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USA Today Sports Media Group
USA Today Sports Media Group
Tyler Nettuno

Prime Time arrives in Colorado, LSU crushed by expectations: Winners and losers from Week 1 of the college football season

This weekend’s slate wasn’t the strongest Week 1 college football lineup that we’ve seen in recent years, but like a wanderer lost in the desert, we’ll be grateful for any oasis we can find.

With that being said, the opening weekend was far from devoid of action and intrigue. We saw the beginning of the Deion Sanders era at Colorado, which culminated in an early contender for Game of the Year as the Buffaloes knocked off a ranked TCU team that played for a national championship last year.

We also saw Florida State assert itself as a legitimate College Football Playoff contender with a decisive second-half performance against LSU, while North Carolina looked to be improved in a two-touchdown win over border state rival South Carolina.

There’s still one more game on the schedule as Cade Klubnik and Clemson will travel to Durham to open ACC play on the road against a rising Duke team.

We have the opportunity for even more chaos before we turn the chapter to Week 2, but for now, here were the winners and losers from Week 1 of the college football season.

Winner: Colorado and the Prime effect

Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

Take your victory lap, Deion. You deserve it.

This Colorado team faced understandable concerns entering Year 1 of the Sanders era, given its 1-11 finish in 2022 and a roster that has been practically entirely remade with transfers in a level of turnover that was unprecedented even for the transfer portal.

But despite the doubts, those pieces gelled together in the form of a shockingly impressive upset win over a TCU team that lost a lot of pieces from last year’s group but was still expected to be miles ahead of this Colorado squad.

Shedeur Sanders didn’t miss a beat in his FBS debut, tossing for a program-record 510 passing yards and four touchdowns despite facing a Power Five opponent on the road, and his favorite target in the passing game — Travis Hunter — could very well be the most talented player in the entire country.

He was one of four Colorado receivers to finish with 100 yards receiving (another school record). Oh, and did I mention he also played nearly every snap on defense, an unbelievable 129 in total, as the team’s starting cornerback?

There are things to clean up, for sure, especially on defense and special teams, but this looks like a team that’s poised to compete right away, a feat that didn’t even seem possible when Sanders arrived less than a year ago.

With the home opener against Nebraska and another first-year coach in Matt Rhule up next followed by what should be a win against rival Colorado State, Colorado could enter a Sept. 23 matchup on the road against Oregon with a 3-0 record.

Win that game, and there may be no slowing down this runaway train.

Loser: A disastrous start to Year 2 for Billy Napier at Florida

Photo by Chris Gardner/Getty Images

Perhaps what’s most frustrating about Florida’s 24-11 loss to Utah in Salt Lake City on Thursday night was the fact that the Gators didn’t feel particularly overmatched.

Utah won the battle in the trenches, dominating a Florida offensive line that was without starting center Kingsley Eguakun and entirely shutting down what was one of the best-rushing attacks in the entire country a year ago.

Still, that didn’t necessarily keep Florida from competing. We saw what was perhaps the high end of transfer quarterback Graham Mertz’s capabilities as he threw for a career-best 333 yards. His 70.4 percent completion rate was also the highest career mark he’s turned in during a loss, and the only real blemish on his stat line was an interception that wasn’t really his fault.

Ultimately, there was no matchup that doomed coach Billy Napier’s team against Utah. The Gators only have themselves to blame.

The team was plagued by mistakes, including multiple punts downed inside the five, and procedural penalties were plentiful. A critical false start, one of several in the game from Florida’s struggling offensive line, sabotaged a fourth and short opportunity.

There were multiple illegal formation penalties, the highlight being when the Gators were penalized for having two players wearing a No. 3 jersey on the field at the same time for a punt return.

Losing to a Utah team that won the Pac-12 last year on the road on a Thursday night at high elevation is totally acceptable. These coaching mistakes are not, and Napier needs to clean things up quickly because if you look at that schedule, the road only gets tougher from here.

Winner: A much-improved North Carolina defense

Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

North Carolina had one of the best offensive units in the entire country last fall, led by a redshirt freshman in Drake Maye who looks poised for a potential Heisman campaign in his second year as a starter.

