RAVENS, COMMANDERS SCUFFLE A BIT BUT GIVE EACH OTHER HIGH MARKS AFTER A JOINT PRACTICE
OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) — Washington cornerback Emmanuel Forbes Jr. had a busy day during his team’s joint practice with Baltimore.
The rookie was beat badly by fellow first-round draft pick Zay Flowers in a one-on-one drill. Later, Forbes made a nice play to break up a deep pass from Lamar Jackson to Odell Beckham Jr.
Eventually, the intensity boiled over a bit when Forbes and Tylan Wallace started swinging at each other, starting the first of two skirmishes between the Commanders and Ravens within a few minutes of each other Tuesday.
“Joint practices are a challenge — always,” Baltimore coach John Harbaugh said. “You’ve got two teams out here, and there is a lot of pride. I thought it was a really good practice. We had a couple dust-ups, which you don’t want to see, but it’s not really unexpected. I thought they got handled pretty quickly.”
It wasn’t a huge surprise to see tempers flare. The purpose of joint practices is to create a competitive but controlled environment. They’re also a good chance for star players — who might not play in any preseason games — to get some work in against another team.
“To me, this is actually almost better than preseason,” Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey said. “It’s much harder to tackle without going to the ground, and then you’re covering elite guys every single play.”
Harbaugh said avoiding tackling is tricky, and it’s sometimes unclear how much physicality is too much. Forbes appeared to be trying to knock the ball away from Wallace at the end of a play when the two swung at each other.
“Tempers flare and I’m just competing,” Forbes said.
Shortly after that fight, another one broke out, with Ravens tight end Mark Andrews involved. After that, players gathered in the middle of the field in an attempt to calm things down.
“(Harbaugh) addressed their guys, I addressed our guys and they got back to it,” Washington coach Ron Rivera said. “What we’re trying not to have is a big melee that we can’t get stopped. That would not make sense, and that would be inexcusable. We’re trying to temper it.”
Practicing against Jackson should benefit the Commanders, who had the NFL’s third-ranked defense last year and similar expectations going into this season.
“Just being able to see him in the pocket and have awareness of him and just know that the D-line, we’ve got to rush as one, as a unit, and contain him and not be on our own mission,” defensive tackle Daron Payne said. “We’ve got to all be together.”
Washington’s starting defense was not all together on the field, with edge rusher Chase Young not taking part in team drills after leaving the preseason opener Friday at Cleveland four snaps in because of a stinger. The Ohio State product was in full uniform and is expected to continue working through individual drills.
“Right now, we’re just being smart with it,” Rivera said.
The team also is trying to be smart with veteran, injury-prone tight end Logan Thomas, who continued to sit out because of a calf strain. Thomas has done some work on side fields, and Rivera said the 32-year-old also is doing some running on an underwater treadmill.
Even without Thomas, Washington’s starting offense led by quarterback Sam Howell got some valuable snaps against Baltimore’s top defenders. It was the first joint practice of receiver Terry McLaurin’s career and something he found useful and enjoyable.
“It’s fun going against a different team,” McLaurin said. “You go against each other for so long, you kind of get familiar with your teammates. They get familiar with what you do. When you come out here against another team, it’s good to have a measuring stick of how you’ve made it up until this point in camp.”
These teams will be seeing plenty of each other. There’s another joint practice Wednesday, and the Commanders host an exhibition game against the Ravens on Monday night.
Despite his own involvement in a scuffle Tuesday, Andrews expressed admiration for the Commanders.
“This has been fun. This is really, really fun,” Andrews said. “A lot of respect for this organization that we’re going against. And today, just being focused, being determined, playing hard.”
10 NFL PLAYOFF TEAMS ARE INTEGRATING NEW PLAY-CALLERS, EITHER OUT OF NEED OR TO ADD A SPARK FOR 2023
SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — When Steve Wilks was handed the reins of the NFL’s stingiest defense in San Francisco, the priority for the new coordinator was learning what made the 49ers so good rather than installing his own system.
Wilks stepped into what was both an easy job with a star-studded defense that led the NFL in points and yards allowed under DeMeco Ryans last season and a difficult one knowing he would get the blame if there is any regression.
Coach Kyle Shanahan’s main goal when looking for a new coordinator after Ryans left for the head coaching job in Houston was finding someone who would keep the structure intact.
Wilks is putting his own spin on a successful scheme, utilizing more blitzes and spending more time working on technique with the defensive backs in hopes of limiting big plays. But the defense is still using the same basic structure.
