Colorado might have a Heisman candidate quarterback, and Ohio State might not! Cal might have a good offense! North Carolina might have a good defense! Up is down! Left is right! The moon is actually the sun!
Week 1 of a given college football season is always a bit dizzying, a bit confusing. But the first weekend of the 2023 season was especially so. Of course, so much of Week 1 is about deciphering blowouts, and while treating bad teams like really bad teams is certainly more predictive than the typical “They ain’t played nobody!” fan acknowledges, it’s only so predictive. We’d be smart to mostly withhold judgment with what little we’ve seen this year.
Withholding judgment is no fun whatsoever, though. Overreacting? Very fun. So let’s do that!
Here are some of the things I found myself thinking, against my better judgment, while drinking from the Week 1 fire hose. Let’s overreact!
Jump to a section:
Colorado’s two Heisman finalists
What’s up with the OSU, PSU offenses?
How good is North Carolina’s defense?
Is Bama a national title contender again?
OU vs. UCF in the Big 12 title game?
Auburn and Miami are BACK … maybe
Who won the Heisman this week?
10 favorite games of the weekend
Florida State is going to the College Football Playoff!
No. 8 Florida State 45, No. 5 LSU 24
You could sort of get a sense of what was coming at halftime. Florida State had committed far too many penalties, dropped far too many passes and suffered a couple of nearly crippling errors from star quarterback Jordan Travis. But thanks to a couple of huge fourth-down stops, the Seminoles trailed LSU by only three points. They were almost guaranteed to play better in the second half. LSU would have to match that.
The Noles did. The Tigers didn’t.
First 23 minutes of the second half
Yards: FSU 246, LSU 55
Yards per play: FSU 9.5, LSU 3.7
Points: FSU 24, LSU 0
FSU’s Jordan Travis: 10-for-11 for 185 yards and two touchdowns
LSU’s Jayden Daniels: 6-for-9 for 46 yards, one interception and two sacks
FSU came out angry to start the second half and began dominating the line of scrimmage — a battle won mostly by LSU in the first half — and the Tigers blinked. LSU receivers Kyren Lacy and Brian Thomas Jr. both dropped potential big-play passes in the third quarter, and on the first play of the fourth quarter, star receiver Malik Nabers fell down and created an easy Renardo Green interception. Then the floodgates opened.
Final score: FSU 45, LSU 24. Travis ended up with 342 passing yards and 38 rushing yards, receivers Keon Coleman and Johnny Wilson combined for 16 catches, 226 yards and three touchdowns (all from Coleman), and the Noles won a laugher.
So much of football is about mitigating the damage of your bad spells and maximizing the damage from your good ones. And so much of that is winning the red zone — holding your opponent to field goals (or even better, making fourth-down stops) when things aren’t going well and scoring touchdowns when they are. FSU did both masterfully in Orlando, and they have a résumé-boosting win to show for it.
This game was extremely important for the Noles because LSU was one of only two projected top-20 opponents on the schedule. But now that they’ve won … LSU was one of only two projected top-20 opponents on the schedule! It might turn out that Miami is better than expected (more on the Hurricanes in a bit), but as things currently stand, Clemson is the only sure(ish) thing remaining on the schedule. If the Noles split a pair of games against the Tigers — at Clemson in Week 4, then in a hypothetical ACC championship on Dec. 2 — they are going to be in great playoff shape. More specifically, if they bottle up that second-half performance and divvy it out for the next three months, they will absolutely be in the playoff.
Colorado will have multiple Heisman finalists
Colorado 45, No. 17 TCU 42
Deion Sanders brought in 80-something new players and 50-something transfers during his first offseason as Colorado head coach. In the end, he might have needed only a few.
The remodeled Colorado defense made zero tackles for loss against TCU and allowed 541 yards at 6.8 per play; it might not be too far improved over last year’s dismal unit. The remodeled special teams unit suffered a blocked field goal.
But the Buffaloes had Shedeur Sanders, Jimmy Horn Jr., Xavier Weaver, Dylan Edwards, receiver Travis Hunter and cornerback Travis Hunter, and the host Horned Frogs did not. That was enough to flip a surprising 45-42 win over the defending national runners-up in Coach Prime’s debut.
