NFL ROUNDUP: AARON RODGERS MAKES JETS DEBUT IN WIN VS. GIANTS
Aaron Rodgers threw a touchdown pass in his first action with the New York Jets in a 32-24 preseason victory over the New York Giants on Saturday in East Rutherford, N.J.
Taking preseason snaps for the first time since 2018, Rodgers played the first two possessions and finished 5-of-8 passing for 47 yards, including a 14-yard TD pass to Garrett Wilson.
After Zach Wilson (11 of 18, 107 yards) took over for Rodgers, third-string QB Tim Boyle came on and was 9 of 11 for 107 yards, including a pair of TDs to Alex Erickson. On the other side of the ball, Brandin Echols returned an interception 67 yards for a Jets score.
Down 14-0 after the first quarter, the Giants (1-2) went to the half trailing 14-13 but couldn’t overtake the Jets (2-2) in the second half. Backup QB Tommy DeVito finished 19-of-29 passing with one touchdown and one interception and was sacked four times.
Chiefs 33, Browns 32
Harrison Butker’s second field goal, a 44-yarder with 1:48 remaining, provided the edge as Kansas City rallied to beat visiting Cleveland.
Chiefs star quarterback Patrick Mahomes did not play, but Browns starter Deshaun Watson did and went 5 of 10 for 92 yards, including a 10-yard touchdown to David Njoku. John Kelly Jr. later rushed 2 yards for a score as Cleveland (1-2-1) led 22-3 after the first quarter.
A third Chiefs quarterback, Chris Oladokun, threw an 11-yard TD pass to Matt Bushman in the third quarter to give the team a 30-29 lead. Cleveland’s Cade York answered with a 40-yard field goal for a 32-30 advantage with 4:19 left in regulation. Kansas City finished the preseason 2-1.
Bills 24, Bears 21
Josh Allen went 5 of 7 for 49 yards in his final tune-up before the start of the regular season and visiting Buffalo went on to a victory over Chicago.
Kyle Allen went 18 of 34 with 162 yards and a touchdown for the Bills (2-1), while Darrynton Evans rushed nine times for 65 yards and a score. Buffalo will travel to face the New York Jets in their season opener on Sept. 11.
Bears quarterback Justin Fields had one last tune-up as well, completing 2 of 6 passes for 51 yards. PJ Walker and Tyson Bagent also saw time at quarterback for Chicago (1-2), with the trio combining to go 15 of 31 for 152 yards and one touchdown with one interception.
Packers 19, Seahawks 15
Nate McCrary scored on a 1-yard touchdown plunge with 1:56 remaining and Benny Sapp II intercepted a pass with 13 seconds left as Green Bay pulled off a victory over visiting Seattle.
Jordan Love was 9-of-15 passing for 63 yards and a touchdown for the Packers (2-1), while Alex McGough was 4 of 5 for 69 yards. Green Bay’s Emanuel Wilson had 17 carries for 49 yards, while McCrary rushed seven times for 24 yards.
Seahawks quarterback Drew Lock was 16 of 25 for 150 yards and a touchdown. Seattle QB Holton Ahlers led a late drive but could not deliver the victory after he was intercepted by Sapp in the end zone. The Seahawks went 2-1 in the preseason.
Cardinals 18, Vikings 17
David Blough and Clayton Tune combined to pass for 158 yards and a touchdown as Arizona used a second-half rally to defeat Minnesota in Minneapolis.
Arizona’s Matt Prater made two field goals, including a 27-yarder with 6:20 remaining to put the Cardinals (2-1) ahead for good. Arizona’s defense recovered from a slow start to hold the Vikings (0-3) scoreless in the second half and to three points over the final three quarters.
Vikings quarterback Jaren Hall was 16 of 27 for 178 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Minnesota kicker Greg Joseph missed a 54-yard field-goal attempt with 2:28 remaining that would have given Minesota the lead.
Commanders 21, Bengals 19
Jake Fromm and Jacoby Brissett combined to throw for 240 yards and three touchdowns to lead Washington to a win over Cincinnati in Landover, Md.
The Commanders also rushed for 150 yards to cap their preseason at 3-0.
Trevor Siemian was 14-for-23 for 133 yards and an interception for the Bengals (0-2-1). Reid Sinnett threw a touchdown pass to Shedrick Jackson with 6:29 remaining, but Cincinnati missed the two-point conversion.
Buccaneers 26, Ravens 20
Kyle Trask threw for 192 yards and a touchdown, and Chase McLaughlin made all four of his field-goal attempts as host Tampa Bay topped Baltimore.
