The first week of the season is the ultimate time to believe.
It’s the chance to believe your favorite team is winning the national title after a convincing win over a lesser opponent. It’s the opportunity to believe a player who shined during spring practice is going to be one of the best players in the country after a breakout performance. And it’s also the time to believe the season is already a goner and your team will be looking for a new coach pretty soon because of an 0-1 start.
After his team’s 45-42 upset of No. 17 TCU on Saturday, Colorado coach Deion Sanders asked reporters in his postgame news conference if they believed. Not content to deal with anyone who wasn’t optimistic about his team’s chances in 2023, Sanders was brash and reveled in his team’s win as a 20.5-point underdog.
In honor of Sanders’ repeated inquiries, here are some things that we believe after the first week of the 2023 college football season.
Colorado’s swagger: It’s clear the Buffaloes are much better than a lot of people thought they’d be. Sanders’ son Shedeur had a phenomenal game and set the Colorado single-game passing record. WR/DB Travis Hunter had 11 catches on offense and an interception on defense while playing over 100 snaps. Colorado wasn’t overmatched against the Horned Frogs, especially at the top of the roster.
The Buffaloes knew that going in and weren’t afraid to celebrate it after the win. Colorado should be a heck of a lot more competitive and entertaining than it was as a 1-11 team in 2022.
But don’t get too caught up in the Colorado hype train that’s barreling full-steam ahead. The Buffaloes have a brutal Pac-12 schedule with games against Oregon and USC the final two weeks of September and Oregon State and Utah in November. It’s OK to still be cautious, even if Sanders is already crowing.
Caleb Williams’ chances at a Heisman repeat: Williams has already played two games in 2023 and has simply picked up where he left off before suffering a hamstring injury in the Pac-12 title game against Utah.
After throwing for 278 yards and four TDs in a Week 0 win over San Jose State, Williams had more touchdown passes (five) than incompletions (four) in the first half of USC’s 66-14 win over Nevada. He also produced some ridiculous highlights.
Williams finished the game 18-of-24 passing for 319 yards and those five scores and looks poised to be the first player since Archie Griffin in 1974 and 1975 to win back-to-back Heismans. Yeah, there’s a long way to go this season, but if Williams continues to make plays like that, how can anyone else win the award?
Washington’s deep passing game: Huskies QB Michael Penix Jr. ripped apart the Boise State defense for 450 yards and five touchdowns in Washington’s 56-19 win over Boise State.
Penix threw for over 4,000 yards in his first season at Washington in 2022 and entered the 2023 season as a dark horse Heisman contender. Penix is more than a dark horse contender in 2023 if Washington’s pass game is as good as it was on Saturday.
Rome Odunze had seven catches for 132 yards, Ja’Lynn Polk had 101 yards on three catches and Jalen McMillan had two receiving TDs on eight grabs as Washington’s receivers kept getting behind the Boise State secondary. And when they did, Penix hit them with pinpoint passes.
Joe Milton’s potential in the Tennessee offense: Milton entered the 2023 season as the most tantalizing QB in college football. After Hendon Hooker lit up sport in 2022 and missed the final two games of the season with a knee injury, Milton looked more than capable of running Tennessee’s high-octane offense in 2023.
Nothing happened to dissuade those thoughts on Saturday. Milton was 21-of-30 for 201 yards and two TDs in Tennessee’s blowout win over Virginia in Nashville. And while those stats look pedestrian, they had the potential to be so much more. Milton launched a pinpoint pass in the first half that traveled over 60 yards in the air before it was dropped. And he made another phenomenal throw to the end zone that wasn’t a TD by inches.
If Tennessee is a top-10 team again in 2023, it’s because Milton is as good or better than Hooker was a season ago. And that’s very possible.
Utah’s physicality: The Utes entered Thursday night’s season-opener against Florida without starting QB Cameron Rising. That didn’t matter. Utah bossed Florida on both sides of the ball in a convincing 24-11 win as Rising watched from the sidelines.
