15 things worth paying attention to during 2023 CFB season
After more than 230 days, the long wait is over, and college football has returned.
The offseason was dotted with tons of player movement and conference realignment moves that'll change the sport forever. However, with the games set to kick off, the attention can finally return to the field.
Here are 15 things worth paying attention to during this pivotal season.
Georgia's quest for 3
Georgia enters the season attempting to complete a task that hasn't been done in college football since before World War II: win three national championships in a row. There hasn't been a three-peat since Minnesota's run from 1934-36, but the Bulldogs are once again favored to hoist the trophy at the end of the year. Some of the faces may have changed, but Kirby Smart has once again reloaded with a roster laden with five-star prospects and future NFL pros. Add in a schedule that's significantly easier than the past two years, and history might be in the cards in Athens.
Caleb the magician
The closest thing college football has to Patrick Mahomes is back for another season at USC. Fresh off winning the Heisman, Caleb Williams' encore begins on Saturday against San Jose State. Perhaps the most intriguing thing about Williams is the fact the Trojans remain one of the top teams in the country despite barely fielding a defense. The onus is almost solely on the star quarterback to overcome the defensive issues, and he delivers almost 100% of the time. There's only been one back-to-back winner of the Heisman in history, but Williams has as good a shot as any recent winner.
Texas and Oklahoma's Big 12 finale
This time next year, we'll be talking about how Texas and Oklahoma stack up against the likes of Georgia, Alabama, and LSU in the SEC. It's the final season in the Big 12 for the two powerhouse programs, and the Longhorns are looking to leave with their first conference title since 2009. Quinn Ewers and a loaded roster have made them the favorite to do just that and finally cash in on all the "Texas is back" chatter we've heard on an annual basis.
A title would be a very lofty goal for Oklahoma, as head coach Brent Venables would probably just take an eight-win season at this point to get the program pointed back in the right direction. His debut season ended with Oklahoma's first sub-.500 record since 1998. A major step forward on defense will be needed to make some noise in the Sooners' Big 12 swan song.
Brilliance of Harrison
Williams' stiffest competition for the Heisman might not even come in the form of a quarterback, as Ohio State's Marvin Harrison Jr. is primed for another monster season with the Buckeyes. The junior grabbed 77 balls for 1,263 yards and 14 touchdowns last year - including this insane grab versus Michigan State:
Perhaps most importantly, Harrison won't have to battle his own quarterback for Heisman consideration, with C.J. Stroud now in the NFL.
Alabama's quarterback situation
After a six-year run of Jalen Hurts, Tua Tagovailoa, Mac Jones, and Bryce Young at quarterback for Alabama, there's finally some uncertainty at the position for the Crimson Tide. It appeared the battle would be between Jalen Milroe and Ty Simpson for the starting job, but new coordinator Tommy Rees dipped into the portal late to add his former quarterback Tyler Buchner from Notre Dame to the mix. Regardless of who gets the nod, it seems clear that Nick Saban's Crimson Tide will try to win the SEC West with an old-school mix of defense and running the ball.
Iowa's drive for 25
Iowa has failed to crack the top 120 in the country in yards per play the past two seasons. For reference, there are only 133 teams that play at the FBS level. The person in charge of such a poor offensive unit would likely have been fired for that level of performance, but the Hawkeyes' coordinator is Kirk Ferentz's son, Brian. That means he's back again in 2023 - albeit with some very intriguing stipulations in his contract if he wants to keep his job. Iowa must average 25 points per game on the season and win at least seven contests; otherwise, his contract terminates next summer. The program's exceptional defense should easily get them to the seven-win mark, but 25 points per game would represent an eight-point improvement on the 2022 campaign. Regardless of how this ends, the Hawkeyes are somehow now must-watch television every time they get the ball.
Hunter playing both ways
Deion Sanders took the Colorado job and informed people there would be major roster turnover as he was "bringing his Louis (Vuitton)" with him. There's no doubt that Travis Hunter was one of the players he was referring to, as the two-way former Jackson State star might be the closest thing we have to Sanders in today's college game. The former top recruit in the country will play both cornerback and wide receiver for the Buffaloes and likely garner plenty of Heisman attention in the process.