In spite of that, the team lost five games, and an abysmal defensive unit was to blame for that. The Tar Heels allowed more than 350 yards a game, a mark that ranked just 75th among FBS teams.

It’s just a one-game sample size, but this unit looked vastly improved in the first game of its second year under defensive coordinator and former national championship-winning head coach Gene Chizik.

Only allowing 17 points to a South Carolina offense with explosive potential is a win in and of itself, but the way it happened was even more impressive.

It wasn’t a volatile, multi-interception game from quarterback Spencer Rattler, as we’ve seen at times in the past. Rattler played well, in fact. At least, when he wasn’t running for his life.

The North Carolina defense got to Rattler nine times, the most in a game since the school began tracking sacks since 2000. South Carolina couldn’t run the ball at all, and despite a pedestrian game by Maye’s standards in which he tossed two interceptions, this one was never really in doubt in the second half.

Florida State looks to be very good (more on it later) and Clemson is always a force in the ACC. But if this is the kind of defense North Carolina can expect on a weekly basis, it will raise the ceiling in Chapel Hill considerably.

Loser: South Carolina's hopes of ascending

Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

We didn’t exactly get the quarterback battle we hoped for in Charlotte on Saturday night, but as mentioned above, it wasn’t really Rattler’s fault. He was actually efficient given the circumstances, completing 30 of 39 passes for 353 yards.

But the Gamecocks struggled to find the end zone and were held to just three second-half points. Perhaps North Carolina’s defense has truly taken a step forward, but even then, it’s hard to imagine it compares to defenses the likes of Georgia’s, which South Carolina will have to face in conference play.

The offensive showing was especially disappointing given the fact that defense, which wasn’t particularly good in 2022, held Maye fairly in check and forced some mistakes.

But South Carolina was unable to capitalize, and after losing by 14 points to a team that isn’t really expected to factor much into the national picture, it’s hard to imagine this Gamecocks team is even close to competing with the league’s top teams.

Last season’s impressive finish now looks much more like a flash in the pan.

Winner: A Florida State team that appears to be back

Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

At the risk of overreacting too much to Week 1, this really looks like a Florida State squad that’s ready to compete on the national stage. Despite a slow start against LSU on Sunday night in which it trailed by three points at halftime, Mike Norvell’s team absolutely dominated in the second half.

FSU ripped off 31 unanswered points en route to a 45-24 statement win over the No. 5 team in the nation and looked good doing it. Quarterback Jordan Travis wasn’t perfect, but his ability to extend plays and get the ball downfield to his two very talented receivers in Johnny Wilson and Keon Coleman makes this an intriguing offense.

As good as that unit was, the defense was arguably even better. It gave up a lot of production to dual-threat Tigers quarterback Jayden Daniels, but LSU had two failed red-zone opportunities and had drives end with a pair of unsuccessful fourth-down attempts.

FSU’s defensive front absolutely worked an LSU offensive line that was expected to be a strength of the team after returning most of its staters from last season. That defense paired with what looks to be an electric offensive attack makes this team a clear threat in the ACC.

Perhaps the entire country should be on notice, as well.

Loser: LSU already falling short of lofty expectations

Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

Sunday night’s game was something of a reality check for this LSU program.

Last year’s impressive 10-4 run featured some very high highs, but also some concerning lows. This game was a reminder that the Tigers have a way to go before they’re competing at a championship level.

LSU has now had to turn heavily to the transfer portal to fill out the secondary in back-to-back seasons. That worked out fairly well in 2022, but the first data point in 2023 wasn’t as good as Travis and his talented receivers torched the Tigers’ defensive backs.

The offense showed signs of explosiveness but lacked the efficiency that defined it last fall. Outside of solid production running the ball from Daniels, the Tigers couldn’t get much of anything going from their running backs.

LSU lost this game last year, as well, and still found itself in the playoff discussion late into the season. It could have a similar bounce-back this fall, but there’s a lot for this team to work on moving forward.

