The first full week of the college football season is upon us, and it has already delivered a wild ending in Nebraska-Minnesota — a game that featured some truly terrible turnovers, 23 total points, a Catch of the Year candidate, and a walkoff field goal from 47 yards out. It was a near-perfect way to ring in the college football season (unless you’re a Husker fan) and a lovely appetizer as we approach our first Saturday of wall-to-wall football of the year.
As always, Week 1 features a handful of high profile games, spread out across Labor Day weekend as the college game takes advantage of its lone week not playing alongside the NFL to have games on Sunday and Monday night as well, and an awful lot of games featuring lopsided spreads as teams look to ease into the season. That makes the watch guide a bit tricky, as there aren’t clear great games in each window, but we’re going to do our best to steer you towards the ones most likely to produce some entertainment, even if not being all that competitive. Without further ado, let’s get into the Week 1 Watch Guide.
Colorado (+20.5) at TCU, 12:00 p.m. ET (FOX)
Week 1 is partially about seeking out rubbernecking opportunities, as sometimes you just can’t help but check out a potential trainwreck. Colorado will begin the Coach Prime era down in Fort Worth against a TCU team that is coming off a Playoff appearance but is turning over a lot of key pieces on offense. Even so, the Horned Frogs are three touchdown favorites against a Colorado team that has more transfers than anyone else in the country. The Buffs roster isn’t supposed to be good but we’ll find out exactly how not good they are in a Big Noon Saturday spot on Fox, which can’t really lose no matter how this game goes. If Colorado makes this surprisingly entertaining, that’s a win because folks will tune in. If TCU runs them out of the building, Deion Sanders has put a firm target on his back and people will want to watch his early demise.
Fresno State (+3.5) at Purdue, 12:00 p.m. ET (Big Ten Network)
This figures to be the most competitive game in the early window, at least based on the bookmakers projections. It’s not one that necessarily jumps out at you, but the Boilermakers are looking to start the Ryan Walters era off with a win. They will have to do so against a good Fresno State team that’s pushed Big Ten teams to the brink on the road before (they took Minnesota to overtime in 2019 when the Gophers were ranked 10th). This will be a good measuring stick for Purdue and while they aren’t a top team in the conference, the Bulldogs will absolutely want to say they took down a Power 5 team to open the season.
Utah State (+23.5) at Iowa, 12:00 p.m. ET (FS1)
I’m not suggesting you keep this one on the whole day, but given how bad Iowa’s offense was a year ago and how much chatter there is about improvement with former Michigan signal caller Cade McNamara under center, this is a fairly intriguing game (at least early on). Last year, Iowa opened the season with a 7-3 win over South Dakota State. They got to that seven via two safeties and a field goal. The team scored 30+ one time (against Northwestern) all season. For most teams, running up the score on a lesser opponent isn’t a big deal, but if Iowa can pile up points, even against a middling Mountain West squad with a bad defense, that’s a genuine step forward. If they can’t, it’ll be kinda funny to watch them once again try to win games via field goals, defensive scores, and elite punting via All-American punter Tory Taylor.
Boise State (+14) at Washington, 3:30 p.m. ET (ABC)
Washington has some high hopes in their final season in the Pac-12, but they aren’t starting with a cakewalk. They’ll welcome Boise State into town, and while the Broncos aren’t what they were in their heyday, this is a game that could test the Huskies if they aren’t at their best. Taylen Green is a dynamic quarterback and he’ll provide a good benchmark for how dialed in the Washington defense is early on in the season. The Huskies, meanwhile, boast their own star QB in Michael Penix Jr., who had a sensational first year in Seattle after transferring in from Indiana last summer. Washington should win this game and eventually pull away from the Broncos, but I won’t be surprised if this is still in doubt heading into the fourth quarter.
Ohio State (-30) at Indiana, 3:30 p.m. ET (CBS)
Along with Alabama, Ohio State is one of the hopeful title contenders with big questions at quarterback after C.J. Stroud’s departure to the NFL. The good news is, they open their season against one of the Big Ten’s worst teams in Indiana. Kyle McCord will get the start and it’ll be interesting to see just how much he’s cemented himself in that starting role over Devin Brown. We’ll know the answer to that by how much burn Brown gets in this game, particularly if he gets some first half snaps. The bad news for Indiana is they’re likely going to be getting an Ohio State offense that’s engaged for all four quarters, because even if this is a blowout, Brown will be looking to show his stuff with the second unit.
Cal (-6.5) at North Texas, 4:00 p.m. ET (ESPNU)
I have so many questions for how this game got scheduled for Cal, but I’m not complaining because while the 3:30 slate could see those two marquee games turn into blowouts, this has the chance to produce some funny “what’s going on with Cal” reactions when people see scores scroll by. The newest soon-to-be members of the ACC (which, lol) will head down to Denton where it is going to be really hot and they are going to have to deal with both the elements and a North Texas team that is capable of putting up some points in a hurry (and giving them up just as quickly). Cal was a bit flammable on defense last year, a departure from recent history, and we’ll find out if they’ve shored that up or not against the Mean Green.
