December 3, 2023

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Understanding ‘Week Zero:’ Why FAU, FSU will kick off seasons early

Eleven college football games will be played this Saturday on what is unofficially known as “Week Zero.”

But how did this relatively new kickoff window come to be and why are there only a handful of teams that play on this date?

Under NCAA bylaw 17.11.4, Division I teams (from both the Football Bowl Subdivision and Football Championship Subdivision levels) cannot play their first game until the Thursday before Labor Day.

However, an exception to the rule was instituted in 2016 (NCAA bylaw, allowing Hawaii and teams that visit Hawaii the option to play on the Saturday before Labor Day weekend.

Among those teams taking advantage of “Week Zero” this season are Florida Atlantic and Florida State.

The Seminoles will host Duquesne this Saturday in Tallahassee. That’s because the Dukes will travel to Hawaii on Sept. 17.

FAU’s home game against Charlotte was moved from Nov. 19 after Conference USA had to revise its schedule with the early departures of three teams to the Sun Belt Conference. It’s one of two C-USA games that were granted NCAA waivers to play during “Week Zero.”

A second exemption, which also took effect in 2016, allows FCS teams to play a nationally televised nonconference game on the Saturday before Labor Day weekend.

Florida A&M’s trip to North Carolina is one such game to capitalize on this. The game, originally scheduled for Sept. 17, was moved to “Week Zero” and will be nationally televised on the ACC Network.

New this year is an exemption for foreign travel. It’s that exemption allowing Nebraska and Northwestern to begin their season this Saturday. The Big Ten Conference foes will play at Aviva Stadium in Dublin, Ireland.

Nebraska Cornhuskers QB Casey Thompson and head coach Scott Frost before 2022 spring game

Rebecca S. Gratz/AP

Nebraska red team quarterback Casey Thompson signals the crowd before leading both the red and white teams onto the field alongside head coach Scott Frost before Nebraska’s annual red-white spring game Saturday, April 9, 2022, at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Neb.

Historically, Hawaii has been able to schedule an extra game to make up for the cost of traveling to and from Honolulu during the season. But this exemption also applies to any team that travels to Hawaii (NCAA bylaw (g)).

Alabama most notably benefitted from this exemption after the NCAA imposed a two-year bowl ban on the school. The Crimson Tide added a 13th regular-season game at Hawaii in 2002 and 2003, essentially serving as Alabama’s bowl game.

As the season has expanded in the College Football Playoff era, fewer teams are electing to do so, instead choosing to play a game during “Week Zero” and thereby gaining an extra bye week during the season.

College Football’s “Week Zero” Games

Game Time Channel Bylaw
Austin Peay at Western Kentucky Noon CBS Sports Network
Nebraska vs. Northwestern 12:30 p.m. Fox
Idaho State at UNLV 3:30 p.m. CBS Sports Network (g)
Connecticut at Utah State 4 p.m. FS1 (g)
Wyoming at Illinois 4 p.m. Big Ten Network (g)
Duquesne at Florida State 5 p.m. ACC Network (g)
Charlotte at Florida Atlantic 7 p.m. CBS Sports Network waiver
Florida A&M at North Carolina 8 p.m. ACC Network
North Texas at UTEP 9 p.m. waiver
Nevada at New Mexico State 10 p.m. ESPN2 (g)
Vanderbilt at Hawaii 10:30 p.m. CBS Sports Network