By Jordan Merritt

College Football is back and it kicks off in Dublin. While Week 0 is a reduced schedule of games there are still plenty of talking points. Jordan Merritt gives us his three burning questions for opening weekend.

How will Sam Hartman look in the Notre Dame offense?

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Sam Hartman has seen it all. The sixth-year senior was the number 1 QB transfer, arriving from Wake Forest in January. This has given him a decent amount of time to work with the offense and new OC Gerad Parker. The Fighting Irish averaged 207.2 passing yards per game last season. So, is Sam Hartman, the guy to help reignite the passing offense?

In 5 seasons with Wake Forest, Hartman was the starter for 4 of them. His experience and leadership mentality will be a key factor with a relatively young and inexperienced receiver room. They do have some speed at receiver, especially in Jayden Thomas. We know how much Hartman loves a deep ball, so don’t be surprised to see that as a regular throw.

However, he is much more than just a gunslinger. He has great touch with his passing and isn’t afraid to throw in tight windows. One thing that will be interesting to watch out for is if the play action looks the same as it did at Wake Forest. Hartman used the ‘slow mesh’ where he would fake a handoff to the RB, keeping his hands there for some time before pulling it out and making a throw. At times he would slowly walk while looking like he may hand it off. It was effective, and will be interesting if Gerad Parker and Hartman incorporate it in South Bend.

It may not look like a big test but Navy are no slouches on defense. Expect high octane with different looks on the front and extra blitzers. Travelling over to Ireland for this game has that extra variant for Hartman. Although that should not faze him and he is more than capable of handling the Navy defense on Saturday. Bigger tests are just around the corner.

How will the USC defense hold up against San Jose State?

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USC’s high-powered offense spearheaded by Heisman winning QB Caleb Williams kick off their 2023 campaign against San Jose State this weekend. However, it’s not the offense that is the worry. The defense allowed 29.2 points per game last season and that’s not where they need to be. Although shipping that many points probably won’t lose them the game against the Spartans, it would be a concern going forward. Can the Trojans defense make a small statement this weekend?

Lincoln Riley has already come out and said that the defense will be the difference maker in 2023 for USC. It’s easy to see why he is so bullish, with how he attacked the transfer portal on that side of the ball. On paper, every position group looks to have been upgraded via the transfer portal. The big-name recruit was DL Bear Alexander from Georgia. Along with DE Anthony Lucas from Texas A&M and LB Mason Cobb from Oklahoma State, this defensive front looks scary.

However, they need to be consistent in 2023. Despite 40 team sacks for the Trojans in 2022, these were mostly splash plays as the front struggled. Opposing teams had a 42% success rate on 3rd and 4th down plays. This is where consistency needs to improve for the Trojans.

San Jose State won’t offer too many difficulties for USC. They were ranked 119th on rushing offense last season, with the passing offense significantly better. They were ranked 22nd on total passing offense with 275.5 yards per game. What we want to see from the Trojan defense is can they hold up in all areas when the starters are on the field? If they do bend more than they should at the weekend, they best fix it before tougher challenges arise.

The new look C-USA gets a glimpse of one of the newbies

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There are two conference games this weekend, both coming from the C-USA. One of them features a new boy to the division, Jacksonville State. After a number of teams left during a hectic realignment period, the conference added the Gamecocks along with Sam Houston, Liberty and New Mexico State. Jacksonville State along with Sam Houston, move up from the FCS.

With future schools set to be added in 2024, as it stands the C-USA is made up of 9 teams. However, the two FCS schools cannot compete for the championship in 2023. This does not stop them from showing the college football world what they can do, just like James Madison last season. Jacksonville State are no slouches, winning the Atlantic Sun Conference last season, with numerous conference wins over the last 10 seasons. They also made it to the FCS National Championship game in 2015.

The game at the weekend is a home game against UTEP. The Miners led the conference in total defense and were near the top in a number of other defensive areas. Jacksonville State will need to lean on a high-powered run game featuring Ron Wiggins and transfer Malik Jackson. This should be an entertaining back-and-forth game that can be your next watch straight after the Navy-Notre Dame game. The other all-C-USA game is FIU at Louisiana Tech, 2am UK time.


College Football Analyst

Ever since he entered Husky Stadium in 2017, Jordan has been a huge fan of College Football. Over the past 3 years he has covered the PAC-12 at 5 Yard College, While recently becoming a contributor at FanSided for The Husky Haul. Follow Jordan @jordm87!