“I think the key thing is having an open mind to learn,” Wilks said. “I’ve been around quite a bit. I’ve done a lot of different things, but it’s not my way, it’s the 49ers way.”
The 49ers are one of 10 playoff teams from last season that are working in at least one new offensive or defensive coordinator in 2023. The NFC champion Eagles hired Brian Johnson and Sean Desai to replace OC Shane Steichen and DC Jonathan Gannon, who each got head coaching jobs.
While San Francisco and Philadelphia made the changes out of necessity, other contenders believed they needed a spark on one side of the ball or the other.
The Ravens and Chargers wanted to overhaul offenses that had grown stagnant at times. Baltimore brought in Todd Monken and his diverse passing game to replace Greg Roman, who built a running offense around Lamar Jackson. Los Angeles hired Kellen Moore away from Dallas in hopes of unleashing Justin Herbert’s big arm, which wasn’t always used enough under Joe Lombardi.
The big changes on defense came in Miami, where the Dolphins hired Vic Fangio to overhaul a unit that allowed the ninth-most points in the NFL last season under Josh Boyer, and in Minnesota, where the Vikings brought in Brian Flores and his aggressive scheme to replace the more passive Ed Donatell.
But Flores knows change takes time.
“You don’t do it all on day one,” he said. “You can’t. Those teams are always fundamentally sound. To me, that’s standard operating procedure. You’ve got to be fundamentally sound, footwork, hand placement, communication, things of that nature. You do all those things, you give yourself a chance.”
Two teams gave play-calling duties to their head coach, with Dallas’ Mike McCarthy taking over the offense after Moore left and Buffalo’s Sean McDermott taking over from Leslie Frazier.
“I see he’s got to take two hats to practice,” said Bills general manager Brandon Beane, who worked in Carolina when McDermott was defensive coordinator for the Panthers. “He’s got one without the headset and one with the headset. He’s going to have to have his own hat guy for game day. I think Sean is excited. It’s how he got the job here. He was such a good play-caller for us in Carolina and was a big part of our success and had a lot of defensive success there and so I’m excited to see his energy.”
The other new coordinators this season are Kansas City OC Matt Nagy, who was promoted when Eric Bieniemy got the same job in Washington, and Tampa Bay OC Dave Canales, who was hired to replace the fired Byron Leftwich.
The only playoff teams that didn’t make changes were Cincinnati, Jacksonville, Seattle and the New York Giants.
The most consequential changes might be on the offenses for the Chargers and Ravens with the hope being that new play-callers can lift already accomplished quarterbacks to new heights.
Herbert has thrown for the third most yards in the NFL since entering the league as a rookie in 2020 but didn’t stretch the field much the last two seasons under Lombardi.
Herbert averaged the third fewest air yards per attempt last season — nearly 2 yards fewer per pass than Dak Prescott did under Moore in Dallas. The hope in Los Angeles is that more deep strikes will lead to more success.
“Certainly, it’s something that we’ve talked about with the availability of the receivers and what we have on offense,” Moore said. “We’re really excited about exploring that.”
There’s even a bigger philosophical change in Baltimore, where the Ravens are shifting from a run-based offense under Roman to a heavier passing attack with Monken.
Tampa Bay ranked in the top five in yards passing when Monken was coordinator there in 2017-18 and the Ravens added receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and rookie Zay Flowers this offseason in hopes of opening things up for Jackson.
“Coach Monken being here, he’s letting the guys just freelance and let them do them,” Jackson said. “That’s what it’s about. Like I said, just letting them get the ball and letting them do them. We should see magic happen. … The sky’s the limit with this offense. We’re going to see.”
CHIEFS SIGN LB OLAKUNLE FATUKASI, CB DURON LOWE
The Kansas City Chiefs signed linebacker Olakunle Fatukasi and cornerback Duron Lowe on Tuesday.
Fatukasi, 24, played in 13 games with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2022 and recorded six tackles.
The undrafted free agent from Rutgers was waived last week by the New England Patriots.
Lowe, 25, has spent time with the Buccaneers and Los Angeles Rams but has not played in a regular season game.
Lowe was not drafted in 2022 after playing two seasons at UTEP and one at Liberty.
49ERS QB BROCK PURDY PROGRESSES TO ELIMINATE OFF DAYS
49ers quarterback Brock Purdy progressed in his recovery from offseason elbow surgery to eliminate mandated off days between throwing sessions.
