College Football: Week Zero (yes, that is a thing) Games and Predictions

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.

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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.

Winner: Nevada

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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.

Winner: Northwestern

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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.

Winner: UNLV

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.

Winner: Illinois

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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.

Winner: FAU

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.

Winner: UTEP

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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.

USC and UCLA to the Big Ten: The Aftermath

The deal is done. The ink is dry. The Pac-12 has officially acknowledged that the Trojans and Bruins are going to the Big Ten in 2024. It’s like being a parent and watching your 18-year old child leave on a date with someone you clearly think is not in your child’s best interest.

“They can do better,” you try to convince yourself. But they really can’t.

USC and UCLA are leaving their Lincoln Navigator for a Bentley Continental GT. Leaving a $20 million dollar annual payout for a $100 million payout. Leaving half-empty stadiums for stadiums filled with 114,000 screaming fans. Instead of only being able to afford penny stocks, AMZN is now in their portfolios.

Forty-eight hours after the big news broke, the Pac-12 Networks was airing the 2004 Rose Bowl game between USC and Michigan. USC v Penn State followed. The chyron (news ticker) below the game displaying the conference’s statement on the two teams’ departure announcement was the elephant in the room.

In all likelihood, the conference’s flagship network failed to be proactive in television programming.

Failed to be proactive.

It’s an indictment of everything that is wrong in the Pac-12. The conference did not read the room while the SEC and Big Ten were expanding. It failed to protect its future and failed to implement its contingencies.

The conference was rife with poor officiating for a decade. #Pac12refs became a national punchline and Twitter trending hashtag. The Pac-12 made some overtures to fix the problem but no substantial changes could be seen on the field.

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The Pac-12 conference is probably now in full-blown panic mode. Undoubtedly phone calls are being made, hands are being wrung, pearl necklaces are being clutched and safe spaces are being constructed in the halls of the Pac-12 offices.

Meanwhile, other Pac-12 members are probably freaking out.

While Oregon and Washington are the next best Pac-12 teams to be considered in a possible departure to another conference, no announcements have been made. While that may not be significant now—once Notre Dame decides its permanent place in college football the dominoes will fall—it will be decidedly concerning after the 2022 season ends.

I believe Stanford and Cal are a better “fit” in the Big Ten. They are traditional schools with high emphasis on education. The Bay Area’s TV market is consistently ranked in the Top 10. They have been consistent in their athletic programs’ branding and except for Stanford’s name change of Indians to Cardinal in 1981, they have very traditional athletic programs.

The Midwest fan is generally not impressed with shiny, new things and unfortunately for the Oregon Ducks, the national perception of Oregon football is just that. This isn’t a criticism. But read the room, Oregon.

The Ohio State University Buckeyes play football in “three yards and a cloud of dust.” They are damn proud of that. Oregon football, on the other hand, is known for innovative twists on run-read football, trick plays, neon-highlighter uniforms and a fan base that while can be quite vociferous, is also fickle.

The flashy electricity of its marketing department has attracted elite recruits. That’s a huge bonus. Oregon also excels in other sports such as Track and Field, Baseball and Basketball. Again, a definite plus.

But would Oregon and Washington’s membership be each worth $100 million a year to the Big Ten?

Seattle’s TV market is ranked No. 14 nationally. Portland’s is ranked No. 81. Moreover, the optics of those two cities may not appeal to the Midwest football fan. Videos of recent riots, surges in crime rates, increasing homelessness and open opioid drug use in the streets have been blasted across news channels for two years. While other cities are experiencing those exact same issues (Los Angeles, I’m looking at you), USC and UCLA will have no problem validating their $100 million payouts from the conference.

If Notre Dame decides to move to the Big Ten and the two Pacific Northwest teams are left without an invite, the Pac-12 would feel a little safer. But only for a New York minute. Unless the Pac-12 invites more schools to its conference, the fallout will be catastrophic. The Pacific Northwest teams cannot carry the conference.

A better option would be for the Pac-12 to join the Big 12 and form a super conference, perhaps even adding in the Mountain West. That could alleviate schools’ stability concerns and keep everyone at home.

For awhile.

A chain reaction is inevitable. The Big Ten and SEC will poach more teams—strike that, the best teams— and the demise of the ACC will probably occur sometime after its conference’s grant of rights expire in 2035-36.

Make no mistake, the Pac-12 is on life support right now. The Big 12 is heavily sedated despite adding four new schools to the mix next year. The ACC is in a bind.

Notre Dame’s contract with the ACC created an additional $80 million in revenue for the conference in 2020-21. The ACC will fight like hell to keep Notre Dame tied to its contract but the Fighting Irish can leverage their position to the breaking point, then skip on over to the Big Ten once it irons out its AAU accreditation.

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Notre Dame, despite being roundly criticized and mocked for maintaining its independent status in college football, is now an orchestra conductor. It raises its baton and on cue, everyone looks up and waits for their direction.

Notre Dame can write its own ticket to the dance. Everyone wants to date her. Everyone wants to keep her in their arms and promenade her around the dance floor. It’s good to be the Belle of the Ball.

The SEC wanted Oklahoma and Texas. The Big Ten wanted USC and UCLA. Which team is really the team that everyone wants now?

Clemson? Florida State? Miami? Oregon? Washington? Utah? Kansas?

It’s Notre Dame.

And we all are just witnesses, waiting to see who will get on their knees and propose to her.