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Ranking The Week Zero FBS Games

College football is finally back. No more realignment talk. No more tracking the transfer portal. No more coaching cycle (for now). Time for us to see what a handful of teams have been cooking up in the offseason.

There are seven week zero games on Saturday featuring at least one FBS team. Let's rank them. Plus, one thing I am looking for in each game.

#1 - Navy vs. #13 Notre Dame (Dublin)

This is the headliner of the weekend. The annual matchup between Notre Dame and Navy will certainly draw eyeballs, even if only for the novelty of playing the game in Ireland. The Fighting Irish are heavy favorites as they take on the Midshipmen, led by new coach, Brian Newberry. Notre Dame nearly let a comfortable second-half lead slip away in 2022. The Irish will be looking to put together a more complete performance to kick off the 2023 campaign.

One Thing I am Looking For

I am interested in seeing how much Navy adjusts its offense, if at all. The cut block rule changes implemented last season made life significantly more difficult for teams like Navy who run an under-center triple-option.

#2 - San Jose State at #6 USC

If you can find the Pac-12 Network, tune in to the first installment of Caleb Williams' attempt to defend his Heisman Trophy. USC's offense is going to be one of the best in the country and San Jose State is not equipped to slow them down. Expect some fireworks as the Trojans get a chance to wash out the bitter taste of losing the final two games to conclude the 2022 season.

One thing I am looking for

How much improvement will we see from USC's defense to start the season? Particularly, the defensive line after the additions of Bear Alexander (Georgia), Kyronn Barrs (Arizona), and Anthony Lucas (Texas A&M). San Jose State is not exactly an offensive behemoth, but they finished #1 in the Mountain West last season. If USC doesn't come out sharp, Quarterback Chevan Cordeiro, who received numerous preseason all-conference awards, has the ability to lead the Spartans up and down the field and put some points on the board.

#3 - Ohio At San Diego State

This is likely the most competitive game of the weekend involving teams that expect to see themselves competing for a conference title. Ohio is one of the favorites to win the MAC East. San Diego State should be a top-three team in the Mountain West. The game itself is a matchup of strength on strength when Ohio has the ball and weakness on weakness when San Diego State has the ball. Presuming quarterback Kurtis Rourke is recovered from his ACL injury, the Bobcats should field a good offense. The group will be tested against San Diego State, which has produced one of the stingiest defenses in the country over the past few years. In contrast, when the Aztecs have the ball, they will be looking to improve on last year's meager 21.5 points per game. Opportunity for improvement should abound as Ohio's defense was generous to opposing offenses last year, giving up 6.2 yards per play and 28.3 points per game.

One Thing I am looking for

As hinted at above, I am curious to see if former Aztec starter and NFL backup quarterback, Ryan Lindley, can spark some life into the San Diego State offense. They are consistently strong on defense. If they could generate enough offense to even be middle of the pack, this will be a dangerous team in the Mountain West. Think of them as Iowa West.

#4 - Hawaii at Vanderbilt

Vanderbilt is looking to make another leap under third-year head coach Clark Lea. They opened the 2022 season by demolishing Hawaii and are hoping for a similar start to a 2023 campaign that includes bowl game hopes. For Hawaii, former standout quarterback turned head coach, Timmy Chang is hoping his program will see its own jump in his second year at the helm. Hawaii finished near the bottom of the country in points scored and points allowed per game. It would be hard for the Warriors to be much worse than they were in 2022. A rematch of last year's blowout will be a good barometer for both teams.

One thing I am looking for

Does Vanderbilt rotate quarterbacks while the game is still in question? Sophomore A.J. Swann is the presumptive favorite to secure the starting job after taking over the job halfway through the 2022 season. However, 2020 starter Ken Seals is still on the roster and reportedly had a strong spring practice trying to recapture the job.

#5a - fiu at louisiana tech | #5b UTEP at Jacksonville State

We are splitting hairs with these two early-season CUSA matchups (that's right, Jacksonville State is an FBS program now). None of these teams are likely to seriously contend for the conference. In fact, if these programs make up the bottom four spots of the standings, it would not be surprising. FIU finished last in the conference in 2022 and prospects are not looking better for the upcoming season after running back Lexington Joseph tore his ACL in the spring and numerous projected starters opted to transfer. Jacksonville State is playing its first season at the FBS level. UTEP and Louisiana Tech both have significant questions on defense and will likely be giving up their fair share of points.

Two things I am looking for

Two things for two games:

  1. For Jacksonville State, I'll be interested to see if Rich Rodriguez can still scheme up an offense at the FBS level.

  2. For Louisiana Tech, they had one of the largest transfer classes among the Group of 5. It will be interesting to see if they can make a bigger jump than anticipated given the significant roster turnover in the offseason.

#7 - Umass at New Mexico State

At least it's real football, right? It beats watching the NFL preseason. I think.

I don't think I am going out on a limb by thinking UMass will not be very good at football in 2023. They have won only three games total dating back to the start of the 2019 season. No reason to suspect they will be much better in 2023. Their opponent, New Mexico State, made a bowl in their first season under head coach Jerry Kill. The Aggies improved from 2-10 in 2021 to 7-6 in 2022. In 2023, they are joining CUSA and will likely finish somewhere just above the four teams mentioned in the last paragraph. Quite the opening weekend for the middle and lower tiers of CUSA.

One thing I am looking for

The sickos that are actually going to watch this game. That is a level of dedication to the sport I have not reached just yet.


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