While Florida QB Graham Mertz threw for 333 yards, many of those were empty calories. The Utah defense held Florida to just 13 total rushing yards and Trevor Etienne had just 25 yards on seven carries. Florida found it so impossible to rush against the Utah defense that it just simply gave up. Outside of Mertz’s rush attempts and sacks, the Gators ran just 13 times.
Utah has taken pride in beating up its opponents during the Kyle Whittingham era, and Thursday night was a continuation of that theme. The fight for the Pac-12 title will be a fascinating one in 2023 as Utah should firmly be in the mix.
Iowa’s offense won’t be much different in 2023: Iowa already has some work to do to meet the infamous clause in offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz’s contract.
The Hawkeyes beat Utah State, 24-14, on Saturday in former Michigan quarterback Cade McNamara’s Iowa debut. Iowa scored on its first two drives; McNamara hit Seth Anderson on a 36-yard pass for Iowa’s first season-opening passing TD since 1991 and then fellow Michigan transfer Erick All caught a 3-yard pass for a score.
It got sluggish from there, however. And that could be a problem going forward. Ferentz, the son of Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz, was retained for the 2023 season with a clause in his contract that required the Hawkeyes to win seven games and score 25 points per game for him to retain his job in 2024 after Iowa had just seven passing TDs in 2022.
Saturday’s game against Utah State was a prime opportunity for Iowa to build a cushion for later in the season. Instead, it’s already a point below the threshold with games against Iowa State and Western Michigan before Penn State on Sept. 23.
– Nick Bromberg
Here are Week 1’s winners and losers:
Travis Hunter: Deion Sanders’ debut at Colorado was mighty impressive as the Buffs upset No. 17 TCU in Fort Worth. And Sanders’ prized recruit, Travis Hunter, was on full display in CU’s 45-42 win. Hunter, the No. 1 recruit in the class of 2022, committed to play for Sanders at Jackson State and then followed him to Colorado. Hunter played both ways in his Colorado debut — 129 snaps in all. As a receiver, Hunter caught 11 passes for 119 yards, including a remarkable 43-yard reception on a critical third-and-16 play in the fourth quarter. And then, as a cornerback, Hunter had three tackles and played lockdown coverage. His diving interception in the third quarter kept TCU out of the end zone, showing off his incredible talent in the process. We haven’t seen a two-way player in college football like this in a long time.
Jalen Milroe: The Alabama quarterback competition was a major storyline entering the season, and Jalen Milroe emerged as the starter. In his 2023 debut, he played great as Alabama started the season with a 56-7 win over Middle Tennessee. Milroe completed 13-of-18 passes for 194 yards and three touchdowns. He also rushed for 48 yards and two scores. He looked in total control of the Alabama offense, which is now coordinated by Tommy Rees. It should serve as a major confidence boost — for Milroe and his coaches — with Texas visiting Tuscaloosa next weekend.
Penn State: Entering the season, the biggest questions surrounding Penn State and its ceiling were new starting quarterback Drew Allar and his group of receivers. In the opener versus West Virginia, both looked pretty good. In a 38-15 win at Beaver Stadium, Allar threw for 325 yards and three touchdowns, including a 72-yarder to Keandre Lambert-Smith on his second pass attempt of the night. Lambert-Smith led the way with four catches for 123 yards and two touchdowns, but Harrison Wallace and Malik McClain also impressed. Wallace led PSU with seven catches for 72 yards while McClain, a Florida State transfer, had four catches for 58 yards and a touchdown. That’s a good start for the Nittany Lions.
Louisville: The Jeff Brohm era at Louisville began with a come-from-behind win. The Cardinals fell behind Georgia Tech, 28-13, on Friday night in Atlanta, but stormed all the way back to win, 39-34. The Cardinals scored 26 unanswered points in the second half, flipping that 28-13 deficit into a 39-28 advantage. Jamari Thrash caught two second-half touchdowns for Louisville, including the go-ahead score that put UL up 29-28 with 8:08 to play. Georgia Tech drove into Louisville territory on the next drive, but Dezmond Tell got a pivotal strip sack to keep the Yellow Jackets off the scoreboard. On the very next play, Jawhar Jordan broke off a 74-yard touchdown run to put the game out of reach.