• Shedeur Sanders, who followed his father from Jackson State to Colorado, completed 38 of 47 passes for 510 yards and four touchdowns. He’s a marvelously talented former blue-chipper who threw 40 touchdown passes at JSU last year, so his father’s postgame talk about people underestimating him — “A lot of guys you doubted — one of them from an HBCU. I think he had 510 yards passing in a Power 5 football game” — rang a little hollow, even if it was fair to wonder whether there might be at least a bit of a learning curve with the move up.
• Horn and Weaver, both South Florida transfers, combined to catch 17 passes for 235 yards. Edwards, a top-150 freshman who flipped his commitment from Notre Dame after Sanders’ hire, scored on passes of 4, 75 and 46 yards, plus a 7-yard rush, and finished with 11 combined rushes and receptions for 159 yards.
• Hunter, the No. 2 overall prospect in the 2022 class and another Jackson State transfer, caught 11 passes for 119 yards and eight first downs and, oh yeah, made an absurdly athletic red zone interception that took what seemed like seven sure TCU points off the board. The Buffaloes’ two-way star played almost 130 snaps in oppressive heat, and he might have been two of the three best players in the game.
They weren’t the only contributors, of course — another Sanders, safety Shilo, led the Buffs with 10 tackles (nine solo), and Trevor Woods, one of the team’s few holdovers, had an interception and a pass breakup. The revamped offensive line seemed to protect Shedeur Sanders well, even if it didn’t do much for the revamped running back corps. And with the game on the line, new defensive coordinator Charles Kelly ramped up the pressure a bit on TCU quarterback Chandler Morris and forced a couple of hurried passes and the game-clinching turnover on downs.
Still, it was the quintet above, and the playcalling of offensive coordinator Sean Lewis, that made the biggest difference. We don’t know what we need to about Colorado’s overall depth, or what will happen if a key player or two gets hurt, but we know the Buffaloes will head into most games this season with two or three of the best players in the game. It made the difference Saturday.
College football is a sport of imitation; if one team wins doing something, a lot more will start doing it too. And I have to say I’m not thrilled with the idea of Colorado winning big and every new head coach in America deciding to entirely flip his roster just because it worked for Sanders. We tell athletes, “Pick the school, not the coach,” because the coach could leave. We’ve finally begun to give athletes more power in terms of both the freedom (they can now transfer once without sitting out for a year) and money (NIL deals of both the fun and shady varieties) that they’ve deserved for decades. But a coach walking in and saying, “You’re going to enter the portal now” to a majority of the roster flips a lot of that freedom back around to the coach. And that’s probably about to happen a lot more.
Just a note, though: Imitating Deion Sanders probably won’t work unless you have players as good as Hunter and Shedeur Sanders to bring in. Most won’t.
Lord knows we’ve overreacted incorrectly to a one-game sample before. We do it every year. We’ll see what happens if or when injuries and potential depth issues drag this team down. We’ll see what happens now that opposing defensive coordinators have some film to work with. We’ll see what happens in conference play, when the Buffs face an endless run of offenses that are their equal and defenses that at least might not be worse — Oregon and USC both show up on the schedule before the end of September, after all.
Saturday didn’t give us definitive proof of Colorado’s 2023 greatness by any means. But it gave us absolute electricity, and that’s going to light up the next few weeks at the very least.
Ohio State has its worst offense since 2011 (and Penn State has its best since 2017)
No. 3 Ohio State 23, Indiana 3
No. 7 Penn State 38, West Virginia 15
The first drive of the Kyle McCord era couldn’t have been easier. Ohio State drove 80 yards in 11 plays; McCord completed passes to Marvin Harrison Jr., tight end Cade Stover and Gee Scott Jr.; and running back Miyan Williams capped an 80-yard drive with a 7-yard score.
The Buckeyes’ next six drives: three-and-out, interception, three-and-out, field goal, three-and-out, field goal. Ohio State led just 13-3 late in the third quarter before finally finding the end zone again and cruising 23-3. The sportsbooks projected about a 46-16 Buckeyes win, and SP+ projected more like 46-12. This was not the game we expected in any way.
McCord wasn’t awful by any means — he completed 20 of 33 passes for 239 yards, albeit with an interception and a 78.1 Total QBR that ranks a decent but unspectacular (for the Buckeyes) 26th. But the bar is high in Columbus, especially for offenses. Ohio State has finished in the offensive SP+ top five for five straight years and seven of the past 10. The Buckeyes haven’t averaged less than 40 points per game since 2016, when they averaged 39.4. They haven’t had a genuinely worrisome offensive attack since they were going 6-7 in Luke Fickell’s interim year in charge in 2011. But after an uninspiring offseason quarterback battle between McCord and redshirt freshman Devin Brown — who completed just 1 of 3 passes for minus-2 yards and lost 3 yards on his only carry in a dreadful, brief cameo — Ohio State began the season with an uninspiring performance.
