Youmans: My three best bets for Week 0

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As the curtain is raised on the 2022-23 college football season, it’s time to start answering questions and solving some mysteries. There might be no bigger mystery team than Hawaii, which is rebuilding with first-year coach Timmy Chang.

The Warriors return only six starters after several players deserted the program amid dissension caused by former coach Todd Graham. Chang, a record-setting quarterback at Hawaii, initially indicated he was reviving the run-and-shoot offense and planning to start a new QB, Cammon Cooper, a transfer from Washington State. Chang apparently has changed plans.

The starting quarterback will be Brayden Schager, a sophomore who started three games last year, and Chang is being vague when describing his new-look offense.

In the Saturday nightcap in Honolulu, the Warriors are big underdogs to Vanderbilt. The line opened Commodores -2 this summer and is all the way up to -9.5 after a respected tout service released Vanderbilt as a play at -6.5 this week.

In July, Commodores coach Clark Lea made a bold statement: “We know in time Vanderbilt football will be the best program in the country.” Lea, who was Notre Dame’s defensive coordinator from 2018 to 2020, clearly has lofty aspirations.

The Commodores went 2-10 in Lea’s first season, notching narrow wins against Colorado State and Connecticut. Vanderbilt is 5-28 in the past three seasons with only one win by more than seven points, and that was a home game against East Tennessee State in 2019.

On paper, Vanderbilt definitely looks better. Lea has 14 starters back, including sophomore quarterback Mike Wright, and the Commodores’ strengths will be their offensive line, a deep stable of running backs and a defense led by several veterans. Even a weak SEC team should be able to outclass a young Hawaii team, right?

The major line move is puzzling to South Point sportsbook director Chris Andrews, who said he talked with two professional oddsmaker friends who made this game closer to pick’em. I made the line Vanderbilt -3.

Hawaii was a strong home ‘dog last year, when the Warriors upset Fresno State and went 4-0 against the spread in that role. Chang has a new team, and it’s not improved, but the Warriors might not be as weak as some think.

It’s a long trip for a Commodores team that rarely wins on the road. The line could reach -10 before kickoff, so I feel compelled to take the inflated number.

Pick: Hawaii + 9.5

Northwestern (+ 11.5) over Nebraska (in Dublin, Ireland): Scott Frost, who has a 15-29 record in four years as Cornhuskers coach, reloaded by bringing in 44 new players, including 22 transfers. The top gun is Texas transfer Casey Thompson, who passed for 24 touchdowns in 10 starts for the Longhorns last year. Frost hired a new coordinator, Mark Whipple, who had a successful two-year stay at Pittsburgh. A lot of hype is following this Nebraska team to the season opener in Dublin.

There is zero hype around Northwestern. Pat Fitzgerald will coach his 200th game for the Purple Cats. Fitzgerald enters his 17th year with a 109-90 record, but he went 3-9 last season with an anemic offense. It should be a positive that nine starters return on that side, led by quarterback Ryan Hilinski and sophomore running back Evan Hull (a 1,000-yard rusher). Fitzgerald usually has surprises up his sleeve when expectations are low.

Nebraska won last year's meeting 56-7 in Lincoln, yet each of the previous four meetings between these teams were decided by one score. The Cornhuskers are likely being overhyped, especially early when a new team is learning a new offensive scheme. I took + 13.5 and + 14 with Northwestern, and I’ll stick with the dog as a play even after the line dipped the last two days.

Charlotte-FLORIDA ATLANTIC (Over 59): N’Kosi Perry, a former Miami transfer, enters his second year in the Owls’ offense. Perry passed for 225 yards and three touchdowns as FAU, a 6.5-point favorite, rolled to a 38-9 win at Charlotte last season. The 49ers return eight offensive starters, led by Chris Reynolds, a senior quarterback who has put up big numbers. This game should turn into a shootout between Perry and Reynolds.

(Note: I also played Illinois -10 early this week, but the line move to -14 makes it too much to recommend at this point.)

Last season: 35-26-2

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