Fresno State: Fresno State won the Mountain West last year but lost a ton of its top players from that team. That included star quarterback Jake Haener, RB Jordan Mims and four of the Bulldogs’ top five receivers. So what did the Bulldogs do to open the 2023 season? They went on the road and upset Purdue, 39-35. In the win, transfer QB Mikey Keene threw for 366 yards and four touchdowns. Erik Brooks, one of the lone holdovers from last year, led the way with nine catches for 170 yards and two touchdowns. Jeff Tedford sure knows how to coach an offense.
North Carolina: The No. 21 Tar Heels pulled away from South Carolina in the second half in a 31-17 win. QB Drake Maye threw two interceptions but also threw two touchdowns as South Carolina couldn’t capitalize on golden opportunities in the second half.
Trailing 17-14 at halftime, South Carolina opened the second half with a successful onside kick. But the Gamecocks turned the ball over on downs less than a minute later and North Carolina scored in six plays to take a 10-point lead. After UNC went up by 17, Maye threw an interception with 2:14 to go in the third quarter. But South Carolina could only muster a field goal and went scoreless the rest of the way.
Houston: The Cougars’ Big 12 tenure started with a win as Houston got a 17-14 victory over UTSA. Former Texas Tech QB Donovan Smith threw two touchdown passes and his 6-yard toss to Matthew Golden in the third quarter proved to be the game-winner in a surprisingly low-scoring game. UTSA was a 2.5-point favorite at kickoff and the total was 59.5 points.
The Roadrunners scored with just under six minutes to go to cut Houston’s lead to three but the Cougars expertly ran out the clock with an 11-play drive that covered just 33 yards as Smith was able to kneel the ball on the final three plays after a clutch third-down conversion with 1:45 to go.
Stanford: Stanford is expected to have a tough year as it transitions to head coach Troy Taylor’s tenure following the resignation of longtime coach David Shaw. Taylor’s debut went quite well. The Cardinal went on the road on Friday and posted an impressive 37-24 win over Hawaii, a team that went to the wire with Vanderbilt in Week 0. Ashton Daniels was impressive in his first start at quarterback. Daniels threw for 248 yards and two touchdowns and had 42 rushing yards. Benjamin Yurosek was his top target. The tight end caught nine passes for 138 yards and a score. It’ll get much more difficult next week when the Cardinal face USC on the road, but Friday night’s win was a promising debut for Taylor.
Baylor: The Bears were simply outplayed by Texas State in a 42-31 upset loss. Baylor entered the game as a 27.5-point favorite but only held a 3-0 lead early in the first quarter. Texas State led the rest of the way as Baylor couldn’t stop the Bobcats from converting on any of their four fourth-down conversion attempts.
To make matters worse, Baylor QB Blake Shapen was also forced to leave the game with six minutes to go. He was replaced by Sawyer Robertson and Robertson threw an interception and fumbled the ball on his two drives.
Whether or not Shapen is healthy to play in Week 2, Baylor will have a tough test against an Utah team that beat Florida on Thursday. The 2023 season is looking more and more like a rebuilding year in Waco. That’s not a great thing for any program, let alone one that won six fewer games in 2022 than it did in 2021.
Ohio State: Ohio State posted a 23-3 season-opening victory over Indiana on Saturday, but it featured an uneven performance from the offense. Kyle McCord made his second career start at quarterback as the successor to C.J. Stroud. He had a few nice moments but largely underwhelmed in the win. It was a far cry from the explosive offense we saw from the Buckeyes in last year’s College Football Playoff semifinal loss to Georgia. Ohio State scored on its first drive of the afternoon but didn’t reach the end zone again until late in the third quarter. Again, this is against Indiana, one of the worst teams in the Big Ten. Ryan Day’s play-calling was largely conservative. McCord threw an ugly interception, and there were some holes in the pass protection. The Buckeyes have a lot to clean up before the trip to Notre Dame later this month.
