College Football Betting Odds & Picks: Our Top Plays for Week 0, Including UCLA vs. Hawaii & Illinois vs. Nebraska (August 28)

College Football Betting Odds & Picks: Our Top Plays for Week 0, Including UCLA vs. Hawaii & Illinois vs. Nebraska (August 28) article feature image
Credit:

Keith Birmingham/MediaNews Group/Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images. Pictured: The UCLA Bruins.

  • It is officially Week 0, and our staff has five bets ready to go for the return of college football.
  • Our writers broke down multiple picks for Nebraska vs. Illinois and UCLA vs. Hawaii and shared multiple bets for each game.
  • Check out all five bets below, complete with odds and analysis.

We’ve been waiting for this moment since early January.

We watched and bet on basketball, baseball, soccer, and anything else we could to fill the hole that was left after the fall. But now? It’s time to get back to something so unique and incredible.

Football. Is. Back.

Week 0 is officially here, giving us matchups such as Nebraska vs. Illinois, UCLA vs. Hawaii, San Jose State vs. Southern Utah, and Alcorn State vs. NC Central — an appetizer for the main course of Week 1, if you will.

In the end, any football is good football. We’re going to take advantage and attempt to cash some bets along the way.

Our staff looks to get its season off on the right foot by breaking down five total bets for Nebraska vs. Illinois and Hawaii vs. UCLA. Check out all five picks below.

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2021 Week Zero College Football Best Bets

The set of college football team logos below reflects each of our college football staff’s Week Zero best bets. Click any logo to navigate to a specific game discussed in this article.

Game
Time (ET)
Bet
Nebraska vs. Illinois
1 p.m.
Illinois +7
Nebraska vs. Illinois
1 p.m.
Illinois +7
Hawaii vs. UCLA
3:30 p.m.
UCLA -17.5
Hawaii vs. UCLA
3:30 p.m.
Hawaii +18
Hawaii vs. UCLA
3:30 p.m.
Under 68.5

Listed odds have been updated as of Friday, Aug. 27. Specific bet recommendations come from the sportsbook offering preferred odds as of writing.

Always shop for the best price using our NCAAF Odds page, which automatically surfaces the best lines for every game.

Photos via Getty Images.


Nebraska

vs

Illinois

Illinois +7
1 p.m. ET
FOX

By Kyle Remillard

Scott Frost couldn’t have imagined he would have a 12-20 record and be under investigation for potentially breaking NCAA violations through three years at Nebraska, but here we are.

The Cornhuskers offense did not live up to the hype in 2020, ranking outside the top 100 in points per game at just 23.1. Quarterback Adrian Martinez returns but has regressed in the last two seasons. He had just 190.1 passing yards per game last year and constantly turned the ball over.

Meanwhile, there is reason for optimism in the Illinois program as they bring in Bret Bielema and return a ton of production with nine starters coming back on both sides of the ball.

Illinois upset Nebraska, 41-23, on the road last season as 17-point underdogs with two 100-yard rushers who totaled 285 yards and four touchdowns on the ground.

Nebraska showed an inability to stop the run throughout 2020, allowing opponents to rush for an average of 194 yards per game, excluding the Purdue game. Bielema will look to exploit that weakness and keep the chains moving for the Fighting Illini on the ground, opening up opportunities for quarterback Brandon Peters.

Since taking over for Nebraska, Frost’s defense has allowed 35, 38 and 41 points against Illinois. Now, the Huskers face an upgraded coaching staff and a roster that will see improvements on both sides of the ball.

This spread opened with Illinois as double-digit underdogs that was quickly corrected, dropping the line down to a touchdown. We have a live home dog on our hands in the first game of the 2021 season, and I’m taking the points.


Nebraska

vs

Illinois

Illinois +7
1 p.m. ET
FOX

By Mike McNamara

The Bret Bielema era in Champaign begins!

What an interesting Week 0 matchup this will be, with Scott Frost’s seat getting warmer and warmer in Lincoln and Bielema inspiring some hope among the Illini faithful.

Bielema-coached teams have always had an identity of wanting to run the football down opponents’ throats and control the time of possession. Given the most proven commodities on his current roster lie in the offensive line room and backfield, there’s legitimate reason to believe that Illinois can generate some success on the ground in his first season as head coach.

With center Doug Kramer and tackles Vederian Lowe and Alex Palczewski all back and on track to finish inside the top five in career starts in program history, the Illinois offense will get plenty of push against the Husker front.

Meanwhile, there are potential NCAA violations looming for Nebraska, and it’s still uncertain as to whether or not the Huskers will have their full travel party for this game.

Frost just simply hasn’t been able to get over the hump thus far in his tenure, and 2021 doesn’t really look all that promising.

Veteran quarterback Adrian Martinez returns and will lead this offense against a vulnerable Illini defense. Martinez will need to take better care of the football in 2021 to get this offense moving back in the right direction.

Look for Illinois to limit the number of possessions in this game with a heavy dose of running backs Chase Brown and Mike Epstein. While Nebraska should rack up its fair share of chunk plays, I think the Illini are more than equipped to hang inside this number and potentially even win outright in Bielema’s debut.

Frost will be coaching in his 15th Big Ten road game on Saturday afternoon, and only four of the prior road trips have resulted in Nebraska victories.

There’s a chance he gets No. 5 this weekend, but I certainly don’t think it will be in runaway fashion.

Illini and the points.

