This article is part of our College Capper series.
Week 0 looks like the perfect appetizer for next week's full kickoff to the season. We're limited in our options for picks here, so take these with a grain of salt, though I'll fully accept the results going towards the season-long record. Underdogs, especially at home, and under, are likely to be chalky as teams feel things out and get their timing down. Forcing a pick on all four of our FBS matchups as the 2021 season kicks off!
Illinois (+7) vs. Nebraska
I don't trust either side, and I'm still waiting for Husker QB Adrian Martinez to put it all together. But Illinois only won two games last year, and one was a 41-23 triumph over Nebraska in Lincoln. Are we expecting a 25+ point swing? Illinois returns Brandon Peters under center, and Chase Brown (110 yards, two TDs at NEB) while adding a complementary piece in Arkansas transfer Chase Hayden and a big-play receiver in Miami transfer Brian Hightower. Make no mistake, they aren't a B1G contender, but give me the points at home, please.
Hawaii (+18) at UCLA
Always a little nerve-racking taking the Rainbow Warriors stateside, but there are some angles that suggest they can be successful. They emphasized defense last year, and while they were gashed on the ground, they ranked 21st against the pass, and 54th in scoring. UCLA is explosive offensively, and Dorian Thompson-Robinson is going to put points on the board. But can he put enough up to cover nearly three touchdowns? The Bruins D was worse than Hawai'i against the pass last year, and the Warriors will likely get a few big plays from their QB Chevan Cordeiro, giving me confidence they can keep this competitive. If you're a trend better, I know the Bruins have been down, but they are just 4-16-1 ATS in their last 21 non-conference games. Oh, they also have LSU next week, making this an obvious look-ahead spot.
Fresno State (-27.5) vs. Connecticut
It's a big number, which is scary for an opener, especially when we're not talking about the Alabama's of the world. But Fresno was capable offensively last year, ranking 36th in scoring with 32.8 PPG, a number they topped in four of six outings. QB Jake Haener returns, having averaged 419 yards in his final three games with nine total TDs, so there should be good continuity offensively. There could be some look ahead or limited play calls with Oregon looming next for the Bulldogs, but UCONN is just abysmal. They didn't play in 2020, and only beat Wagner and UMASS in 2019, with an average margin of defeat of 28.3 ppg. Yes, it's right on the number, so line search. But there's no indication they'll be competitive.
UTEP (-10) vs. New Mexico State
I initially was leaning over here and not trusting a bad UTEP team. But New Mexico State is really, really bad. They didn't compete last fall, but managed two games in the spring, losing to Tarleton State 43-17 and beating Dixie State 36-29. Who? Yes, both of those games went over this total, but flirting with 60 points here feels risky in a season opener in a clear step-up in class. That, and the total has moved up six points since opening. Trusting UTEP may prove to be fools gold, as their only 2020 win over an FBS team came against winless UL-Monroe (31-6.) I just don't see how we can expect any growth from the Aggies.
Last season: 43-38-2
It seems like years since we felt somewhat normal heading into a college football season and while things won't be like they were two years ago, they're better than they were 12 months ago…at least from a college football perspective. For now, it looks like we'll have at least some fans in the stands, giving us a more normal feel for the season.
What this means for us is that home-field advantage is a thing again, and nerves will be a part of the games in the first few weeks. As always, we're going to take it easy in the first couple weeks as we have no way of knowing how most of these teams will come out of the gate.
Illinois (+6.5) vs Nebraska
There's not much to go in week one of the season beyond your gut and the number of returning starters, so when you get a game where both are in your favor, the call is pretty easy. Illinois not only returns 18 starters from last year's squad, but its starting QB is back as well. I know, last year's team wasn't the greatest, but the Cornhuskers weren't lighting it up either. I'll take Illinois which comes in with some "new coach" energy and a slew of veteran players.
Hawaii (+18.5) vs UCLA
There's just not that much to go on this week, but I kind of like this Hawaii pick. With such a small slate, the betting public is going to get behind any recognizable name and here comes UCLA, which, for all its faults last season, did manage to put up a lot of points. Hawaii has never been known to bring a strong defense, so this is a blowout, right? Maybe not as Hawaii returns a lot of starters from a decent team last year and UCLA might not be hitting on all cylinders.
Last Week: 0-0-0, Last Season: 45-37-0