This does happen occasionally. The Buckeyes scored only 21 points in wins over both Notre Dame (semi-forgivable) and Northwestern (not so much) last season. They tend to respond well to self-made adversity. But an offseason of handwringing begot a season-opening dud.
For Penn State, an offseason of hope begot a season-opening “Hell yeah.” The new golden-boy quarterback, sophomore Drew Allar, more than looked the part in a 38-15 win over West Virginia. He completed 21 of 29 passes for 325 yards and three scores, two to veteran KeAndre Lambert-Smith (four catches, 123 yards). The running back duo of Nicholas Singleton and Kaytron Allen combined for 121 rushing yards, and the Nittany Lions managed at least a field goal attempt in eight of 10 drives.
It has been quite a journey for James Franklin and the Penn State offense. Franklin turned the Nittany Lions program around when he signed all-world prospect Saquon Barkley, then hired coordinator Joe Moorhead to refresh his offense. PSU went a combined 22-5 in 2016 and ’17, won the Big Ten in 2016 and peaked at fifth in offensive SP+ in 2017. But Barkley and Moorhead both left, and the offense regressed four straight years.
Needing another shot in the arm, Franklin hired veteran coordinator Mike Yurcich in 2021. The Nittany Lions battled injury and transition and bottomed out at 77th in offensive SP+ that year, but with a talent influx and a healthier two-deep, they leaped to 14th and went 11-2 last fall. This year they’re hoping for even more improvement, and damned if Allar didn’t show all the promise Penn State fans hoped he would. He throws a sexy ball, and PSU’s offense as a whole is pretty sexy at the moment. We’ll see if that remains the case in games against strong defenses like Illinois’ in Week 3 and Iowa’s in Week 4.
North Carolina has its best defense since 2013
No. 21 North Carolina 31, South Carolina 17
We’re used to North Carolina scoring points. The Tar Heels have averaged at least 32 points per game in nine of the past 11 seasons, and omitting the 2017 and ’18 seasons, the last two of the Larry Fedora era when things suddenly fell apart in Chapel Hill, they have averaged an offensive SP+ ranking of 25.1. Solid stuff.
Defense has been quite a bit more hit-and-miss. The last season UNC ranked in the top 40 in defensive SP+ was 2016, Fedora’s last solid season, and over the past five years, its average ranking is 73.8. Of the Heels’ past 19 losses, they’ve allowed at least 30 points in 16.
Brown’s hire of old friend Gene Chizik as defensive coordinator didn’t really take last season. UNC improved, but only from 90th to 70th in defensive SP+. The Heels deployed an extreme bend-don’t-break approach, and they had no way of getting effectively aggressive when they needed a stop. Opponents converted at least 50% of third-down attempts in four of the Heels’ five losses.
On Saturday, South Carolina went just 4-for-14 on third downs (and 0-for-4 on fourth downs) against the UNC defense. The Tar Heels recorded 16 tackles for loss — it was their first FBS game with more than 11 since a win over Pitt in 2013 — and nine sacks. UNC has been officially tracking sacks since 2000, and only once in that time have the Heels had more.
North Carolina played aggressively and made plays in huge moments. North Carolina! On defense! Combined with an offense that got 269 passing yards from Drake Maye (albeit with two interceptions) and 103 rushing yards from British Brooks, that was more than enough to score a surprisingly resounding 31-17 win in Charlotte. The sportsbooks projected about a 31-29 UNC win, and SP+ was at 31-30. The UNC offense held up its end of the bargain, and the defense overachieved by nearly two touchdowns.
Now, South Carolina started slowly on offense last year, too, and there are all sorts of unique tests ahead for Chizik’s defense. But this was a hell of a start.
Alabama is winning the national title with Jalen Hurts incarnate
No. 4 Alabama 56, Middle Tennessee 7
Ohio State scored one touchdown in its first 43 minutes against Indiana. Georgia scored one TD in its first 25 minutes against FCS opponent UT Martin. Some top-ranked teams with new starting quarterbacks started awfully slowly Saturday. Alabama did the opposite. After laboring through a months-long quarterback battle that didn’t appear to produce a clear winner, Nick Saban handed the reins to Jalen Milroe, last year’s backup, a great runner and terribly unproven passer. Over parts of two seasons, he completed just 57% of his passes and averaged 7.0 yards per dropback; he also averaged 7.0 yards per carry.
