College football is back! Although the intrigue of the Week Zero slate is low, we will have 12+ hours of meaningful college football on our screens on Saturday. This is reason enough to cancel all of your plans and post up on your couch without a care in the world.
There are 11 games on tap this Saturday with just six Power Five schools in action. With that said, there are still many storylines to lock into during Week Zero action. Let’s take a look at the five best games of the Week Zero college football weekend.
Best Week Zero College Football Games
5. Vanderbilt vs Hawaii – 10:15 EST, CBSSN
The Vanderbilt Commodores will travel to the island to take on the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors as we wrap up the college football weekend on Saturday night. The Commodores can only go up after a 2-10 season to start the Clark Lea era. Coach Lea is slowly getting his guys into his program, and I believe that will correlate with a steady uptick in wins over the next few seasons. A lot of work still must be put in to make this program competitive in the SEC, but I do believe they can handle business in the non-conference this season.
On the home sideline, former Hawaii quarterback standout Timmy Chang is entering his first season as head coach for his alma mater. Chang takes over a program that is in the midst of a lot of offensive turnover. Chang brought in Ian Shoemaker as his offensive coordinator which should make this offense fun to watch. With that said, this roster does not have the talent to compete against the Mountain West, let alone an SEC program.
Hawaii is 11-1 against the spread in openers on the island, but I do not believe this team has anywhere near the juice as former Rainbow Warrior teams.
Prediction: Vanderbilt 38 Hawaii 24
4. Florida A&M vs North Carolina – 8:15 EST, ACCN
North Carolina will roll over Florida A&M of the FCS Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference in this Week 0 bout. What to watch for will undoubtedly be the play of redshirt freshman quarterback Drake Maye. The former Alabama commit is the brother of Tar Heel basketball legend Luke. Maye beat out Jacolby Criswell in a quarterback battle that lasted all throughout the spring and summer, right up until game week.
Maye is a ceiling raiser at the quarterback position and has one of the nation’s best pass catchers at his disposal in Josh Downs. Watching how Maye handles his first real college football action is why fans should tune into this game which will otherwise likely be a blowout.
Prediction: North Carolina 58 Florida A&M 17
3. Duquesne vs Florida State – 5:00 EST, ACCN
The Duquesne Duke of the FCS Northeast Football Conference are not why you should tune into this game. The intrigue is on Florida State head coach Mike Norvell and the progress the Seminoles have made during his second complete offseason as the leader of this program.
The Seminoles will be carried by their defense in 2022. Safety James Robinson and defensive tackle Fabien Lovett both project as day two NFL Draft picks with previous collegiate production to back it up. Adam Fuller’s defense rounded into form during the final two months of the 2021 season and will look to carry that momentum into 2022.
While the defense should stifle the Dukes, the Florida State offense is what you really want to keep your eye on. Third-year starting quarterback Jordan Travis is looking to continue his upward trajectory as a passer. Look for Travis, who is undoubtedly better running the ball than throwing it, to take his time and progress through his reads downfield. While he will certainly be able to beat this Duquesne defense with his feet, the same cannot be said when the Seminoles travel to New Orleans to take on LSU in Week One.
Prediction: Florida State 45 Duquesne 10
2. Wyoming vs Illinois – 4:00 EST, BTN
Wyoming and head coach Craig Bohl underwent major roster turnover this off-season. The three most important players from the 2021 Cowboys offense are gone. Saturday is our first opportunity to see how this new group gels together.
Year two of the Brett Bielema era is underway in Champaign with expectations to reach bowl eligibility for the second time since 2015. The Illini are looking to revamp their offense with first-year offensive coordinator Barry Lunney Jr and Syracuse quarterback transfer Tommy Devito. Pair that with future NFL running back Chase Brown and I believe Illinois could be looking at their best offensive team in over a decade. On the defensive side of the ball, Bielema’s squad should be just fine. They return five of their top seven tacklers from a unit that finished 29th in scoring defense a season ago.
Craig Bohl and the Wyoming Cowboys always throw out competitive and gritty teams. With that said, this is a clear rebuilding year in Laramie. If Illinois does not handily beat this Wyoming bunch, Illini fans have reasonable cause for early season alarm.
Prediction: Illinois 30 Wyoming 16
1. Nebraska vs Northwestern – 12:30 EST, FOX
The best game during this Week Zero slate takes place in Dublin, Ireland between Big Ten West foes Nebraska and Northwestern. This trip across the pond wagers high stakes for both programs as they look to rebound from underachieving 2021 campaigns.
It is a make-or-break season for the Cornhuskers in year five under Scott Frost. Holding a 15-29 record during his tenure, Nebraska has not been bowl eligible since the 2016 season. With Texas transfer Casey Thompson getting the nod at quarterback, this Cornhusker offense should have a bit more stability than the previous four seasons.
On the other sideline, Pat Fitzgerald is entering his 17th year as head coach of the Northwestern Wildcats. A 3-9 record in 2021 was tied for the worst finish in Wildcat history under Fitzgerald. Northwestern had some of the most strict COVID protocols in the country which took its toll on this program a season ago.
“Where we got exposed the most is just in physicality with the way we typically play,” Fitzgerald told the media. “That was a byproduct of not being [together].”
Although I expect improvement from Northwestern, I believe it will be marginal. Quarterback Ryan Hilinski will struggle to lead this offense past 20 points against any sort of competent defense. I expect Frost, Thompson, and the rest of the Cornhuskers to come out firing in what, as cliche as it sounds, is a must-win for this program if Coach Frost expects to hold his job beyond this season.
Prediction: Nebraska 31 Northwestern 13