UTSA (-1.5) at Houston, 7:00 p.m. ET (FS1)
Last year, the Roadrunners became a darling of college football fans, as they went 11-3 on the backs of a high octane offense. Quarterback Frank Harris is back for a fifth season in San Antonio and as such expectations are again high for UTSA, so much so that they’re favored on the road against Houston to open the season. The Cougars are now in the Big 12 and are prone to finding themselves in high-scoring shootouts, which should make this a highly entertaining contest.
Army (-9) at ULM, 7:00 p.m. ET (NFL Network)
If that’s not your cup of tea, how about Army trying out a new, non-flexbone option offense for the first time in forever and having to do so on the road. Even against a bad Sun Belt team, that should be fascinating to watch just to see how that goes and for people who have wondered “what would happen if Army just threw the ball,” here is your chance to see it in action.
North Carolina (-2.5) vs. South Carolina, 7:30 p.m. ET (ABC)
The battle of the Carolinas will take center stage in the primetime slate and should be an entertaining showdown between Drake Maye’s Tar Heels and Spencer Rattler’s Gamecocks. Both of these offenses can pile up points, although we’ll find out whether there’s some growing pains for UNC with a new offensive coordinator, and both defenses seem to always be standing on shaky ground. Like UTSA-Houston, this should be a game that delights those that enjoy seeing lots of touchdowns.
West Virginia (+20.5) at Penn State, 7:30 p.m. ET (NBC)
Penn State night games always look cool and this will be the first game of NBC’s new Big Ten package. It’s also going to be our first real look at Drew Allar, the highly touted sophomore quarterback for Penn State who takes over for Sean Clifford. He should bring a more dynamic passing element to the Nittany Lions offense, but also will be making his first career start and could see some hiccups along the way. West Virginia’s got lots of questions in the passing game, but is solid on both lines and could muck this up and make it sweaty. We’ll know how Allar is performing if Penn State fans like my colleague Bill DiFilippo have tweeted “Drew Allar hit me with a shovel daddy” or not by halftime.
South Alabama (+6.5) at Tulane, 8:00 p.m. ET (ESPNU)
Can I interest you in the best non-Power 5 matchup of the weekend? The Jaguars head to New Orleans to face a Green Wave team that beat USC in the Cotton Bowl last year, but are inside a full touchdown on the line. On top of being a matchup of two of the best G5 teams in the land, it also has the distinct honor of being the Week 1 game featuring the pettiest uniform, as South Alabama will don “Home of Mardi Gras” helmets to remind the folks of New Orleans that their beloved celebration started in Mobile, Alabama.
— South Alabama Football 🏈 (@SouthAlabamaFB) August 30, 2023
Old Dominion (+16) at Virginia Tech, 8:00 p.m. ET (ACC Network)
How many times does Virginia Tech have to lose to ODU and ECU before they stop scheduling them? After losing to the Monarchs last year, the Hokies will run it back and seek some revenge in Blacksburg this year. They’re expected to get it, but if this game’s close in the second half, things might get a little tight for the Hokies.
Coastal Carolina (+14.5) at UCLA, 10:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
The nightcap will see UCLA starting a new quarterback for the first time in forever, as Dorian Thompson-Robinson is now delighting Browns fans in the preseason, and Coastal Carolina playing under a new head coach in Tim Beck. The Chanticleers have been one of the best G5 teams in the country the past couple years, and could give the Bruins some problems. That said, UCLA has plenty of talent and Chip Kelly will look to see what his three QBs can do, with Ethan Garbers starting but Collin Schlee and Dante Moore all taking snaps in the opener. If the Bruins offense is humming, this could get out of hand and allow you to go to bed at a reasonable hour. But as they say, if you have three quarterbacks then you don’t have one, and if UCLA can’t get out of first gear because of constantly swapping in and out signalcallers, the Chants might make this interesting.
Northwestern (+6.5) at Rutgers, 12:00 p.m. ET (CBS)
Have you ever wanted to watch a football game that looks as hungover as you feel on a Sunday morning? Well friend, do I have a treat for you. Northwestern, a team that went 1-11 last year and just fired its longtime coach over a hazing scandal, is headed to the birthplace of college football to face a Rutgers team that went 4-8. This should be a rock fight, as the point total is a robust 39.5, and it’s a great way to ease into your Sunday with some truly hideous football.
Oregon State (-16.5) at San Jose State, 3:30 p.m. ET (CBS)
SJSU will be playing its second ranked Pac-12 squad of the year when they welcome the Beavers to San Jose, still licking their wounds after a 56-28 loss (but a cover) against USC in Week 0. The Spartans aren’t a pushover and could keep this interesting, while Oregon State is looking to just get to focus on the field after they (like Washington State) find themselves as the odd programs out in the Pac-12’s demise.
LSU (-2.5) vs. Florida State (in Orlando), 7:30 p.m. ET (ABC)
The game of the week is Sunday night, as LSU and FSU do battle in Orlando in a top 10 showdown. Both teams have Playoff aspirations and while a loss here won’t completely derail those, a win would do wonders for their chances. There’s an awful lot of optimism about both teams and last year when they played we were treated to one of the dumbest endings to a game in recent memory when LSU tied the game after forcing a fumble on the goal line, marched 97 yards for touchdown on the last play of the game, and then had the extra point blocked to lose by one. We can only hope for an encore.