Wisconsin running the Air Raid
The headline isn't a joke: Wisconsin is actually running an Air Raid offense in 2023. The Luke Fickell era in Madison began with a seismic shift in scheme, as the head coach tabbed North Carolina's Phil Longo to run the offense. SMU's Tanner Mordecai is the new quarterback for the system and likely already has Russell Wilson's single-season Wisconsin passing record in his sights. While the passing attack will be a focal point, don't think Longo will forget about star running back Braelon Allen. Longo previously had two 1,000-yard rushers in the same season with the Tar Heels and will likely use the Air Raid to open holes for Allen to run through all year.
Penix's rocket arm
Michael Penix returns to Washington after leading all Power 5 quarterbacks in passing yards last season. That means we'll be seeing plenty of throws like this one:
Michigan's performance without Harbaugh
Some find Jim Harbaugh incredibly entertaining, while others would say the Michigan coach can be slightly annoying. However, "boring" is never a word used to describe the 59-year-old and his antics. Unfortunately, Harbaugh won't be someone we see early in the 2023 season, as he'll serve a self-imposed three-game suspension for NCAA recruiting infractions. That means the sidelines will be Harbaugh-free for home non-conference games against East Carolina, UNLV, and Bowling Green. That trio shouldn't threaten the Wolverines, but if Michigan's performance is anything but dominant in those three games, expect plenty of chatter about Harbaugh's absence.
Last dance for Pac-12 after dark
There are plenty of reasons to be upset about the Pac-12 essentially disbanding after this season, but the end of #Pac12AfterDark is perhaps the most crushing one. It seemed like a weekly occurrence that the 10:30 p.m. ET kickoff in the Pac-12 would get crazy, regardless of which teams were playing. It became so popular that the conference actually began promoting it. While there are many past games to highlight the madness, the 2019 contest between UCLA and Washington State is perhaps the best one to use. The Bruins trailed by 32 points in the third quarter but somehow stormed back and claimed an absurd 67-63 victory. The Cougars' Anthony Gordon threw nine touchdowns in the loss. Here's hoping the finale for the Pac-12 provides as much late-night drama as possible.
Darude visiting South Carolina
South Carolina fans going absolutely crazy to the tune of Darude's "Sandstorm" has become one of college football's best in-stadium traditions.
Shane Beamer and the Gamecocks are taking it up a notch this season, with the Finnish DJ actually coming to Columbia to do a pregame set and serve as the celebrity starter for the mascot's entrance. The opponent for the Week 12 festivities is none other than Kentucky, which famously used "Sandstorm" to troll South Carolina after its 2021 win over the Gamecocks.
The Fisher-Petrino working marriage
The most intriguing coaching situation in the country might reside at Texas A&M after Jimbo Fisher hired Bobby Petrino to be his offensive coordinator. The bold move - and make no mistake, it's bold - was born out of necessity after the Aggies finished second-last in the SEC in scoring. Petrino certainly brings solid offensive chops to the job, but the veteran coach has left a trail of drama in his wake. How his ego can co-exist with Fisher's is going to be one of the stories of the season in the country's best conference.
TCU the year after
There was no bigger surprise in college football last year than TCU making a run all the way to the CFP title game. The Horned Frogs were picked by many pundits to struggle in the Big 12, yet Sonny Dykes delivered a season for the ages. Repeating that success is going to be a monumental challenge, as the team lost a number of key contributors, including quarterback Max Duggan, running back Kendre Miller, and receiver Quentin Johnston. There'll be no sleeper status for the Horned Frogs this time around, as the first game of the season also doubles as Deion Sanders' first game with Colorado.
New 1st-down clock rule
There's a substantial rule change debuting this year as the NCAA makes an effort to shorten the length of games. For the first time since 1967, the clock will run after a first down instead of stopping while the chains reset. The exception to the rule is during the final two minutes of both halves. The rule change could play a large role in curbing comeback potential, with limited clock stoppage shortening the number of possessions.