Purdy began training camp on a strict pitch count and said he’s feeling no ill effects of ulnar collateral ligament surgery required following an injured right elbow in the NFC Championship game.
“In terms of my arm and everything, yeah, my arm feels great,” Purdy said. “Just still building back-to-back days and trying to gain all the strength that I can back from the rehab process of things and I feel really confident.”
Head coach Kyle Shanahan also moved to clear up any doubt that Purdy would begin the season atop the San Francisco depth chart.
“He would have to melt in practice to lose it,” Shanahan told Sports Illustrated. “And Brock’s too good of a player to melt in practice — and so are the other guys.”
Purdy is the pick to lead the 49ers when they open the regular season on Sept. 10 at Pittsburgh. Backup Trey Lance is returning from a severe right ankle injury that required multiple surgeries. Sam Darnold is new to the Bay Area after stops with the New York Jets and Carolina Panthers.
Purdy, 23, the last player selected in the 2022 NFL Draft, went 5-0 as a rookie starter during the regular season and passed for 1,374 yards with 13 touchdowns and four interceptions.
RODGERS: COMING TO JETS HAS BEEN BETTER THAN I EXPECTED
Being a member of the New York Jets has surpassed all of Aaron Rodgers’ expectations ahead of his 19th NFL season.
“This has been better than I was even daydreaming about sitting in that hole in the ground thinking about what my life could be,” Rodgers recently said on “Boomer and Gio.” “Because I contemplated retirement, I contemplated coming back, and the Jets was always the team that was the most interesting to me because of (coach) Robert (Saleh), because of (offensive coordinator) Nathaniel (Hackett), because of the way they worked their ass last year.”
The 10-time Pro Bowler added: “It’s really been better than I could have expected. It feels like sometimes that I woke up inside of a dream and that this is my life playing out. I pinch myself at various times throughout the week every single week that I’ve been here.”
Rodgers spent his first 18 NFL seasons with the Green Bay Packers, who drafted him 24th overall in 2005. In Green Bay, the 39-year-old built a decorated career that included 223 starts, 475 touchdown passes, four NFL MVP awards, and a Super Bowl title.
The Packers traded Rodgers to the Jets in April.
“It’s not a shot against Green Bay,” Rodgers said about how happy he is in New York ahead of the 2023 season. “I have a lot of love and gratitude for that time. But that chapter is over.”
The Jets boasted a top-five defense in 2022 but missed the playoffs after struggling offensively, particularly at the quarterback position. New York beat Rodgers and Green Bay at Lambeau Field last year in a game in which the star signal-caller was sacked four times.
After working with his new teammates for several months, Rodgers says the Jets’ roster is “definitely better” than he expected following their Week 6 matchup last season.
The 2022 Jets featured four Pro Bowlers and three players who earned All-Pro nods. New York also rosters the NFL’s reigning top offensive and defensive rookies in wide receiver Garrett Wilson and cornerback Sauce Gardner, respectively.
REPORT: PATS TE MIKE GESICKI OUT WITH DISLOCATED SHOULDER
New England Patriots tight end Mike Gesicki suffered a “mild” dislocated shoulder in Monday’s practice, NFL Network reported Tuesday.
The team is hopeful that the 27-year-old veteran can return for its Week 1 game against the visiting Philadelphia Eagles on Sept. 10, per the report.
The Patriots signed the former division rival to a one-year deal in March worth up to a $9 million, pairing him with tight end Hunter Henry in a revamped offense under new coordinator Bill O’Brien.
Gesicki caught 32 passes for 362 yards and five touchdowns in 17 games with the Miami Dolphins in 2022. The 2018 second-round pick had 231 receptions for 2,617 yards and 18 TDs in 81 games (31 starts) for Miami.
Behind Hunter and Gesicki on the New England depth chart are Anthony Firkser, rookie Johnny Lumpkin, Matt Sokol and Scotty Washington.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL NEWS
NO. 1 GEORGIA GOES FOR A HISTORIC THREE-PEAT AFTER A TRAGIC OFFSEASON
ATHENS, Ga. (AP) — Georgia isn’t ready to talk about a historic three-peat.
Not just yet, anyway.
The Bulldogs showed no signs of complacency while capturing their second straight national title, and maintaining that edge will be essential to becoming the first school in the poll era to make it three in a row.
“You can’t set a goal that far ahead,” receiver Arian Smith said at the start of camp. “We can’t win a national championship right now.”
