The NCAA football season has finally arrived. It has been an absolutely wild offseason (see my first takeaway), and most of us were eager to start the play on the field instead of talking about everything going on off of it. In case you weren’t with us last year, in these weekly posts, I’ll be discussing everything that happened during the week’s games, including player/team analyses, CFP discussions, and NFL draft ramifications where applicable. So let’s get right to it! Here are my week 1 takeaways for the 2023 college football season, a season that is so far like no other.
Realignment Continues to Dominate College Football Landscape
And this is why the 2023 season is so different. At no time in college football history have we witnessed so much conference-to-conference movement. This year brings us the debut of a new Big XII with Cincinnati, BYU, Houston, and UCF officially joining. Next year, Oklahoma and Texas will leave the conference for the SEC, and we were planning on USC and UCLA departing the Pac-12 for the Big 10. That was already a ton of change, but it was manageable. Little did we know that those two schools wouldn’t be the only Pac-12 defectors. Far from it.
Last month, Oregon and Washington reached deals to join the Big 10. That development came just after Colorado, Arizona, Arizona State, and Utah announced their intentions to join the Big XII. This week brought us the conference’s death blow. The ACC, who had been on the sidelines of the expansion wars, reached an agreement to bring Stanford and Cal, as well as the AAC’s SMU, aboard next season. At the time of this writing, only Oregon State and Washington State remain in the Pac-12. You don’t need me to tell you that college football will never be the same, but let’s take a closer look at the impacts.
To state the obvious, the Pac-12 is dead in its current form. The only real questions here are “what went wrong?” and “where do the Beavers and Cougars go now?” The answer to the first question is exactly what you might guess: money. The Pac-12 schools were awaiting a new media deal and losing patience. Some, including a few of those who are leaving, stayed the course, trusting commissioner George Kliavkoff when he said that the patience would lead to the best possible offer. When they offer arrived, it was a pitiful streaming-based deal with Apple TV. That immediately opened the floodgates to greener pastures.
The second question is much more complex. The Mountain West would love to add the last two Pac-12 schools, but OSU and WSU are admittedly hesitant to go from the Power 5 to the Group of 5. The prestige, level of competition, and money are all worse than they’re accustomed to. However, they aren’t considered academically or financially enticing themselves, so no conference offers have surfaced. They might be stuck. We’re currently left with 2 mega conferences (SEC, Big 10) and 2 more power players (Big XII, ACC). The Group of 5 seems stable, though the AAC is a bit weaker than before.
The CFP is expanding soon to 12 teams, and that plan may be affected by these realignment scenarios. Automatic berths for Power 5 champions can’t happen if we only have a Power 4. Elsewhere, old rivalries are fading, as teams like Oklahoma move apart from historical foes such as OKST. Other teams remain restless; FSU wants a greater share of the ACC’s revenue and seems poised to challenge the conference’s grant of rights agreement. The one thing we can say for sure is that college football will never be the same, and nobody what will happen next.
USC QB Caleb Williams Begins Heisman Defense
A few of these teams began their seasons last week (“Week 0” if you will) and have thus played 2 games. USC is one of those teams. This means that we’ve already gotten two chances to see Caleb Williams try to top his Heisman campaign from a year ago. So far, he’s picking up right where he left off. Against two FBS opponents, he is 36/49 for 597 yards and 9 TDs. That’s a blistering pace considering he keeps getting pulled in the second half because his team is too far ahead. Williams should have a chance to compile more stats against superior conference opponents, against whom his defense is likely to struggle.
Winning two Heisman trophies is incredibly tough. So much so in fact that only RB Archie Griffin has ever done it. Thus, the odds are against Williams picking up his second straight trophy. The field is filled with too many good players, like UNC QB Drake Maye and Washington QB Michael Penix Jr. Even players who have followed up their Heisman campaigns with another great season, such as Bryce Young a year ago, have been ignored in favor of fresh blood. What should keep Williams going is the fact that if he produces ridiculous numbers and great tape, he’ll be the #1 pick in the 2024 NFL draft.
Coach Prime, Colorado Make Strong Opening Statement
He told us. Deion Sanders warned everybody that the Buffaloes were coming, but nobody wanted to believe him. You can understand why; he has a whopping 86 new players on his roster who weren’t at Colorado last season. He implemented a drastic culture change that had current players bolting for the transfer portal in record numbers. The Buffs were 1-11 last year, so they couldn’t make a big jump in 1 year, right? Plus, Sanders brought in players from Jackson State, his previous school and an FCS program. One of those, QB Shedeur Sanders and Deion’s son, was only anointed the starter in an act of pure nepotism, wasn’t he?
