The college football season has already begun, but this Thursday marks the official start of Week One, as last week was deemed Week Zero. Last Saturday, seven games were played. A matchup between Notre Dame and Navy in Ireland headlined the schedule. Notre Dame demolished Navy, with a final score of 42-3. Additionally, College Football Playoff hopeful, USC, squared off against San Jose State. The Trojans took care of business in Los Angeles, as they beat the Spartans 56-28 behind a dominant performance from quarterback Caleb Williams. Now, let’s take a look at which showdown headlines this weekend's slate of games and also, another game that may make some headlines.
#5 LSU vs. #8 Florida State (+2.5) 6:30 p.m. CT Sunday, September 3rd on ABC
The first top-10 matchup of the year belongs to LSU and Florida State. A year ago, these two squared off on September 5th. The Seminoles edged out the Tigers in a 24-23 victory. But, the game was surely fun to watch as LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels led a heroic last-minute drive to score a touchdown with no time remaining. The LSU offense began play on the one-yard line, with a minute and 20 seconds to go in the fourth. Daniels completed seven passes and rushed for 38 yards on the drive. His final pass was completed to Jaray Jenkins to file the Seminoles' lead down to one point. However, the extra point was blocked and Florida State came away victorious.
This iteration of LSU and FSU may even be as exciting as last year's. Both teams are CFP hopefuls. Each team has an experienced, dual-threat quarterback leading the charge in Jayden Daniels and Jordan Travis, respectively. And, both teams have relatively new coaches. Brian Kelly, longtime Notre Dame skipper, will be entering his second season on the sidelines in Baton Rouge. He came to LSU after a couple of disappointing seasons following the Tigers’ championship run in 2019. On the other side, Mike Norvell will be entering his fourth season as the Seminoles coach. Florida State has improved every season since Norvell took over and 2020. Last season, the Seminoles won the Cheez-It Bowl, their first bowl victory since 2017.
LSU comes into this matchup as the fifth-ranked team in the nation. The Tigers return a majority of their players from a season ago, headlined by their quarterback Daniels, wide receiver Malik Nabers, and linebacker Harold Perkins. However, one of LSU’s best returning defensive players won’t suit up for the opener. Defensive tackle Maason Smith was suspended by the NCAA for one game after it was determined he received improper benefits in 2021 before the NIL rules had been instituted. Although the Tigers lost some defensive talent to the NFL, they recouped through the portal. LSU fielded the second-best transfer class according to 247Sports. The Tigers completely replenished their secondary through the portal.
Florida State will likely be a better team than a season ago. This season, the Seminoles begin the season ranked eighth in the polls. A year ago, the ‘Noles began the year unranked. And in the 2022 season, Florida State only lost three games, all to ranked teams. In those losses, the average margin of defeat was just six points. Flash forward to 2023, and Florida State will return most key players. ESPN’s Bill Connelly ranked the Seminoles no. 1 out of 133 FBS teams with 87 percent of their production returning. Additionally, Norvell hit the transfer portal with success. FSU came in at no. 8 in 247Sports’ Transfer Portal Rankings. Other than star quarterback Jordan Travis, the Seminoles have multiple stars on offense and defense. Defense end Jared Verse, wide receivers Johnny Wilson and Keon Coleman, running back Trey Benson, and defensive tackle Fabien Lovett compose a future NFL bunch of players.
The matchup between the Tigers and Seminoles will assuredly be close. However, my prediction is Florida State comes out on top. Each team has a fantastic running game, both with dual-threat quarterbacks and top-tier offensive lines. But, I believe Florida State is a tad better offensively. Travis hasn’t been as effective for as long as Daniels has, but he proved to be a better passer last season. LSU’s defensive line is a short a player, and they moved their best all-around athlete, Perkins, to inside linebacker rather than keeping him as a hybrid edge-rusher like last season. Thus, Travis will have time in the pocket to hit receivers like Wilson on deep routes, especially after the Seminoles have already established the run. LSU seems to be the common pick here, but these two teams are both brimming with talent, so realistically any outcome could occur. My prediction shows Florida State narrowly defeating LSU in a close, hard-fought battle.
My pick: Florida State Wins 32-29
#21 North Carolina vs. South Carolina (+2.5) 6:30 p.m. CT Saturday, September 2nd on ABC
Both North Carolina and South Carolina had tumultuous seasons a year ago. The Tar Heels finished 9-5 but had a 9-1 record at one point before dropping the final four games of the season, including the ACC Championship and the Holiday Bowl. All but one of North Carolina’s games were close, as they were plastered by Clemson in the championship. As for South Carolina, they beat three ranked squads a season ago. But, their losses were embarrassing. All but one of the Gamecocks’ losses were by thirteen or more points.
Neither Carolina school was equipped with a good defense a year ago. The Tar Heels fielded a bottom-20 unit last season but made up for it with extreme offense firepower. North Carolina ranked in the top 20 in yards per game and had a balanced approach on offense. Although Drake Maye is a Heisman contender and future top draft choice, the run game provided support. Including Maye, the Tar Heels had three rushers go over 400 yards and 6 touchdowns on the ground.
South Carolina on the other hand, did not make up for their poor defense on offense. The Gamecocks allowed more yards than they gained. Although they did average more points than their opponents. As inconsistent as South Carolina was on both sides of the ball last season, they’re coming into 2023 with some offensive continuity. The once-highly regarded Spencer Rattler returns to play quarterback for the Gamecocks. Additionally, Rattler will once again be paired with his top receiver in Antwane Wells Jr., who was the ‘Gamecocks' best playmaker a season ago.
This matchup between the Carolina schools will be high-flying. North Carolina was terrible on defense last year but should be improved on that side of the ball in 2023. With Maye leading the charge and a vaunted group of receiving threats, the Tar Heels should have no problem pouring in the points. If South Carolina can keep up, watch out, but unfortunately for the Gamecocks, Rattler and co. haven’t proved to be big point producers. My prediction sides with North Carolina, as their offense will be too much for South Carolina in the end.