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Everything to know about college football’s Week 0, including where to watch

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Thanks to TV and Hawaii, we get a mini-week before the season kicks into gear.

NCAA Football: Oregon State at Colorado State
Colorado State hosts a game for the second Week 0 in a row.
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

For most of college football, Week 1 begins the Thursday before Labor Day. When you see the term “Week 1” on this or any other website, that’s the slate of games we’re talking about. But over the last few years, we’ve added a de-facto “Week 0” for a few teams.

And on Saturday, we’ve got five Division I games to watch:

  • Duquesne at UMass (5:30 p.m. ET)
  • Jacksonville State at North Carolina A&T (7 p.m. ET, ESPN, all-FCS game)
  • Prairie View A&M at Rice (7 p.m. ET, ESPN+)
  • Hawaii at Colorado State (7:30 p.m. ET, CBSSN)
  • Wyoming at New Mexico State (10 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

Week 0 is a relatively new development in college football.

This is a humongous sport in many places, but it’s not as big as the NFL. The pros don’t start playing real games until the week of Sept. 10. College traditionally starts a week before the NFL. It’s a chance for the kids to soak up extra shine. But this early a start is new.

For a long spell up until 2014, FBS programs weren’t scheduling games prior to that pre-Labor Day Thursday. That year, Georgia State, which had gone 0-12 in its first FBS season the year before, started off the season on a Wednesday, Aug. 27. GSU beat FCS Abilene Christian, 38-37. It would be the Panthers’ only win over their first two years in the top division.

In 2015, there was nothing before the usual Thursday.

In 2016, there was just one early game: a contest the previous Friday between Cal and Hawaii — in Australia.

2017 was the first time in this era that there’s been a full set of FBS games on the weekend before Week 1, which had five games, including the likes of a Colorado State win over Oregon State, Hawaii beating UMass, and BYU beating Portland State.

The FCS started holding a single game on the early Saturday in 2014, always with headlining teams. This weekend has one all-FCS game, too.

An exemption for teams that visit Hawaii is a big part of why it all works.

The standard regular season schedule is 12 games. But when FBS teams play a road game against Hawaii, they’re allowed to stretch their seasons to 13. It’s an inducement that encourages teams to make a long, expensive trip. There’s a hitch, though; the college season is only 13 weeks long. Thirteen games in 13 weeks is ridiculous.

The solve: letting Hawaii’s visitors start the season a weekend early. That lets them play a 13-game schedule and still squeeze in a bye week somewhere. If they don’t want to do that, they can still take the extra bye for practice and/or rest. Hawaii also has the option of playing 13 games, though it won’t this season.

Duquesne, BYU, Rice, and Wyoming will all visit Honolulu this season. BYU and SJSU will play 13 games, while CSU will take a bye before the Mountain West Championship Game. If the Rams get there, that’ll have been some shrewd planning.

TV networks win, too, and that’s maybe the biggest reason of all for Week 0.

ESPN and CBS like having live sports for people to watch. Thanks to these games, they’re going to have more of that, a week before they usually would.

There will also be college games on Sunday and Monday night after the rest of the country plays its Week 1 games. All of this works in service of the same goals: giving broadcasters and advertisers more chances to get in on the sport before the NFL overshadows it. As a result, we’ll keep getting early college games.

2018’s Week 0 slate is dry, but smart money says one game will be good. Let’s do some WATCHABILITY RANKINGS.

It’s not like anyone’s standards for quality of play are that high after eight months without meaningful games to watch. Anything with a few nice touchdowns and a bunch of weird penalty calls will do just fine. My personal watchability ranking just for Saturday:

1. Jacksonville State vs. North Carolina A&T. Yeah, it’s the only all-FCS game, but these are both really good FCS teams. A&T was the undefeated Celebration Bowl winner in 2017 and has a great chance to beat the AAC’s ECU in Week 1. JSU is a regular playoff participant. Either of these teams could beat dozens of 85-scholarship squads in any given week.

2. Wyoming at New Mexico State. Wyoming’s been a consistently enjoyable watch for a few years. The Pokes are a little more fun when they’re playing in their home atmosphere in Laramie, but it’s worth seeing how they’ll fare without Josh Allen at QB. (Probably fine, because Josh Allen wasn’t that good.) NMSU is coming off its first bowl appearance and bowl win in 57 years and should have some extra juice.

3. Hawaii at Colorado State. The Rams are one of the better teams in the mid-major conferences, and their stadium’s nice. Hawaii’s got a few athletes.

T-4: Prairie View A&M at Rice, Duquesne at UMass. Both are football.