Quick Hitters - Winners

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  • Utah: Coach Kyle Whittingham’s team avenged last year’s loss in Gainesville with an impressive win on its home field. Doing it without starting quarterback Cam Rising and arguably its top offensive weapon in tight end Brant Kuithe only adds to the achievement.
  • Fresno State: The Bulldogs were expected to take a bit of a step back following last year’s Mountain West title-winning season, but UCF transfer Mikey Keane seems like an effective replacement for Jake Haener after leading Fresno to a season-opening upset win over Purdue on the road.
  • California: The Golden Bears are off to the ACC after this season, but their final campaign in the Pac-12 got off to a good start with a 58-21 win in a road game against a Group of Five team in North Texas. The Mean Green are no world-beaters, but scoring 58 points against an FBS opponent (or anyone, for that matter) is a notable achievement for this team during the Justin Wilcox era.
  • Houston: It may be a tough Year 1 in the Big 12 for the Cougars, but they got off to a really nice start against one of the top G5 teams in the country in UTSA. Houston forced three interceptions from quarterback Frank Harris in a 17-14 win Saturday night.
  • Penn State: West Virginia probably isn’t that good, but it was still an impressive start to the Drew Allar era against a Power Five opponent. Allar had 325 passing yards in the game, the most by a Nittany Lions quarterback in a debut since 1997.
  • Oregon State QB DJ Uiagalelei: Things ended on a sour note at Clemson for Uiagalelei, a former five-star prospect. The California native has gone back to the west coast, and he had an excellent debut with the Beavers, tossing 239 yards and three touchdowns while rushing for two more in a big win over San Jose State.
  • Texas State: The Bobcats stunned Baylor in the first game under coach G.J. Kinne, a rising star in the coaching ranks who will be a name to watch for power conference openings in and around the state of Texas in the coming years. For now, he just orchestrated Texas State’s first win over a power opponent since moving up to the FBS level in 2012.
  • Wyoming: Craig Bohl has built a very consistent program at a tough place to win in Laramie, but Saturday night’s comeback, upset win in double overtime over Texas Tech at War Memorial Stadium may have been the biggest during his time with the Cowboys, who knocked off their first Power Five opponent since beating Missouri in 2019.

Quick Hitters - Losers

Photo by David Berding/Getty Images
  • Nebraska: It was far from a bad debut for Rhule against a respectable Big Ten foe in Minnesota, but the Cornhuskers fell on a last-second field goal despite holding a seven-point fourth-quarter lead. According to ESPN’s Bill Connelly, the Golden Gophers had just a 6% postgame win expectancy in the 13-10 victory. Brutal.
  • Purdue: Fresno was a tough draw for Ryan Walters’ first game, and despite a good game from new offensive coordinator/quarterback combo Graham Harrell and Hudson Card, it wasn’t enough to overcome what could be a dangerous G5 team.
  • Boston College: The Eagles needed a late drive just to force overtime against a MAC opponent in Northern Illinois, but they still couldn’t survive in what was a pretty bad loss for this program. Coach Jeff Hafley’s situation looks tenuous, and if he can’t take down a very good FCS program in Holy Cross next week, there may be some Conversations happening in Chestnut Hill.
  • Texas Tech: The trajectory here is still good under coach Joey McGuire, but any hopes of this team competing for a Big 12 title already seem to have been a bit far-fetched.
  • Baylor: Dave Aranda saved the Red Raiders from having the state of Texas’ worst loss of the week. Losing by 11 to a team you were a nearly four-touchdown favorite against is a tough pill to swallow, and losing quarterback Blake Shapen for 2-3 weeks with a knee injury is an even tougher one with Utah up next.
  • Northwestern: Getting absolutely embarrassed by a mediocre Rutgers team speaks for itself. This is likely shaping up to be a horrific season for the Wildcats, who have bigger concerns than winning football games right now. They opened as a home underdog against UTEP in Week 2, and a midseason matchup against FCS Howard may be the only game this team is favored in all season.
  • The Oregon Duck: Oregon scored 81 points on Saturday, the most it’s scored in a game since 1936, in an absolute drubbing of Portland State. While that was good for the team, it wasn’t as good for mascot Puddles, who does push-ups corresponding to the current scoring total each time Oregon scores. By the end of the game, Puddles had done 546 push-ups. Time to hit the hot tubs.
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