College football’s “Week 0” is one of the quirkiest aspects of an extremely quirky sport. The official start to the season is over Labor Day weekend, when almost every football team plays its so-called “Week 1” game (the first of a 12-contest regular season). But the NCAA’s scheduling rules have a funny exception: Any team that has a game scheduled that season in Hawaii is allowed to start a week earlier and, if they prefer, play a 13th regular-season game. Those teams’ first opponents are also allowed to start a week earlier, resulting in an extra day of games.
The rule helps the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors entice non-conference opponents to make the long trip to the islands. It also makes it possible for college football to have regular-season games before Week 1. The 2021 season’s Week 0 games run all day on Saturday, Aug. 28.
To guide your viewing, we’ve ranked all five games involving Football Bowl Subdivision teams by how fun they’ll be to watch. College football is back; time to make some room on the couch.
1. 3:30 p.m. (EDT) on ESPN: Hawaii at UCLA
— UCLA Football (@UCLAFootball) August 23, 2021
The best game of the day takes place at the most iconic venue in college football: the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. UCLA went 3–4 in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, but it was at least an interesting 3–4, with near-victories over the two best teams in the conference, Oregon and USC, and a win against a pretty solid Arizona State.
The Bruins will offer a preview of whether or not QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson has improved. If he has, maybe they’ll not only win this game, but also give LSU a run for its money next weekend when the Tigers visit. Hawaii will probably not be great this year, but QB Chevin Cordeiro can chuck the ball around, and coach Todd Graham’s spread passing attack is usually fun to watch (if not always effective).
2. 1 p.m. (EDT) on FOX: Nebraska at Illinois
The Huskers and Illini will both take up residence in the middle or bottom end of the Big Ten West this year, but this game should at least give us hints at how their seasons will unfold. Will Nebraska show signs of life after three mediocre seasons in a row with head coach Scott Frost? And will Illinois look any different under new head man Bret Bielema? Bielema at least has Big Ten West experience, having coached Wisconsin from 2006 to 2012. He then left to take a coaching job at Arkansas—an excursion that didn’t go well. Now, after a stint as an NFL assistant, he’s back in the conference.
3. 2 p.m. (EDT) on CBS Sports Network: UConn at Fresno State
UConn will be horrendous this year. Still, the Huskies are worth watching once or twice as a fun experiment: Just how bad can one of the worst teams in the FBS look in its season opener after not playing at all in 2020? (Probably pretty bad.)
Fresno State should also be entertaining, although for different reasons. With QB Jake Haener, running back Ronnie Rivers, and receiver Jalen Cropper, the Bulldogs have three of the most productive (and exciting) skill position players in the Mountain West.
4. 10 p.m. (EDT) on CBS Sports Network: Southern Utah at San Jose State
Southern Utah is usually a lousy FCS team, and the defending Mountain West champ Spartans should have no problem cruising to a win. But the lack of formidable competition won’t make SJSU any less fun to watch. QB Nick Starkel, now at his third FBS school after stops at Texas A&M and Arkansas, has developed into a fairly efficient passer and an important leader in the Bay Area. In addition, keep an eye on Spartan receiver Isaiah Hamilton, who could be one of the best receivers in the Group of 5 conferences this year.
5. 9:30 p.m. (EDT) on FloFootball: UTEP at New Mexico State
Well, it’s a football game. There’s a reason it will be broadcast only on regional TV (with a streaming option via FloFootball): The action will be decidedly underwhelming.
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