Quarterback Brandon Peters and the Illinois Fighting Illini host Nebraska in the first game of the 2021 college football season at 1 p.m. EDT Saturday in Champaign. Photo by Craig Pessman/Illinois Athletics
Aug. 25 (UPI) -- Widespread attendance bans due to COVID-19 might be a thing of the past in college football, but varying degrees of pandemic protection remain for the 2021 season, which starts Saturday when Illinois hosts Nebraska.
The Fighting Illini and Cornhuskers kick off at 1 p.m. EDT in Champaign. The game airs on Fox.
"I'm excited to play football," Nebraska quarterback Adrian Martinez told reporters Monday. "Last year, we were running out with about 10 people up in the stands. This year, it's going to be full.
"I got nerves and butterflies. I'm pumped."
College football's opening two weeks start with six games Saturday. The second week of the college season features one game Sept. 1,16 games Sept. 2, eight games Sept. 3, 57 games Sept. 4 and one game Sept. 5.
Alabama is ranked No. 1 in the coaches poll and the favorite to repeat as national champions. No. 2 Clemson, No. 3 Oklahoma, No. 4 Ohio State and No. 5 Georgia are among the other favorites to win the title.
Most of the NCAA Division I's 131 Football Bowl Subdivision programs plan to invite full capacities back to their stadiums in 2021. Teams also resume full schedules after their 2020 campaigns were delayed and shortened due to the pandemic.
Unlike last season, when games were deemed no-contests, canceled or rescheduled, college football's top conferences will require teams this year to forfeit games when they are unable to field a team due to a COVID-19 outbreak.
Many colleges still will require masks inside the indoor area of stadiums. Some programs, like Oregon and Oregon State, will require proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test result to enter their facilities. Hawaii will not allow fans to attend home games to start the season due to a rise in cases in the state.
More than 60,000 people will be permitted to pack Memorial Stadium when Illinois hosts Nebraska. The Cornhuskers are a seven-point favorite to win their season opener.
The Cornhuskers went 3-5 when they faced a schedule that featured all Big Ten opponents in 2020. Their 2021 campaign has a dozen games, with three non-conference contests.
The Fighting Illini went 2-6 last season against Big Ten foes in 2020. Their 2021 schedule features 10 conference games and two non-conference games.
Illinois was the second-worst defense in the Big Ten in 2020, allowing 34.9 points per game. The Fighting Illini also scored the second-fewest points in the conference. They return an offense led by quarterback Brandon Peters and running back Chase Brown.
Nebraska returns an offense led by Martinez, who led the team in passing yards and rushing yards in 2020. The Cornhuskers scored the third-fewest points per game, but ranked fourth in yards per game last season in the Big Ten. They ranked seventh among 14 teams in points allowed.
The Cornhuskers could pose a problem on the ground for the Fighting Illini. Nebraska ranked second in rushing last season, while Illinois allowed the most rushing yards per game in the Big Ten.
"There isn't anything that we overemphasize," Illinois coach Bret Bielema told reporters Monday. "We have 12 given opportunities and how we respond to those 12 will define our success."
Nebraska and Illinois do not have any preseason Heisman Trophy favorites, but several elite college football players will be in action next week.
Top players to watch
Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud will be the first preseason Heisman Trophy favorite to play. The Buckeyes start their 2021 campaign against the Minnesota Golden Gophers at 8 p.m. EDT Sept. 2 on Fox.
North Carolina quarterback Sam Howell is another Heisman favorite. His No. 9 Tar Heels open the season against Virginia Tech at 6 p.m. EDT Sept. 3 on ESPN.
Oklahoma quarterback Spencer Rattler is the overall favorite to win the Heisman. His Sooners battle Tulane at noon EDT Sept. 4 on ABC.
Quarterbacks D'Eriq King (Miami), Bryce Young (Alabama), D.J. Uiagalelei (Clemson), J.T. Daniels (Georgia), Kedon Slovis (USC), Matt Corral (Ole Miss), Jayden Daniels (Arizona State) and Emory Jones (Florida) are among other Heisman favorites in action next week.
Young's Crimson Tide battle King's No. 16 Hurricanes at 3:30 p.m. EDT Sept. 4 on ABC in the first matchup of the season between Heisman favorites. Uiagalelei's Tigers face Daniels' Bulldogs the same day at 7:30 p.m. on ABC.
