Week 1 of the college football campaign finally arrives this weekend. Sunday night’s duel between FSU and LSU highlights the action. Week 0 served as a worthy appetizer with few elite programs taking the field. Several ascending NFL-draft-eligible talents will make their 2023-2024 debuts. We’ve identified five players we’ll be closely monitoring throughout Week 1.
MARVIN HARRISON JR. WR, OHIO STATE
Harrison Jr. is the best wide receiver prospect since Ja’Marr Chase. A bonafide lock to be a top-five selection in the 2024 NFL Draft, the hype surrounding Harrison Jr. is legitimate.
A technically advanced wideout with virtually zero holes to his game, Harrison Jr. is a towering 6-foot-4 playmaker who’s an extremely polished route-runner. Harrison Jr. and Ohio State take on Indiana this weekend. The Buckeyes are heavy favorites and there isn’t a cornerback on the Hoosiers that can match up with Harrison Jr. The Philadelphia, Pennsylvania native should easily record 100-plus receiving yards against Indiana.
JARED VERSE EDGE, FLORIDA STATE
Saturday’s contest between LSU and Florida State is must-watch television. Verse will arguably be the best player on the field. He was a potential first-round pick in April that decided to return to the program.
I actually liked the decision, as the 2022 campaign was Verse’s first season playing big-time college football after previously playing at Albany. We should see a much more polished version of Verse throughout the 2023-24 season. He will attempt to signal his aggressive intentions by dominating a Tigers offensive line that will be game-planning to slow him down.
OLU FASHANU OT, PENN STATE
Fashanu could have been the first offensive tackle selected in the 2023 NFL Draft had he declared. He surprisingly decided to return to Penn State instead in a surprising move that pleased head coach James Franklin and college football fans.
Fashanu has impressive explosiveness and movement skills for his size (he’s listed at 6-foot-6, 317 pounds). He now finds himself in contention with Notre Dame’s Joe Alt to be the first tackle drafted in 2024. Fashanu and the Nittany Lions play against West Virginia on Saturday night. He’s expected to put forth a dominant performance.
JER’ZHAN NEWTON DL, ILLINOIS
Three Illinois defenders were selected within the first 66 picks of the 2023 NFL Draft. As impressive as Devon Witherspoon, Jartavius Martin, and Sydney Brown were, the most impressive Fighting Illini defender returned to the program in 2023. Newton is an absolute menace.
Newton led the Illinois’ top-ranked scoring defense in tackles for loss (14.0), sacks (5.5), quarterback hurries (11), and fumble recoveries (2) last season. He appears poised for an even bigger 2023-24 campaign. Newton is a well-balanced defender who’s equally as effective as a pass rusher and run stopper. Toledo won’t manage to block Newton this weekend.
DRAKE MAYE QB, NORTH CAROLINA
The other quarterback in the 2024 NFL Draft, Maye remains in contention to be the first signal-caller selected next spring. USC’s Caleb Williams may be the rightful heavy favorite, but that decision will only be made once both quarterbacks complete their work. Maye is an outstanding dual-threat prospect with an uncanny ability to make plays from within and outside the pocket.
The 21st-ranked Tar Heels have a difficult road date with South Carolina in Columbia. Shane Beamer’s Gamecocks will be anxious to execute an upset. Maye possesses the potential to elevate North Carolina in 2023.
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