Sweet, beautiful football.
Yes, the college football season has returned in the form of a limited—but still muchly needed—Week 0 slate. This is not the time to complain about the matchups we've been gifted; this is the time to embrace the sport's return.
This also marks the return of Locks of the Week, our weekly picks against the spread. Each and every week during the college football season, Locks of the Week will be by your side with one goal in mind: picking winners.
Last season, we delivered a dominating Week 0 performance. We're hoping to do the same this year in football games that will be played in Ireland, Hawai'i and beyond. Here's to the return of football and this weekly staple.
All odds courtesy of DraftKings and accurate as of Tuesday.
Hawai'i vs. Vanderbilt (over 54)
There is no better way to start the season and another year of picks than to bet on Hawai'i in a late-night home game. The last game on the Week 0 slate is our first stop, and this matchup will likely end sometime deep into the night on the first weekend. Caffeinate accordingly.
This feels like a particularly strange matchup for Vanderbilt, the winner of two football games last year. It will begin the year more than 4,000 miles from campus in a game that is a must-win in every sense, given the schedule still to follow.
For Hawai'i, this truly is a fresh start. They have a new head coach in Timmy Chang. The former prolific QB dazzled with massive numbers when he played for Hawai'i, and he should provide an immediate emotional boost.
Even with a ton of roster turnover, Chang should have the offense moving. Vanderbilt, meanwhile, should find success as well. The Rainbow Warriors were No. 100 in scoring defense last year, and things aren't expected to rapidly improve—at least not this quickly.
Vanderbilt was No. 119 in that same category, albeit against a challenging schedule. All of this aligns for a potential late-night point bonanza on the island, which I am very much here for.
North Texas (-1) vs. UTEP
There is only one game in Week 0 with a spread of less than a touchdown, and this just so happens to be it. Given the fact that both programs had some nice glimpses last year, this one is worth television time.
In 2021, North Texas won the opener, lost six games in a row, and then won five in a row to close out the regular season. During that winning streak, Mean Green delivered a hard-fought 20-17 victory over UTEP.
This year, the offense could be even better. Austin Aune, who led North Texas on that win streak, will open as the starter.
On the other side, UTEP began last season 6-1 before dropping four of the last five. The concern is the departure of some key offensive pieces, especially at wide receiver. And although the defense should be solid, the offense might not have the firepower to keep up in this game.
Last year's game was tight, and this one should be also. Mean Green wins their sixth consecutive game against the Miners.
Nevada vs. New Mexico State (Under 50.5)
This matchup is overflowing with change, and both programs will look much different than they did eight months ago.
Jerry Kill's arrival at New Mexico State is a massive one, and it provides both stability and optimism in the short term. Nevada also has a new head coach, albeit one who has been connected to the program for two decades.
Longtime assistant Ken Wilson will be tasked with leading Nevada forward, and he'll have to do so without one of the team's biggest pieces from a season ago. Although he doesn't have the same magnitude of renovations that Kill has to work with, the assignment is still sizable. Talented QB Carson Strong has departed for the NFL, and many key members of the defense have also left.
The under, while not fun for many, feels like a quality opportunity. Kill, of course, loves to run the ball, and New Mexico State will attempt to control the clock.
This, along with the many new pieces, positions this game as a low-scoring, quick-moving affair. The total has dropped this past week, although I am still happy to jump onboard at 50.5
Nebraska (-13) vs. Northwestern
Let's make this abundantly clear: I am anticipating a massive resurgence from Nebraska this season after a disastrous series of events last fall. Lost in all those Cornhusker losses, however, was plenty of optimism.
Nebraska played tough against Oklahoma. It should have beaten both Michigan State and Michigan. Heck, the Cornhuskers even pushed Ohio State and Wisconsin. Oh, and the loss to Iowa was a football disaster.
Can that, along with a slew of meaningful offseason additions, translate to better results? If it doesn't, Nebraska will almost certainly be looking for a new head coach.
Northwestern feels like the perfect opponent to break in new Cornhuskers quarterback Casey Thompson. His departure from Texas was Scott Frost's gain, and he should be an enormous upgrade at the position.
Do I fear that Nebraska will revert to its previous form and essentially spend the later part of this game slipping on banana peels? Perhaps some. But there seems to be a dramatic difference in talent across these two rosters. We witnessed that last year when the Wildcats lost 56-7 to this very team.
The score won't be as lopsided in Ireland, which adds another fascinating wrinkle to this matchup, but it also won't be close.
Utah State (-27) vs. UConn
Let's start by saying a few nice things. I think Jim Mora Jr. is a fine hire for UConn under the circumstances. Mora hasn't had a pristine coaching record, but he brings instant credibility to a situation that desperately needs it.
With that said, this is going to take a while. UConn won a single game last year, and it came against Yale. (Also, the game was tight until the end.)
Although Utah State has lost talent this offseason, it hasn't lost enough for me to want to take the points. Logan Bonner, Utah State's starting QB, should have a massive game and another successful season. And let's not forget that this team won 11 games last season.
Utah State's success didn't feel like a fluke. Even if it were, this wouldn't be the game to tell us that.
With a line this big at this point in the season, it can become difficult to assess how teams will treat what is likely to be a lopsided game in the second halves. That can make things difficult, but let's not overthink this.
Better days are ahead for UConn; it just won't come in Week 0.
Gambling problem? Call (877-8-HOPENY) or text HOPENY (467369).
If you or someone you know has a gambling problem, crisis counseling and referral services can be accessed by calling 1-800-GAMBLER (1-800-426-2537) (IL/IN/MI/NJ/PA/WV/WY), 1-800-NEXT STEP (AZ), 1-800-522-4700 (CO/NH), 888-789-7777/visiting ccpg.org/chat (CT), 1-800-BETS OFF (IA), 1-877-770-STOP (7867) (LA), visiting OPGR.org (OR), or calling/texting TN REDLINE 1-800-889-9789 (TN) or 1-888-532-3500 (VA).
Odds and lines subject to change. 21+ (18+ NH/WY). AZ/CO/CT/IL/IN/IA/LA/MI/NH/NJ/NY/OR/PA/TN/VA/WV/WY only. Eligibility restrictions apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for full terms and conditions.