The college football season is fast approaching, and it’s never too early to start looking for value in the betting markets with some Week 0 best bets. Week Zero in college football features only a handful of games and no preseason top-25 programs, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be an exciting action to be found. Check out my favorite bets for Week Zero below.
Wyoming vs. Illinois Best Bet
We haven’t seen a large sample of Bret Bielema as the Illinois head coach, but he thrived with extra time to prepare in 2021, his first season. In Week 1, the Illini beat Nebraska by eight points. Later in the year, Illinois upset Penn State as it was coming off its bye week. To open up the season, Bielema has had plenty of time to prepare for a Wyoming team dealing with significant losses in personnel.
Already last year, Wyoming had a feast or famine offense – they averaged 25 points per game, but they failed to get over the 21-point threshold in seven games. Their losses compounded over the offseason as quarterbacks Sean Chambers and Levi Williams (2,795 combined yards) are gone. Leading rusher Xazavian Valladay (Arizona State) and leading receiver Isaiah Neyor (Texas) left for Power Five programs, as well.
For an offense in transition, it’s far from ideal to start against the Illinois defense that ranked 29th in points allowed and 30th in Football Outsiders’ efficiency metrics. Some key players left, but Calvin Hart Jr. is a breakout candidate now that he’s healthy and enough starters return to have confidence in the defense.
The Illinois offense should also be better this year. The offensive line ranked seventh in the Power Five in PFF’s run-blocking grade last year and returns two highly experienced starters. Chase Brown quietly had a standout 1,000-yard rushing season. The passing game is the big question mark, but Tommy DeVito offers much more upside with the downfield game than Brandon Peters did.
Week 0 Best Bet: Illinois -10
Nebraska vs. Northwestern Best Bet
These two Big Ten programs start their seasons overseas as they look to rebound from disappointing 3-9 finishes in 2021 with a win in Ireland. Last year, the Cornhuskers destroyed the Wildcats 56-7, but there might be reason to expect this game to be significantly closer. Eight of the last eleven games between these teams have been decided by eight or fewer points, including four of the last five.
Nebraska has a new quarterback, Casey Thompson, who takes Adrian Martinez’s place. Thompson isn’t the athlete that Martinez is, but he’s an efficient pocket passer who had 30 touchdowns to nine interceptions over the last three years. The Huskers ranked second in total offense in the Big Ten, but with a new quarterback and almost entirely new offensive coaching staff, that success may not be replicated, at least not right away.
Northwestern’s offense is still a significant question mark, especially with Ryan Hillinski and Brendan Sullivan battling it out at quarterback. The Wildcat offense scored 14 or fewer points in seven of its last eight games in 2021 and ranked 125th out of 130 FBS teams in scoring. Evan Hull is the focal point, as he had 1,273 yards from scrimmage last year behind a strong offensive line, and he will do enough to control possession.
With Hull maintaining the ball and keeping the defense fresh, look for Northwestern’s defense to get off to a solid start to the season. The transfer portal brought some reinforcements upfront, and Adetomiwa Adebawore should produce some pressure against a Nebraska offensive line that lost Cam Jurgens, its best player.
Northwestern’s defense should have a much better year, as last season’s failures seemed to be an anomaly in the program’s recent history. Before last year, the last two meetings between these programs resulted in a total of 57 points. With a transitioning Nebraska offense and a funky overseas matchup, I’m betting on a result much closer to those two matchups.
Week 0 Best Bet: under 50.5 points
Nevada vs. New Mexico State Best Bet
Nevada had an excellent season in 2021 with an 8-5 record, but the entire infrastructure of that team is gone. Former head coach Jay Norvell took the job at Colorado State and brought several key players with him. Starting passer Carson Strong has left for the NFL, and the offense won’t come close to replicating his 4,175 passing yards and 36 touchdowns.
The Wolf Pack will be starting the inexperienced Shane Illingworth, and that doesn’t get any easier with the loss of the team’s top five receiving yardage leaders and four of five starters on the offensive line. It will take a while for this offense to find its footing with new coaches and plenty of new starters across the board.
New Mexico State is also bringing in a new head coach, but Jerry Kill has extensive experience and has won everywhere he’s been. Kill’s teams are built on ball control and running the ball, and the Aggies have solid experience upfront to work with. Leading rusher Juwaun Price is gone, but the running back room has solid depth to work with.
The defense had a rough season last year, but it returns eight starters and six of its top seven defensive linemen. That provides a significant advantage against an incredibly inexperienced Nevada offensive line. With a handful of players coming in from the transfer portal, the Aggies should be better defensively.
The Aggies aren’t world-beaters, but neither are the Wolf Pack, and there should not be a nine-point gap between these teams anywhere, much less in New Mexico. The line has steadily moved in the direction of New Mexico State, but I’ll happily beat this team all the way to seven points if need be. Give me the home underdog all day in Week Zero.
Week 0 Best Bet: New Mexico State +9.5, small sprinkle on ML at +300