This is not a drill. Football games where the score matters will be played Saturday in college football’s Week Zero. Our long national nightmare of listening to Ryan Clark cry to Mad Dog Russo about football is now replaced with actual football.
Don’t get me wrong. NFL preseason games serve as sufficient background noise on our TVs until big boy football weekends arrive. But there’s simply no replacing the real thing.
Quick rant: Week Zero is a dumb name and should be abolished. I’m not even sure why we label college football weekends by number. I understand it in the NFL because of the operational schedule, but is anyone referring to college football games on Saturday, Oct. 15 as Week 7? No. It’s just a Saturday in mid-October. Let’s do away with numerically ordering college football weeks altogether.
Rant over. Here are five reasons to watch a diminished college football slate this weekend:
Week Zero: Football In Ireland, Nebraska-Northwestern
Nebraska will play Northwestern to kick off the Big Ten season in … Dublin? The official Scott Frost Referendum Tour of 2022 will launch on another continent. The Huskers are 13-point favorites so a Northwestern upset could spell early doom for the embattled Nebraska coach. Frost is 15-29 in four seasons in Lincoln. And while Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald is a media darling and has done an admirable job at his alma mater, he is also a disappointing 6-18 in his last two non-COVID seasons. These are two men with something to prove in 2022.
And did I mention that we will get the scenic views of Dublin, Ireland? The game will kick off at 12:30 p.m. ET on FOX which is 5:30 pm locally in Dublin. And if you are looking for a spontaneous trip, the official Huskers pregame bar is a place called “Buskers Bar.” Fitting.
The Great Casey Thompson Experiment Begins
A major offseason storyline in Nebraska was Frost encouraging Huskers record-holding quarterback Adrian Martinez to look around. Martinez did and now is set to be the starting QB at Kansas State. Stepping in for Martinez, a four-year starter with a turnover problem, is Texas transfer Casey Thompson.
Thompson was an on-again/off-again starter at Texas in 2021, passing for more than 2,000 yards and 24 TDs. He gets a fresh start at Nebraska under the direction of new Huskers offensive coordinator Mark Whipple. Thompson is probably salivating watching what Whipple’s offense at Pitt was able to accomplish with Kenny Pickett under center. If Nebraska takes off offensively and Thompson can limit turnovers, then Frost will have an argument that the biggest part of the Huskers’ win/loss conundrum was Adrian Martinez. If not, Nebraska will be looking to hire a new head coach.
Speaking of QBs, Northwestern played four of them a year ago and none of them could get the offense moving. Former South Carolina QB Ryan Hilinski is back and is the presumed starter but the hook will be quick if the offense sputters out of the gates.
It’s important to note that both Nebraska and Northwestern finished 3-9 a season ago. Fans of both schools are hoping for a shot of redemption to go along with their Jameson and Guinness on Saturday.
Can Illinois Pass Against Wyoming?
It’s no secret that Bret Bielema-coached teams want to pound the rock. But last I checked, you at least need the threat of a passing attack to keep the opponent honest. In 2021, the Illini were dead last in the Big Ten in passing and 115th nationally in scoring. New offensive coordinator Barry Lunney Jr. is hoping to improve upon those numbers. His track record at UTSA (11th in nation in scoring) should give Illinois fans some hope. Syracuse transfer QB Tommy DeVito will be the man tasked with finally taking this offense aerial.
Wyoming prides itself on winning ugly with tough defense. They are going to have to do that and then some if they are going to pull off the upset. The Cowboys roster was decimated by the transfer portal and especially on offense. Even with the over/under at a putrid 44 points, I’m tempted to take the under.
Is Hawaii Seriously Talking Trash About Vanderbilt?
Hawaii director of player development is Jeff Reinebold. He provided some bulletin board material when he claimed that “Vanderbilt has no idea what they’re getting into” when the Commodores travel to Hawaii for a 10:30 p.m. ET kickoff on CBS Sports Network in Week Zero.
You can say a lot of negative things about Vanderbilt football and just about all of them are true. But one thing you can’t criticize is its history of dealing with adversity. This is a program that plays in the SEC. It knows a thing or 13 about hostile environments. Hell, Vandy plays in a hostile environment at home in the SEC because of the opposition’s frequent takeover of Vanderbilt Stadium.
But to Reinebold’s point, we don’t really know what we are getting into with either of these teams. Both were bad last season. Hawaii finished 6-7 in a weak Mountain West and Vanderbilt finished 2-10 in the SEC. Both teams won close games against a miserable Colorado State squad. Both teams are led by former players: Timmy Chang is in Year 1 as head coach of his alma mater; Clark Lea is entering year two.
This is an important game for Vandy after a disastrous opener a year ago against FCS opponent ETSU. I like the Dores to get it done, but what does Jeff Reinebold know that we don’t?
Week Zero: Let’s Get Weird, UConn-Utah State
There’s nothing more peculiar than former NFL and UCLA coach Jim Mora Jr. starting his comeback with UConn on the road in Logan, Utah as a 26.5-point underdog to Utah State in Week Zero. What could possibly go wrong? I’ll tune into ESPN2 at 4 p.m. ET to find out.
Happy football season, everyone.