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Beyond the Fort: College football is back!

The 2023 college football season commenced on Saturday with a few Week 0 games.

NCAA Football: Navy at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Football season is back. The purgatory that is summer is over (at least in terms of sport, it’s still way too hot) and sports fans finally have games on their calendars. The college football season began this past weekend with the slate of “Week 0” games. There were no marquee matchups, but there was still something to be learned from the weekend.

Notre Dame is going to be a problem

Many people were wondering what the addition of quarterback Sam Hartman would do for the Irish offense, and we finally have our answer. Hartman was 19/23 with 4 touchdowns and 251 yards passing in his Notre Dame debut. The Irish added another 191 yards on the ground to finish the game with 444 total yards despite Navy dominating time of possession with their option-based offense. The Irish were dominant on the afternoon, as they should have been, ending the day with a 42-3 victory. But there’s something to be said about dominating a team that you’re supposed to dominate. Far too often in the college game, it doesn’t happen. Ask Texas A&M about Appalachian State.

Notre Dame was the superior team on both sides of the ball, and the Irish looked particularly good in the trenches. Navy was only able to put up 126 rushing yards on 48 attempts. On the other side of the ball, Notre Dame averaged 6 yards per rush attempt, including 95 yards on 16 carries from Audric Estime. I expect Notre Dame will find themselves in the playoff conversation this year, and I think Ohio State and USC are now feeling a little uneasy about their trips to South Bend this fall.

USC Still Can’t Defense

The USC Trojans opened their campaign on a television station that most people didn’t have access to. So instead of watching the best player in college football play in his first game, you got to watch UMass and New Mexico State in prime time. Hooray, conference realignment! Admittedly, that was probably a better football game... USC ended up winning this one 56-28.

For those who were able to watch the USC Trojans play, you were greeted by the same exact team as last year. An absolutely electric offense with playmakers across the board, and a defense that is so bad it has to be on purpose. The Trojans gave up 396 yards of offense, including 198 on the ground. To make matters worse, San Jose State only ran the ball 27 times, meaning they averaged 7.3 yards per attempt! My favorite clip of the afternoon is below... It’s safe to say that the Trojans have not fixed their defense, and one can’t help but wonder why Alex Grinch is still employed.

On the flip side, it’s also probably safe to assume that in order to beat USC this year teams will probably have to put up 45 points minimum. Caleb Williams showed that he is definitely still the best player in the country, finishing the day 18/25 with 278 yards and 4 touchdowns. True freshman wide receiver Zachariah Branch announced himself to the college football world with 4 catches for 58 yards and a touchdown, and he also added a 97-yard kick return for a touchdown on the day. If there’s any sign of weakness for this offense it came in the run game as the Trojans were only able to average 4.7 yards per carry on 34 attempts (160 yards). But make no mistakes, USC is going to be able to throw the ball at will this year.

First FBS Win for Jacksonville State

Rich Rodriguez led his Jacksonville State Gamecocks to a 17-14 victory over UTEP in their first game as an FBS program. The Gamecocks sealed the game on a fantastic interception from Kolbi Fuqua (see below).

UMass Snaps Road Losing Streak

Prior to Saturday’s win the Minutemen had lost 24 straight games as the away team. Their last win on the road came in 2018 against UConn. This game was definitely the most entertaining finish of Week 0 as UMass was up just 13-10 at the end of the third quarter. The two teams combined to put up 49 points in the fourth quarter as the Minutemen pulled away to win 41-30.

Look Ahead

With Week 0 out of the way we now have some incredible games to look forward to this week. Here are some games I have my eye on this week.

Thursday, Aug. 31

Florida at Utah 7:00 PM on ESPN

Nebraska at Minnesota 7:00 PM on Fox

Friday, Sept. 1

Louisville at Georgia Tech 6:30 PM on ESPN

Saturday, Sept. 2

Colorado at TCU 11:00 AM on Fox

Virginia at Tennessee 11:00 AM on ABC

Boise State at Washington 2:30 PM on ABC

UTSA at Houston 6:00 PM on FS1

West Virginia at Penn State 6:30 PM on NBC

North Carolina vs South Carolina 6:30 PM on ABC

PAC 12 After Dark: Coastal Carolina at UCLA 9:30 PM on ESPN

Sunday, Sept. 3

LSU vs Florida State 6:30 PM on ABC

Monday, Sept. 4

Clemson at Duke 7:00 PM on ESPN