Saturday College Football Betting Odds, Predictions: Collin Wilson’s Week 0 Preview & Top Picks

Saturday College Football Betting Odds, Predictions: Collin Wilson’s Week 0 Preview & Top Picks article feature image

Brett Carlsen/Getty Images. Pictured: Mike Wright (5) and the Vanderbilt Commodores.

It's been a long seven-and-a-half months since Georgia took down Alabama to win the College Football Playoff National Championship in Indianapolis. But the wait is over.

A new college football season is upon us, representing an opportunity unlike any other for 131 FBS teams, as well as those who bet on them.

While the Week 0 slate is a small one compared to what awaits us next week, there's still plenty of betting value across the board. That value ranges from two 3-9 teams battling in Dublin, Ireland, to another matchup between SEC and Mountain West cellar-dwellers.

I'm betting two of Saturday's biggest games below: Nebraska vs. Northwestern and Vanderbilt vs. Hawaii. Read on for my picks and breakdowns for each game, and be sure to check out the rest of Action Network's college football coverage.

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Collin Wilson's Best Week 0 Bets

The team logos in the table below represent each of the matchups that senior writer Collin Wilson is targeting from today's slate of games. Click the team logos for one of the matchups below to navigate to a specific bet discussed in this article.

12:30 p.m. ET
Nebraska -13
10:30 p.m. ET
1H Under 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.

Nebraska vs. Northwestern

Saturday, Aug. 27
12:30 p.m. ET
Nebraska -13

Not all 3-9 teams are alike. That will become evident when Nebraska and Northwestern go head-to-head in Dublin to kick off the college football season.

These teams have traded home victories against each other over the past four seasons but will now kick at a neutral site across the pond. Aviva Stadium will host its fourth college football game in the past decade, as Aviva's perennial ryegrass has seen no shortage of explosive plays.

📍Aviva Stadium

— Nebraska Football (@HuskerFBNation) August 23, 2022

For Nebraska, the "business trip" is an unspoken must-win after multiple changes in the offseason by Athletic Director Trev Alberts.

Head coach Scott Frost was stripped of offensive play-calling duties to give more focus to special teams and defense. Both factors have played into a record of 15-29 since 2018.

Pat Fitzgerald came to Big Ten Media Days to announce that the formula for Northwestern is simple.

In seasons with a plethora of returning experience, the Wildcats thrived with a 26-10 record over the 2017, 2018 and 2020 seasons. When no returning production was present, the 2019 and 2021 seasons both ended with a 3-9 record.

Northwestern enters Ireland with a mixed bag of experience from a TARP perspective. An opening win as a double-digit favorite would set the tone for the remainder of the Wildcats' season.

Nebraska Cornhuskers

The Cornhuskers covered seven games and won just three last season, rarely blowing opponents out.

The one exception came against Northwestern in a 56-7 thrashing last October. Quarterback Adrian Martinez had three rushing touchdowns by the end of the first quarter — a prelude to another four rushing scores posted throughout the remainder of the game.

The Wildcats would finish the season outside the top 100 defensively in Stuff Rate and against explosive runs.

Fast forward 11 months, and the formula in Dublin will be much different.

Offensive coordinator Mark Whipple joins the program after a successful stint at Pitt. Quarterback Kenny Pickett emerged as a highly-coveted NFL Draft pick, while the Panthers finished top-25 in offensive tempo.

When asked about his involvement with the offense this summer, Frost stuck to a playbook answer of, "Whipps is in control."

That may be good news for Texas transfer quarterback Casey Thompson.

As someone who loves sports it always amazes me to listen to players and coaches break down plays, game plans, situations, etc.

Huskers quarterback Casey Thompson broke down Northwestern's defense today and I was blown away.

Here's Thompson's in depth break down.

— Eddie Messel (@EddieMesselTV) August 21, 2022

Thompson leaves Austin in the wake of the Quinn Ewers era after posting a 26:9 touchdown-to-interception ratio. The quarterback has no issues in arm strength, racking up twice as many big-time throws as turnover-worthy plays on passes over 20 yards.

The numbers fall off in dropbacks with a crowded pocket, but Nebraska returns 83% of offensive line snaps. The hope is new offensive line coach Donovan Raiola can improve on pass blocking ranks outside the top 100.

While the offense gets most of the attention in the offseason, the Cornhusker defense quietly had an impressive 2021 campaign. Coordinator Erik Chinander's aggressive 3-4 blitz scheme turned in a top-30 mark in coverage while posting one of the best numbers against the explosive run.

With 70% of tackles and 87% of pressures returning from last season, Nebraska is expected to field another top-10 unit in Finishing Drives after allowing opponents just 2.9 points inside the 40 last season.

Northwestern Wildcats

The numbers for Northwestern spiraled further south as the 2021 season progressed. The offense scored more than 14 points just once over the final seven games, and the defense fell outside the top 100 in Success Rate and Finishing Drives.

Generating Havoc was the staple of the Wildcats' defense in 2020, but they fell to the bottom 10 in FBS last year when it came to tackles for loss, sacks and pass breakups.

