Week 0 can be a confusing phrase if you hear it for the first time. It may even sound downright wrong if you’re mathematically inclined; zero is, after all, not a counted number by definition.
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But the term is pretty well known to college football aficionados. For most schools across the country, the start of the season comes on Labor Day weekend, the traditional week 1. In recent years, a handful of contests have been scheduled for the weekend before. This preliminary launch date is known as week 0, and this week is now approaching.
The 2022 Week 0 slate may not seem so exciting at first glance. No Top 25 teams are in action during Saturday’s 11-game schedule involving members of the Football Bowl Subdivision. There are, however, some things to pay attention to during the day. For one thing, unlike NFL preseason games, the results of these contests matter. A win is a step towards bowl eligibility. In some cases, they will even count in the conference standings.
Here are some scenarios to watch for when college football returns.
Big Ten Abroad
Today’s headliner is a real Big Ten West showdown in Dublin, Ireland, between Nebraska and the North West (12:30 p.m. ET, Fox). Although neither the Cornhuskers nor the Wildcats are expected to compete for the league title, it is nonetheless an important game for both programs coming off of lackluster seasons.
Nebraska easily handled the Wildcats 56-7 on October 2. Unfortunately for the ‘Huskers, it was their last win of 2021, although there were a number of close calls. Suffice it to say, however, that any struggle Nebraska shows against a team it strangled a year ago will not be viewed kindly by a fan base whose patience with coach Scott Frost is already thin.
But Pat Fitzgerald’s track record at Northwestern would indicate this won’t be an Irish holiday for the Cornhuskers. Prior to last year’s 3-9 season, five of the previous six years had produced winning records for the Wildcats. Nebraska appear to have the talent advantage, especially with the arrival of QB Casey Thompson from Texas, but if Northwestern can regain its signature tenacity down the lines, things could get very interesting after halftime.
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Elsewhere in the Big Ten
The other Big Ten team starting the season in Week 0 is Illinois, where Bret Bielema enters the second year of his rebuilding project hosting Wyoming (4 p.m. ET, BTN). But the Fighting Illini face a potentially dangerous opponent in the Cowboys, a program with few geographical advantages that nonetheless punches above its weight from time to time.
The Cowboys may be in a transition year themselves after considerable losses through the transfer portal, but Craig Bohl is a good coach who knows how to optimize the personnel he has. The local crowd in Champaign would love to get this one on the ice soon, but don’t be surprised if it doesn’t.
More conference calls
It won’t produce as much fanfare as the Big Ten opener, but Conference USA also jumps straight into league play with a pair of contests. Florida Atlantic hosts Charlotte at 7 p.m. ET on CBSSN, and West Texas-El Paso has a 9 p.m. ET home date with North Texas, available live through Stadium. In what appears to be a very open year considering C-USA’s member losses, earning an early leaderboard victory will be a significant advantage.
A few ACC teams coming off of somewhat disappointing campaigns are hoping for easy openings against opponents in the Football Championship Subdivision. Florida State kicks off the ACC Network doubleheader against Duquesne (5 p.m. ET), followed by North Carolina hosting Florida A&M (8:15 p.m. ET). Of course, the Seminoles were upset by fellow FCS member Jacksonville State last year, so their fans won’t be particularly forgiving if they struggle to put the Dukes away.
First at the SEC?
Vanderbilt is the longest of the longshots to win the SEC, but the Commodores at least have a shot at earning the league’s first victory this season. It won’t be easy, however, as Vandy makes the long trip to Hawaii for the final game of Week 0 of the day (10:30 p.m. ET, CBSSN).
It’s a game the Commodores will almost certainly have to have if they’re even going to think about going bowling, but the Rainbow Warriors will be thrilled with the opportunity to knock out an SEC opponent.
Upset pick No. 1: Irish eyes smile on Northwestern
It’s a good place for Northwestern, and not just because a coach named Fitzgerald and a quarterback named Sullivan will line up in the Big Ten opener for both in Dublin, Ireland, even though the The Wildcats have +375 on the moneyline, which means they have a 21.1% implied probability of beating Nebraska.
Northwestern was beaten on the road at Nebraska last season, 59-7, but that result was the most extreme outlier in a series that has been played out every year since the Cornhuskers joined the Big Ten in 2011. The Nebraska took the frustration out of the close losses. at Oklahoma and Michigan State in the previous two games against a Northwestern team that had lost its starting quarterback two weeks prior.
Series trends favor the Wildcats, who are 5-6 SU and 7-4 ATS in the series. They have won four of the last seven, and eight of the 10 games before 2021 have been decided by eight points or less. The Wildcats rebounded from a 3-9 season in 2019 to win the Big Ten West in 2020. They were 3-9 a year ago, which kept their conference title chances weak this time around.
Huskers tend to go down. They had five straight losing seasons for the first time since 1956-61 and are 15-29 under fifth-year coach Scott Frost, whose 15 wins are the fifth-lowest in the Power Five. Their 16 road losses are tied for third. A new quarterback (Casey Thompson) and offensive coordinator (Mark Whipple) might need time to adjust.
Upset Pick #2: Charlotte loves this place
Charlotte returns as one of the best quarterbacks in Conference USA with fifth-year senior starter Chris Reynolds, who threw for 2,680 of his school-record 7,726 passing yards last season as the 49ers collected on average 29.3 points in the league. Reynolds had 26 touchdowns and nine interceptions a year ago.
Charlotte is 2-1 SU and 3-0 ATS in three games played in Florida since Florida Atlantic joined CUSA in 2013. Both teams ended 2021 on a negative note – Florida Atlantic lost its last four and Charlotte has lost five of her last six. Underdog Charlotte has +220 on the moneyline, which means she has a 31.3% implied probability of beating the Owls.
Florida Atlantic coach Willie Taggart is 6-11 in his last 17 games here, and while the Owls are considered a stronger contender in conference title chances, there’s work to be done. do as Taggart revamped its staff again this spring in an attempt to jump start the program around quarterback N’Kosi Perry in CUSA’s opener for the two.
Upset Pick #3: Mountain West Rises
These teams play defense. Illinois finished 46th in the NCAA in total defense (365.6 yards per game) a year ago, a slightly tempered number because the Illini missed out on Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State in the unbalanced schedule of the Big Ten. Wyoming ranked 55th (370.4) and it has ranked in the top 50 in advanced metrics for the past five seasons.
And not much offense… Illinois ranked in the bottom 20 in total offense in 2021 and both ranked in the bottom 15 in passing offense, making the double-digit gap even more appealing despite the fact that the Cowboys only have a 23.5% implied probability of winning. It is their first meeting.
Wyoming has Andrew Peasley, quarterback transferred from Utah State, and returning halfback Titus Swen. Swen rushed for 785 yards (5.95 per carry) and seven touchdowns as a backup in 2021. Illinois has a new offensive coordinator and quarterback in Syracuse, transfer Tommy DeVito.