On Saturday against Middle Tennessee, he was excellent in both departments. The Blue Raiders are athletic enough to have walloped Miami last season, but Milroe rushed for a 21-yard score on Bama’s first drive of the season, led another TD drive in the second, and after a brief lull, he rushed for a second score, then threw beautiful touchdown passes to Isaiah Bond, Jermaine Burton and Amari Niblack. When he left the game in the third quarter, Bama was up 42-0.
Jalen Milroe’s first deep ball of the game results in a TD
Alabama’s Jalen Milroe airs it out 47 yards to connect with Isaiah Bond in the end zone.
It was jarring watching Milroe run the show Saturday evening, primarily because it looked like Alabama had managed to sneak Jalen Hurts back into a crimson jersey. Hurts is listed at 6-foot-1, 223 pounds, and Milroe is 6-foot-2, 220. Their posture and mannerisms are similar. And like Hurts, Milroe starts his journey more proven with his legs than his arm. But after a 13-for-18, 194-yard, three-touchdown passing performance, the arm might be catching up. Obviously we’ll learn a lot more when the Tide host Texas next week, but this was as great a start as Saban could have hoped for.
Washington has the best offense in the country
No. 10 Washington 56, Boise State 19
The Pac-12 is the most offense-friendly conference in college football right now, and it’s not particularly close. USC has the reigning Heisman winner and is averaging 61 points through two games. Bo Nix and Oregon scored 81 points. Cal and Washington State both hit 50 Saturday, and now Colorado might have two or three of the best offensive players in the country. UCLA has Dante Moore, Arizona State has Jaden Rashada, Oregon State has DJ Uiagalelei, Arizona has Jayden de Laura … it’s a lot to keep up with, and it’s difficult to stand out.
Washington, however, might have the highest ceiling of the bunch. Against a Boise State team that has finished in the defensive SP+ top 30 for each of the past two years, the Huskies averaged 9.3 yards per play and gained 568 yards with eight touchdowns in just 61 snaps. The sportsbooks saw this as about a 37-23 game, and SP+ shaded lower at 35-21. Instead, the Huskies won 56-19. After leaping from 112th to ninth in offensive SP+ last season, Kalen DeBoer’s Huskies might be poised to rise even higher.
Quarterback Michael Penix Jr. was unreal Saturday. He completed 29 of his 40 passes for 450 yards and five touchdowns, and the ridiculous receiver trio of Jalen McMillan, Rome Odunze and Ja’Lynn Polk combined to catch 18 of 22 passes for 328 yards and four of those scores. The run game wasn’t asked to do much, but sophomore Will Nixon ran decisively in a small audition, gaining 48 yards on six carries.
The Huskies’ defense was a mixed bag. But hey, “mixed” is better than “bad.” They allowed a combined 85 points and 6.7 yards per play in their two losses last season, and there’s a chance the D still holds them back. They allowed Boise State to move the chains 21 times and gain 40-plus yards on three plays, but they also picked off two Taylen Green passes and held the Broncos to a mediocre 6-for-17 on third downs. They will have to survive some track meets to hold on to CFP ambitions. But they’re more than capable of doing just that.
It’s Oklahoma vs. UCF in the Big 12 championship game
No. 20 Oklahoma 73, Arkansas State 0
UCF 56, Kent State 6
It wasn’t an amazing first weekend for the Big 12. TCU lost to future conference mate Colorado. Texas Tech and Baylor suffered upset losses to Wyoming (which happens) and transfer-heavy Texas State (which never had). West Virginia got thumped by Penn State. Iowa State, BYU and Oklahoma State all looked somewhere between stagnant and moribund on offense in buy-game wins.
Granted, the top two teams in the Big 12 preseason poll, Texas and Kansas State, looked fine in wins over Rice and SE Missouri State, even if it took the Longhorns a little while to get rolling. They might still be your conference favorites. But in Overreaction Land, the Big 12 title goes through Orlando and Norman. Holy smokes, were the Knights and Sooners sharp this weekend.