Trask completed 19 of 31 passes for Tampa Bay (2-1). Josh Johnson threw a 24-yard touchdown to Laquan Treadwell to give the Ravens (1-2) a 7-0 lead with 11:16 left in the first quarter, but the Buccaneers scored 20 of the game’s next 23 points to take control.
Owen Wright drew the Ravens within 23-20 with a 2-yard rushing TD with 9:17 left in the game, but McLaughlin responded with a 48-yard field goal with just over two minutes left to put the finishing touches on the victory.
Jaguars 31, Dolphins 18
Three rushers found their way to the end zone as host Jacksonville beat Miami.
Travis Etienne Jr., D’Ernest Johnson and JaMychal Hasty each scored a rushing touchdown for Jacksonville (3-0), which accumulated 413 yards of total offense. C.J. Beathard and Trevor Lawrence each completed 8 of 10 passes, with Beathard throwing for a team-high 134 yards and a TD.
Miami’s Skylar Thompson threw for 135 yards on 15-for-24 passing, but he was intercepted twice. Tua Tagovailoa went 4-for-6 with 67 yards. Chris Brooks scored twice on the ground for the Dolphins (1-2).
Cowboys 31, Raiders 16
Will Grier threw for two touchdowns and rushed for two more to lead Dallas to a win over Las Vegas at Arlington, Texas.
Grier, the odd man in the Cowboys’ quarterback room after the Trey Lance trade, played the entire game. He completed 29 of 35 passes for 305 yards and didn’t throw an interception. He rushed 10 times for another 53 yards. Dallas went 1-2 in the preseason.
Daniel Carlson connected on all three field-goal attempts — including a 62-yarder — for the Raiders, who finish their preseason 2-1. Damien Williams rushed for 54 yards on six carries and scored the lone Las Vegas TD.
Broncos 41, Rams 0
Jarrett Stidham and Ben DiNucci combined for 353 passing yards and two touchdowns as Denver throttled visiting Los Angeles.
Jaleel McLaughlin, Tony Jones Jr. and Tyler Badie each rushed for 1-yard touchdowns, while Albert Okwuegbunam caught seven passes for 109 yards, including an 8-yard TD toss from Stidham. The Broncos (1-2) had lost their previous two preseason games.
While the Broncos’ offense totaled 494 yards, the defense limited the Rams (0-3) to just 88 passing yards and 159 total yards while notching a pair of interceptions and two sacks.
FALCONS RELEASE FORMER STARTING LEFT GUARD JALEN MAYFIELD AMONG 4 CUTS
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) — The Atlanta Falcons released offensive lineman Jalen Mayfield, a third-round draft pick in 2021 who couldn’t win a job this preseason as a swing tackle, on Saturday.
Mayfield started 16 games at left guard as a rookie in 2021 but missed last season with a back injury. He focused on tackle in this year’s training camp, started at right tackle in a preseason game at Miami and was trying to win a roster spot behind starting tackles Jake Matthews and Kaleb McGary.
Mayfield’s release came after Matt Hennessy, who was contending for the starting job at left guard, was lost for the season. Hennessey suffered an apparent knee injury and was placed on injured reserve on Aug. 16. Rookie Matthew Bergeron, a second-round pick from Syracuse, is expected to start at left guard.
Mayfield’s ability to provide depth at both guard and tackle wasn’t enough to earn the roster position.
Mayfield isn’t the first former starter to be cut by Atlanta. Mykal Walker, a starting linebacker in 2022, was released in a surprise move on Aug. 13.
The Falcons also released cornerback Bless Austin and defensive linemen Justin Ellis and Delontae Scott on Saturday.
TITANS COACH SAYS HE HASN’T SEEN ENOUGH TO PICK WILLIS OR LEVIS AS TANNEHILL’S BACKUP
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Tennessee Titans know that veteran Ryan Tannehill is their starting quarterback this season.
His backup? That’s a decision the Titans aren’t ready to make yet with the preseason over and the season opener Sept. 10 in New Orleans coming up fast.
Asked Saturday if he had seen enough to choose either rookie Will Levis or Malik Willis as Tannehill’s backup for the opener, coach Mike Vrabel said, “I don’t think so.”
The Titans traded up to No. 33 overall to draft Levis out of Kentucky in April. He missed the final two preseason games with an injured left thigh. Levis practiced Wednesday, warmed up before Friday night’s 23-7 preseason finale win over New England and watched from the sideline as the Titans finished 2-1.
Willis also is a quarterback Tennessee traded up to draft at No. 86 overall in 2022 out of Liberty. Willis wound up playing essentially the past two exhibition games with Tannehill starting against New England and handing off three times before heading to the sideline for the rest of the game.
