All eyes will be on Deion Sanders on Saturday when he makes his debut as head coach at Colorado and leads his Buffaloes against No. 17 TCU.
And while some coaches might feel pressure under such intense scrutiny, the man who was known as “Prime Time” during his playing days welcomes the visibility.
“I know it may seem like it, but it’s not about me,” Sanders said this week. “And you talking about a big stage. I think I played in the Super Bowl and the World Series. I’m good. I’m good. I’m straight. This is about the kids, man. I want them to go out there and maximize the moment and take advantage of the exposure in the light that they have. And I feel like they will 100%.”
While Colorado-TCU is the highlight of Week 1, there are a host of other great matchups on the slate, with No. 11 Texas, No. 3 Ohio State and No. 2 Michigan all in action — not to mention Luke Fickell’s debut as head coach at No. 19 Wisconsin.
FOX Sports college football experts RJ Young, Michael Cohen and Bryan Fischer share what they’ll be looking for in the biggest games this week.
Colorado at No. 17 TCU (Noon ET on FOX and the FOX Sports app)
RJ Young: It’s Coach Prime’s Time (to make a statement) with a win against the national title runner-up on the road. Just three starters — OL Gerad Christian-Lichtenhan, OL Van Wells and S Trevor Wood — survived the loudest merger and acquisition the sport has ever seen and persevered through the purge that was the Colorado hostile takeover. (The acquisition was all things Prime marketing and the merger was his personality with CU.) The Pac-12 is the deepest league in the sport at QB, and Shedeur Sanders already is one of its top five along with Caleb Williams, Bo Nix, Cam Rising and Michael Penix Jr. Travis Hunter, Jimmy Horn Jr. and Alton McCaskill need to show out. There’s enough talent on that offense to have a 3,000-yard passer, a 1,000-yard rusher, and two 1,000-yard receivers. There’s enough talent on that defense to hold folks under 24 a game. But potential doesn’t mean results. No one knows that more than Prime.
Colorado hasn’t won a true road opener since 1995, when it began the season as the No. 14 team in the country and throttled No. 21 Wisconsin 43-7 in Madison on Sept. 2, 1995. A win of this kind for the Buffaloes would be unprecedented in the 21st century.
Week 1 preview: Coach Prime’s Colorado debut vs. TCU, more!
Bryan Fischer: Just how competitive will the Buffs be? I know Coach Prime is going to occupy all the attention on the sidelines for this one, but I am just fascinated to see how well this remade roster can perform against a very good and well-coached opponent. Every Week 1 game is a unique experiment when you take your team to play somebody after months of just scrimmaging against yourself, but that gets amped up 10 times as much with Colorado given how nearly everybody on the field is playing with somebody new — in a hostile environment under the midday Texas sun to boot.
I’m also paying close attention to Travis Hunter’s snap count and where he spends his time between offense, defense and special teams. The former No. 1 overall recruit was so dangerous while playing wideout, but he might be needed more at corner given the type of passing attack the Horned Frogs have and how thin CU appears to be on the back end.
Oh, and let’s not forget the home team in all of this either. TCU remains a top threat to win the Big 12 this season because they’ve got a great coaching staff and a very good roster, but I will be very interested in just how they might have replaced some pieces on the offensive line this offseason.
Michael Cohen: The public unveiling of Deion Sanders’ reclamation project at Colorado is the most intriguing storyline in Week 1. Dozens of players from last year’s dismal 1-11 season were asked to leave, and dozens of new faces have flocked to Boulder because they wanted the chance to play for Sanders, the most polarizing figure in college football. Rarely, if ever, has a first-year coach been so divisive to the sport at large. Millions upon millions will tune in to see if Sanders and the Buffaloes sink or swim in what is almost certainly the fastest roster overhaul ever at this level.
From a football standpoint, it will be fascinating to see how much cohesion Sanders and his coaching staff have been able to generate for a roster that seems to be in a permanent state of change. There are legitimate questions about offensive coordinator Sean Lewis, 37, given his age and a relatively thin résumé that included co-offensive coordinator stints at Bowling Green and Syracuse before he was named head coach at Kent State (24-31 overall, 19-17 in the Mid-American Conference from 2018-22). But a defense led by 55-year-old Charles Kelly, whose previous stops include coordinator experience at Florida State (2014-17) and Alabama (2019-22), should be in good hands. There is no shortage of storylines in this one.
