College football picks, schedule: Predictions against the spread, odds for Week 0 games

College football fans have endured quite a wait since Alabama’s shellacking of Ohio State way back on Jan. 11 in the College Football Playoff National Championship at Hard Rock Stadium for the 2021 season to begin. However, college football has finally returned with five games on the schedule Saturday in a Week 0 slate that will serve as an appetizer for what’s to come this season. While Nebraska vs. Illinois is the headliner, there will be action going on throughout most of the day and late into the evening for fans yearning to get their football fix.

Nebraska and Illinois are not necessarily expected to challenge for the Big Ten West title this season, but there are serious implications for both squads and their coaches as Nebraska’s Scott Frost navigates the hot seat while Illinois’ Bret Bielema makes his return to the Big Ten. The other game Saturday involving a Power Five conference team is UCLA battling Hawaii, which should give us an early read on whether the Bruins are ready for a breakthrough under fourth-year coach Chip Kelly.

Jonathan Coachman is joined by Mike McClure and Allan Bell to dish out Saturday’s best bets. Download and follow the Early Edge on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

Also on the docket are Fresno State vs. UConn, New Mexico State vs. UTEP and San Jose State vs. Southern Utah. So while it may pale in comparison to what’s in store for Week 1, the Week 0 schedule will at least be a taste of what’s ahead as the 2021 college football season finally gets going. 

Below are our CBS expert picks for Saturday’s Week 0 action as the 2021 college football season commences. 

Odds via Caesars Sportsbook | All times Eastern

Hawaii at UCLA

Latest Odds:

UCLA Bruins

3:30 p.m. | ESPN, fuboTV (Try for free) — It can be tempting to look at Hawaii’s season-opening victory over Arizona and Week 2 win over Oregon State in 2019 and pull the trigger on the Rainbow Warriors -17 — or maybe even straight up — against another Pac-12 opponent in an early-season spot. But those games were both played at Hawaii, which marked a considerable advantage for the Rainbow Warriors due to the travel required by the Wildcats and Beavers. Arizona and Oregon State were also bad teams, and that 2019 squad turned out to be the best (and last) team of Nick Rolovich’s run at Hawaii. Though the Rainbow Warriors proved competent by going 5-4 in Year 1 under Todd Graham last season against Mountain West competition, playing at a veteran UCLA team that should be a much-improved is a tall task. The Bruins wrecked Hawaii 56-23 at home in 2017, and while this Hawaii team should be better than the 2017 team, UCLA is better now, too, and should win this game comfortably. Pick: (UCLA -17)David Cobb

UTEP at New Mexico State

Latest Odds:

New Mexico State Aggies

9:30 p.m. | FloSports — New Mexico State and UTEP are two tough jobs, but the Aggies might be one of the worst teams in the FBS. Riding the home dog can be fun, but in this case it doesn’t seem practical. As bad as UTEP has been, it’s still flirting with a double-digit number on the road. If you think the Miners, of all teams, can cover one score on the road, they can probably cover two. Lay the points. Pick: UTEP (-9)Ben Kercheval

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Nebraska at Illinois

Latest Odds:

Illinois Fighting Illini

1:20 p.m. | Fox, fuboTV (Try for free) — The Illini seem to be a popular pick against the spread in this game, but even if I don’t think Nebraska is poised to take a large step forward in 2021, the Cornhuskers are getting Illinois at the right time. Illinois is an experienced team, but nearly all of the experience came in different systems under a different coaching staff. Nebraska fans are well aware of how difficult the transition from a 4-3 to a 3-4 can be on the defensive side of the ball when you don’t have the right personnel on the roster. So while I think Illinois will be a better team in 2021, I don’t see it this weekend. Give me the Huskers. Pick: Nebraska (-7) — Tom Fornelli

UConn at Fresno State

Latest Odds:

Fresno State Bulldogs

2 p.m. | CBS Sports Network, — UConn has been missing in action since the end of the 2019 season but will pop up on the college football radar on Saturday when they visit Fresno State in the program’s first-ever road trip to the state of California. Randy Edsall’s crew returns seven starters on each side of the ball, but it’s safe to say that the entire roster is going to be quite rusty. Fresno State running back Ronnie Rivers is back after rushing for 528 yards on 100 carries last season, and will be a huge weapon for the Bulldogs behind MWC honorable mention quarterback and former Washington signal-caller Jake Haener. The combination of Haener and Rivers will torch the Huskies and set the tone for what could be Fresno State’s first winning season since 2018. Pick: Fresno State (-27.5)Barrett Sallee