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2023 College Football Week 0 Sleeper Picks

By Hank Blaine

The start of the college football season is always a bit … confusing these days. Why? There’s an opening Saturday that’s technically called Week Zero, which is Aug. 26, and then the full slate of fun begins the following Thursday. Here’s a look at two potential sleeper picks in Week Zero.

Top Sleeper Picks for 2023 College Football Week Zero

UTEP vs. Jacksonville State

It’s the FBS debut of former FCS powerhouse Jacksonville State and thus maybe the biggest home game in school history. It is part of Conference USA. Joining Jax State as new members in CUSA are Liberty, New Mexico State and Sam Houston. They team up with FIU, Louisiana Tech, Middle Tennessee, UTEP and Western Kentucky to make up the nine-school membership for the 2023-24 academic year. Kennesaw State will join as the conference’s 10th team in 2024.

CBS Sports Network has the telecast at 5:30 PM ET on Aug. 26. JSU is coached by Rich Rodriguez. Last year was his first with the school and the Gamecocks had 9-2 record and a perfect 5-0 mark in ASUN Conference play en route to the conference title to wrap up the school’s FCS Era.

Rodriguez has a 172-121-2 overall record as a head coach and has been named conference coach of the year five times in three different leagues. He begins the 2023 season ranked eighth among active FBS head coaches in career wins and 13th among all active Division I head coaches.

Several starters return from last year, including QB Zion Webb in his SEVENTH year of eligibility. Last season, Webb completed 55 percent of his passes for 1,737 and 10 touchdowns. He also totaled 412 rushing yards and six rushing touchdowns on 60 attempts.

UTEP finished last season at 5-7 overall and 3-5 in C-USA. Out of the seven losses in 2022 the Miners play just two of those teams – Louisiana Tech and Middle Tennessee – this time around. Starting QB Gavin Hardison leads the returning starters but there aren’t a lot of them. Last year, Hardison played in 10 games, starting in the first nine before a season-ending injury. He threw for 2,044 yards on 164-of-315 passing with 11 touchdowns and eight interceptions and added 76 rushing yards and a rushing score. Star wideout Tyrin Smith transferred to Texas A&M. Hardison will be playing behind an excellent offensive line with four starters back.

The Miners do have one of C-USA’s top linebackers in Tyrice Knight, who has been named to several national Watch Lists. Knight is coming off a 95-tackle season, while he’s amassed 197 over the last two years. The redshirt senior was named second team All-CUSA in 2022 after recording 6.5 TFL, a sack, INT, six pass breakups, two forced fumbles and a fumble return for a TD.

2023 College Football Week Zero Pick: Jacksonville State

Ohio vs. San Diego State

This kicks at 7 PM ET on Aug. 26. This is a very intriguing matchup between one of the best teams from the Mid-American Conference and one of the best from the Mountain West. Ohio reached the MAC title game last year, losing to Toledo, and finished at 10-4 after beating Wyoming in the Arizona Bowl.

Star QB Kurtis Rourke was the 2022 MAC Offensive Player of the Year after completing 244-for-353 on 3,256 passing yards, throwing 25 total touchdowns in 11 games. He threw for 527 yards in a win over Fordham, breaking a school record. No. 2 CJ Harris is also back. Rourke and Harris did split the majority of the season at quarterback in 2022, with Harris taking over after Rourke sustained an injury late. Together, the two lead the No. 1 offense in the Mid-American Conference. Ohio had the second-best passing efficiency in the MAC in 2022 with an average of 278.1 yards per game. Its overall offensive efficiency was the best at 153.3.

The running back room is excellent. O’Shaan Allison is back after missing all of last year with a shoulder injury, and Sieh Bangura showed he could more than pick up the slack with 1,078 yards and 13 scores. The offensive line returns four starters from a group that was one of the league’s most productive in 2022, helping Ohio lead the MAC in total yards (5,900), passing yards (3,893), and yards per play (6.2) while finishing fourth in rushing yards (2,007).

San Diego State is always one of the better Group of 5 programs but finished a moderately disappointing 7-6 last year. Still a 13th straight non-losing season. A lot changed in the middle of last season once defensive back Jalen Mayden stepped in at quarterback. The one-time star QB recruit for Mississippi State had a few different roles for the Aztecs, was thrown into the job when the team was 2-3, and he responded with 2,030 yards and 12 touchdown passes in eight games.

The Aztecs have a terrific returning tight end in Mark Redman. Last year, Redman earned second-team all-Mountain West honors, catching 21 passes for 233 yards (11.1 avg.) and two touchdowns. Redman, who started 12 of the 13 games, ranked second in the league among tight ends in yards per reception (11.1, min. 20 rec.), third in yards (233), and tied for fourth in receptions (21) and touchdowns (2).

And if this game is close? SDSU kicker/punter Jack Browning is one of the best in the business. Last year, Browning punted 68 times for 3,135 yards (46.1 avg.) with a long of 63 yards, and made 20 of 25 field goal attempts (80.0 pct.) with a long of 52 yards and all 30 PATs. He was named the Mountain West Special Teams Player of the Year.

2023 College Football Week Zero Pick: Ohio

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READ MORE: 2023 College Football Week 0 Betting Preview