UCF took on Kent State on Thursday night, and while the Golden Flashes are admittedly quite dire — they rank last in FBS in returning production and were projected 132nd out of 133 teams in SP+ — Gus Malzahn’s Knights were devastating, tripling the Flashes’ yardage (723-240) and more than doubling their first downs (32-15). The 56-6 final score was almost kind to Kent State: Only a minus-2 turnover margin kept the game within 50 points. John Rhys Plumlee did have two interceptions but still threw for 281 yards and rushed for 90 more.
Arkansas State might be pretty bad, too; it certainly has been thus far under Butch Jones. But to date, the Red Wolves’ worst loss under Jones had been by a 52-3 margin to Washington. Oklahoma topped that scoring margin by 24 points. The Sooners scored twice in the first three minutes of the game, Dillon Gabriel threw for 308 yards in one half and the Sooners rolled. We’re used to Gabriel and the OU offense looking good, but the defense did its part, too, holding ASU to 208 total yards and allowing only a pair of missed field goal attempts. As always, you can learn only so much about a team when it’s playing an overwhelmed opponent. But anything we learned about the Sooners on Saturday was excellent.
Auburn and Miami are BACK
Auburn 59, UMass 14
Miami 38, Miami (Ohio) 3
Even by their own dramatic standards, the past two seasons have been particularly turbulent for Auburn and Miami. The Tigers went 11-14 in 2021 and ’22 and, after firing Gus Malzahn in 2020, elected to take on another huge buyout to send Bryan Harsin away. And they hired the oft-turbulent Hugh Freeze to replace him.
Miami has done only slightly better of late. The Hurricanes fired Manny Diaz despite a hot finish to 2021, succumbing to the allure of bringing back favorite son Mario Cristobal to restore The U to glory. In the first year under Cristobal … the Canes collapsed offensively and fell from 7-5 to 5-7.
Both of these wobbly teams looked great in Week 1. Colbie Young scored on the third play of the game as Miami romped over Miami (Ohio). Yardage margin: +278 (493-215). First down margin: +18 (27-9). Embattled quarterback Tyler Van Dyke went 17-for-22 for 201 yards, and only some red zone issues kept this game from getting even more out of hand.
Auburn was both more volatile and more explosive. Against a UMass team that had looked sprightly in a Week 0 win over New Mexico State, Freeze’s Tigers allowed an early touchdown drive and a late touchdown bomb in garbage time. But they put away an easy win with a 45-0 run over about 32 minutes. They rushed for 289 yards and balanced an interesting quarterback situation — Payton Thorne for most snaps, run-heavy Robby Ashford near the goal line — nicely.
There are plenty of tests coming up for both programs. Miami hosts Texas A&M this coming weekend and faces Clemson, Florida State and North Carolina in ACC play; Auburn … has the typical Auburn conference schedule and heads out for a track meet with Cal in Week 2. But both teams might be more dangerous than they’ve been so far in the 2020s.
Cal and Stanford are … fun??
Cal 58, North Texas 21
Stanford 37, Hawai’i 24
The Golden Bears and Cardinal have made headlines recently for their strange role in conference realignment — they will be joining the Atlantic Coast Conference next year because geography is officially broken — but on the field they’ve mostly been known for dreary play in recent years. Cal has averaged a 91.8 offensive SP+ ranking under Justin Wilcox, and while the Bears defended well enough to bowl a couple of times, everything fell off course last year. To rectify things, Wilcox brought in some exciting transfers and Air Raid offensive coordinator Jake Spavital.
As for Stanford, “fun” just wasn’t part of the David Shaw brand, even when he was winning big. It certainly wasn’t in recent years when he was instead losing big. He resigned after 2022, and Stanford brought Sacramento State coach Troy Taylor and his delightful offense to The Farm.
In Taylor’s Friday night debut, quarterback Ashton Daniels threw for 248 yards and ran frequently. Tight end Benjamin Yurosek was the biggest threat — this is still Stanford, after all — and while big plays were infrequent, Stanford was steady and efficient.
Cal was even more delightful. Beginning their season at North Texas, the Golden Bears lost starting quarterback (and TCU transfer) Sam Jackson V early to injury but still rolled, throwing for 312 yards and rushing for 379 in a 58-21 win. The main star: running back Jaydn Ott. He was just about the only bright spot for Cal in 2022, and he began 2023 by carrying 20 times for 188 yards and two touchdowns. In his lone reception, a 13-yarder, he hurdled a defender to convert a third down. Montana State transfer Isaiah Ifanse, another Big Sky transplant, needed only 13 touches to gain 75 yards and score three times. North Texas hasn’t had a good defense in ages, but Cal was fun and mean.
