The Four Pack: Nebraska vs. Northwestern, Illinois vs. Wyoming among Week 0’s top college football picks

Your long wait is over. The college football season begins Saturday with Week 0, which is an odd thing to call the first week of the season. Week 0 used to be reserved for FCS teams and maybe an FBS game to get the juices flowing, but we watch football in August just as easily as September. Realizing this, the television networks began placing more and more games in Week 0. Now, it’s something of a soft start to the season.

Why they don’t start calling it Week 1, I’m not sure. Maybe they saw the reaction when the NCAA Tournament started calling the play-in games the “First Round” and the first round the “Round of 64.” Maybe Java 0 sounds cool, so they stuck with it. I don’t know and it doesn’t matter. What matters is that we have actual college football games to watch this weekend.

It’s not a complete list, so consider this a week 0 of The Six Pack. Instead of six games, I’m picking just four. It’s like one of those four packs you can buy from a microbrewery. Maybe we’ll call it a Six Pack IPA. Whatever you call it, I have picks for you and I intend to have another winning season in the column. In fact, the only losing season I’ve had with The Six Pack in the last five years was the 2020 COVID-19 season, so I’m blaming COVID, not myself.

All odds are via Caesars Sportsbook

Game of the week

Featured game | Northwestern Wildcats vs Nebraska Cornhuskers

Nebraska vs. Northwestern: The season begins in Ireland with a Big Ten battle between two teams that lost the last six games of the 2021 season. In fact, Nebraska’s last win of 2021 was a 56-7 rout of Northwestern. Cornhuskers coach Scott Frost enters the season in one of the hottest spots in the country, and the prevailing theory is that he needs to reach a bowl game, at least, to keep his job. Winning this match would be a boost to that goal. Meanwhile, Northwestern won the Big Ten West in 2020 but followed it up with a 3-9 effort in 2021 after the defense fell off a cliff under first-year defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil.

Honestly, this game is not easy to understand. Since the spread gives Nebraska a bit more credit, the underdog looks like the smarter play. The Huskers have a new offensive coordinator, Mark Whipple, who helped lead Pitt to an ACC title last season, and a new QB in Texas transfer Casey Thompson. It’s not unreasonable to expect all of these new parts to come out of the gate. Also, O’Neil is entering his second year as the Wildcats’ DC, and a young defense is now older. With defense being a big part of the program’s identity, I expect the Wildcats to strengthen in 2022. Even if they don’t, I don’t expect their offense to put up a ton of points. I see a low-scoring affair regardless of Nebraska’s margin of victory, and Northwestern’s path to victory is not a shootout. Every way I break this game down suggests going with the bottom. Nebraska 24, Northwestern 14 | Under 50.5

Block of the Week

Featured game | New Mexico State Aggies vs Nevada Wolf Pack

Nevada to the state of New Mexico: You know it’s Week 0 when Lock of the Week includes betting on a New Mexico State program that has gone 8-30 since 2018. While it seems boring to pit the Aggies against a Nevada team that went 8- 5 last year, the Wolf Pack are a very different team in 2022. First of all, QB Carson Strong and WR Romeo Doubs are in the NFL. Additionally, coach Jay Norvell, who went 33-26 in five seasons, left to take over Colorado State. That’s the same Colorado State program that went 18-35 in those same five seasons.

Norvell also brought along his coaching staff and several key players through the transfer portal. What remains is a new coach, Ken Wilson, who is familiar with the program after serving as an assistant in Reno from 1989 to 2012. The only time he wasn’t coaching Nevada in that span was when he was an associate AD school. He’s never been a head coach and he inherits a roster that’s nowhere near the level of what the team had last year, and I don’t think most power ratings have captured that.

New Mexico State, meanwhile, will be led by first-year head coach Jerry Kill. While the Aggies are destined to contend, Kill has plenty of experience to make the most of what’s available to him and plays a style of football designed to keep things close. I think the Aggies can do it Saturday. Nevada 27, New Mexico State 24 | New Mexico State +9

Team Total of the Week

Featured game | Illinois Fighting Illini vs. Wyoming Cowboys

Wyoming to Illinois: I don’t make a habit of betting team totals in this column because I like to keep things as cutting edge as possible to appeal to a wider audience. However, with a limited schedule, I have to find value where I can, and there is value in this Illinois team total. The Illini went 5-7 last year and regretted some of those seven losses. The team’s biggest problem was the offense, but coach Bret Bielema didn’t cross his fingers hoping things would improve in Year 2. Instead, he brought in a new offensive coordinator, Barry Lunney Jr. The two have a history together, dating back to their time together at Arkansas, when Bielema watched Lunney’s UTSA offense score 37 points against the Illini in Champaign last fall.

Illinois’ offense isn’t likely to look like what you’d expect from a Bielema team. While running the ball will still be its bread and butter, the Illini plan to move at a faster pace and spread things out a bit more. They are facing a Wyoming team that, like Nevada, lost a lot on the transfer portal. It’s also small. When you look at the depth chart for both teams, Illinois’ offensive line has about 50 pounds per player on Wyoming’s defensive line. It’s an area to exploit, and with this being the home opener and Bielema looking to give fans reason to get excited about 2022, I expect Illinois’ offense to show up quite a bit. It won’t put the entire playbook on display with Indiana on deck, but it won’t have to either. Illinois 31, Wyoming 17 | Illinois over 27.5

Numbers Game of the week

Featured game | Utah State Aggies vs Connecticut Huskies

UConn at Utah State: Here’s a little peek behind the curtain: we don’t have many games to choose from, nor do we know as much about these teams as we think. We spend the entire offseason trying to convince ourselves of what the teams are going to look like and what’s likely to happen. However, once the games begin, reality routinely hits us.

Utah State will be one of the best teams in the Mountain West. I’m confident in that, just as I’m confident that Utah State is much better than UConn. That said, my numbers suggest Utah State isn’t 27 points better than UConn. My numbers say this spread should be closer to 24 points, so I’m trusting those numbers until I have a reason not to. UConn betting is never fun or easy. This is going to be a sweat, but if we’re going to start a season, we might as well dive in head first. Utah State 34, UConn 10 | UConn +27

Which college football picks can you confidently make in Week 0, and which heavy favorite will have a major scare? Visit SportsLine to see which teams will win and cover the spread — all from a proven computer model that has returned almost $3,600 in profit over the past six seasons — and find out.

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