Week 0 is not exactly a new development in college football. But it is now more established as an annual thing than it has been at previous points.
Lots of teams have wanted to play games in August over the years, and whether they’ve been allowed has hinged on things such as:
- when exactly they asked (if the NCAA didn’t exist yet, teams could definitely get away with it),
- whether they put the word Classic on their brand new game,
- whether they had a game scheduled in Hawaii that year,
- or whether they asked nicely and ESPN felt like paying a lot of money to put the game on TV. (If you were I-AA Southern Utah and NAIA Western Montana in 1999, the answer was no. If you were Florida and Miami in 2019, it was yes.)
Despite stops and starts, Week 0 finally became an annual thing. So to bridge the many gaps in Week 0’s history, let’s rank every Week 0 tilt that ever involved an FBS-equivalent college. To qualify, a contest must have been played before September and at least five days before the bulk of Week 1.
Most games will be grouped according to their quality, then displayed chronologically. More scrupulous rankings will conclude this article.
- 1883: Michigan 40, Detroit Independents 5
- 1983: #1 Nebraska 44, #4 Penn State 6
- 1993: #1 Florida State 42, Kansas 0
- 1994: #4 Nebraska 31, #24 West Virginia 0
- 1997: Northwestern 24, Oklahoma 0
- 1997: #17 Syracuse 34, #24 Wisconsin 0
- 1999: #1 Florida State 41, Louisiana Tech 7
- 2002: #16 Virginia Tech 63, Arkansas State 7
- 2003: San Jose State 29, Grambling 0
- 2004: Miami (Ohio) 49, Indiana State 0
Michigan’s library says 1883’s game happened May 12, while Sports Reference says it happened March 12. In one official Big Ten record book, the date is listed only as “M.12.” Split the difference — perhaps it happened April 12.
The library lists the opponent as Detroit Independents, while SR lists something called “Detroit A.C,” which is probably the old Detroit Athletic Club. What I’m saying is that they’re probably the same thing, but if I’m wrong and any fans of the Detroit Independents/Detroit A.C. feel disrespected, they should send me a telegram.
Much is in dispute about the game, but what’s not in dispute is that these good Michigan football boys won the first pre-Week 1 game ever, and they got it done months ahead of time:
Otherwise, this section features Pitt’s two greatest historical rivals getting destroyed by Nebraska, some FBS-on-FCS violence, and other standard blowout fare.
That Northwestern-OU score is real. That year’s Northwestern went 5-7.
- 1944: Washington* 7, March Field 3
- 1970: Fresno State 28, Hayward State 12
- 1993: #20 North Carolina 31, #18 USC 9
- 1994: #20 Ohio State 34, Fresno State 10
- 1995: #12 Ohio State 38, #22 Boston College 6
- 1998: #4 Nebraska 56, Louisiana Tech 27
- 1999: #18 Notre Dame 48, Kansas 13
- 1999: #3 Penn State 41, #4 Arizona 7
- 2000: #2 Florida State 29, BYU 3
- 2000: #8 Kansas State 27, Iowa 7
- 2000: Louisiana Tech 63, Missouri Valley State 10
- 2000: Texas Tech 24, New Mexico 3
- 2001: Louisville 45, New Mexico State 24
- 2001: #4 Nebraska 21, TCU 7
- 2001: #3 Oklahoma 41, North Carolina 27
- 2002: #10 Nebraska 48, Arizona State 10
- 2002: NC State 34, New Mexico 14
- 2002: #13 Ohio State 45, Texas Tech 21
- 2017: BYU 20, Portland State 6
- 2017: #19 USF 42, San Jose State 22
- 2018: Wyoming 29, New Mexico State 7
*The NFL team. Not the Huskies.
The 1944 March Field Flyers repped the U.S. Army’s Fourth Air Field in Riverside, California and had a former NFL coach running the show. 55,000 people reportedly showed up at the LA Coliseum, so the troops got a bigger turnout than many modern USC games.
After the Flyers lost in 1944, nobody ever again made the mistake of thinking that if the troops wanted to, they could put together a football team and dominate the NFL.
- 2016: Cal 51, Hawaii 31
- 2017: #14 Stanford 62, Rice 7
Fine, though not especially memorable
- 1988: #22 Nebraska 23, #10 Texas A&M 14
- 1992: NC State 24, #16 Iowa 14
- 1996: #11 Penn State 24, USC 7
- 1998: USC 27, Purdue 17
- 1998: #2 Florida State 23, #14 Texas A&M 14
- 1999: #12 Miami 23, #9 Ohio State 12
- 2001: #22 Wisconsin 26, Virginia 17
- 2003: #7 Kansas State 42, Cal 28
- 2004: #1 USC 24, Virginia Tech 13
The ‘99 Miami-Ohio State game could’ve been a worthy prequel to their 2002 national title game, but it turned out to be a dud. The Canes scored 16 points in the second quarter, and that was virtually all of the excitement.
The ‘04 USC-Virginia Tech game wasn’t far from being great. The unranked Hokies kept the eventual champs within a score into the fourth quarter. VT went 10-3.