College football kickoff (times in EDT)
Nebraska at Illinois at 1 p.m. on Fox
UConn at Fresno State at 2 p.m. on CBSSN
Hawaii at UCLA at 3:30 p.m. on ESPN
Alcon State vs. North Carolina Central at 7 p.m. EDT on ESPN
UTEP at New Mexico State at 9:30 p.m on FloFootball
Southern Utah at San Jose State at 10 p.m. on CBSNSN
UAB vs. Jacksonville State at 7:30 p.m. on ESPN
Temple at Rutgers at 6:30 p.m. on Big Ten Network
Long Island University at FIU at 7 p.m. on ESPN3
Boise State at UCF at 7 p.m. on ESPN
Western Illinois at Ball State at 7 p.m. on ESPN+
Wagner at Buffalo at 7 p.m. on ESPN3
The Citadel at Coastal Carolina at 7 p.m. on ESPN+
Weber State at Utah at 7:30 p.m. on Pac-12 Network
South Florida at NC State at 7:30 p.m. on ACC Network
East Carolina vs. Appalachian State at 7:30 p.m. on ESPNU
UC Davis at Tulsa at 7:30 p.m. on ESPN+
Bowling Green at Tennessee at. 8 p.m. on SEC Network
UT Martin at Western Kentucky at 8 p.m. on ESPN+
Ohio State at Minnesota at 8 p.m. on Fox
Eastern Washington at UNLV at 10 p.m. on Stadium
Southern Utah at Arizona State at 10:30 p.m. on Pac-12 Network
North Carolina at Virginia Tech at 6 p.m. on ESPN
Duke at Charlotte at 7 p.m. on CBSSN
Old Dominion at Wake Forest at 7 p.m. on ACC Network
St. Francis at Eastern Michigan at 7 p.m. on ESPN3
South Dakota at Kansas at 8 p.m. on ESPN+
Michigan State at Northwestern at 9 p.m. on ESPN
Northern Colorado at Colorado at 9 p.m. on Pac-12 Network
South Dakota State at Colorado State at 9 p.m. on FS1
UL Monroe at Kentucky at noon on SEC Network
Colgate at Boston College at noon on ACC Network
Western Michigan at Michigan at noon on ESPN
Penn State at Wisconsin at noon on Fox
Holy Cross at UConn at noon on CBSSN
Stanford at Kansas State at noon on FS1
Oklahoma at Tulane at noon on ABC
Army at Georgia State at noon on ESPNU
Fordham at Nebraska at noon on Big Ten Network
Rice at Arkansas at 2 p.m. on SEC Network+
Fresno State at Oregon at 2 p.m. on Pac-12 Network
Lafayette at Air Force at 2 p.m. on Stadium
Alabama vs. Miami at 3:30 p.m. on ABC
Marshall at Navy at 3:30 p.m. on CBSSN
Indiana at Iowa at 3:30 p.m. on Big Ten Network
West Virginia at Maryland at 3:30 p.m. on ESPN
Northern Iowa at Iowa State at 3:30 p.m. on ESPN+
Miami University at Cincinnati at 3:30 p.m. on ESPN+
Louisiana Tech at Mississippi State at 4 p.m. on ESPNU
Central Michigan at Missouri at 4 p.m. on SEC Network
UMass at Pittsburgh at 4 p.m. on ACC Network
Louisiana at Texas at 4:30 p.m. on Fox
San Jose State at USC at 5 p.m. on Pac-12 Network
Campbell at Liberty at 6 p.m. on ESPN3
Gardner-Webb at Georgia Southern at 6 p.m. on ESPN3
Akron at Auburn at 7 p.m. on ESPN+
Eastern Illinois at South Carolina at 7 p.m. on ESPN+
Monmouth at Middle Tennessee at 7 p.m. on ESPN3
Syracuse at Ohio at 7 p.m. on CBSSN
Oregon State at Purdue at 7 p.m. on FS1
Texas Tech vs. Houston at 7 p.m. on ESPN
Missouri State at Oklahoma State at 7 p.m. on ESPN+
Baylor at Texas State at 7 p.m. on ESPN+
Nicholls at Memphis at 7 p.m. on ESPN+
Abilene Christian at SMU at 7 p.m. on ESPN+
Norfolk State at Toledo at 7 p.m. on ESPN3
Central Arkansas at Arkansas State at 7 p.m. on ESPN3
Southern at Troy at 7 p.m. on ESPN3
FAU at Florida at 7:30 p.m. on SEC Network
Clemson vs. Georgia at 7:30 p.m. on ABC
Northwestern State at North Texas at 7:30 p.m. on ESPN3
UTSA at Illinois at 7:30 p.m. on Big Ten Network
Northern Illinois at Georgia Tech at 7:30 p.m. on ACC Network
William & Mary at Virginia at 7:30 p.m. on ESPN3
Kent State at Texas A&M at 8 p.m. on ESPNU
East Tennessee State at Vanderbilt at 8 p.m. on SEC Network+
Southern Miss at South Alabama at 8 p.m. on ESPN+
Duquesne at TCU at 8 p.m. on ESPN+
Montana at Washington at 8 p.m. on Pac-12 Network
LSU at UCLA at 8:30 p.m. on Fox
Bethune-Cookman at UTEP at 9 p.m. on ESPN3
Nevada at Cal at 10:30 p.m. on FS1
BYU vs. Arizona at 10:30 p.m. on ESPN
New Mexico State at San Diego State at 10:30 p.m. on CBSSN
Utah State at Washington State at 11 p.m. on Pac-12 Network
Notre Dame at Florida State at 7:30 p.m. on ABC
Louisville vs. Ole Miss at 8 p.m. on ESPN