Coming off a perfect season capped by a 65-7 demolition of TCU in the national championship game, Georgia goes into the new season as the country’s most dominant program.
Not surprisingly, the Bulldogs were a near-unanimous choice as the No. 1 team in The Associated Press preseason poll.
“So many people make an assumption off of last year’s team and their accomplishments,” coach Kirby Smart said. “I asked this team … ‘What have you done to deserve anything you have gotten?’ They have done nothing.”
Georgia’s bid for a third straight title could come down to the play of Stetson Bennett’s successor.
Carson Beck, Bennett’s backup last season, came out of spring practice holding an edge for the No. 1 quarterback job over Brock Vandagriff and Gunner Stockton.
But Smart held off on naming a starter, and the competition could extend into the first few weeks of the regular season.
“I want to see them manage the offense, understand the offense, get people lined up and execute,” Smart said. “The guy that does that best in critical situations will be the guy that becomes the quarterback.”
Whoever wins the job will have huge shoes to fill.
Bennett was offensive MVP of both national championship game victories and a Heisman Trophy finalist last year.
BACK TO BOBO
The new starting quarterback will be working under a new offensive coordinator.
He’s a familiar face, though.
Former Georgia QB Mike Bobo, who served as Mark Richt’s longtime play-caller, is returning to that role after Todd Monken left for the NFL.
“Each year, you try and figure out your identity as an offense,” Bobo said. “Whether I was going to be the coordinator or if Coach Monken comes back, you’ve got to figure out what pieces of the puzzle fits to what things that we did well last year and what we’re going to have to change.”
Hours after a parade celebrating their national championship, offensive lineman Devin Willock and recruiting staffer Chandler LeCroy were killed in a high-speed wreck.
The investigation showed LeCroy was legally drunk while driving a university-rented SUV and racing a vehicle driven by another Georgia player, Jalen Carter, who had already announced he was entering the NFL draft.
The wreck led to revelations of numerous Georgia players operating vehicles at high speeds and questions about Smart’s control of the program.
“What concerns me most is the safety of our players, and when you drive at high speeds it’s unsafe,” Smart said. “We’re going to do all we can to take that out and make sure that’s eradicated.”
Seven Georgia defensive players have been picked in the first round of the NFL draft the last two seasons, including Carter at No. 9 by the Philadelphia Eagles.
Not to worry, Bulldogs fans.
Georgia is loaded again on that side of the line.
Six of the 11 selections to the All-Southeastern Conference preseason first team wear the red and black: linemen Mykel William and Nazir Stackhouse, linebacker Jamon Dumas-Johnson and defensive backs Malaki Starks, Kamari Lassiter and Javon Bullard.
“That doesn’t matter,” Dumas-Johnson said of the accolades. “I’m worried about our team. Team success brings individual success.”
RINSE AND REPEAT
Georgia’s title marked the 12th time a school has gone back to back since The Associated Press poll was launched in 1936.
Three teams finished second in the AP rankings while going for a three-peat: Army in 1946, Notre Dame in 1948 and Southern Cal in 2005.
The Trojans were voted AP champion for the 2003 season, even though they failed to qualify for the Bowl Championship Game, and were a consensus champ in ’04.
USC played for a third straight crown against Texas in the Rose Bowl, only to come up 19 seconds short in one of college football’s greatest games. Vince Young ran for a TD in the final minute that gave the Longhorns a 41-38 victory.
The Bulldogs were supposed to travel to Oklahoma this season for the first in a home-and-home series, but the SEC ordered the Bulldogs to cancel those games after accepting the Sooners as a new conference member.
Ball State was hastily lined up as a replacement, joining FCS opponent Tennessee-Martin (the opener on Sept. 2), UAB and in-state rival Georgia Tech on the nonconference slate.
Not many style points to be gained against those teams.
“All we can do is go out and try to schedule the best we can, and when we scheduled the game with Oklahoma, we were trying to do that,” Smart said. “We lost out on that because of a realignment, adding teams to the conference, and that just is what it is.”
REALITY CHECK: THE TRUTH HURTS AND TRUTH IS A BUNCH OF RANKED TEAMS WILL BREAK HEARTS IN 2023
The first Reality Check of the college football season, following the release of the preseason AP Top 25, can be a real bummer.
The truth hurts and the truth is a bunch of ranked teams won’t be as good as the voters think. Several will break their fans’ hearts and maybe even get their coach fired.
Reality Check is here to remind fans of that. Sorry, not sorry.
