College football Week 0 preview: Notre Dame, USC highlight season's first weekend of action

College football is finally here.

Though the real fun begins next week with Week 1, there are seven FBS vs. FBS games on the schedule for Saturday in what’s commonly now referred to as Week 0.

The headliner is the game in Ireland between No. 13 Notre Dame and Navy. Also in action is No. 6 USC and reigning Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams. Williams and the Trojans will host San Jose State.

Here’s what you need to know ahead of Saturday’s action.

All times Eastern

What are the best games?

Navy vs. No. 13 Notre Dame (2:30 p.m., NBC)

Notre Dame is entering its second season with Marcus Freeman as head coach. The first season under Freeman, who replaced Brian Kelly, was up and down. It featured ugly losses to Marshall and Stanford, but there was also a dominant victory over Clemson and an exciting bowl win over South Carolina.

Entering 2023, the Irish are expected to have much-improved quarterback play thanks to the addition of Wake Forest transfer Sam Hartman. Hartman enters his final season of college football having already thrown for nearly 13,000 yards with 110 touchdowns. However, the Irish lost star tight end Michael Mayer to the NFL and offensive coordinator Tommy Rees to Alabama and don't have much proven talent at receiver.

It’s a new era at Navy following the firing of longtime head coach Ken Niumatalolo and the promotion of Brian Newberry. Newberry spent the previous four seasons as Navy’s defensive coordinator and the majority of the defense’s starters from last fall return. The offense, though, could look a bit different with Grant Chesnut from Kennesaw State in place as offensive coordinator. It’ll still be an option attack, but don’t be surprised if the Midshipmen call a few more passing plays than we’re used to seeing.

After transferring from Wake Forest, Sam Hartman will make his debut for Notre Dame on Saturday against Navy in Ireland. (Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images)
After transferring from Wake Forest, Sam Hartman will make his debut for Notre Dame on Saturday against Navy in Ireland. (Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images)

San Jose State at No. 6 USC (8 p.m., Pac-12 Network)

USC made a massive jump in its first season under Lincoln Riley, going from 4-8 in 2021 to 11-3 in 2022. Riley brought Caleb Williams with him from Oklahoma and the QB turned in an incredible season en route to a Heisman Trophy. With Williams back, the Trojans should have one of the best offenses in the country yet again.

But for USC to win the Pac-12 and get to the College Football Playoff, there needs to be significant improvement on defense. Riley hit the portal hard in an effort to upgrade the defense and transfers like DE Anthony Lucas (Texas A&M), DT Bear Alexander (Georgia), LB Mason Cobb (Oklahoma State) and CB Christian Roland-Wallace (Arizona) should all be instant impact players.

San Jose State, meanwhile, got back to a bowl game last year after winning the Mountain West in 2020. SJSU returns QB Chevan Cordeiro, the Mountain West’s preseason Offensive Player of the Year, as well as all five offensive line starters and running back Kairee Robinson. However, SJSU lost Viliami Fehoko and Cade Hall, the last two MWC Defensive Players of the Year, to the NFL and graduation. It’s going to be a major challenge for the SJSU defense to get stops.

USC quarterback and reigning Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams kicks off his 2023 season against San Jose State on Saturday. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
USC quarterback and reigning Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams kicks off his 2023 season against San Jose State on Saturday. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Ohio at San Diego State (7 p.m., FS1)

This could be the most competitive game of the day.

San Diego State is coming off a 7-6 season that featured plenty of struggles on offense. SDSU moved starting safety Jalen Mayden to QB halfway through the year and he will again be the starter in 2023. He will need some help to emerge with some key departures elsewhere on offense, including tackle Josh Simmons to Ohio State.

On the other side, Ohio is expected to get Kurtis Rourke back from a knee injury. Rourke could be the best QB in the MAC and the Bobcats should have a pretty good offense in 2023. Ohio won eight of its final nine last year to finish 10-4, but lost in the MAC title game while Rourke was out with a knee injury. This will be a good early season test for the Bobcats.

What about the other games?

  • UTEP at Jacksonville State (5:30 p.m., CBSSN): Jacksonville State is one of two FCS teams to jump up to the FBS level this year as members of Conference USA. And there will be a familiar face on the sideline as Rich Rodriguez enters his second season coaching the Gamecocks. UTEP, meanwhile, is 12-13 over the past two seasons after winning five games combined in Dana Dimel’s first three seasons. The Miners could get to a bowl this season.

  • UMass at New Mexico State (7 p.m., ESPN): UMass and New Mexico State get the ESPN prime-time slot on Saturday. UMass went 1-11 last fall but should be far more competitive this year thanks to a heavy transfer class. NMSU went 7-6 in its first year under Jerry Kill. It was the program’s second winning season in 19 years and just the second bowl appearance since 1960. NMSU, now a C-USA member, could make back-to-back bowl trips.

  • Hawaii at Vanderbilt (7:30 p.m., SEC Network): Vanderbilt has taken major strides under Clark Lea, going from 2-10 in 2021 to 5-7 in 2022. The goal for the Commodores this season is a bowl game, and they will need to take care of business in their non-conference games to make that happen. Hawaii went 3-10 last year, but was quietly much more competitive late in the season. Vandy shouldn’t have too much trouble, but the Rainbow Warriors' offense can be tricky to defend.

  • Florida International at Louisiana Tech (9 p.m., CBSSN): It's the second of two C-USA games on the day. La Tech made some notable additions on offense via the transfer portal, including ex-Boise State QB Hank Bachmeier and ex-Baylor RB Sqwirl Williams. FIU somehow won four games in its first season under Mike MacIntyre but saw seven of its best players transfer to Power Five teams in the offseason. The Panthers could be in for a long year.