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College football Week 1 trends, storylines: New coaches, return of the running back

Week 1 is here and we’re as ready as ever for the college football season to kick off.

Florida is traveling to Salt Lake City to face No. 14 Utah (8 p.m. ET on ESPN) in a must-watch game Thursday night. On Saturday, we have Deion Sanders’ debut as Colorado’s head coach as the Buffs take on No. 17 TCU (Noon ET on Fox), then on Sunday, No. 5 LSU faces No. 8 Florida State (7:30 p.m. ET on ABC). Clemson wraps up a jam-packed Week 1 on Labor Day against Duke (8 p.m. ET on ESPN).

Our reporters preview this weekend’s games by highlighting coaches who are eager to get off to hot starts in new places and running backs to watch for. We also break down some of the week’s best quotes and numbers to keep in mind over the weekend.

Louisville: Jeff Brohm is as eager as anyone to see what his team looks like when Louisville kicks off the 2023 season. He has an idea, of course, but there’s just so much that’s new — new coaching staff, new scheme, nearly two dozen transfers, including starting QB Jack Plummer. For folks around Louisville, the opener at Georgia Tech has all the excitement of Christmas morning with just a hint of the looming danger that accompanies any gender reveal involving pyrotechnics.

It could look great. It could be a mess. Either way, Brohm said, it’ll be a learning experience.

“My nerves will be going,” Brohm said. “You want to please a lot of people and get off to a good start. You make sure you’re as ready as you can be, but you have to just go out and play and coach and be positive with your players.”

There’s ample promise surrounding this Louisville team. Brohm’s return — he played for the Cardinals from 1989 through 1993 — has injected a groundswell of enthusiasm, but all that goes away, Brohm said, if the team on the field doesn’t match the one fans have dreamed about.

That makes the Georgia Tech game critical — a game that will undoubtedly involve working out a few kinks, but one that will be played without much of a safety net. Louisville is just 4-11 in true road games over the past three years.

“This will be a first time for a lot of guys playing together,” Brohm said. “You have to trust your preparation and go out and execute.”

But don’t expect Brohm to water down the game plan while his team gets its sea legs. He’s approached practice the past few weeks as on-the-job training, stressing his defense with gadget plays and challenging his offense with some exotic looks on D.

He’ll do the same to Georgia Tech, he said.

“We want to be aggressive in our approach on both sides of the ball,” Brohm said. “You have to have enough in your pocket to be able to help your team if you’re struggling or get out of a rut and show some things you haven’t shown before.”

What will it look like? Brohm isn’t venturing a guess, other than to insist he won’t be surprised by anything.

That’s the whole point of fall camp, he said. It’s hardly a guarantee that it all looks seamless, but it’s an assurance that if things go sideways, it won’t be the first time his team has had to rebound. — David Hale

Wisconsin: The Luke Fickell era in Madison commences against Buffalo, but pay special attention to how offensive coordinator Phil Longo orchestrates his Air Raid system. The program — coming off its most losses (six) since 2012 — has undergone a makeover with designs on claiming the Big Ten West for the fifth time since 2014.

The Badgers’ passing offense, which ranked 11th in the Big Ten (183.8 yards per game) a season ago, will be going opposite a Bulls’ defense that was middle of the pack in the MAC (fifth; 216.2 ypg) in 2022.

With 7,791 career passing yards and 76 career touchdowns passes to his name, former Oklahoma and SMU signal caller Tanner Mordecai will surely feel pressure to show right away that it is indeed a new day with Fickell and Longo, previously the OC at both Mississippi Rebels and North Carolina, now calling the shots. — Blake Baumgartner

Colorado: Prime Time is finally here and the eyes of the college football world will, for the first time in a while, fixate on Colorado and the much-anticipated debut of coach Deion Sanders’ new-look team. The first impression won’t be an easy one to make for the Buffs given they have to face one of the four best teams of last season, TCU.

Plenty has changed for both teams heading into the matchup, but after Sanders arrived in Boulder and upended nearly everything about the program — including the conference where they will play next season — the expectations are plenty, even if they aren’t high. It will be a rebuilding year for Colorado to say the least, but given their new coach and new players as well as the attention that will follow them, it certainly won’t feel like a transition year come kickoff in Texas this weekend. — Paolo Uggetti

Auburn: New coach Hugh Freeze entered preseason camp “anxious” and “uncomfortable” after so much roster upheaval. He said he’d get asked all the time how good they’ll be. And his answer was frank: “I don’t know.”

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