Northwestern returns a modest 65% back on each side of the ball, but some positions are direr than others.

Offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian saw the wheels come off the offense last season, failing to finish inside the top 100 in almost every statistical category.

A trio of quarterbacks were ineffective, as Ryan Hilinski returns from that group to battle freshman Brendan Sullivan for starting duties. Hilinski finished 129th of all FBS quarterbacks in average depth of target — a limitation of the Northwestern offense to create chunk plays.

Fitzgerald has yet to name a starter for this game, but Hilinski has completed just seven big-time throws in 590 career passing attempts.

Leaning on two of the best offensive tackles in the Big Ten, Northwestern will look to lean on experience at running back to slow this game and keep Whipple's offense off the field.

The Wildcats are looking for answers on defense, as leading tackler Chris Bergin graduated with his 141 tackles. Also in the lost experience category is safety Brandon Joseph, who now suits up for Notre Dame thanks to the transfer portal.

Although this secondary has not logged any interceptions, cornerbacks Cameron Mitchell and AJ Hampton are the strength in the defensive backfield.

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Nebraska vs. Northwestern Betting Pick

The biggest question in the handicap of this game is simply asking what has changed with each program since the Wildcats got drummed last season.

Northwestern lost a key piece of the secondary in Joseph without replacement. The Wildcats return less than 50% of their pressures from last season, which could equate to Thompson having plenty of time to hit any deep shots for the Huskers.

While Fitzgerald pointed to experience being the key cog in this program, it's the lack of Havoc on defense that will prevent Northwestern from getting back to 2018 and 2020 form.

Nebraska has gone through numerous changes this offseason.

Whipple is an upgrade at offensive coordinator, specifically when drives extend past the 40-yard line. Frost never finished within the top 50 in points per opportunity while calling plays in Lincoln, but Whipple has a long history of cashing in when red-zone opportunities present themselves.

Defensively, Nebraska lost almost half of its passes defensed from last year — an aspect Northwestern will not be able to challenge from the quarterback position.

Northwestern will open with a one-dimensional running attack against a Nebraska team that finished 80th in Defensive Rushing Success Rate last season.

The Wildcats must stay on schedule and avoid passing downs with Hilinski, while Bajakian must find resolution in a dreadful mark of 2.9 points per drive that extended past the 40-yard line.

The bigger question might be what Northwestern does offensively if Nebraska has a second-half lead.

Frost said he's ready to "let it rip" against the Wildcats, possibly signaling that Whipple will test Northwestern's secondary early and often with Thompson.

The safeties will look to patrol the middle in zone coverage, but the focus is also on Hampton and Mitchell at cornerback. Hampton had one of the highest ranks in the nation at forced incompletions, but his 4.3% explosive play rate shows a boom-or-bust mentality that Nebraska may choose to expose.

Whipple has been one of the best offensive minds in college football for years and is a great fit for the cerebral Thompson, who obsesses about perfection.

The Northwestern secondary will struggle in the wake Joseph's transfer, while the Cornhuskers may elect to throw in standard downs if Rahmir Johnson and Markese Stepp can't find success carrying the ball.

After a hit piece on Nebraska football from the Irish Times, both Frost and Whipple have said the article has motivated the team.

Northwestern was unable to defend Martinez on the ground last season and will struggle to stop Thompson's uptempo air attack in Dublin.

Action Network projects this game at Nebraska -16, giving plenty of room to take the current number up to two touchdowns.

Pick: Nebraska -13 (Play to -14)

Vanderbilt vs. Hawaii

Saturday, Aug. 27
10:30 p.m. ET
CBS Sports Network
1H Under 27

No opening weekend of college football would be complete without a game from the island between two teams with low season win totals.

Vanderbilt started travel plans on Sunday for a rare trip as a road favorite in Honolulu. Clarence T. C. Ching Athletic Complex will be the site for the Commodores to start Year 2 under head coach Clark Lea, who had one of the more memorable quotes at SEC Media Days.

Despite the optimism from Lea, Vanderbilt won just two games last season over Colorado State and Connecticut. The SEC slate pounded the Commodores, as Vandy lost to Georgia, Florida and Mississippi State by a combined score of 149-6.

A win here and in Week 1 against Elon will certainly have Lea steering the program in the right direction before Labor Day.

On the island, there may not be more a rebuild in all of college football than what new head coach Tommy Chang is facing with the Warriors. Allegations of abuse against former head coach Todd Graham burdened a program that already suffered after the Nick Rolovich era.

Long gone are running back Dae Dae Hunter and quarterback Chevan Cordeiro, leaving one of the lowest marks in all of college football in returning experience.

There may be multiple Year 0s ahead for Chang as the Hawaii program continues a transition in coaches, players and home field.

Vanderbilt Commodores

Both Ken Seals and Mike Wright continued their battle for the starting position of quarterback into fall camp.

