The 2023 college football season moves into Week 1 after more than a dozen teams played Week Zero games on the final Saturday of August. This is the first full-scale Saturday of the season, plus a few games on Sunday and one game on Monday in addition to Thursday and Friday games. We’re looking at the Saturday feature games plus the one really big game on Sunday. Let’s see how the biggest battles of the weekend shape up:
Colorado Buffaloes at TCU Horned Frogs
Odds: TCU -20.5
The Deion Sanders era begins at Colorado, and everyone will be interested in how Coach Prime begins his tenure as a Power Five conference head coach. Deion Sanders had a very good run at Jackson State University, but that is in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS), a lower competitive division of college football. Now Deion is in the Pac-12 with a dramatically remade team which hugely struggled last season and has had several dozen players transfer both in and out of the program. It’s a roster overhaul on a scale we have rarely if ever seen in the history of college football. It is highly intriguing to see if such an extreme makeover can possibly work. The fact that Deion, a megawatt personality, is orchestrating the transformation makes the drama that much richer.
Here’s the key point about the several dozen-player alteration of the Colorado roster: It happened relatively late in the offseason. Specifically, it happened after the Colorado spring football game in April. Usually, the spring game is a time when the coming season’s roster – after weeks of spring practice – gets to play a live game with each other to develop continuity and cohesion. The people playing in the spring game usually are part of the team that coming autumn, in September and October.
Not in the case of this Colorado roster. Most of the transfer exodus and the subsequent influx to replace the departing transfers occurred after the spring game, not before. This roster has been thrown together at a relatively late point in the offseason, and August preseason camp has been an abrupt crash course for the new Buffaloes under Deion’s direction. Maybe four weeks of preseason practice will be enough to get this team to mesh as a fuller unit, but the odds suggest that’s not likely to happen. Players need to be around each other on the practice field for more than a month in order to function well at a high level. Colorado just hasn’t had the amount of time necessary to put itself in the best possible position to perform.
TCU made the national championship game last season and was the surprise of the season in college football. This TCU team isn’t expected to be anywhere close to last year’s team in terms of overall quality. Max Duggan, the runner-up to Caleb Williams in the 2022 Heisman Trophy voting, is no longer on the roster. TCU lost its main skill-position playmakers at wide receiver and running back as well. This will be a scaled-down version of the 2022 Horned Frogs. No one would suggest TCU is going to maintain the standard set by the 2022 team. However, Colorado is so disorganized and late in its development that it won’t matter. TCU should blow the doors off this game and win by at least three touchdowns.
Pick: TCU -20.5
Boise State Broncos at Washington Huskies
Odds: Washington -14.5 at Bovada
The Washington Huskies did not have any players selected in the 2023 NFL draft. That would normally be a very bad and alarming sign for a major college football program. Obviously, if a football school isn’t sending players to the NFL and proving that it can develop NFL-quality athletes, recruiting and transfer portal activity will likely not be very productive. The program will not be seen as a destination, since players want to go to schools which develop NFL players, such as Alabama and LSU and Georgia. One might think that players wouldn’t want to have anything to do with Washington in light of its big zero at the 2023 NFL draft.
However, this points to a different reality: All of the NFL-quality players on the 2022 Washington team which won 11 games and hugely overachieved decided to come back for another college season in 2023. Lots of these players could have gone to the NFL and begun their pro careers in 2023, but they wanted to make a run at the Pac-12 title and the College Football Playoff. Washington is a veteran-laden team with star quarterback Michael Penix, elite receiver Rome Odunze, and a lot of other skill-position stars. They aren’t just really good players; They are really experienced players. And they know how to play together, know head coach Kalen DeBoer’s scheme and are going to be more polished and cohesive than a lot of other teams in the Pac-12 and in the country this year.
Washington is a lot better than Boise State. It is playing at home. Washington should win this game very comfortably.