Willis completed 66.1% of his passes in three preseason games, throwing for 485 yards and three touchdowns. But Willis also had four interceptions — two against the Patriots with bad throws. One was behind rookie tight end Josh Whyle, and the second Willis threw directly to a wide-open linebacker.
The Titans are scheduled to practice twice around the NFL’s final roster cutdown day. Vrabel said they will get Levis back on the field this week.
“I thought that Malik took a big step (Friday night),” Vrabel said. “Unfortunately, you have the turnovers. But again, there was a lot of cool stuff that happened after that.”
Willis started 1 of 5 for 22 yards in the first quarter with the first interception. He rebounded by going 14 of 15 and finished with 211 yards passing and two touchdown passes, including a nice 26-yard TD pass to Kearis Jackson.
The second-year quarterback was drafted by then-general manager Jon Robinson, who was fired in December. Willis finished the preseason second on the team in rushing and showed off his ability, averaging 5.9 yards on 22 carries with one TD.
Willis showed more patience looking downfield for receivers before taking off. He also was sacked eight times, and Vrabel made clear Saturday the entire offensive line group needs “a big week.”
Levis played in only the preseason opener, a 23-17 loss at Chicago where he alternated every two series with Willis starting. Vrabel said they’ll see where Levis is when they return to practice.
“For young quarterbacks, they have to be able to play in football games,” Vrabel said of Levis’ limited playing time. “Whether that’s preseason games, that’s where you develop. We got to try to get him ready to go here through practice now.”
Vrabel said Tuesday when Michael Badgley joined the Titans as their latest kicker that they would likely look at others. Then Badgley banked his first of three made field goals off the left upright and hooked a 39-yarder wide left against the Patriots.
The Titans likely will be looking closely at that position as NFL teams waive kickers before the cut deadline Tuesday.
THE 49ERS’ HEAVY INVESTMENT IN TREY LANCE BACKFIRES, BUT IT HASN’T DESTROYED THE FRANCHISE
SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — Few teams have ever invested as much capital into acquiring as the San Francisco 49ers did when they traded three first-round picks to draft Trey Lance.
And few teams have ever cut ties with a highly drafted quarterback as quickly as San Francisco did with Lance, trading him away for a pittance before the start of his third season.
“Obviously we took our shot, and it didn’t work out,” coach Kyle Shanahan said. “So, that’s on us for that. But I’m not going to say anything is a failure. That’d be too much of a negative toward Trey. I get our deal. We took a shot to go for that. We were hoping that he could be our guy, and that didn’t work out.”
A colossal miss of this nature could set back a franchise for years as the Niners traded away the 12th pick of the 2021 draft, first-round picks in 2022 and ’23 that ended up being 29th overall and a third-round pick to draft the untested Lance third overall in 2021.
They then paid him about $28 million to make four starts in two seasons before trading him to Dallas for a fourth-round pick after he wasn’t deemed good enough to beat out former draft bust Sam Darnold for the backup quarterback job on the 49ers.
San Francisco managed to make it to the NFC title game the past two seasons despite little contribution from Lance and no premium draft picks, and the Niners are tied for the fourth-best odds to win the Super Bowl this season, according to FanDuel Sportsbook, thanks in part to stumbling into a starting quarterback when they took Brock Purdy with the final pick of the 2022 draft.
“This thing’s not an exact science, but when you put that much into a player, it usually is really tough to rebound from,” general manager John Lynch said. “Fortunately, we’ve been able to continue to grow this team, to make this team better. We were very fortunate for Brock to become what he’s become. Now he’s got to continue to do it.”
The blunder didn’t come without a cost. Had the 49ers chosen to stand pat with oft-injured Jimmy Garoppolo at quarterback in 2021 and drafted a key contributor with their No. 12 pick — All-Pro edge rusher Micah Parsons ended up going in that spot — they might have bested the Rams in the NFC title game that season.
Having late first-round picks the last two years could have bolstered key spots on the roster and put the Niners in even better shape to win the franchise’s first Super Bowl in nearly three decades.
“We took a shot with Trey because we believed he could (win),” Shanahan said. “We knew it would take some time, but in the meantime, we were going to have a pretty good team. The time that we did give him when he had his (opportunities), he missed those and those weren’t his fault. They weren’t our fault. That’s what happens in football.”
The 49ers drafted Lance even though he had started only 17 games at FCS-level North Dakota State after playing just once in the pandemic-altered 2020 season.
He spent his rookie season backing up Garoppolo, starting just two games as an injury replacement and being hampered by a finger injury on his throwing hand.
Lance was handed the starting job last season, but that lasted less than five quarters because he broke his ankle early in Week 2 and was sidelined for the rest of the season.