Utah State at Iowa (Noon ET on FS1)
Michael Cohen: This one is all about the potential debut of new Iowa quarterback Cade McNamara, who suffered a quad injury partway through fall camp and returned to practice late last week. The Michigan transfer hasn’t appeared in a football game since tearing his MCL against Connecticut on Sept. 17, 2022, and the medical staff in Iowa City held him out of 11-on-11 drills this spring as McNamara recovered from knee surgery that also addressed a torn patellar tendon. If healthy, McNamara should bring the same poise, maturity and sound decision-making skills he flashed during his lone year as the Wolverines’ starter in 2021. He finished that season with a touchdown-to-interception ratio of nearly 3-to-1 and a solid NFL passer rating of 95.2, according to Pro Football Focus.
The challenge at Iowa is enlivening an offense that ranked among the bottom 10 in FBS last season in almost every major statistical category. High-profile transfers like tight end Erick All (Michigan) and wideout Kaleb Brown (Ohio State) should give McNamara better weapons than what the Hawkeyes had last season, but inconsistency along the offensive line is what hamstrung Iowa more than anything else the last two years. All of those puzzle pieces fall at the feet of maligned offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz, the son of head coach Kirk Ferentz, whose contract was amended after the poor showing in 2022. He begins this season on the hottest of hot seats.
Bryan Fischer: It’s very simple: how do the new pieces on offense fit together and just what kind of new number will we be looking at in terms of the drive to 325 for OC Brian Ferentz? Because that’s really the driving force for watching any Hawkeyes game this season, with all due respect to Phil Parker and his defense.
RJ Young: McNamara will receive his first opportunity to appear as the Hawkeyes’ starter at quarterback, and I’ll be watching to see how he handles Brian Ferentz’s offense.
While no one expects Iowa to put up 40, the offense didn’t score at all against South Dakota State in last year’s season opener. An offensive TD in the first half would do wonders for a fan base that is starved for an offense that doesn’t embarrass it while the defense remains one of the nation’s best under coordinator Phil Parker.
The Big Ten West feels wide open, and the Hawkeyes could throw down an earlier marker toward making their second trip to the Big Ten title game in three years.
East Carolina at No. 2 Michigan (Noon ET)
Michael Cohen: With head coach Jim Harbaugh serving the first of a three-game suspension that was self-imposed by Michigan’s athletic department, the Wolverines will be led by defensive coordinator Jesse Minter during Saturday’s game. Minter, who addressed the media on Monday afternoon, said he plans to draw on experience from his early years with the Baltimore Ravens when he shared an office with the staffer responsible for analyzing in-game decisions. He’s also been leaning on his father, Rick Minter, who has 10 seasons of head-coaching experience at Cincinnati and is part of Harbaugh’s staff as a defensive analyst. The plan is for Minter to still call the defensive plays on Saturday.
On the field, there’s precious little to be concerned about for the deepest Michigan roster of Harbaugh’s tenure. Competitions at both offensive tackle spots, both edge rusher positions and the No. 2 cornerback job are expected to continue through the first few games. The other intriguing storyline is at running back, where starter Blake Corum returns following season-ending knee surgery last year. How the Wolverines divide the workload between Corum and backup Donovan Edwards is likely to be an ongoing topic of discussion in Ann Arbor.
Bryan Fischer: Harbaugh’s decision to split up head coaching duties drew rolled eyes by some, but I absolutely love it for some of his assistants to show what they can do. DC Jesse Minter is a name that should be on a few athletic directors’ radar for later this year, and I’m sure I won’t be the only one interested in how he’ll do with the additional workload. I’m not expecting a big fight out of ECU (maybe if Holton Ahlers was around, it would be a different story), but tracking how Minter calls timeouts, manages late half situations, and fires up the team will make this one worth paying attention to.
RJ Young: The most interesting aspect of Michigan’s opener has more to do with who is not there rather than who is.
With Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Sherrone Moore sidelined, Minter’s game management and Kirk Campbell’s play-calling will be put under a microscope by fans. However, the absence of the head coach and offensive coordinator should not affect the presumptive outcome: a Michigan win.
Michigan’s coaching plan during Harbaugh’s 3-game suspension
No. 3 Ohio State at Indiana (3:30 p.m. ET)
Bryan Fischer: Every one of Ohio State’s conference games that are not against either Penn State or Michigan are going to be worth watching even just to see Marvin Harrison Jr. in action. Perhaps the best college football player in the country (non-Caleb Williams edition), he is just phenomenal when the ball is in the air and makes your jaw drop with some of the catches he comes down with.
Of course, who is throwing him the ball is bound to be what everybody is paying attention to in Bloomington. Ryan Day indicated that while Kyle McCord will start, Devin Brown is likely to see action against the Hoosiers. How both of the signal-callers handle things — and particularly take care of the ball — is going to be something very much worth seeing to parse for clues as to how this QB battle will play out long-term.
