College Football Picks: Week 0 Predictions for Every Game

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistAugust 24, 2021

College Football Picks: Week 0 Predictions for Every Game

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    Dorian Thompson-Robinson
    Dorian Thompson-RobinsonAshley Landis/Associated Press

    Goodbye, offseason. Hello, college football.

    While most FBS programs will begin the 2021 campaign on Labor Day Weekend, the final Saturday in Augustaffectionately known as Week 0includes five games.

    The slate features UCLA, a couple of top Mountain West contenders and one Big Ten matchup. Although neither Nebraska nor Illinois is considered a Big Ten threat, it's nonetheless an important game for head coaches Scott Frost and Bret Bielema.

    "BERT" is back, baby!

    Since no ranked teams are in action this weekend, the Week 0 games are ordered based on kickoff time.

Nebraska at Illinois

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    Adrian Martinez
    Adrian MartinezMichael Conroy/Associated Press

    Game Info: Saturday, 1 p.m. ET (Fox)

    Originally slated to be played at Aviva Stadium in Dublin, this Big Ten contest will instead be held at Illinois. And the coaches are a big storyline.

    Nebraska's Scott Frost is entering the season with tenuous job security. Reigniting his alma mater was never a short-term process, but a 12-20 record over three seasons hasn't inspired a ton of optimism. Throw in an investigation for possible NCAA violations, and Frost could really use a win.

    Bret Bielema, meanwhile, is making his official return to the Big Ten. The former Wisconsin boss spent the last eight seasons at either Arkansas or with an NFL team.

    Illinois smacked Nebraska 41-23 last season, but a second straight win feels unlikely.

    Nebraska brought in USC running back Markese Stepp, Montana receiver Samori Toure and junior college wideout Omar Manning to bolster the offense. Plus, quarterback Adrian Martinezwho didn't start the 2020 matchupis no longer competing with Luke McCaffrey after his transfer to Rice.

    Frost hasn't earned much benefit of the doubt, and Illinois' experienced front seven can swing the result in the team's favor. For this weekend, though, Nebraska's upside will win out.

    Prediction: Nebraska 27, Illinois 21       

Connecticut at Fresno State

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    Ronnie Rivers
    Ronnie RiversGary Kazanjian/Associated Press

    Game Info: Saturday, 2 p.m. ET (CBSSN)

    Given that Connecticut opted out of the 2020 season, this is undoubtedly a guess. Perhaps the Huskies have improved substantially during the last 21 months! We simply cannot know.

    What we do know, however, is that UConn had a terrible trend before 2020. Two years ago, the defense surrendered 7.0 yards per snap (ranked 128th out of 130 FBS teams), and the team scored just 18.9 points per contest (120th). That followed a season in which UConn ceded a historically bad 8.8 yards per play and only crested 21 points in three games.

    On the other hand, Fresno State finished 3-3 last season with a terrific passing game. Washington transfer Jake Haener threw for 336.8 yards per game, and all six of his top receiversnamely Zane Pope and Jalen Cropperare back.

    Again, we haven't seen UConn's secondary in a long time. But consider us skeptical it will contain Fresno State's aerial attack.

    Prediction: Fresno State 45, UConn 20

Hawai'i at UCLA

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    Chip Kelly (center)
    Chip Kelly (center)Associated Press

    Game Info: Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

    Defense remained a major concern for the Bruins in 2020, but Dorian Thompson-Robinson and the offense had a strong (shortened) year. UCLA ranked 37th in yards per play and 20th in points per game, soaring from 98th and 79th in 2019.

    Based on last season's performance and the returning players, UCLA's offense should be dangerous again. And since Hawai'i's defensive line is its weakness, this should be a favorable matchup.

    How much will continuity help the defense, though?

    First-team All-Pac-12 defensive end Osa Odighizuwa, who's now with Dallas Cowboys in the NFL, is a big loss, but he's the only departure. The defense gave up 38-plus points in four of UCLA's seven games last season, so it is aiming for marked improvements this fall.

    Still, as long as the Bruins can contain quarterback Chevan Cordeiro on the ground and limit star playmaker Calvin Turner Jr., they'll start 2021 with a victory.

    Prediction: UCLA 41, Hawai'i 31   

UTEP at New Mexico State

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    Jacob Cowing
    Jacob CowingJacob Kupferman/Associated Press

    Game Info: Saturday, 9:30 p.m. ET (Bally Sports AZ, FloFootball)

    After a one-year hiatus, the Battle of I-10 is back.

    New Mexico State, like UConn, opted not to take the field in the fall of 2020. Subsequently, the team also holds the highest level of uncertainty entering the year. The most productive returning players are wideout Robert Downs III (who caught 22 passes in 2019) and linebacker Brennon Davis (28 tackles).

    At the least, UTEP is more familiar because it returns nearly the entire offense, including top wideouts Jacob Cowing and Justin Garrett. While quarterback Gavin Hardison is unproven, his skill-position options are far more established than NMSU's.

    One way or another, we're going to learn plenty about New Mexico State and see if Hardison has developed as hoped.

    Prediction: UTEP 30, New Mexico State 20

Southern Utah at San Jose State

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    Nick Starkel
    Nick StarkelJohn Locher/Associated Press

    Game Info: Saturday, 10 p.m. ET (CBSSN)

    Although quarterback Nick Starkel is returning with five experienced offensive linemen, San Jose State must replace key wideouts Bailey Gaither and Tre Walker. That transition will be difficult.

    Fortunately for the reigning Mountain West champions, the defense is loaded with experience. The returning stars include pass-rusher Cade Hall, the 2020 MWC Defensive Player of the Year, and fellow first-team All-MWC members Viliami Fehoko and Kyle Harmon.

    Southern Utah ended the spring FCS season 1-5, but the Thunderbirds dropped those games by a combined 15 points. Plus, they bring back a couple of All-American choices in offensive tackle Braxton Jones and linebacker La'akea Kaho'ohanohano-Davis.

    This likely won't be a painless matchup for San Jose State, but its defense should hold off a serious threat.

    Prediction: San Jose State 34, Southern Utah 16

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