“We knew he wasn’t fully ready in every aspect, but we knew he had a skill set that we could put some stuff together to give him the chance to compete and grow with a good team as he developed as a full quarterback,” Shanahan said. “He got hurt in the first quarter of the second game, which kind of set that back.”
Purdy, taken with the last draft pick in 2022, came on late in the season and won his first seven starts to take over the starting role headed into this season.
San Francisco signed Darnold in free agency after he flamed out with the Jets and Carolina after also being drafted third overall, in 2018 by New York. Darnold ended up doing enough in practices and the first two preseason games to beat out Lance.
Lance’s four starts are the fewest for any quarterback taken in the top five of the draft in the common draft era for the team he made his debut on. Jack Thompson had the previous low, starting five games for Cincinnati after being taken third overall in 1979.
“He hadn’t played a ton of football, so we knew we were taking somewhat of a chance,” Lynch said. “But I believe to this day, if we hadn’t taken him, someone would’ve right behind us. I think the next pick. I don’t think we were the only ones seeing it. He’s a very talented young man. … I still think that story’s unwritten, so it didn’t work for us. … I still very much have belief that he’s going to become a player. Now it’s just not going to be for us.”
COLLEGE FOOTBALL NEWS
BIG TEN TO REQUIRE FOOTBALL GAME-DAY AVAILABILITY REPORTS
The Big Ten Conference will require its members schools to submit a player availability report no later than two hours before each football game this season.
The conference announced the rule on Friday, less than week before Minnesota and Nebraska become the Big Ten’s first teams to kick off the season on Thursday in Minneapolis.
In addition, the conference said in a news release that it is teaming with U.S. Integrity “to enhance monitoring efforts and provide additional educational resources to help prevent student-athletes, coaches, and staff from engaging in prohibited sports wagering.”
Over the past few months, football and baseball players at Big Ten program Iowa were among athletes nationwide to have been implicated in betting scandals.
“The well-being of our students, coaches, and staff, as well as the integrity of our competitions are of paramount importance,” Big Ten commissioner Tony Petitti said in the release. “Enhanced transparency through availability reporting and partnering with U.S. Integrity strengthens our efforts to protect those who participate in our games as well as the integrity of the games themselves. I’m grateful for the collaboration of our schools, coaches, and administrators.”
During the football season, any Big Ten team that doesn’t report its gameday injury and availability report will be subject to discipline from the conference.
U.S. Integrity partners with a number of pro sports leagues and college conferences to provide protection against fraud and corruption related to betting.
NOTRE DAME FOOTBALL
IRISH CRUISE PAST MIDSHIPMEN 42-3
The University of Notre Dame football team began the 2023 in style by defeating Navy 42-3 in the 2023 Aer Lingus College Football Classic at Aviva Stadium in Dublin, Ireland. The Irish ripped off 42 consecutive points in the game before Navy managed a single field goal with 3:33 left in the game.
Graduate student Sam Hartman made the most of his Notre Dame debut, completing 19 of 23 passes for 251 yards and four touchdowns. The four scoring tosses match Ron Powlus (1994) and Jack Coan (2021) for the most by an Irish quarterback in his first game with the team.
Two of Hartman’s scoring tosses were caught by freshman Jaden Greathouse, including a 35-yard strike on the rookie’s first career touch. Deion Colzie also nabbed his first career touchdown reception while Jayden Thomas was the recipient of a touchdown pass as well.
The Irish defense held Navy to just 169 total yards with only 43 of those coming through the air. Jack Kiser paced the defense with 8 total tackles, followed by Marist Liufau with seven.
HOW IT HAPPENED
The Irish offense scored on its first drive bolstered by three key third down conversions. The drive was kickstarted by a 19-yard reception by Jayden Thomas. Navy recovered to force the Irish into a third-and-10 situation and the Irish turned to Audric Estimé who rumbled 11 yards for the first down.
The Midshipmen forced another third down attempt and threatened a blitz, but the Irish offense adjusted and Hartman tossed the ball out to Estimé out of the back field who scampered 22 yards for a first down. Estimé eventually capped off the drive with a seven-yard run to the goal line followed by a one-yard plunge.
The Navy offense had its first turn and drove to the Notre Dame 37 yard line. A key third down stop by Jack Kiser put the Naval Academy in a fourth and third situation. Navy threw long but the ball fell incomplete around the eight-yard line.
Estimé started off the next Irish drive with a 13-yard rush, then Hartman hit Tyree for nine yards. Gi’Bran Payne converted the third down on a short run for a new set of downs followed by a Chris Salerno catch for nine yards.