We already knew the Pac-12 was loaded with great offenses. But now even the boring teams are fun. This season is going to be a blast.
Arkansas State’s Dominic Zvada and Georgia Tech’s Gavin Stewart each missed only one field goal in 2022; each went 0-for-2 in Week 1. South Alabama’s Diego Guajardo and TCU’s Griffin Kell both missed one field goal in 2022 and one on Saturday. Missouri’s Harrison Mevis, one of the most big-legged and experienced kickers in the game, went 0-for-2 on Thursday night.
There were some long kicks mixed in there — Zvada missed 43- and 44-yarders, Mevis a 48-yarder, Guajardo a 53-yarder, Stewart a 54-yarder — but if you had the impression that there were a lot of missed kicks this weekend, you weren’t wrong. In 2022, FBS kickers made 75% of their field goals in Weeks 0 and 1. They hit 84% of their attempts under 40 yards and 47% of their attempts over 50. This season, kickers made just 70% of their attempts: 80% under 40 and 39% over 50. On average, field goals were slightly longer this time (37.6-yard average length compared to last year’s 36.3), and I’m not going to craft any sort of theory as to why kickers were suddenly worse this year. I assume it was a fluky thing that will average out over time. But 11 kickers missed at least two field goals, and two of their teams (Stewart’s Georgia Tech and Gino Garcia’s Texas Tech) lost awfully close games. Special teams problems sneak up on you when you least expect it.
Iowa scoring watch
Iowa offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz needs the Hawkeyes to score at least 325 points this year — an average of 25 per game over 13 games — to reach his full incentive bonus. They scored 24 in the season opener against Utah State, which had, per defensive SP+, the worst projected defense on Iowa’s 2023 schedule. They now need to average 25.1 points the rest of the way to secure victory in the Drive for 325.
Who won the Heisman this week?
Last year in this space I attempted an experiment that I rather enjoyed. Instead of tracking any sort of changing conventional wisdom regarding the Heisman Trophy, I simply awarded the Heisman every week. I ranked the top 10 players based on who performed best that week, awarding 10 points to the first-place finisher down to one point for 10th place. (Caleb Williams won this race, just as he won the actual Heisman.) It was fun enough to do it again.
Here is this week’s extremely Pac-12-heavy Heisman top 10.
1. WR/CB Travis Hunter, Colorado (11 catches for 119 yards, plus an interception and a pass breakup, against TCU)
2. QB Shedeur Sanders, Colorado (38-for-47 for 510 yards and four touchdowns against TCU)
3. QB Jordan Travis, Florida State (23-for-31 for 342 yards, four touchdowns and one interception, plus 38 rushing yards and a touchdown against LSU)
4. QB Michael Penix Jr., Washington (29-for-40 for 450 yards and five touchdowns against Boise State)
5. QB Caleb Williams, USC (a combined 36-for-49 for 597 yards and nine touchdowns, plus 40 rushing yards against San Jose State and Nevada)
6. RB Jadyn Ott, California (20 carries for 188 yards and two touchdowns, plus a 13-yard reception and glorious hurdle, against North Texas)
7. QB Dillon Gabriel, Oklahoma (19-for-22 passing for 308 yards and two touchdowns, plus a rushing touchdown, against Arkansas State)
8. QB Drew Allar, Penn State (21-for-29 for 325 yards and three touchdowns against West Virginia)
9. RB Dylan Edwards, Colorado (five catches for 135 yards and three touchdowns, plus 24 rushing yards and a touchdown, against TCU)
10. OLB Kaimon Rucker, North Carolina (8 tackles, 5.5 TFLs and 2 sacks against South Carolina)
This was a difficult list to compile considering how many quarterbacks put up obnoxious numbers against bad teams, and I somehow didn’t have room for players like Notre Dame’s Sam Hartman (a combined 33-for-40 passing for 445 yards and six touchdowns, plus a rushing touchdown, against Navy and Tennessee State), Tulane’s Michael Pratt (14-for-15 for 294 yards against South Alabama), Texas State’s TJ Finley (22-for-30 for 293 against Baylor), Oregon State’s DJ Uiagalelei (20-for-25 for 239 yards and three touchdowns, plus two rushing touchdowns against SJSU) or Oregon’s Bo Nix (23-for-27 for 287 against Portland State), not to mention Troy’s Kimani Vidal (248 rushing yards against Stephen F. Austin) or Hawaii’s Pofele Ashlock (15 combined catches for 241 yards against Vanderbilt and Stanford). But I did my best. And I’m not going to lie: I almost put Bethune-Cookman’s Amarie Jones on the list for this alone.
