Winners and Losers from Week Zero of College Football

Morgan MoriartyFeatured Columnist IAugust 28, 2021

Winners and Losers from Week Zero of College Football

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    College football is back, folks! On Saturday, Week Zero kicked off, marking the official end of the long college football offseason. Although the day wasn’t as loaded with top games like what's ahead for Week 1 next Saturday, there were a number of winners and losers that stood out. 

    The day got started with Nebraska facing Illinois in Illini head coach Bret Bielema's debut. Although Nebraska tried coming back late, Illinois was able to pull it out and win 30-22. Not a great start for Huskers head coach Scott Frost in 2021, to say the least! 

    Fresno State got ahead of UConn early, leading by 31 points at halftime and scoring another two touchdowns to defeat the Huskies 45-0. Chip Kelly's UCLA team also got off to a hot start, beating Hawai'i 44-10 at home. 

    Let's run through all the winners and losers on what was a pretty fun day of college football on Saturday. 

Winner: Bret Bielema

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    Bret Bielema had one heck of debut in Champaign, Illinois, in his first game as a head coach since 2017, his last season with Arkansas.

    The Illini defeated Nebraska 30-22 without their starting quarterback. Senior Brandon Peters threw just four passes before leaving the field after taking a big hit. He later had his arm in a sling.

    Backup Artur Sitkowski, who transferred from Rutgers, stepped in and threw for 124 yards and two touchdowns. 

    It was certainly a great start to the Bielema era, and it's great to have him on the sideline once again. When asked by the media if he was emotional after the win, the head coach said: "No. I was just sweating," which is just perfection.

    Bielema had tremendous success at Wisconsin, where he led the Badgers to three straight Rose Bowl appearances from 2010-12. He left for Arkansas and the SEC, but his success didn't translate. The Razorbacks went 29-34, and Bielema was fired following a 4-8 campaign in 2017.

    To get his coaching career back on track, Bielema found success with none other than Bill Belichick. He spent the 2018 season with the New England Patriots as a consultant and was promoted to defensive line coach in 2019. For the 2020 season, he was hired by the New York Giants as the outside linebackers coach and senior assistant before Illinois came calling in December.

    Getting a Big Ten win in front of your home crowd is a great way to start your career.

Loser: Nebraska Cornhuskers

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    Oof. Scott Frost's Year 4 is off to a very bad start.

    As if starting the scoring by allowing a safety on a botched punt return wasn't bad enough, it got worse. The Huskers missed the extra point on the only touchdown they scored in the first half, had a costly personal foul penalty that kept Illinois' first scoring drive alive and were whistled for another on the next play.

    With 37 seconds left in the first half, quarterback Adrian Martinez was sacked and fumbled, and Calvin Hart Jr. returned the ball 41 yards for a touchdown to go to the locker room up 16-9.

    Illinois extended its lead to 30-9 with two touchdowns in the third quarter. Nebraska did try to make things interesting late, though. Martinez scored on a 75-yard touchdown run late in the third, and the Huskers added another touchdown with 2:41 left in the fourth quarter.

    But they let six minutes, 42 seconds tick off the clock on the drive—and of course missed the extra point to remain down by eight. Illinois gave back the ball with 48 seconds left, but Nebraska picked up only one first down before four straight incompletions.

    The Huskers hadn't lost two season openers in a row since the 1970s, and the Illini hadn't beaten NU twice in a row since the 1920s, per ESPN Stats and Info.

    It looks like it is going to be another very long year for Nebraska, which is now 12-21 under Frost. If he leads this team to yet another losing season, the Frost era in Lincoln may be over far sooner than anyone expected.

Winner: Illinois Punter Blake Hayes

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    Hoo boy, this man had himself a day. On Illinois' opening drive of the game, punter Blake Hayes had an absolutely beautiful coffin corner punt that pinned Nebraska at its 1-yard line. But he wasn't done.

    Later in the first quarter, the Illini got their first points of the game from a safety on Hayes' 59-yard punt. Nebraska's Cam Taylor-Britt fielded the ball at the goal line and lost his footing, getting called for an illegal forward pass as he was tackled in the end zone. You read that right, folks: The first points of the 2021 season came on a safety. Can't think of a more #B1G thing of beauty if I tried.

    Hayes didn't have to punt too often after the first quarter thanks to his team's efficient offense. But he finished with six punts and averaged 45.3 yards.

    He is a senior who has started all four years. The native of Melbourne, Australia, played Australian rules football before heading to Illinois. His season got off to a great start Saturday.

Loser: UConn Huskies

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    UConn opted out of the 2020 season amid the COVID-19 pandemic. So Saturday's game at Fresno State was the Huskies' first game in nearly two years, and they were understandably excited.

    Unfortunately for UConn, this game was pretty much over in the first half. Fresno State's first touchdown came on a strip sack of Jack Zergiotis. The Bulldogs offense kept rolling from there, scoring 24 unanswered points in the second quarter, including an 86-yard bomb of a touchdown pass from Jake Haener to Jalen Cropper.

    The rout continued in the second half. Fresno State added another two touchdowns, while the Bulldogs defense held the Huskies scoreless. UConn had just 107 yards of total offense and managed to get just nine first downs. I can imagine this is not the return to football they had in mind.

    The Huskies haven't had a winning season since 2010, which marked head coach Randy Edsall's last campaign before he departed for Maryland. Edsall, who returned to UConn in 2017, had much success with the Huskies during his first tenure from 2000-10. During that time, he led the Huskies to five bowl games, including a Fiesta Bowl in 2010. If this game was any indication, it might take some time before UConn can find that winning formula once again.

Winner: UCLA Bruins

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    Chip Kelly's fourth season got off to a great start Saturday afternoon with his Bruins recording a 44-10 victory at home over Hawai'i. It was a good sign of improvement for UCLA, which finished 3-4 last year.

    The Bruins ground game had the most success with 244 yards and a whopping four touchdowns, including 106 yards and three scores by junior running back Zach Charbonnet. Bruins quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson recorded his first touchdown in the third quarter, finding Kazmeir Allen for a 44-yard score. He finished with 130 yards and 6.5 yards per attempt.

    UCLA will get a big test next Saturday when No. 16 LSU visit, so we'll see how much juice this Bruins offense has against the Tigers defense.

    LSU returns seven starters from a defense that gave up 492 yards per game (!) last season. Next week's matchup should show us just how good this team really is, but this victory over Hawai'i surely gave UCLA some confidence.