At least close, though not necessarily good
- 1894: Chicago 4, Chicago Dining Club 0
- 1992: #7 Texas A&M 10, #17 Stanford 7
- 2001: #10 Georgia Tech 13, Syracuse 7
- 2018: Rice 31, Prairie View A&M 28
The most memorable thing about the 2018 game was that, as Rice kicked the winning field goal, TV viewers with their volume down had no way of knowing.
this may legitimately be the worst camera work i've ever seen on this rice game winner. i know camerawork is hard but man come on pic.twitter.com/4qtFsnd3ZM— patrick mayhorn (@patrick_mayhorn) August 26, 2018
Fun in their own ways
- 2000: #15 USC 29, #22 Penn State 5
- 2001: BYU 70, Tulane 35
- 2017: Hawaii 38, UMass 35
- 2017: Colorado State 58, Oregon State 27
- 2018: UMass 63, Duquesne 15
One featured a team scoring exactly five points, which is always a delight. Another featured the ‘01 BYU offense — which finished #2 in both S&P+ and points per game — operating at peak capacity. Another featured the Minutemen finally living up to their name by scoring 63 points in 60 minutes.
Another featured Oregon State whipping out a Crying Jordan sideline play card ...
... and then losing a fumble on the next play.
Talk about giving college football a rip-roaring welcome back.
- 1984: #10 Miami 20, #1 Auburn 18
- 1987: #17 Tennessee 23, #16 Iowa 22
- 1995: #14 Michigan 18, #17 Virginia 17
- 1996: BYU 41, #13 Texas A&M 37
- 1998: #15 Colorado State 23, #23 Michigan State 16
- 2001: Fresno State 24, Colorado 22
- 2002: Colorado State 35, Virginia 29
- 2002: #25 Wisconsin 23, Fresno State 21
- 2018: Hawaii 43, Colorado State 34
These are good college football is back games. They’re not any more memorable than other good games played in Weeks 1 through 15, but they earn credit for happening right at the start. The ‘84 Miami-Auburn Kickoff Classic could go higher, especially because the two likely would’ve met in a hypothetical playoff a few months prior, but there weren’t any points in the last six minutes.
Nearly a colossal upset
- 2002: #3 Florida State 38, Iowa State 31
FSU was a popular title pick. Iowa State was a .500ish team under Dan McCarney.
But the Cyclones had a brilliant QB in Seneca Wallace. Down 24-0 in the second quarter, Wallace led ISU on a comeback he nearly completed. In the final 10 seconds, he scrambled from the FSU 20 and dove for the pylon.
The officials on the field ruled him down at the one, and there was no video review at the time. On a subsequent option keeper with four seconds left, FSU stacked up Wallace to deny the Clones a massive opening upset.
Memorable for UPSET FACTOR and the path the winning team took
- 1999: NC State 23, #17 Texas 20
NC State blocked three punts — one for a safety, two for touchdowns. The second touchdown was the game-winner with three minutes left, when Terrence Holt swatted a Longhorns punt for the second time and set up a 35-yard runback by Eric Leak. (This was Holt’s first game at NC State and the first since big brother Torry left for the NFL.)
Some nice qualities about this game:
- NC State got 16 of its 23 points directly off blocked punts. I don’t mean that those punts set up subsequent scores. I mean they scored on the blocks themselves, every time.
- Texas twice came up short on what Mack Brown assessed as “fourth and six inches.”
An enjoyable rivalry mess
- 2019: #8 Florida 24, Miami 20
The Gators pulled through despite a) committing multiple turnovers in Miami’s half of the field, b) giving up a fake field goal for a first down, which was nullified due to holding, but then resulted in a first down anyway due to a personal foul, c) their QB throwing one of the world’s oddest picks with four minutes left, right after his defense had forced a turnover on downs in a one-score game to give him good field position as his team led, d) taking the world’s least useful pass interference penalty by tackling a receiver who was a mile short of the sticks and in double coverage, on fourth-and-34 with the game on the line, and e) more or less doing the same exact thing on third-and-12 three plays later. Perfect Week 0 football.
The second-best Week 0 game ever
- 1990: #8 Tennessee 31, #5 Colorado 31
This game — played in Anaheim, of all places — had all the hype because both teams had just gone 11-1. Colorado led by 14 with seven minutes left but gave up a brutal comeback. Tennessee had the ball on the CU 16 on the last play of the game, with the score 31-all. The Vols didn’t score.
Both elites were able to walk away furious, in a way making this the most fitting welcome-back the sport could want. This also ended up preserving CU’s national title claim at season’s end, making it the most consequential Week 0 moment ever.
This also earns bonus points for being part of 1990’s multi-week opening sprawl of upset chaos.
The greatest Week 0 game ever
- 2019: Hawaii 45, Arizona 38
Hawaii had six turnovers. Arizona had two. There were 1,134 yards of offense between the teams, but Zona needed there to be 1,135. The Rainbow Warriors hauled down Khalil Tate at the one as time expired, thanks to a defensive lineman named Manly Williams sprinting 40-plus yards at the buzzer:
Khalil Tate comes up less than a yard short of a game-tying TD as time expires. @HawaiiFootball squeezes out the 45-38 victory.— CBS Sports Network (@CBSSportsNet) August 25, 2019
WHAT A GAME! WHAT A START TO THE CFB SEASON!#CFBonCBS pic.twitter.com/yhXPySr4I4
This game earns the top spot by being loaded with two qualities that make college football its most fun: extreme suspense and extreme silliness.