Week 1 is here and we’re as ready as ever for the college football season to kick off.
Florida is traveling to Salt Lake City to face No. 14 Utah (8 p.m. ET on ESPN) in a must-watch game Thursday night. On Saturday, we have Deion Sanders’ debut as Colorado’s head coach as the Buffs take on No. 17 TCU (Noon ET on Fox), then on Sunday, No. 5 LSU faces No. 8 Florida State (7:30 p.m. ET on ABC). Clemson wraps up a jam-packed Week 1 on Labor Day against Duke (8 p.m. ET on ESPN).
Our reporters preview this weekend’s games by highlighting coaches who are eager to get off to hot starts in new places and running backs to watch for. We also break down some of the week’s best quotes and numbers to keep in mind over the weekend.
Week 1 trend to watch: Coaches in new places
Louisville: Jeff Brohm is as eager as anyone to see what his team looks like when Louisville kicks off the 2023 season. He has an idea, of course, but there’s just so much that’s new — new coaching staff, new scheme, nearly two dozen transfers, including starting QB Jack Plummer. For folks around Louisville, the opener at Georgia Tech has all the excitement of Christmas morning with just a hint of the looming danger that accompanies any gender reveal involving pyrotechnics.
It could look great. It could be a mess. Either way, Brohm said, it’ll be a learning experience.
“My nerves will be going,” Brohm said. “You want to please a lot of people and get off to a good start. You make sure you’re as ready as you can be, but you have to just go out and play and coach and be positive with your players.”
There’s ample promise surrounding this Louisville team. Brohm’s return — he played for the Cardinals from 1989 through 1993 — has injected a groundswell of enthusiasm, but all that goes away, Brohm said, if the team on the field doesn’t match the one fans have dreamed about.
That makes the Georgia Tech game critical — a game that will undoubtedly involve working out a few kinks, but one that will be played without much of a safety net. Louisville is just 4-11 in true road games over the past three years.
“This will be a first time for a lot of guys playing together,” Brohm said. “You have to trust your preparation and go out and execute.”
But don’t expect Brohm to water down the game plan while his team gets its sea legs. He’s approached practice the past few weeks as on-the-job training, stressing his defense with gadget plays and challenging his offense with some exotic looks on D.
He’ll do the same to Georgia Tech, he said.
“We want to be aggressive in our approach on both sides of the ball,” Brohm said. “You have to have enough in your pocket to be able to help your team if you’re struggling or get out of a rut and show some things you haven’t shown before.”
What will it look like? Brohm isn’t venturing a guess, other than to insist he won’t be surprised by anything.
That’s the whole point of fall camp, he said. It’s hardly a guarantee that it all looks seamless, but it’s an assurance that if things go sideways, it won’t be the first time his team has had to rebound. — David Hale
Wisconsin: The Luke Fickell era in Madison commences against Buffalo, but pay special attention to how offensive coordinator Phil Longo orchestrates his Air Raid system. The program — coming off its most losses (six) since 2012 — has undergone a makeover with designs on claiming the Big Ten West for the fifth time since 2014.
The Badgers’ passing offense, which ranked 11th in the Big Ten (183.8 yards per game) a season ago, will be going opposite a Bulls’ defense that was middle of the pack in the MAC (fifth; 216.2 ypg) in 2022.
With 7,791 career passing yards and 76 career touchdowns passes to his name, former Oklahoma and SMU signal caller Tanner Mordecai will surely feel pressure to show right away that it is indeed a new day with Fickell and Longo, previously the OC at both Mississippi Rebels and North Carolina, now calling the shots. — Blake Baumgartner
Colorado: Prime Time is finally here and the eyes of the college football world will, for the first time in a while, fixate on Colorado and the much-anticipated debut of coach Deion Sanders’ new-look team. The first impression won’t be an easy one to make for the Buffs given they have to face one of the four best teams of last season, TCU.
Plenty has changed for both teams heading into the matchup, but after Sanders arrived in Boulder and upended nearly everything about the program — including the conference where they will play next season — the expectations are plenty, even if they aren’t high. It will be a rebuilding year for Colorado to say the least, but given their new coach and new players as well as the attention that will follow them, it certainly won’t feel like a transition year come kickoff in Texas this weekend. — Paolo Uggetti
Auburn: New coach Hugh Freeze entered preseason camp “anxious” and “uncomfortable” after so much roster upheaval. He said he’d get asked all the time how good they’ll be. And his answer was frank: “I don’t know.”
At least one of those newcomers will be heavily featured in Auburn’s season-opener against UMass on Saturday. Former Michigan State transfer Payton Thorne won the starting quarterback job early in camp, giving the Tigers two years’ worth of starting experience. But what about last year’s starter, Robby Ashford, who is a home-run threat running the football? Freeze, who called Ashford the most athletic quarterback he’s ever coached, has plans for him.
“Robby, if he handles things the right way, he has to get on the field,” Freeze said. “He’s different.”
If Thorne struggles, don’t be surprised if Freeze turns to Ashford early. And it might not even be Thorne’s fault that a change is made. With so much unknown about this team, particularly at receiver, Ashford’s ability to pick up yards on the ground could save a developing offense. — Alex Scarborough
Cincinnati: When Scott Satterfield leads Cincinnati out of the tunnel Saturday, he’ll be up against more than Eastern Kentucky. He’s replacing Luke Fickell, the first Group of 5 coach to crash the College Football Playoff, who went 53-10 the last five seasons. He’s working in 23 transfers and jump-starting an offense with just one returning starter. His quarterback, Emory Jones, is one of those new faces, in his sixth year after stops at Florida and Arizona State.