The past two seasons have been particularly volatile, each setting a record for most preseason ranked teams to fall out of the Top 25 by the end of the season. In 2021, that number was 14. Last season, it ticked up to 15 and included three preseason top-10 teams (Texas A&M, Oklahoma and Baylor) that failed to even post a winning record.
The Aggies have been a special kind of disappointing the last two seasons, starting both at No. 6 in the country and ending both unranked.
Reality Check continues its tradition of rolling through the preseason AP Top 25 and asking: How does this go wrong?
No. 1 Georgia
Opener: vs. UT Martin, Sept. 2
Reality check: To go along with the deepest and most-talented roster in the country, the Bulldogs have about as manageable a schedule as an SEC team can have. There is a new starting quarterback, most likely Carson Beck. Maybe that’s an issue? The case against Georgia reaching a third straight College Football Playoff is, essentially, stuff happens.
No. 2 Michigan
Opener: vs. East Carolina, Sept. 2.
Reality check: After two straight CFP one-and-dones, this feels like national championship-or-bust despite what coach Jim Harbaugh says. Harbaugh’s potential suspension for the first four games would be a red flag — until you look at who they’re playing. Still, if QB J.J. McCarthy doesn’t continue to improve, Michigan could finish third in the last edition of the Big Ten East.
No. 3 Ohio State
Opener: at Indiana, Sept. 2
Reality check: The Buckeyes are breaking in a new quarterback, but worrying about that with coach Ryan Day’s track record and WR Marvin Harrison Jr. on the roster is a waste of energy. The road to a disappointing Ohio State season runs through the defense, where players such as DE J.T. Tuimoloau and CB Denzel Burke need to play like the first-round draft picks they are projected to be.
No. 4 Alabama
Opener: vs. Middle Tennessee, Sept. 2.
Reality check: This is was what a season of an uncertainty looks like at Alabama: Top-five preseason ranking and three or four projected first-round draft picks. The Tide will be OK, but bringing in Notre Dame’s backup quarterback, Tyler Buchner, after spring practice to compete for the starting job suggests another multiple-loss regular season is a very real possibility.
No. 5 LSU
Opener: vs. No. 8 Florida State in Orlando, Florida, Sept. 3.
Reality check: Beating Alabama in Year 1 reset the Tigers’ timetable under coach Brian Kelly. LSU is being treated as a national championship contender. Too much too soon? LSU is still building high-end depth, patching significant holes with the portal and banking on QB Jayden Daniels to be a Heisman Trophy contender.
No. 6 USC
Opener: vs. San Jose State, Aug. 26.
Reality check: Heisman winner Caleb Williams and the turnover fairy (plus-21!) helped the Trojans survive a horrendous defense most of last season. The portal brings hope for an upgrade with DTs Anthony Lucas and Bear Alexander, LB Mason Cobb and CB Christian Roland-Wallace, but there is plenty of room for overall regression.
No. 7 Penn State
Opener: vs. West Virginia, Sept. 2.
Reality check: The pressure is on QB Drew Allar as he moves into the starting role, but it’s a group of mostly unproven receivers that could determine whether the former-five star recruit and the Nittany Lions can meet high expectations. Kent State transfer WR Dante Cephas could be key.
No. 8 Florida State
Opener: vs. No. 5 LSU in Orlando, Florida, Sept. 3.
Reality check: FSU was probably even better than its 10-3 record last year, and return stars QB Jordan Travis and DE Jared Verse. The ‘Noles are back! Well, progress isn’t always linear and there is a lot of hype around a program that hasn’t beaten Wake Forest since 2018.
No. 9 Clemson
Opener: at Duke, Sept. 4.
Reality check: Coach Dabo Swinney made a big splash with the hiring of offensive coordinator Garrett Riley, but his reluctance to use the transfer portal even a little — the way other elite recruiting programs do — means he is making a big bet on the new system unlocking the potential of several unproven playmakers.
No. 10 Washington
Opener: vs. Boise State, Sept. 2.
Reality check: The Pac-12 is stacked with excellent quarterbacks, explosive offenses and questionable defenses. If the Huskies can’t fix their secondary, QB Michael Penix Jr. might not be able to save them from a step back after last season’s vault forward.
No. 11 Texas
Opener: vs. Rice, Sept. 2
Reality check: The Longhorns’ return to prominence has experienced numerous false starts over the previous decade, and their last season in the Big 12 has them tabbed as favorites. We could detail a bunch of reasons why Texas could disappoint, but at this point does anybody need to be convinced?