Florida: There’s not much shame in Florida losing on the road to Utah. The Utes have won 25 of their last 26 games at Rice-Eccles Stadium, but the way Florida lost on Thursday night did not reflect positively on the Gators’ coaching staff. The Gators made repeated mistakes in the 24-11 loss, including giving the Utes a first down because they had two players wearing No. 3 on a punt return. That directly led to a Utah touchdown. That was one of way too many miscues from the Gators. There were ill-timed procedural penalties, a shanked 31-yard field goal try and a Graham Mertz interception off Ricky Pearsall’s hands deep in UF territory. Oh, and the Florida defense allowed Utah QB Bryson Barnes to throw a 70-yard touchdown pass on the second play from scrimmage. Barnes, Utah’s third-stringer, started because both Cam Rising and Brandon Rose are injured. The combination of Barnes and the speedy Nate Johnson were good enough to beat Florida.
Nebraska: Nebraska lost close games at an unbelievable rate when Scott Frost was head coach. Surely that trend wouldn’t continue with Matt Rhule now in charge? It sure did. The Huskers dropped a heartbreaker 13-10 to Minnesota on Thursday night in Minneapolis. Nebraska was doomed by four turnovers in the loss, including three interceptions thrown by new quarterback Jeff Sims. Sims was intercepted twice in Minnesota territory in the first half, including in the end zone before halftime. He then threw his third INT in the final minutes when the game was tied 10-10.
That interception allowed Minnesota to boot a walk-off field goal. Before that, Nebraska had a 10-3 lead, but Anthony Grant fumbled near midfield. Ten plays later, Minnesota tied the game on a fourth-down touchdown pass with 2:32 to play. It was a brutal way to start the season, and now the Huskers have to go to Boulder to face Colorado next Saturday.
Boston College: BC went 3-9 in 2022, a season decimated by injuries on the offensive line. That rough year brought Jeff Hafley’s record to 15-20 overall and 9-17 in ACC play during his three seasons coaching the Eagles. Hafley was already under some pressure entering the season, and that pressure just ramped up significantly after a season-opening home loss to Northern Illinois. BC was shut out in the first half and was down 21-7 by the 9:24 mark of the fourth quarter. The Eagles would rally and tie the game, but they ended up losing 27-24 in overtime. BC’s offense struggled mightily, particularly at quarterback. Emmett Morehead and Thomas Castellanos went a combined 17-of-38 for 168 yards. Castellanos gave BC a spark off the bench, but it wasn’t enough to beat a MAC team that won three games last season.
Texas Tech: Entering the season, there was a lot of hype about Texas Tech being a dark-horse contender in the Big 12. That may still be the case, but starting the season with a road loss to Wyoming was not part of the plan for the Red Raiders. Texas Tech opened the game up 17-0, but allowed the Cowboys to storm back to take a 20-17 lead in the fourth quarter. TTU would force overtime, but Wyoming would prevail 35-33 in double-overtime in front of a raucous crowd in Laramie. Now 0-1, Texas Tech will welcome No. 15 Oregon to Lubbock next Saturday. The Red Raiders are staring a possible 0-2 start in the face.
Arkansas State: The Butch Jones era at Arkansas State could prove to be short-lived. A few years after he was fired at Tennessee, Jones resurfaced in Jonesboro at an Arkansas State program that has typically been pretty competitive in the Sun Belt. But in Jones’ first two seasons, the Red Wolves went a combined 5-19 with just a 2-14 mark in Sun Belt play. Nobody expected Arkansas State to open the 2023 season with a road win over Oklahoma, but that doesn’t mean a 73-0 loss to the Sooners is acceptable. In the loss, Arkansas State allowed 642 yards of offense, had 14 penalties for 111 yards and went just 2-of-12 on third down. Oklahoma QBs went a combined 30-of-33 for 422 yards and three touchdowns. OU also rushed for six touchdowns in the game. It was an ugly afternoon for Arkansas State.