nebraska

Stephen F. Austin vs. Jacksonville State

Utah State vs. Connecticut

Florida State vs. Duquesne

Florida Atlantic vs. Charlotte

North Carolina vs. Florida A&M

New Mexico State vs. Nevada

Nebraska and Northwest travel to Dublin for the season opener (and only week 0 game) featuring two power conference teams. The Cornhuskers won just three games for a second straight season in 2021, which almost cost coach Scott Frost his job – he was forced to take a pay cut and lay off four offensive assistants – but the underlying stats tell the story of a team that may have been just plain unlucky: Nebraska scored 63 more points than their opponents on the season, but were 0-8 in games decided by a score. Frost brought in a new offensive coordinator, Mark Whipple, who has done wonders for Pittsburgh’s offense. That, plus a slew of transfers, could lead to better days at Lincoln (or so Frost hopes). The Wildcats, meanwhile, went 3-9 for the second time in three seasons, their season squandered by a lead offense (they had just 124 plays to gain at least 10 yards, putting them has classified 124th out of 130 teams). …

Illinois, home to Wyomingshowed progress as coach Bret Bielema’s first Champaign campaign continued, winning four of his last seven games in 2021, including this ridiculous nine hour overtime route turned upside down then-No. 7 Penn State. But the Illini have lost a lot of production from this team and are starting more or less from zero. The Cowboys face a similar problem, especially on offense: They need to replace their top two quarterbacks, first rusher, top two receivers and two linemen in all conferences. But given how bad Wyoming was on offense last season — the Cowboys failed to reach 20 points in six games last season — that could be a blessing in disguise. …

Hawaii-Vanderbilt is about as “Week 0 Nightcap” as a game can get, especially considering it will be played at the Rainbow Warriors’ 9,300-seat training ground after Aloha Stadium was declared unusable after the last season. Allegations of mistreatment by former coach Todd Graham have sent many of Hawaii’s top players to the transfer portal, meaning little remains of last year’s 6-7 squad for the new coach Timmy Chang, who showcased showy numbers as a Rainbow Warriors quarterback at the turn of the century. . Vanderbilt’s brief skill moment — the Commodores bowled five games over an eight-season span from 2011 to 2018 — appears to be over: Vanderbilt has gone 5-28 the past three seasons.

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