RJ Young: For the first time as a play-caller or head coach at Ohio State, Day will begin the season without naming an unquestioned starter.
Against the Hoosiers, Day said McCord will start, but Buckeye fans will likely see Brown behind center, too. Last year Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh took his quarterback derby three games into the season without losing a game before naming a starter.
Day would probably like everyone to know who the starter is before the Buckeyes play a top-25 Notre Dame team on the road in Week 4, though, so expect Day and fans to draw a conclusion on the QB derby before then.
Heading into the offseason, the QB derby felt like McCord’s to lose. Brown’s ability to competently compete for the job despite McCord starting last year against Akron and having a long-standing relationship with the Buckeyes’ best offensive weapon, Harrison, Jr., can only bode well for the Buckeyes’ future.
Michael Cohen: The competition between McCord and challenger Brown had extended from spring practice into fall camp, and Day said the players were essentially neck and neck as recently as last week. What eventually allowed McCord, who has been with the program a year longer than Brown, to separate and win the job was his consistency over the final 10 to 14 days of camp. He’ll be the one to lead Ohio State in a potentially thorny opener against a Big Ten opponent.
How McCord handles that moment is one of the most fascinating storylines of Week 1 given the wealth of talent around him and the program’s annual goal of competing for a national championship. Day said he intends to play both quarterbacks against the Hoosiers because of how close the competition turned out to be. Not only has Brown done enough to warrant seeing the field for what will be the first meaningful appearance of his career, Day said, he’ll likely be inserted at a time when the outcome of Saturday’s game is still in question. That means Brown will have at least one more chance to state his case before the ink on Ohio State’s depth chart dries.
Week 1 Preview: Ohio State-Indiana, LSU-FSU, more
Buffalo at Wisconsin (3:30 p.m. ET on FS1)
Michael Cohen: A new regime begins in Madison as first-year coach Luke Fickell leads the Badgers in a different direction following last year’s dismissal of Paul Chryst, who had been at the helm since 2015. Fickell arrived at Wisconsin following an incredible run at Cincinnati (57-18 overall, 35-11 American Athletic Conference) where he transformed the Bearcats into the best program from outside the Power 5 leagues. Now he’s tasked with steadying a Wisconsin team searching for its first 10-win season since 2019 after finishing 7-6, 9-4 and 4-3 over the last three years, respectively.
Most of the attention will focus on Wisconsin’s offense under the direction of new coordinator Phil Longo, who joined the Badgers after a successful run in the same role at North Carolina. Longo’s implementation of an Air Raid system derived from the late Mike Leach has re-imagined the pro-style, run-heavy approach most folks have come to expect from Wisconsin. Not since 2015 have the Badgers ranked among the top 90 nationally in passing offense, and that will almost certainly change with Southern Methodist transfer Tanner Mordecai at quarterback this season. Mordecai threw for 3,524 yards and 33 touchdowns with the Mustangs last season.
RJ Young: The Dairy Raid making its debut will be fun to watch. Much has been made about not just how good Longo and Mordecai have been elsewhere, but just how they’ll incorporate the passing attack into a traditionally great rushing attack.
With Fickell’s tough brand of coaching and an accomplished defensive coordinator in Mike Tressel, I expect to see the Badgers get off to a fast start against their Group of 5 opponent.
Bryan Fischer: It feels like this is going to be a good game to disabuse the notion that the move to the Air Raid is going to mean that the Badgers are going to throw it 45 times a game. Longo actually loves to run the football, and I wouldn’t be shocked if we see that being a point of emphasis against the Bulls (even if it does come from a four-wide formation).
That said, I’m going to have an eye on Mordecai and how he tries to involve his expanded receiving corps in the opener. This is a timing and repetitions offense and we’ll see just how far the group has come since spring ball.
Rice at No. 11 Texas (3:30 p.m. ET on FOX and the FOX Sports app)
Bryan Fischer: I’m not so sure we’ll see much out of the Longhorns’ starting offense or defense with that trip to Tuscaloosa looming, so I’m far more interested in if a certain Arch Manning makes an appearance if the game gets out of hand.
Michael Cohen: It seems like ages ago when five-star quarterback Quinn Ewers was the No. 1 overall prospect in the 2021 recruiting class and made the last-minute decision to enroll at Ohio State on Aug. 15, 2021, joining a position group that already included C.J. Stroud and Kyle McCord. With Stroud entrenched as the starter, Ewers made his only appearance in November by playing two snaps against Michigan State. He neither attempted a pass nor recorded a statistic of any kind, and two weeks later Ewers entered the transfer portal before landing back in his home state of Texas. A shoulder injury complicated his first year with the Longhorns, though Ewers still passed for 2,177 yards and 15 touchdowns in 10 games for a team that finished 8-5 overall.