After Payne converted the first down on a short run, Jadarian Price entered the game for the first time and on his first touch, rambled through the middle of the defense for a 19-yard touchdown run.
The Irish defense made another stop to force a Navy punt. Marist Liufau keyed this defensive stand, making a leaping tackle to force a fumble that ended up out of bounds then posting a key stop to force third down.
It only took four plays for the Irish to drive the length of the field after receiving the punt at the 22-yard line. Thomas grabbed a middle screen and ran through the Navy defense for 19 yards. Freshman Jeremiah Love then logged his first career touch with a seven-yard run.
Hartman stood in the pocket, took a hit and connected with Deion Colzie – who made a nice leaping catch – for 17 yards. With Navy on its heels, Hartman stepped back on a play action fake and connected with freshman Jaden Greathouse for a 35-yard touchdown toss.
The Navy offense started to find its way late in the second quarter and drove into Notre Dame territory with a series of short runs. Javontae Jean-Baptiste then decided that Navy had driven far enough. He made two back-to-back plays at the defensive line to force a third and long.
Navy attempted to pick up the first down with a quarterback run. Jordan Botelho was ready, made the stop and forced a field goal attempt which ended up wide right.
With 1:55 on the clock the Irish offense took over at their own 20-yard line focused on getting another touchdown before halftime. Hartman opened the drive with a 20-yard toss to Chris Tyree. Devyn Ford then posted his first two touches in a Notre Dame uniform, a two-yard rush then a nine-yard catch for a first down.
Hartman returned to Tyree for seven yards. On the next play, Payne stepped out of the backfield but fell on a tough catch for no gain. Greathouse returned to the fold for a third-down conversion covering 13 yards. On the next snap, Hartman looked to Tyree in the end zone but he was interfered with to give the Irish the ball at the Navy 14-yard line after the penalty.
After a short incompletion, Hartman threw a rope to Thomas for a 14-yard scoring strike and the fourth touchdown of the first half for the Irish.
Both teams then traded two non-scoring drives back and forth. Once the Irish got the ball back, they turned to their young running backs Price and Love. The duo combined for 37 rushing yards to set up a Hartman-to-Colzie 25-yard scoring strike. Colzie took a short pass, made a defender miss and cruised into the endzone.
Navy’s scoring drive saw the Midshipmen put together 15 plays and eventually drive all the way down to the four-yard line. Navy then tried a trick play throw back to the quarterback, but Rylie Mills sniffed it out and sacked the passer for a 10-yard loss.
The Midshipmen would end up settling for a field goal to spoil the defensive shutout.
CALEB WILLIAMS SHINES AS NO. 6 USC DOUBLES UP SAN JOSE STATE
Reigning Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams passed for four touchdowns and No. 6 USC cruised past San Jose State, 56-28, in Los Angeles on Saturday in the season opener for both teams.
Zachariah Branch caught a touchdown and returned a kickoff 96 yards for another in his college debut for the Trojans, who amassed 501 yards of total offense.
USC went into halftime holding a 21-14 lead after San Jose State quarterback Chevan Cordeiro found a wide-open Nick Nash for a 28-yard score just eight seconds before intermission.
But the Trojans struck for a pair of game-breaking touchdowns to open the second half. Austin Jones, who rushed for a team-high 54 yards on just six carries, scored the second of his two TDs on a 3-yard carry to cap a 10-play, 75-yard drive.
Jones had scored a 2-yard touchdown at the end of a 10-play, 52-yard drive in the second quarter.
USC pulled ahead 35-14 when Williams hooked up with Branch for a 25-yard touchdown with six minutes left in the third quarter.
Branch wasted little time finding the end zone again. After San Jose State scored on another Cordeiro pass to Nash, this time from 32 yards out, Branch took the ensuing kickoff the distance to snuff out any hope of a Spartans comeback.
The Trojans scored again when Williams threw the last of his four touchdown passes to Brenden Rice with 12:32 left in the game. Williams’ 18-of-25, 278-yard passing performance included a 76-yard scoring strike to Tahj Washington in the second quarter on a botched snap.
Williams took the ball off the bounce, evaded a would-be sack, then found Washington deep. The score followed a 13-yard touchdown toss to Dorian Singer that got USC’s scoring started.
San Jose State evened the count early in the second quarter as Kairee Robinson scored on a 1-yard run. The Spartans played from behind the rest of the way.
Cordeiro went 21-for-38 passing for 198 yards and three touchdowns, all to Nash. Nash caught six total passes for 89 yards.
OLE MISS, MIAMI PICK UP 4-STAR COMMITS
A pair of Power Five teams picked up four-star 2024 commitments from the state of Florida on Saturday.