Both players posted a minimum of 175 passing attempts last season, providing stabilization to the position. Wright ultimately won the job and will start against Hawaii, but improvements are needed after a lukewarm 2021 that saw more than twice the number of turnover-worthy plays as big-time throws.

The difference between the two quarterbacks comes down to evasiveness in the pocket.

Mike Wright doing Mike Wright things.

— Vanderbilt Football (@VandyFootball) September 25, 2021

Wright serves as the dual-threat player who posted 193 scramble yards and 262 yards on designed runs last season. With 12 missed tackles forced and 11 runs over 10-plus yards, the Hawaii defense will be torched without a spy in the box on Wright.

Vanderbilt will lean on an offensive line that returns 80% of returning snaps and a heavy amount of rushing yards thanks to Rocko Griffin and Re'Mahn Davis.

If there was a positive from the defense last season, finishing top-30 in opponent third-down conversions was a blinding spotlight.

Now, 75% of the defense is back to run the 4-2-5 scheme Lea ran at Notre Dame.

Anfernee Orji returns a team-leading 93 tackles and a whopping 12.5 tackles for loss, making the linebacker the best defensive player in this game.

Linebacker @AnferneeOrji led the Dores with a career-high 1️⃣3️⃣ tackles in today's

— Vanderbilt Football (@VandyFootball) December 13, 2020

Despite Lea being one of the best defensive minds in college football, the Commodores allowed at least 21 points to every opponent on the schedule last season, including East Tennessee State.

While the offense has stability in the run game behind an experienced offensive line, the defense must improve in every aspect. Vanderbilt finished dead last in Passing Downs Sack Rate, which means live bettors should look to see if pressure can be generated against a depleted Hawaii front.

Hawaii Warriors

Chang returns to his alma mater as head coach after a number of seasons as an assistant at Nevada. Famous for setting passing records as a first-team All-WAC quarterback in 2004, Chang inherits less than 30% on both sides of the ball.

There are a number of experienced offensive linemen for the new-look scheme under coordinator Ian Shoemaker, a former coordinator for Eastern Washington at the FCS level.

There's a philosophical difference in Shoemaker's high-octane offense at the FCS level versus Chang's "Run and Shoot" preference.

The offense will be a hybrid that focuses on balance in the run-pass ratio with plenty of tempo. An RPO-based run-and-shoot attack would be tough for any defense to prepare for, but the question is whether or not any of the four quarterbacks can execute the offense.

Ronson Young scores for the second team on a 22-yard rush in OT.

Brayden Schager finds Dior Scott for nine yards on fourth-and-goal but the second team defense gets the stop on the 2-pt conversion.

FINAL | Second team 14, First team 13

— Reece Nagaoka (@reecenagaoka) August 14, 2022

There's familiarity on the defense, as longtime assistant Jacob Yoro was promoted to the coordinator position after serving various roles for Graham and Rolovich.

Yoro will also struggle with experience, as less than 30% of pressures, tackles and passes defensed return. Only two starters from last season remain on the depth chart against Vanderbilt.

The Warriors are not expected to improve a defense that severely struggled with coverage and Success Rate in passing downs.

Vanderbilt vs. Hawaii Betting Pick

If this game was played at the end of last season, Action Network would have projected the total at 48. Vanderbilt is not expected to change tempo after a middling mark of 26.1 seconds per play.

The Commodores still lack the wide receivers and quarterback arm strength to hit explosive plays in the passing game, but with Hawaii on the schedule, there's a change in philosophy.

Hawaii's new RPO run-and-shoot hybrid is expected to use plenty of tempo no matter which of the four quarterbacks starts under center. While tempo has been thrown around throughout fall camp, the Warriors already played a fast style by averaging 24 seconds per play last season.

Hawaii finished last season as the 19th-fastest team — a number that's expected to remain with the Eastern Washington flavor provided by Shoemaker.

Vanderbilt ranked 128th in Offensive Success Rate, while Hawaii's offense finished 122nd in Finishing Drives — both indicators that there may be a lack of points.

The point spread traded on both sides of Vanderbilt -7 throughout much of the summer. However, game-week steam hit the Commodores, pushing the number up to -8.5 at some shops.

Action Network projects Vanderbilt at -10, so there's little to no value on the side now that the Commodores have eclipsed the touchdown mark. The side is a no-play unless +10.5 flashes for the Warriors or -7 becomes available for Vanderbilt.

The first-half total deserves attention with consideration to each offense. Vanderbilt will look to pound the rock behind the offensive line while allowing Wright to escape a busted pocket in passing downs.

The Commodores struggle to string first downs together and are still an unproven commodity in the red zone after scoring just 16 touchdowns in 31 attempts last season.

Hawaii enters with a new scheme, head coach, coordinators and a handful of quarterbacks looking to execute a hybrid offense.

While Vanderbilt didn't play quality defense against an SEC schedule, allowing only 21 points to Colorado State on the road last season is an indication that the unit can play at the Mountain West level.

The play is on the first half under, as there are still unknowns about how Chang will call the game or make adjustments at halftime.

Pick: 1H Under 27 (Play to 24.5)

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