It took just one game for Colorado to make everybody look foolish. Favored to lose by 3 touchdowns to (17) TCU, Colorado struck first with a TD, which was something they nearly never did in the first quarter in 2022. Could they keep this up against the team that reached the National Championship game in January? Even with many new starters as a result of the draft, TCU came in as the more talented team with the reigning coach of the year (Sonny Dykes). Though the defense grew tired as its lack of depth became an issue, Colorado could indeed maintain that pace.
Shedeur Sanders was nothing short of sensational. He completed 38 of 47 passes for 510 yards (a school record) and 4 TDs. The superior competition didn’t phase him, and he knew exactly where to throw the ball. Beyond that, he delivered it with accuracy, and he might have produced even more if not for a few drops on deep shots. That said, he did have some help. RB Dylan Edwards, who lost a crucial fumble in the first half, only had 24 rushing yards (1 TD) but atoned with 5 catches for 135 yards and 3 more scores, including the game-winning TD in a 45-42 victory. His explosiveness portends a breakout year ahead.
Finally, we can’t discuss this game without mentioning two-way star Travis Hunter. A 5-star recruit who follows Coach Prime wherever he goes, Hunter played an insane 129 snaps at WR and CB combined. He recorded a red zone INT and caught 11 passes for 119 yards. I don’t see how he can play this much going forward, but I also can’t doubt him. This man is special, and Coach Prime told us so. The Buffaloes have already matched last season’s win total, and they host Nebraska next in a winnable game. Colorado is going to be fun this year, and perhaps most surprisingly, highly competitive.
Georgia’s Title Defense Starts Strong…Again
You may recall that I had this same takeaway last year when they were defending champions. This time, they’re still the champions, but they’re going for a 3-peat. However, they don’t have QB Stetson Bennett anymore (or half of last year’s starting defense). None of that seemed to matter this week. Now, as I usually do, let me caution you against making any sweeping conclusions about a team after a big win over an FCS foe. Georgia’s 48-7 thrashing over UT Martin is not going to satisfy HC Kirby Smart one bit, and it shouldn’t impress you either. Some things can be said though.
Perhaps most importantly, QB Carson Beck looks like a good replacement for Bennett. The Bulldogs started off slowly, but they scored more points each quarter. Beck finished 21/31 for 294 yards and a TD (he also ran for a score). With more experience, he should grow into the role. We knew that Kirby Smart would replenish the defense and make it formidable. Based on their schedule, it may be a while before we see that defense tested. The limiting factor here is the offense, and it will dictate how far Georgia goes this year. The initial signs are very encouraging, but let’s revisit this once the Bulldogs have played a few FBS foes.
(8) FSU Annihilates (5) LSU in Error-Filled Game
As our only game this week featuring two ranked teams, this contest was heavily hyped. However, it was not without a concern. Commentators Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit mused that after a sloppy game between these two teams last year, both coaches would want to cut down on the mistakes. For one half, that seemed unlikely. Both FSU and LSU made countless miscues. During 1 sequence, FSU WR Johnny Wilson dropped a 3rd-down pass, LSU’s Aaron Anderson muffed a punt, and then FSU QB Jordan Travis threw an INT on consecutive plays.
LSU in particular had problems converting their opportunities. The offense marched down the field at will, but two 4th-down failures in FSU territory led to 0 points on a pair of promising drives. Despite thoroughly outplaying the Seminoles, LSU led just 17-14 at halftime. FSU turned things around in the second half. While LSU continued to play sloppy and ineffective football, the Seminoles caught fire. Travis in particular, benefitting from great protection, carved up a suspect defense for a 23/31 line with 342 yards and 4 TDs. He also added 38 yards and a TD on the ground.
The defense completely clamped down on LSU’s attack, limiting the Tigers to just 7 points in the second half (even those 7 points were scored in garbage time). FSU scored 31, winning 45-24. If I could pinpoint 1 FSU player who made this team so potent, it would have to be Michigan State transfer WR Keon Coleman. The big-bodied yet speedy wideout corralled 9 receptions for 122 yards and 3 TDs. His presence opened everything up for an offense that had trouble running the ball during the first half. LSU needs to go back to the drawing board, while FSU looks like an ACC contender.