Pick: Washington -14.5
Ohio State Buckeyes at Indiana Hoosiers
Odds: Ohio State -30.5
The Ohio State Buckeyes begin the season with a lot of raw talent but not the cohesion we see with Washington, as noted above. C.J. Stroud was picked second in the 2023 NFL draft. The elite quarterback won’t be part of the Buckeyes this season. The Ohio State offense could be really special at the end of the season after everyone has gotten used to playing with each other. However, with a new quarterback learning how to function in tandem with his teammates, you’re likely to see some rough edges for Ohio State early in the season.
It’s true that the Indiana Hoosiers aren’t a particularly good team. Still, Indiana has a decent defense under defense-first head coach Tom Allen. He used to be the team’s defensive coordinator before he was promoted to head coach a few years ago. Indiana could make this game just ugly enough for Ohio State to not feel comfortable in the first half. Ohio State should eventually pull away for a relatively comfortable victory in the second half. However, if first half is enough of a mess that Ohio State can’t really pull away by halftime, Indiana could keep the final margin of victory under 31 points. A score in the area of 34-7 or 38-10 could be what we are looking at in this game.
Pick: Indiana +30.5
North Carolina Tar Heels vs. South Carolina Gamecocks (In Charlotte, North Carolina)
Odds: North Carolina -2.5
This is a fascinating game played at a neutral site in Charlotte. North Carolina has Drake Maye, the quarterback who is regarded as one of the top 2023 Heisman Trophy contenders after a strong freshman season for the Tar Heels. He goes up against South Carolina and quarterback Spencer Rattler, who was a high-profile recruit under Lincoln Riley at Oklahoma in 2020, won a Big 12 championship and a New Year’s Six bowl game, and was part of an Oklahoma team which entered the 2021 season ranked No. 2 in the country and being expected to contend for a national championship.
Rattler was not able to hold up under pressure in 2021 at Oklahoma. He was replaced by Caleb Williams. Rattler transferred to South Carolina to play for Shane Beamer, the Gamecock head coach who had worked under Riley at Oklahoma as an assistant. Rattler struggled for the vast majority of his 2022 season in South Carolina, but in the last two games of the regular season, against nationally-ranked Tennessee and Clemson, Rattler came alive. He played his best football and looked like the elite recruit he was pegged to be a few years ago.
South Carolina knocked both Tennessee and Clemson out of the College Football Playoff with huge victories which have changed expectations for the Gamecocks heading into this season. This battle with Drake Maye and North Carolina is a high-stakes confrontation, with the winner getting a ton of momentum heading into the rest of the season and the loser suffering a wrenching defeat which will limit postseason possibilities.
North Carolina has historically not performed well in seasons when it is expected to achieve something significant. South Carolina really did look like a program which turned the corner in last year’s huge wins versus Tennessee and Clemson. South Carolina has the edge here.
Pick: South Carolina +2.5
LSU Tigers vs. Florida State Seminoles (In Orlando, Florida) – Sunday, September 3
Odds: LSU -2.5 at BetUs
This is the biggest, most important game of the whole weekend, and it comes on Sunday evening at a neutral site in Orlando. The two teams met last year in New Orleans, with Florida State winning an ugly, sloppy game on a blocked extra point late in regulation time. This game figures to be close as well. It involves two legitimate national championship contenders.
LSU and Florida State both have veteran quarterbacks ready to be great in 2023. Jayden Daniels made a very impressive transition to LSU under head coach Brian Kelly after struggling at Arizona State. FSU quarterback Jordan Travis reached a much higher level of quality last season, not only with his throwing prowess but with his in-game toughness and his leadership on the field. The winner of this game gets the inside track to frontline status as a College Football Playoff contender. Daniels or Travis could leave this game as a top-tier Heisman contender.
What ultimately makes the difference here: Brian Kelly of LSU is a better head coach than Mike Norvell of Florida State. LSU will find ways to make the big plays in the fourth quarter and prevail.
Pick: LSU -2.5