While the college football season traditionally kicks off on Labor Day Weekend, we have seen a new trend emerge over the last decade. Teams that aren’t used to being in the spotlight jump at the chance to take part in so-called “Week 0” games. These games take place the week before virtually every other school in the FBS starts their season, and football starved fans pay a lot more attention to them than they would if they were contested at any other time of the year.
There are currently five Week 0 games scheduled for August 28. Four of those games pit two FBS teams against each other, and we will have a rivalry game too. That should make for a very fun Saturday in late August.
UTEP Miners at New Mexico State Aggies
COVID caused the Battle of I-10 to be canceled last season. UTEP and New Mexico State have squared off 87 times, and UTEP leads the series 57-38-2. The rivalry between these schools is intense because they are separated by just 45 miles on I-10. Both schools are very remote in comparison to the rest of the country, so things tend to get heated when these teams meet on the gridiron.
UTEP knocked off New Mexico State eight straight times from 2009 to 2016. The Aggies have had the upper hand in the series recently though, winning three straight games since 2017. It is the first time that NMSU has won three straight games in this series since the mid-1990s.
UConn Huskies at Fresno State Bulldogs
Life as an independent program starts now for the UConn Huskies. UConn left the AAC after the school decided to join the Big East for most other sports, leaving Randy Edsall and the Huskies’ football program in the lurch. They opted out of the 2020 season as the combination of COVID and a patchwork schedule was too much of an obstacle to overcome.
This will be Kalen DeBoer’s first non-conference game after taking over at Fresno State last season. The Bulldogs finished 3-3, but their wins over Colorado State, Utah State, and UNLV don’t look great as those teams combined to go just 2-14 in 2020.
Southern Utah Thunderbirds at San Jose State Spartans
The Thunderbirds may have a little bit of an advantage over the Spartans coming into this game. Southern Utah eschewed playing in the fall but did play in the spring with most of the Big Sky Conference. Although the T-Birds went just 1-5 against their conference foes, only one of those losses was by more than three points.
However, San Jose State is coming off a historic 2020 campaign. The Spartans went 6-0 in MWC play during the regular season, knocking off usual contenders Air Force and San Diego State in the process. They were underdogs ahead of the MWC Championship Game with Boise State, but they emerged victorious to win their first conference title with a 7-0 record.
Nebraska Cornhuskers at Illinois Fighting Illini
This is likely the premier game of Week 0. It is the only game between conference foes, and there is plenty of intrigue ahead of this Big Ten clash.
Scott Frost is entering his fourth season as Nebraska’s head coach. Frost came to Lincoln with plenty of fanfare, but he has yet to deliver on the hype. He has failed to finish better than 3-5 in conference play, and the Cornhuskers’ best season under their former quarterback saw them go 5-7.
Illinois’ decision to fire Lovie Smith and replace him with Bret Bielema raised some eyebrows. Bielema has proven he can win in the Big Ten though. He was 68-24 during his seven years at Wisconsin, and this program would be over the moon if they had even a modicum of that success.
Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors at UCLA Bruins
Todd Graham did an excellent job in his first season at the helm of Hawaii. The Rainbow Warriors went 5-4 and ended the season with a win over Houston in the New Mexico Bowl. Graham is looking to build on that performance and potentially contend for a Mountain West title.
It’s probably a good idea that UCLA scheduled this game although Hawaii is a game opponent that can pull off the upset. Chip Kelly and the Bruins welcome LSU to the Rose Bowl the following week, and that could get ugly if UCLA is uncoordinated and rusty.