Nobody knows nothin’.
You’ve heard that before but nowhere is that truer than in predicting winners and losers in the first week of college football.
It is a crap shoot. It is a forage into unknown waters. Go ahead, dip your toes in the water. Circling dorsal fins be damned, you still dive in.
Back in the day, college football’s opening week was a lot of cupcakes getting destroyed by a lot of heavyweights. Thankfully, we are starting to see more “interesting” matchups in week zero. Surrounded by fluffy, frosted cupcakes.
Back to the interesting games, though.
OK, not really. Most of the games stink. But it is college football and we are going to bask in all of its glory. And gore.
Naturally, there will be an upset. Or two.
Who can forget Appalachian State’s epic upset of Michigan in 2007? After all, this is for what we, the college football fans, full of merriment and schadenfreude, live. Complete and utter chaos raining down on college football’s landscape.
May the team with the least amount of mistakes and SNAFUs win.
Nevada at New Mexico State
This one will be entertaining. But not for the reasons you think. Nevada has a total of six returning starters: two on offense, four on defense.
New Mexico State is breaking in a new coach (Jerry Kill of Minnesota fame) and its roster depth includes walk-ons. It only has two starters on its offense as well.
On paper, this looks like a low-scoring game or a high-scoring game, depending on which units show up to play. A true feast for the college football fan awaits. First team to 10 (or 50) points, wins.
Austin Peay at Western Kentucky
The Hilltoppers will have an inexperienced offense taking on Austin Peay, an FCS team. What does that mean?
Quarterback Bailey Zappe was the heart of Western Kentucky’s offense. Zappe (New England Patriots) and Offensive Coordinator Zach Kittley (Texas Tech) are both gone. While there are excellent reports on quarterback Austin Reed, this game will have a lot mistakes and mental errors.
Note: this 9:00 a.m. game will be competing against FOXSports’ 9:30 a.m. broadcast of Nebraska v Northwestern in Ireland.
Winner: Western Kentucky
Nebraska v Northwestern (Dublin, Ireland)
Nebraska fans should have their gastroenterologists on speed dial in case their ulcers flare up earlier than usual.
The Cornhuskers have only won two of their last five season openers. That statistic by itself is not much to chew on but it is a symptom of something more ominous—Nebraska has also not had a winning system since 2016.
Northwestern has won three of their last five season openers. Although Nebraska is a 12.5 point favorite, I’m calling for the Wildcat upset here.
Idaho State at UNLV
UNLV should have this game under control by the third quarter. Idaho State is an FCS school and while there are some terrific FCS programs capable of pulling an upset every week, Idaho State is not at the elite level.
UConn at Utah State
This is a very dangerous game for Jim Mora’s Utah State. The Aggies travel to Tuscaloosa to play Alabama the following week. Will Utah State be looking ahead? Count on it, especially when facing a team like UConn.
The Huskies have won four games in three years and the last time it beat a Power 5 team was in 2016 (Virginia). They have only beaten three Group of Five teams in that same time period. Can you spell T-R-A-P?
Utah State is favored by 27.5 points. The Aggies should win by that much but it is week one and anything can happen.
Winner: Utah State (?)
Wyoming at Illinois
Wyoming has eight returning starters, four on each side of the ball. True, we do not know much yet but we do know what a lot of opportunity for improvement means: rebuilding mode.
Illinois has 13 returning starters. Despite last year’s 5-7 season, the Fighting Illini pulled off three major upsets (Nebraska -7, Penn State -24 and Minnesota -14). Ilinois is a favorite (-11) and head coach Bret Bielema will have his guys ready.
Duquesne at Florida State
Remember when we could count on the Seminoles to annihilate its non-conference opponents? Now they are dependable as a wet book of matches.
Last year the Seminoles lost to FCS’s Jacksonville State 20-17. Ouch. The Seminoles struggled to beat Samford (not Stanford) in 2018 (36-26) and lost to Boise State (36-31) in 2019’s season opener.
Florida State has been playing flaky football for at least five years despite rosters riddled with elite players. This should be a blow out by the first half but do not be shocked if Duquesne is still hanging around in the third quarter.
Winner: Florida State
Charlotte at Florida Atlantic
In the last five years, the Owls have had two 11-win seasons. This program is capable and trending up. Head coach Willie Taggert has a lot of veterans returning (14!) and FAU has won its last three meetings with Charlotte.
But Charlotte tends to play up to the level of its opponents. Last year it lost to Duke by three points, Middle Tennessee State by three and Illinois by 10. The Owls are favored by 7.5 points and that sounds about right, especially since the 49ers have to travel to Boca Raton.
Florida A&M at North Carolina
This may be the perfect game for the Tar Heels to prove they belong in the Big Ten or SEC. The ACC may be relatively safe from conference expansion for now but things may become very unstable in a few years. Or next week.
Despite a reloaded offense with some unproven skill players, I expect North Carolina to keep this game out of reach from FAMU.
Winner: North Carolina
North Texas at UTEP
This game may be among the day’s most competitive match-ups. North Texas is favored by two points in this interstate rivalry. The battle should be tightly contested and an overtime thriller is a definite possibility. We can dream, can’t we?
The underdog is “5-2 with three straight upsets,” according to Phil Steele. UTEP for the mild upset?
UTEP for the mild upset.
Vanderbilt at Hawaii
A non-stop, direct flight from Nashville to Honolulu is over eight hours. The typical flight from Nashville to Honolulu is more like 12-13 hours total flight time. Vandy is going to be exhausted on game day.
But we have a plot twist….
Hawai’i has only six starters returning and is playing in a temporary stadium that holds 9,000 butts in seats. It is also ushering in Timmy Chang, who is the career passing yards record-holder at Hawai’i but has no head coaching experience. And his first game is against an SEC team.
Vanderbilt is favored by six points and kickoff starts at 10:30 p.m. ET. Yikes.
Could there be too much distracting aloha for these Southern boys? Is Hawai’i in a total rebuild this year? Can both things be true?
Winner: Vanderbilt and Hawai’i for scheduling this game.