College football: Nebraska, Illinois to kick off 2021 season

College football: Nebraska, Illinois to kick off 2021 season
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."

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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.

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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.

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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

Sept. 1

UAB vs. Jacksonville State at 7:30 p.m. on ESPN

Sept. 2

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

Sept. 3

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

Sept. 4

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

Sept. 5

Notre Dame at Florida State at 7:30 p.m. on ABC

Sept. 6

Louisville vs. Ole Miss at 8 p.m. on ESPN

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