No. 12 Tennessee
Opener: vs. Virginia at Nashville, Sept. 2.
Reality check: The most oversimplified football analysis boils it all down to the quarterback, but here we go: The Volunteers’ follow-up to their 2022 breakout is largely dependent on whether QB Joe Milton’s sixth college season is the one where it clicks.
No. 13 Notre Dame
Opener: vs. Navy at Dublin, Ireland, Aug. 26.
Reality check: Marcus Freeman salvaged his first season as coach after a rough start so the vibes are generally still good for the Fighting Irish, who now welcome former Wake Forest QB Sam Hartman. Freeman needs to prove he can avoid the bad losses that sunk 2022.
No. 14 Utah
Opener: vs. Florida, Aug. 31.
Reality check: Odd to say that the two-time defending Pac-12 champion needs to regain its identity, but last year Utah wasn’t quite the bully it has been under coach Kyle Whittingham. Another off-brand season in a tough conference could be problem.
No. 15 Oregon
Opener: vs. Portland State, Sept. 2.
Reality check: Yet another Pac-12 team with a star quarterback (Bo Nix) leading a potent offense and a defense that needs to improve. If the defense is once again less than the sum of its parts, Year 2 under Dan Lanning could be worse than Year 1.
No. 16 Kansas State
Opener: vs. Southeast Missouri, Sept. 2.
Reality check: The Wildcats need some new game-changers to emerge after the departure of RB Deuce Vaughn and DE Felix Anudike-Uzomah. If not, recent history suggests a defending conference champion can become a six-win team fast in the Big 12.
No. 17 TCU
Opener: vs. Colorado, Sept. 2.
Reality check: The Horned Frogs had close game magic on the way to the national championship game, something that is traditionally hard to recreate. Everybody is expecting substantial regression. No Power Five team to reach the playoff has ever been ranked this low the next season. There is a chance even this ranking is too optimistic.
No. 18 Oregon State
Opener: at San Jose State, Sept. 3.
Reality check: Have we considered the possibility that Clemson transfer QB DJ Uiagalelei is not an upgrade at the position for the Beavers?
No. 19 Wisconsin
Opener: vs. Buffalo, Sept. 2.
Reality check: The program with maybe the most consistently reliable offensive identity in the Big Ten for the last three decades is going through an extensive makeover under coach Luke Fickell and offensive coordinator Phil Longo. A lot of prognosticators, including a fair amount of AP voters, believe that will go smoothly. Seems presumptuous.
No. 20 Oklahoma
Opener: vs. Arkansas State, Sept. 2.
Reality check: Pollsters are banking on Year 1 under Brent Venables being an anomaly for the Sooners, who have undergone a massive roster overhaul. Counterpoint: What if it’s not?
No. 21 North Carolina
Opener: vs. South Carolina in Charlote, North Carolina, Sept. 2.
Reality check: The Tar Heels rode the brilliance of QB Drake Maye to an ACC title game last year. This year? OK, Drake, now do it again.
No. 22 Mississippi
Opener: vs. Mercer, Sept. 2.
Reality check: Narratives change fast in the SEC. Rebels coach Lane Kiffin had not even signed that $8.5 million per year extension and Ole Miss fans were fighting buyer’s remorse as they stumbled to a 1-5 finish last season. And now Georgia’s on the schedule, too.
No. 23 Texas A&M
Opener: vs. New Mexico, Sept. 2.
Reality check: Voters just can’t quit the Aggies, but what if we told you that coach Jimbo Fisher’s team is more likely to overachieve in 2023 than underachieve?
No. 24 Tulane
Opener: vs. South Alabama, Sept. 2.
Reality check: The Green Wave held on to coach Willie Fritz and kept talented QB Michael Pratt out of the transfer portal following last season’s historic season. It was cause for more celebration, but even a modest follow-up could be a lot to ask. The last time Tulane finished ranked in back-to-back seasons was 1939 when it was in the SEC.
No. 25 Iowa
Opener: vs. Utah State, Sept. 2.
Reality check: The drive for 325 (points) is the top storyline for the Hawkeyes, who need to hit that mediocre mark for offensive coordinator and son-of-the-head-coach Brian Ferentz to retain his gig. An infusion of Big Ten transfers (QB Cade McNamara, TE Erick All, WR Kaleb Brown) should help a lot. Your skepticism is well earned.