Football, I missed—no, we missed you.
Life is not the same when you aren't around. And while I could explain in detail how much I hate the offseason, I no longer need to do that. Week 0 is here, football is back and games will be on your television this weekend.
Now, some of you might have a question.
What is Week 0?
If you are new to this yearly routine, here's a synopsis. Before you eat that juicy Wagyu dry-aged ribeye, you first get a delightful bowl of French onion soup. It's a mini-slate of games to rev up your appetite for the main course.
Are the matchups great? That depends on what you define as "great." But each of these contests come with a point spread and a total, and that should be more than enough after months of nothing. Don't be picky.
Plus, Week 0 allows us to debut our first official installment of Locks of the Week for the 2021 season. Each week, I will pick an assortment of games and totals against the spread using DraftKings.
The goal is to pick winners, get you money and not totally embarrass myself.
I will keep a season-long tally, so there will be no escaping the results. Accountability, good or bad, is key. With that, let's dive in. The lineup might be small, but I'm making the most of the four FBS vs. FBS games.
Cheers to you and this glorious sport.
Hawaii at UCLA (Under 68)
Full disclosure: I bet this number at 69.5. Fuller disclosure: I still like it at 68, but the number has been moving quickly.
It pains me to pick an under to kick off the football season, but allow me to explain. Yes, betting the over is far more fun. Yes, during the season I will likely select many more overs than unders. And yes, these two programs and coaches have been involved in their fair share of memorable shootouts over the years.
But this won't be one of those games. Hawaii jumped 44 spots in scoring defense from 2019 to 2020. (It was a slightly abbreviated schedule, but the difference was noteworthy.) UCLA jumped 43 places in that same time.
Now, let me be clear: These are not defensively charged teams. These are teams with defenses that feel slightly undervalued heading into the year.
UCLA averaged 35.4 points per game last season, and that output could improve or continue. Hawaii, which used to regularly post basketball scores, lagged some in that department in 2020 at 26.2.
There will be touchdowns. Make no mistake about it. But with Week 0 jitters likely to play a role, this matchup might be a tad subdued.
Nebraska (-7) at Illinois
I will be at this game. I should also add that I am going as a fan and not a media member, which is important for tailgating. Needless to say, I will be enjoying myself.
With that, I like Nebraska. Now, I understand if you have some hesitation. The Scott Frost era has been disappointing, and this year probably won't deliver the 10-win season Cornhusker fans have been longing for.
But this is Illinois. That is not necessarily a knock. Well, maybe it is. But I don't mean it quite like that. It's simply a reality for a team undergoing yet another makeover. Bret Bielema was a smart hire and likely won't be stylistically different—in other words: a lot of running—from when we last saw him at Arkansas in 2017.
On the Nebraska side, it's simple. If Adrian Martinez doesn't throw to the other team, the offense should feast. Turnovers have been his Achilles' heel, although there were some improvements in that department in 2020. The quarterback has always been explosive—a 100-yard rushing game wouldn't surprise in the least—although now it's about consistency.
Frost should guide his team to a win, and he should do so convincingly. That doesn't mean all is well and things are repaired. It would be a start, though.
UConn at Fresno State (-27.5)
This is a dreadful football game. In fact, it's so bad, you absolutely must put your hard-earned money on it so you are able to watch it. While we are thrilled that college football is returning, you're going to need to BYOE (bring your own energy) to this one. I only speak the truth.
UConn did not play football last year because of COVID-19. It's been a minute. The last time we saw the Huskies, however, the results were ghastly.
In fairness, the schedule wasn't kind. Although edging Wagner by three points doesn't help that argument.
Fresno State wasn't a juggernaut last season either. The offense was explosive at times, and many of the key players are back. The defense struggled in chunks of the season, and those issues likely haven't all been addressed.
Is UConn the program capable of exposing Fresno State's holes? Almost certainly not. Fresno does draw No. 11 Oregon the following week, which is a different story.
Let's bring this one full circle. This game is bad. Look for Fresno State to make it unwatchable by the middle of the second quarter, and for us to cash in.
UTEP (-10) at New Mexico State
While I am not normally this chalky, I call them like I see them. With that, let's start with a question.
How much UTEP and New Mexico State football have you watched over the past five years? We're all friends here.
Let me help. One team, New Mexico State, lost to Tarleton State in February—one of two games that served as the team's "season" because of COVID. The other, UTEP, had four straight losses to close the 2020 campaign.
To UTEP's credit, however, many of the losses were competitive. That doesn't include the 59-3 loss to Texas, although let's not focus on that. The team hung tough at Charlotte, at Louisiana Tech and against North Texas to close out the year.
While the Miners offense wasn't always electric—and that is being kind—it does bring back key pieces at nearly every position and the majority of the offensive production.
In a game of this nature, that could and should be more than enough. And while you might not recognize any of the players, coaches or mascots, don't sweat it.
UTEP 44, New Mexico State 24.
I know it's not Clemson vs. Georgia—we'll get to that next week—but it still feels good to type.
Odds accurate as of Wednesday.
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