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College football is finally here.
Though the real fun begins next week with Week 1, there are four FBS games on the schedule on Saturday. The headliner is a Big Ten game between Nebraska and Illinois, but there are a few other interesting matchups — plus a fun FCS game — on tap throughout the day.
Here’s what you need to know.
Nebraska at Illinois
Time: 1 p.m. | TV: Fox | Line: Nebraska -6.5 | Total: 55
What to know
Scott Frost’s return to Nebraska has not gone very well, and now he gets the spotlight to open the 2021 season. The Huskers are 12-20 (9-17 Big Ten) in Frost’s three seasons, and Frost finds himself firmly on the hot seat. This is an important game for the Huskers, who have the chance to start this season with a win before two favorable non-conference games at home.
On the other side, Illinois is entering its first season under Bret Bielema. Bielema had a great run at Wisconsin but was fired at Arkansas. After a few years as an NFL assistant, Bielema has another chance as a college head coach. He’d love to start off his tenure at Illinois by pulling off an upset.
Best bet: Nebraska -6.5
I know there’s been a lot of negativity surrounding Nebraska, but the Huskers still have a much better roster than Illinois. I think this is a good chance for Nebraska to put aside all the offseason noise and start the season on a positive note.
Nebraska opened up as a 9.5-point favorite at some books, but that number has ticked down under a TD. I think you’re getting good value here. Nebraska turned the ball over five times in a 41-23 home loss to Illinois last year. The Huskers will be plenty motivated in this one. This feels like a 10-point win.
Hawaii at UCLA
Time: 3:30 p.m. | TV: ESPN | Line: UCLA -17.5 | Total: 68
What to know
Can UCLA finally take a step forward under Chip Kelly? The Bruins are just 10-21 (10-15 Pac-12) in three years under Kelly, but many expect a breakthrough this season. With No. 16 LSU visiting next weekend, this is a nice opportunity for the Bruins to get some game action against a solid opponent.
Hawaii is entering its second season under the well-traveled Todd Graham. The Rainbow Warriors went 5-4 last year and closed the year by winning three of four. Do they have what it takes to pull off an upset?
Best bet: Under 68
This total is just too high. With LSU coming to Westwood next week, I expect UCLA to play it pretty conservatively on offense and not put too much on tape. Hawaii was No. 105 in the nation in rush defense in 2020. I think Chip Kelly will be content to just run the ball down their throats over and over and keep the clock moving. I also don’t think Hawaii’s offense is good enough to turn this one into a shootout.
What about the other games?
UConn at Fresno State: UConn is now an independent program and will make its triumphant return to the field at Fresno State. The Huskies were one of the few FBS programs to opt out in 2020. Fresno went 3-3 in its first season under Kalen DeBoer. The Bulldogs are 27.5-point favorites.
UTEP at New Mexico State: UTEP (-10) is a road favorite over an FBS opponent for the first time since Nov. 3, 2018, and just the sixth time in the last 10 seasons.
Southern Utah at San Jose State: SJSU, the defending Mountain West champions, get a dress rehearsal against an FCS team before facing No. 15 USC next week. SJSU is favored by 22.5.
North Carolina A&T vs. Alcorn State: ESPN’s College GameDay will be on hand for the MEAC-SWAC Challenge game in Atlanta.