The 2023 College Football season is going to one for the ages
With the chaos surrounding conferences expanding following the dissolution of the PAC-12 conference, the sport of college football continues to be in the national spotlight.
As many are looking ahead to 2024, this season is going to be a dandy as it kicks off with 11 games on deck for Week 0. Here are the games we believe deserve your attention:
Navy vs. #13 Notre Dame (in Dublin, Ireland)
Those who think this game is going to be an easy one for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish will be in for a surprise. The Navy Midshipmen are who they are—a hard-nosed, gritty team that embraces physicality on the ground. There offense is somewhat rudimentary, but it works. Last season, the Midshipmen averaged 21.9 points per game. The Irish defense will need to be stout when stopping the run, as one will expect them to get a heavy dose of the read option. Leading the way is 5'8 fullback Daba Fofana, who led the team last season with 769 rushing yards and six touchdowns. Anchoring their offensive line will be senior guard Joshua Pena.
For the Fighting Irish, their success will hinge on the play of former Wake Forest quarterback and the ACC Conference's all-time leader in passing touchdowns, Sam Hartman. Yet, the Irish will certainly not be a one-man show as they carry one of the best backfields in college football, led by standout running back Audric Estime. Junior receiver Jayden Thomas has breakout potential in 2023 and may end up becoming Hartman's favorite target. The true strength of their team should be their offensive line, which is one of the best units in the nation. All-American Joe Alt has been projected as a first-round pick in the 2024 NFL Draft. With him anchoring the unit, Hartman should have plenty of protection. On defense, they'll need all of JD Bertrand to help them support the run, as the Midshipmen will certainly be keeping them busy. If they decide to employ any passing play, they should have their hands full with last year's freshman sensation, Benjamin Morrison.
San Jose State vs. #4 USC
Two words: Caleb Williams. Many call him the best quarterback in college football, and many expect him to be the first overall pick in the 2024 NFL Draft. However you want to define him, Williams is one of the most physically gifted players to ever play the sport. This season, Lincoln Riley's squad will look to redeem themselves after missing last year's college football playoffs after falling to the Utah Utes. Even though the team has lost several big names to the NFL, such as receiver Jordan Addison, they still have one of the best rosters in the nation.
A name to remember is transfer receiver Dorian Singer. Last season with the Arizona Wildcats, Singer broke out in a big way with 66 receptions, 1,105 yards, and six touchdowns. There is no question he will be one of Williams' favorite targets in this game and going forward. Yet the real stars for this year's USC Trojans team will be on defense, starting with Calen Bullock, the highest-graded safety in the nation according to Pro Football Focus. Arguably their biggest addition was former Georgia Bulldog defensive lineman Bear Alexander, who brings his run-stuffing abilities and championship pedigree to the team.
With all this said, San Jose State should not be ignored by any means. Last season, they had the Mountain West's top-ranked offense, averaging 27.4 per game. The catalyst of their offense last season was quarterback Chevan Cordeiro, who returns for his sixth year with the Spartans. His prime target will likely be junior receiver Justin Lockhart, who finished last season with 578 yards on 36 receptions. To complement him will be tight end Dominik Mazzotti, who should look to improve his production from last season.
Hawaii vs Vanderbilt
The Vanderbilt Commodores are arguably the most intriguing team in the SEC Conference. Despite finishing with 5-7 record, the Commodores' offense finished 89th in the nation, averaging 24.6 points per game.
With Mike Wright transferred to Mississippi State, the team will rely on sophomore quarterback AJ Swann to engineer their offense. Their leading receiver last season, Will Sheppard, enters his senior year in hopes of helping the Commodores achieve their first winning season since 2013. If health permits, the Commodores should have a sophomore edge defender Darren Agu and sophomore cornerback Miles Capers leading them on defense.
For the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors, they will be looking to bounce back from a disappointing 2022 campaign, which finished with a 3-10 record. If they have any desire to redeem themselves, it begins with quarterback Brayden Schager, who finished last season with 2,348 passing yards and 13 touchdowns. The real strength of this Rainbow Warrior will be on defense, which includes sophomore safety Peter Manuma, and senior linebackers Isaiah Tufaga and Logan Taylor. The heart of their defensive will be sophomore defensive tackle Kuao Peihopa, who led the team last season in sacks.
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