Hawaii

vs

UCLA

UCLA -17.5
3:30 p.m. ET
ESPN

By Alex Hinton

It has probably taken longer than expected for Chip Kelly to turn UCLA into a winner once again.

However, entering 2021, Kelly may have his best team since he’s been in Westwood. The Bruins’ first test will come against the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors this Saturday.

Using the TARP ratings made by our own Collin Wilson, UCLA is tied for eighth nationally with a TARP offensive grade of 86%. It has a TARP defensive grade of 77%, which ranks 28th nationally.

The optimism begins with quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson. Last season, he completed 65% of his passes while throwing for 12 touchdowns and only four interceptions.

In the backfield, UCLA returns Brittain Brown, who ran for 543 yards and four touchdowns on 6.6 YPC last season. It also welcomes Michigan transfer Zach Charbonnet after a freshman season that saw him run for 724 yards and 11 scores as a true freshman before questionable usage.

With all five starters back on the offensive line, the Bruins’ ground attack should be strong once again.

Hawaii also returns a solid amount of production with TARP grades of 67% and 73% on offense and defense, respectively.

Last year, the Rainbow Warriors thrived on taking the ball away with 17 turnovers forced in nine games, which had them rank 29th nationally in turnover margin. However, turnovers can be difficult to rely on an annual basis.

Additionally, Hawaii’s defense will be undersized matched up against UCLA. The Rainbow Warriors run multiple schemes but a lot of 3-3-5 to wreak havoc with their speed.

UCLA’s projected starting offensive line weighs an average of 303 pounds across the board. If Hawaii wants to go bigger to match up with them, it only has two defensive linemen over 300 pounds who project to be in its rotation. Thompson-Robinson should have time to throw to his talented weapons like Kyle Phillips, Chase Cota, and Greg Dulcich.

UCLA should dominate this game on the ground since Hawaii gave up 211.7 rushing yards per game last season. The Rainbow Warriors offense is not going to scare anyone itself, and I cannot back them if the Bruins are going to control the game on the ground and dominate time of possession.

I’m taking UCLA to cover at home, and I would take the spread up to -20.

Hawaii

vs

UCLA

Hawaii +18
3:30 p.m. ET
ESPN

By Patrick Strollo

After a COVID-spoiled first season in Honolulu, Todd Graham kicks off his second season as Hawaii head coach against UCLA.

Graham comes into game day with his first full spring practice under his belt. The Warriors have an experienced quarterback and veteran leadership on defense that will make them a rightful threat this season.

It’s a family affair in Honolulu with Graham’s eldest son, Bo, calling the plays on offense. The Warriors should be fully acclimated to the Run-and-Gun offense that was introduced last year. This scheme features a combination of air-it-out deep passes and a power-running attack.

Junior QB Chevan Cordeiro has the mobility and arm to fully embrace this offense after a trial run last season.

The Warriors have a stable of backs who can catch out of the backfield, wide receivers with starting experience and a recently added tight end. An experienced offensive line can protect Cordeiro while letting the deep play develop. A full spring practice implementing the nuances of the Run and Gun will bode well for the offense this Saturday at the Rose Bowl.

UCLA ranked 114th last season in FBS passing defense last season. The Warriors will put the Bruins pass D to the test this Saturday.

Last season, the Warrior defense lacked the physical conditioning needed to keep pace with the fast-paced offense. They also lacked depth with only five returning starters in an increasingly competitive Mountain West Conference.

To remedy these deficiencies, Graham emphasized conditioning this spring and summer. Hawaii also signed 13 defensive players to bolster the depth of the defense. Eleven starters are back this season and will bring the grit needed to stack up against a Power 5 opponent in UCLA.

My model has Hawaii as 10-point dogs to UCLA. This number is based on 2020 advanced stats, but I firmly believe that Hawaii will be a better team this season.

I think UCLA will win this game outright, but Hawaii has the talent, scheme and coaching to keep this close.

Graham introduced a new mantra of “Tougher Than Hell” last year. This year, the Warriors look to fully implement it.

Hawaii has what it takes to be competitive this season, and this Week 0 opener is the perfect chance to showcase just how tough it is. Take Hawaii +18 and play at +17 or better. I recommend one unit.

Hawaii

vs

UCLA

Under 68.5 (-105)
3:30 p.m. ET
ESPN

By Darin Gardner

I project this game at 61.3, which makes this my biggest edge of the small Week 0 slate.

If the game state plays out similarly to how the 18-point spread would imply, I really like the path to the under here.

UCLA had a very efficient ground game in 2021 that should be the strength of the team heading into 2021. If the Bruins can build a lead over Hawaii, they should be able to successfully move the chains in the run game and limit possessions for the Rainbow Warriors offense as it tries to come back.

UCLA boasted a top-20 rushing attack last season in terms of Success Rate, and it’s facing a Hawaii defensive front that ranked 107th in PFF run defense grade.

When Hawaii has the ball, I really like how UCLA’s defense stacks up.

The biggest mismatch is in the trenches, with an offensive line that ranked 94th in Sack Rate allowed facing a UCLA front that ranked 28th in that same metric. Hawaii is also very questionable at pass-catcher outside of Calvin Turner and could really struggle if it gets into obvious passing situations while playing from behind.

At quarterback, Chevan Cordeiro needs to improve after ranking 107th out of 133 quarterbacks, according to Pro Football Focus’ passing grade, last season. As a whole, the offense is coming off a ranking of 77th in points per drive.

I don’t like the Hawaii offense’s chances of carrying its weight to get over this high total of 68.5.

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