Quarterback Trever Jackson, from Jones High School in Orlando, announced he’s headed to Ole Miss, while Zaquan Patterson of Hollywood committed to Miami.
“Who wouldn’t wanna play for one of the most explosive offenses in college football?,” Jackson said, per 247Sports, crediting head coach Lane Kiffin and offensive coordinator Charlie Weis Jr. for his commitment.
Jackson is listed as the No. 15 overall quarterback in the 2024 class by the 247Sports composite, as well as the No. 222 player in the country and 32nd-ranked player in Florida. He had offers from schools that included Penn State, UCLA, Oklahoma and Texas A&M.
Jackson’s commitment moves Ole Miss to the No. 20 overall recruiting class, per the 247Sports composite.
Patterson is listed as the No. 3 safety and No. 77 overall prospect in the class, and No. 10 in the state. He is entering his senior season at Chaminade-Madonna Prep and had offers from blue-blooded programs of the Southeast, including Alabama, Auburn and LSU, as well as Oklahoma, Ohio State and Notre Dame.
Miami and head coach Mario Cristobal now have the 14th-ranked 2024 class, per the 247Sports composite.
ACC FOOTBALL PREVIEW
Can Florida State take the next step to national prominence?
Some of us are old enough to remember when Florida State was a powerhouse program. But if you’ve only been watching college football for the last six years, that probably seems like complete fiction. Heading into last season, the Seminoles carried an abysmal 26-33 record since 2017 and fell further from the top of the ACC. There are signs that free fall is over, though, after Mike Norvell returned a very promising 10-3 record last year.
The heightened expectations in Tallahassee have the ‘Noles faithful thinking playoffs, with star quarterback Jordan Travis returning to lead what should be a potent offense. The Louisville transfer piled up over 3,600 total yards and 31 touchdowns against only five interceptions. That kind of production makes Travis a Heisman contender in his final year. Add in the return of leading rusher Trey Benson, top receiver Johnny Wilson and Michigan State transfer Keon Coleman and points won’t be an issue for Florida State.
The Seminoles were the top-ranked total defense in the ACC last year and boast the return of star edge-rusher – and future NFL first-round pick – Jared Verse. His ability to put pressure on the quarterback immensely helped a talented secondary rank fourth in the nation in passing yards allowed last year. Factor in talented corner Fentrell Cypress II from Virginia and the defense should be among the nation’s best yet again.
Florida State has to travel to Clemson in Week 4 for a blockbuster showdown but gets LSU in the opener in friendly Orlando and hosts both Duke and Miami this year. All signs point to the Seminoles taking the next step and re-cementing themselves as a national force.
Will Riley reignite Clemson’s offense?
Change is the key word for the Clemson attack this season, with two major differences from the opening of the 2022 campaign. It’s Cade Klubnik’s team now after DJ Uiagalelei transferred to Oregon State, and the talented sophomore passer has Garrett Riley as his new offensive coordinator. The brother of USC coach Lincoln Riley comes over after his brilliant season running the attack for CFP runner-up TCU with the main task of getting the Tigers offense back to an elite level.
Gone are Clemson’s days as a perennial title contender thanks to elite offense and defense, as the attack has sputtered in recent years. The Tigers ranked outside the top 60 nationally in yards per play in the last two seasons following three straight campaigns inside the top 15 in that statistic. The offensive issues are virtually the sole reason the program failed to make the CFP in either season after six straight semifinal appearances.
Dabo Swinney certainly hopes the Riley-Klubnik combo can right that ship, and star running back Will Shipley’s return coupled with an experienced line eases the transition. Clemson’s defense is slated to be one of the best in the country again, but it’s up to Riley to return the Tigers to past glory with a huge improvement offensively.
Will Brohm instantly work his magic at Louisville?
Excitement once again pumps through Louisville football thanks to Jeff Brohm’s return to his alma mater. The former Purdue coach comes over after Scott Satterfield made the 105-mile trip up I-71 to take over at Cincinnati. Many will find it addition by subtraction, as Brohm has long been the apple of Louisville’s eye and now gets his chance to take over.
The 52-year-old took over a Purdue team that won a total of nine games in the previous four years and immediately turned in a 7-6 campaign. Brohm’s Boilermakers were the upset kings of college football, knocking off three different top-5 opponents in his time with the program.
Brohm will rely on a heavy load of transfers if he’s going to replicate Louisville’s early success. At least 25 new players join the Cardinals, including former Cal quarterback Jack Plummer who will get the nod as the starter.
Perhaps the biggest thing working in Brohm’s favor is an incredibly manageable schedule that features only three true road games. That should bring good returns in his first season on campus.
