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Week 0 CFB preview, prospect spotlight, and open thread

Let’s take a look at which college games and prospects to keep an eye on in Week 0 of the 2023 season.

NCAA Football: Notre Dame at Stanford Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

College football is back!

As the 2023 season rolls along, so will our weekly previews of games and NFL prospects to watch. This will come in addition to our NFL Draft coverage over the course of the fall and winter. Whether you’re a fan of the draft or just a college football fan, this series looks to give you an idea of what to watch each week.

Windy City Gridiron’s Lead Draft Analyst Jacob Infante will be taking a look at what to expect in Week 0 of this year’s college football campaign.

Game of the Week

Navy vs. No. 13 Notre Dame, Saturday Aug. 26, 1:30 p.m. CST

Navy doesn’t have much in the way of 2024 draft prospects, but their triple-option offense and hard-nosed style of play could provide a challenge with a new head coach.

The focus from a draft perspective in this one comes from Notre Dame’s roster. Left tackle Joe Alt has phenomenal size, length, athleticism and strength, giving him Pro Bowl potential protecting the blind side. Blake Fisher complements him at right tackle, and while he’s not as technically refined as Alt, he has the physical tools to skyrocket up boards with a strong 2023. Former Wake Forest quarterback Sam Hartman transfers to the Fighting Irish, bringing with him a natural sense of accuracy and toughness that could make him a good backup in the NFL. Running back-turned-wide receiver Chris Tyree offers elite athleticism with the ball in his hands, and on defense, they feature lengthy cornerback Cam Hart as a likely Day 3 selection.

Big Matchup to Watch

No. 6 USC QB Caleb Williams vs. San Jose State, Saturday Aug. 26, 7:00 p.m. CST

The reigning Heisman winner makes his 2023 debut on Saturday, and while he’ll be on bigger stages this year, this is a great chance to watch the potential No. 1 pick of the 2024 NFL Draft in action.

Williams has a cannon of an arm, which allows him to stretch the field with impressive distance and velocity behind his throws. His elasticity and ability to deliver quick, accurate throws off-platform fits the Mahomes-esque trait NFL teams have been looking to replicate for years. He’s an athletic quarterback with very good lateral agility and breakaway speed in space, and he uses that elusiveness to evade defenders in the pocket. He has top-notch natural accuracy and a natural sense of timing that’s incredible to watch.

San Jose State is one of the better teams in the Mountain West, so USC could’ve certainly drawn an easier Group of 5 team to start off the year. While Williams and the Trojans are expected to win handily, it should still be nice to watch arguably the best player in college football take the field.

Sleeper Highlight

Vanderbilt WR Will Sheppard vs. Hawaii, Saturday Aug. 26, 6:30 p.m. CST

Though Vanderbilt hasn’t been a football powerhouse in recent years, they do have an intriguing receiver in the 2024 draft cycle.

Sheppard is a sure-handed receiver with a 6-foot-3, 198-pound frame and a large catch radius. His body control showcased by tracking the ball in the air is very good, and his play strength allows him to box out defenders at the catch point. For a taller weapon, he also has good agility with the ball in his hands and a creative mentality as a ball-carrier.

He’s raw as a route runner and doesn’t offer ideal crispness coming out of his breaks, but Sheppard has an enticing blend of size and body control that makes him a valuable 50/50 ball receiver. If he improves as a technician in 2023, he could end up projecting as a WR3 at the next level.