Are you ready? “Week 0” has arrived in college football, and we’re spotlighting two of the most intriguing games on the opening schedule: Nebraska vs. Illinois and Hawaii vs. UCLA.
We’ll also turn to the baseball diamond for an important showdown between division leaders in the National League as the Giants battle the Braves.
Nebraska Cornhuskers vs. Illinois Fighting Illini
Saturday, August 28 | TV: FOX
The Big Ten season opener features Illinois as the slight underdog in Bret Bielema’s head coaching debut. Last year, Illinois actually beat Nebraska 41-23 on the road, though that game was fraught with turnovers for the Cornhuskers. Senior quarterback Adrian Martinez has plenty of weapons in the receiving game, but Nebraska still has to prove they can get the ball downfield more. The Cornhuskers averaged just 190.1 passing yards per game last season (11th in the Big Ten conference). Bigger things are expected for their group of wideouts this year.
Illinois running back Chase Brown, who scored two touchdowns against Nebraska last time out, has beefed up to 210 pounds in an effort to take on a bigger workload for his third year. It’s quite possible that Bielema leans on the running game more, as his defense will be trying to adapt to new coverage schemes and quarterback Brandon Peters could have a tougher time against Nebraska’s veteran defense.
Hawaii Rainbow Warriors vs. UCLA Bruins
Saturday, August 28 | TV: ESPN
UCLA has never won a home opener under head coach Chip Kelly, but the Bruins will be the heavy favorite in this matchup. Both of these teams had mixed results against the spread last season. In two seasons at UCLA, the Bruins also haven’t dominated in non-conference games under Kelly (1-5 against the spread). UCLA will have most of its starters back, however, including a defensive unit that will put some big-time pressure on the Rainbow Warriors’ dual-threat quarterback Chevan Cordeiro.
Despite the very tough odds, Hawaii returns 18 starters and should play hard in this nationally televised showcase. Whether the Rainbow Warriors will be able to stop UCLA on the ground is the most pressing question. Hawaii allowed 211.7 rushing yards per game last season (seventh-worst in the nation). Look for UCLA’s speedy quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson to take advantage of any pockets of weakness in the Rainbow Warriors’ run defense. UCLA averaged 230.6 total rushing yards per game last season.
San Francisco Giants vs. Atlanta Braves
Friday, August 27 | TV: NBC Sports / MLB.TV
The NL West-leading Giants take on the NL East-leading Braves in a collision of division leaders. Both these squads have been red-hot lately, winning 8 of their last 10 games, but the Giants have done it more with their pitching (2.15 ERA) than their hitting (.233 batting average) over that stretch. San Francisco will send Kevin Gausman (12-5, 2.47 ERA, 1.01 WHIP) to the mound if he feels well enough from his illness to be activated off the injured list. Opposing him in this probable pitchers’ duel will be Max Fried (11-7, 3.49 ERA, 1.22 WHIP), who is coming off the first shutout of his big-league career. The lefty hurler sports a 2.97 ERA at home this season and a remarkable 0.67 ERA over his last four starts.
The Giants will likely be without a couple of big bats in their starting lineup. First baseman Brandon Belt is currently on the bereavement list and catcher Buster Posey remains day-to-day with knee discomfort. That could make it hard for San Fran to keep pace with the Braves’ potent offense. Atlanta’s young sluggers Dansby Swanson and Austin Riley are both hitting above .350 in the month of August.