Can Maye still thrive for North Carolina with new coaching?
Drake Maye is undoubtedly one of the country’s top quarterbacks and almost a lock to be a top-10 pick in next year’s NFL draft. How the talented passer fares without his offensive coordinator and top two receivers from last year will go a long way in deciding North Carolina’s success in 2023. Expect new coordinator Chip Lindsey to lean on the talented running back duo of Elijah Green and Omarion Hampton and a veteran line to keep the offense cooking in Chapel Hill.
That brings us to the defense – an area that most North Carolina fans would likely have us avoid. The Tar Heels were 114th nationally in yards per play and 104th in points allowed last season. The front seven returns almost fully intact, but needs to drastically improve if North Carolina is going to make any noise.
Maye’s talent will likely shine through regardless of who calls the plays, but it’s worth watching whether he can produce at the level necessary to overcome the expected defensive issues that could plague North Carolina.
It can’t get worse for Miami, right?
It took exactly four games into Miami’s Mario Cristobal era for the air to come out of the balloon. A 17-9 road loss at Texas A&M in Week 3 was discouraging but a 45-31 blowout at home to Middle Tennessee State was downright embarrassing. The former Oregon coach’s 5-7 record in his first campaign sent shockwaves through the Hurricanes’ faithful.
The bad news? Despite the schedule not featuring divisions, Miami still sees Clemson, Florida State, NC State and North Carolina on the schedule. The non-conference game versus Texas A&M is the final straw in the very tough slate for the Hurricanes.
The good news? Quarterback Tyler Van Dyke should improve now that he’s clear of former coordinator Josh Gattis’ system. And Cristobal’s recruiting trail brilliance built a very talented roster to take the field this season.
How does Duke build off Elko’s brilliant debut?
After his unbelievable performance in 2022, it feels like Mike Elko’s genius might be wasted coaching football. The first-year coach took a program with only five combined victories the previous two years and delivered just the third nine-win season for Duke since World War II.
While Elko’s expertise is on the defensive side of the football, the offensive unit took the biggest leap in his first season. Riley Leonard developed into a star quarterback for the Blue Devils with over 3,600 total yards and 33 touchdowns on the year. He’s buoyed by the return of the top four pass-catchers from last year’s breakout group.
The biggest challenge for Elko will be keeping his defense at the level required to face the Blue Devils’ difficult schedule. Duke ranked eighth in the country in takeaways per game but lose coordinator Robb Smith and the top two tacklers from last season. With Clemson, North Carolina, Florida State and Notre Dame all on the docket, another nine-win season could be a tall task for Duke.
Will Hafley save his job at Boston College?
Jeff Hafley’s career at Boston College got off to a promising start with a 12-11 record through two seasons, but a 3-9 mark last year has him on the hot seat entering 2023.
There were problems across the field but the Eagles’ biggest challenge last year was the offensive line’s health. The starting five missed a combined 33 games last season, thrusting inexperienced backups into key roles. That was addressed in the offseason with all five initial starters returning and transfers Kyle Hergel and Logan Taylor joining the fray. Coupled with standout guard Christian Mahogany’s return from injury, Hafley’s outfit should expect a huge improvement.
The first year without divisions offers the Eagles a favorable schedule as they avoid Clemson and play ACC opponents who went a combined 27-35 last year. Home wins against Northern Illinois, Holy Cross, UConn, Virginia and Virginia Tech are a must if Boston College is to become bowl eligible and save Hafley’s job.
Can Jurkovec addition offset major roster turnover?
The Pitt defense featured four standout performers last year which made that unit one of the ACC’s best. Unfortunately for the Panthers, Calijah Kancey, Erick Hallett II, Habakkuk Baldonado and SirVocea Dennis are all off to the NFL in 2023. While Pat Narduzzi’s history as a defensive coach will help, the Panthers need strong play from the offensive unit to keep the program competitive this year.
Narduzzi brought in a well-traveled passer in Phil Jurkovec to help with that, as the former Notre Dame and Boston College quarterback arrives in Pittsburgh. He won’t have star rusher Israel Abanikanda or top receiver Jared Wayne at his disposal, so different players need to step up to get the ball moving for the Panthers.
Jurkovec’s main issue at Boston College was staying healthy, but he was a solid performer on the field when he was available. If he can avoid the injury bug this season, Pitt should be able to take advantage of a Clemson-free schedule to remain among the ACC’s top teams.
Is the Virginia duo the answer to NC State’s offensive woes?