Satterfield, who arrives after a 25-24 stint at Louisville, will be trying to regain the magic that saw him win three straight conference titles at Appalachian State after leading the Mountaineers from FCS to FBS. He’s taken a big leap before. But Oklahoma arrives in Week 4 for Cincinnati’s first Big 12 game. Expectations are not high: The Bearcats were picked to finish 13th out of 14 teams in the preseason media poll.
“It’s all new, you know?” Satterfield told ESPN. “New conference, new coaches and new players, we’re all figuring each other out. So it’s gonna be exciting and interesting. We’ll see how it all unfolds.” — Dave Wilson
Top five running backs to watch
Shipley was the backbone of Clemson’s offense a year ago, rushing for nearly 1,200 yards, catching 38 passes and adding another 324 yards on kick returns — all of which resulted in him making the All-ACC team at three different positions. But as the Tigers get set to kick off the 2023 season, Shipley’s role could actually grow in his junior season. New OC Garrett Riley wants to ensure Shipley maximizes his touches. Last season, Riley’s TCU offense threw behind the line of scrimmage on one-third of its dropbacks. Meanwhile, Clemson’s Week 1 opponent, Duke, allowed 7.06 yards-per-attempt on throws to tailbacks last year, the second-worst rate in the ACC. — Hale
There will be plenty of attention on the debut of Clemson transfer DJ Uiagalelei when Oregon State kicks off its season Sunday, but I’m watching out for the Beavers’ phenom running back Martinez, whose impressive freshman year (982 yards, 161 carries and seven touchdowns) went a little under the radar. Martinez has all the tools to be a force to be reckoned with all season long, and the combination of him and DJU could super-charge this Oregon State offense from the start. — Uggetti
Georgia coach Kirby Smart said the running game will be done by committee, but Daijun Edwards, who was second on the team with 769 rushing yards last season, might have an opportunity to separate himself. Kendall Milton, who was third on the team with 592 rushing yards, has been dealing with a hamstring injury, while Andrew Paul is coming off a torn ACL, and Branson Robinson is out for the season with a ruptured tendon. — Scarborough
Back healthy after a knee injury ended his tremendous 2022 season, Corum (1,463 yards, 18 TDs) returned to Ann Arbor with some unfinished business. That work begins with the Wolverines hosting East Carolina, which will provide an interesting test for Corum, a Doak Walker Award finalist as a junior. The Pirates’ rush defense (111.4 YPG) ranked second in the AAC last year. — Baumgartner
Bailey quietly led the Big 12 in yards per carry in 2022 (8.1) playing behind Kendre Miller and Emari Demercado, who both are in the NFL now. Bailey, who transferred from Louisiana last year, is the starter in Kendal Briles’ RPO-heavy offense and has held off Alabama transfer and former No. 1 RB recruit Trey Sanders for the No. 1 spot in the Frogs’ high-profile opener. — Wilson
What they’re saying
Jim Harbaugh: The Michigan head coach dedicated part of his news conference to advocating that student-athletes be paid.
“We all should be about diversity, equity and inclusion. I’m calling for a system that is fair, equitable and benefits all involved. Don’t exclude the student-athletes from the profits. My opinion, you can’t say you’re about diversity, equity and inclusion, if you aren’t willing to include the student-athletes in revenue sharing.”
Hugh Freeze: New to The Plains, Freeze is eager to see what Tigers fans can offer on gameday.
“It’s gonna be a magical experience I know in that stadium (Jordan Hare). … I soak in every game pretty much… even at Liberty, we played in SEC arenas and those are always fun to play in and I embrace those opportunities. To me, I think the most exciting thing to me would just be taking in what I consider to be one of the best home atmospheres in college football and I don’t know that I’ve had that — no offense to any other places that I’ve been.”
Steve Sarkisian: Last week, Big 12 commissioner Brett Yormark made waves when he told Texas Tech coach Joey McGuire that he “better take care of business” against Texas. Longhorns coach Steve Sarkisian has advised his team to stay focused on games, but did offer this retort.
“I got a letter from the commissioner about sportsmanship the day before that speech, so I’m trying to figure out what are we promoting to our student-athletes. To go say those types of things? I’m not guessing he’s gonna have his Thanksgiving dinner with us the night before that game.”
Kenny Dillingham: ASU announced a self-imposed one-year bowl ban, and Dillingham said the news was “upsetting.” But the head coach is still rallying his players to go out and give it their all.
“It’s my job to try to get our team and rally our team behind each other to go compete and go work at the highest level.”
Numbers to know
Watch out for three-peats in 2023.
Pac-12: Utah is going for a three-peat as Pac-12 champs, and though its opener against Florida won’t hold any weight in the conference race, the Utes want to get off on the right foot with a win over the Gators.
SEC: Georgia is going for the ultimate of three-peats. The Bulldogs have won the College Football Playoff Championship the past two years (as well as the SEC), and though Georgia should easily win Saturday, it’s a tall task to win three national championships in a row.
Big Ten: Can Michigan win the Big Ten for the third year in a row? To do so, the Wolverines in all likelihood would have to beat a certain conference rival for the third straight season. Michigan hasn’t beaten the Ohio State’s Buckeyes three consecutive times since 1995 to 1997.