With another No. 1 overall prospect lurking on Texas’ depth chart in Manning, a five-star freshman and the nephew of former NFL stars Eli Manning and Peyton Manning — this feels like something of a make-or-break season for Ewers. He has a slew of weapons around him in wideouts Xavier Worthy (60 catches for 760 yards and nine TDs in 2022), Jordan Whittington (50 catches for 652 yards and one TD in ’22) and Georgia transfer Adonai Mitchell (38 catches for 560 yards and seven TDs in two seasons with the Bulldogs), who has drawn rave reviews during fall camp. Throw in tight end Ja’Tavion Sanders (54 catches for 613 yards and five TDs in ’22) and Ewers has an embarrassment of riches at his disposal. Now it’s time to deliver.
RJ Young: I’d love to see a polished, high-functioning offense in Ewers’ Year 2 and Steve Sarkisian’s Year 3 on the Forty Acres against a Rice team it should outclass. That would only serve to bolster the opinion that Texas is capable of winning its first Big 12 title since 2009.
With weapons like those Mike has pointed out on offense, Rice shouldn’t prove a true test of the Longhorns’ ability to score early and often. The leap for Texas to take is on defense.
The Longhorns took one last year under Pete Kwiatkowski, and with Jaylan Ford back to lead the defense and safety Jalen Catalon improving the quality of the secondary, the Longhorns might prove capable of improving their scoring defense.
Is it the Texas Longhorns year to win the Big 12?
No. 5 LSU at No. 8 Florida State (7:30 p.m. ET)
Michael Cohen: This one shapes up as a fascinating battle between LSU’s Jayden Daniels and Florida State’s Jordan Travis to see which dynamic quarterback can join USC standout Caleb Williams in the early Heisman Trophy conversation. Oddsmakers at BetMGM have Daniels and Travis at Nos. 2 and 3, respectively, on the latest list of Heisman odds ahead of their debuts on Sunday evening. Williams leads the field after throwing for 278 yards and four touchdowns in a win over San Jose State last weekend.
Daniels had a terrific season under first-year head coach Brian Kelly after transferring from Arizona State, where he threw for more than 6,000 yards and 32 touchdowns from 2019-21. He led the Tigers in both rushing (885 yards, 11 TDs) and passing (2,913 yards, 17 TDs) while sparking a five-game winning streak from mid-October to mid-November. There’s reason to believe his output could be even better entering Year 2 in Kelly’s program.
Travis, meanwhile, put forth some incredible numbers of his own last season as the Seminoles won their final six games. He threw for 3,214 yards, 24 touchdowns and five interceptions while chipping in 417 rushing yards and seven more scores. The addition of former Michigan State wideout Keon Coleman (58 catches, 798 yards, seven TDs in 2022) in the transfer portal should give Travis an elite target on the perimeter.
Bryan Fischer: I cannot wait for this one, easily the top non-conference game of the season given the CFP implications for both sides and both leagues.
While Daniels’ is getting plenty of buzz surrounding his Heisman campaign, I’m far more intrigued by LSU’s defense. The suspension of DL Maason Smith is a blow for the Tigers, but there’s enough on defense that they can overcome the loss of one of the better interior guys in the SEC. Oregon State transfer Omar Speights was so fun to watch rack up tackles while out West, so it’s great he gets a big stage with the national spotlight on to showcase what he can do.
They’ll be tested too. I expect Noles QB Travis to make another leap in terms of his consistency, and the playmakers available are certainly bolstered by the likes of Coleman from Michigan State and Jaheim Bell from South Carolina.
The only negative is we have to wait just a little bit longer for the two programs to take the field in what could be the first of two meetings this season given the caliber of teams involved.
RJ Young: If the Seminoles are capable of competing for a national title, this is the game for them to show it. They’ve retained all the playmakers who emerged for them last year in Travis, Jared Verse and Johnny Wilson. And they got better through the portal with Jaheim Bell and Fentrell Cypress. In a game FSU won by a single point last year, a double-digit win might prove them to be a top-four team.
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RJ Young is a national college football writer and analyst for FOX Sports and the host of the podcast “The Number One College Football Show.” Follow him on Twitter at @RJ_Young and subscribe to “The RJ Young Show” on YouTube.
Michael Cohen covers college football and basketball for FOX Sports with an emphasis on the Big Ten. Follow him on Twitter at @Michael_Cohen13.
Bryan Fischer is a college football writer for FOX Sports. He has been covering college athletics for nearly two decades at outlets such as NBC Sports, CBS Sports, Yahoo! Sports and NFL.com among others. Follow him on Twitter at @BryanDFischer.
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