NC State’s offensive performance last year existed in two separate eras – with Devin Leary at quarterback and without him. The veteran passer helped the Wolfpack get off to a 5-1 start with the team averaging 30 points per contest. After injuries took Leary off the field for the season, NC State put up just 19 points per game and lost four of its last seven contests. With Leary gone to Kentucky, head coach Dave Doeren is leaning on a pair that experienced great success at Virginia to get things back on track.
The last time the coordinator-quarterback combo of Robert Anae and Brennan Armstrong teamed up at Virginia, it resulted in a 4,400-yard passing year and the nation’s ninth-ranked offense. Anae spent last season with Syracuse while Armstrong struggled under Virginia’s new regime. Both went to NC State hoping to dip back to the 2021 form and help Doeren fix his offensive woes.
Which Syracuse from 2022 will show up this season?
Syracuse’s efforts last season present a very clear dividing line. The Orange exploded off the start and raced out to their first 6-0 mark since 1987. After that, the wheels completely fell off and the team lost five in a row before a victory over Boston College in the season finale secured a 7-5 overall record. Last year’s volatility makes this season’s outfit difficult to predict.
The offense loses star rusher Sean Tucker but quarterback Garrett Shrader and standout tight end Oronde Gadsden II both return. The attack will heavily rely on Shrader to supply yards both on the ground and in the air, and his health will likely dictate how the Orange can navigate the season.
The three-week stretch versus Clemson, at North Carolina and at Florida State is a murderer’s row, but the Orange finish the campaign with five games against ACC opponents that went a combined 15-24 in conference play last year. That could make this season a reverse of last year’s performance with a rough start but a strong close.
How does Wake Forest replace Hartman, Perry?
It seems Dave Clawson adds to the degree of difficulty at Wake Forest each year as more standout players graduate or leave the program. This year might be his toughest task yet, as star passer Sam Hartman is gone to Notre Dame and electric wideout A.T. Perry is in the NFL. That duo produced 10,153 passing yards, 90 touchdown passes, 2,600 receiving yards and 27 receiving touchdowns over the past three seasons – near-impossible numbers to recreate.
It’s Mitch Griffis’ show at quarterback now and, while Perry is gone, there’s still quality talent at the skill positions. Donavon Greene, Jahmal Banks and Taylor Morin are all back after combining for 126 catches, 1,853 yards and 24 touchdowns last season. If Griffis can spread the ball around on Clawson’s attack, the Demon Deacons could maintain a similar clip on offense that we’ve grown accustomed to in recent years.
Can transfers fix the Virginia Tech offense?
There weren’t many teams in the Power 5 last year that were more difficult to watch than Virginia Tech. The Hokies failed to top the 30-point mark in any game and ranked 118th nationally in scoring, and 121st in yards per play. Brent Pry wasn’t left with much talent on the roster following Justin Fuente’s departure, but the second-year coach must do better if he hopes to see a third season.
The defense should continue its improvement from the end of last season, but Pry needs transfers to perform well if the offense is going to grow in 2023. Kyron Drones moves over from Baylor to challenge for the quarterback spot and a slew of new receivers will beef up the passing attack. Add in 1,300-yard rusher Bhayshul Tuten from North Carolina A&T and there’s room for optimism on offense.
Will Georgia Tech build off last year’s impressive finish?
Geoff Collins didn’t make it past the first month of his fourth season with Georgia Tech, as the school parted ways with the head coach following a 1-3 start with the losses coming by a combined 110-20 scoreline. Brent Key took over and cobbled together a remarkable 4-4 finish to secure the permanent job heading into 2023.
If the Yellow Jackets are going to build off that strong finish, the offense needs strong showings from new faces. Former Texas A&M passer Haynes King enters the mix for the quarterback slot and Trey Cooley moves on from Louisville to beef up the run game. Six new receivers and tight ends mean virtually a full makeover at the skill positions.
Keion White headlined three starters heading to the NFL, signalling a defensive revamp. Key utilized the portal to add Texas A&M’s Andre White Jr. and Minnesota’s Braelen Oliver.
Can Virginia’s offense do anything to help stout defense?
Virginia’s season was rocked by tragedy last year with the death of three players due to gun violence in November. It seems trivial to discuss the team’s performance on the field in Tony Elliott’s first season, but there will need to be a drastic improvement on the offensive side of the football to right the ship for the Cavaliers.
Elliott came over after he spent a number of seasons running the Clemson offense, but Virginia struggled mightily on that side of the ball in Year 1. The team averaged only 17 points per game, ranking a dismal 126th in the country. It might not be easier in 2023 as the team lost their starting quarterback, top three receivers and four starters from the offensive line.
Tony Muskett transferred from the FCS level at Monmouth to compete for the starting quarterback job. He will likely have to replicate his huge numbers from that league to give the Cavaliers any shot of making a jump this season.