BIG MAN PICK-SIX TO THE 🏠‼️ pic.twitter.com/pHdPqntmxr
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) September 3, 2023
Anyway, Hunter gets 10 points, Sanders gets nine, etc. I’ll start sharing season point totals next week.
My 10 favorite games of the weekend
1. Colorado 45, No. 17 TCU 42. Lots of points, lots of plot twists, lots of star power. This one sets the bar high for future weeks.
2. Wyoming 35, Texas Tech 33 (2OT). When I’m college football commissioner — and, therefore, czar of all schedules — I will send two power conference teams per year to Laramie at my whim to suffer in the elevation and wind and intense crowds. It should be a rite of passage for all of college football. But I have no idea why teams like Texas Tech and Missouri (which lost there in 2019) go there voluntarily. Don’t do it until someone makes you. You won’t have a single lick of fun.
WALK IT OFF WYOMING. pic.twitter.com/jH4B2S3GzG
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) September 3, 2023
3. Fresno State 39, Purdue 35. In his first game as Fresno State QB, former UCF starter Mikey Keene threw for 366 yards and four touchdowns, and after falling behind by 11 early in the second half, the Bulldogs finished on a 22-7 run to snare an upset.
4. Illinois 30, Toledo 28. Like Big Ten mate Purdue, Illinois also let one slip away. But then the Illini got it back. After going on a 20-0 run to take an 8-point lead in the fourth quarter, they allowed back-to-back scores to fall right back behind. But Caleb Griffin’s 29-yard field goal with five seconds left saved the day.
ILLINOIS RETAKES THE LEAD WITH 5 SECONDS TO GO
Caleb Griffin delivered the clutch field goal! pic.twitter.com/Lb4WGNsEJS
— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) September 3, 2023
5. Minnesota 13, Nebraska 10. Since the start of the 2021 season, Nebraska is 2-14 in one-score finishes. I’m no believer in curses, but it kind of seems like the Huskers have one at this point. They led for most of the second half Thursday night but turned the ball over on each of their last two possessions and set Minnesota’s Dragan Kesich up for a 47-yard game winner at the buzzer.
6. St. John’s 34, Trinity 31. I mentioned this one in my Friday preview column — it was a battle of top-six teams in Division III, and wow, did it live up to expectations. Trinity led most of the way and took a 31-14 lead early in the fourth quarter, but the Johnnies charged back to force overtime. Conor Murphy made a 35-yard field goal for St. John’s, and then Cayden Saxon picked off Ryan Back to seal a stunning comeback win.
7. Shepherd 27, Southern Connecticut 26. With former Shepherd star Tyson Bagent now backing up Justin Fields with the Chicago Bears, Seth Morgan took over for the Rams and pulled some Bagent-style magic. In a fourth quarter with three lead changes, a John Amaning TD gave Southern Connecticut a 26-21 lead with 1:28 left, but Morgan drove Shepherd 61 yards in six plays and found Dustin Fisher for a 23-yard game-winner with 23 seconds remaining.
8. Louisville 39, Georgia Tech 34. Georgia Tech played its best half in ages Friday night, racing to a 28-13 halftime lead on the Cardinals. But Louisville ripped off the first 26 points of the second half and held off a late Tech rally.
9. Louisiana-Monroe 17, Army 13. Even with no offense to speak of, Army scored on a lovely Bo Nicolas-Paul pick-six and held a 13-3 lead with less than six minutes left. But a 62-yard Hunter Smith touchdown run, a glorious Tyrone Howell touchdown catch and three straight Army turnovers gave ULM a shocking comeback win.
ULM’S TYRONE HOWELL ONE HANDED!! ULM LEADS ARMY 17-13!! 2:48 LEFT pic.twitter.com/vbasZQJQLx
— Sickos Committee (@SickosCommittee) September 3, 2023
10. Houston 17, UTSA 14. It’s OK to admit it: This one wasn’t the points-heavy thrill ride we might have expected from these two, but it was still intense. UTSA gained 417 yards but suffered three turnovers, and Houston ate up the last 5:35 with a series of first downs.