Amidst the fast paced, week-to-week excitement of a college football season, a holistic look at the season that has been can be valuable. The 2023 college football season, a season of both controversy and unity, has lived up to every lofty expectation given to it by its devoted fans.
Starting at the beginning, the national landscape of the sport was yet again shaken up at the hands of conference realignment. Oregon and Washington finalized their eventual departure from the Pac-12 conference, an athletic conference of 12 schools located on or near the western US coast, to the Big 10, a larger, historically midwestern conference. Along with USC and UCLA, whose 2024 move to the Big 10 had been finalized a year prior, just eight schools would remain after this year.
Soon after, the universities of Utah, Colorado, Arizona and Arizona State finalized moves to the Big 12 conference, while California and Stanford opted to join the Atlantic Coast Conference. The 10 schools’ 2024 departure all cited one main reason for the move. The Pac-12 failed to secure a TV broadcast deal that rivaled the other four conferences monetarily. The 10 departing schools left to gain shares in larger deals that could both fund their football programs and other sports, despite the assurances of the Pac-12 commissioner.
The Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets take the field before a rivalry matchup against their in-state foe Georgia Bulldogs. Despite a 10-point fourth quarter, the Yellow Jackets failed to win, losing 31-23. photo by Johnny Guse
“If schools were leaving for the Big 10, they would have left already,” Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff said in an interview with Sports Arizona. His comments came just one year prior to four of the schools he oversees leaving for the Big 10.
After all of the summer drama of conference realignment, the early part of the season defined itself as a resurgence of former national powers such as Florida State and Texas. On Sunday, Sept. 3, the Seminoles of Florida State took down 5th ranked Louisiana State Tigers 45-24. Six days later, the Texas Longhorns beat the 4th ranked Crimson Tide of Alabama 34-24. The early part of the season also held crushing defeats for top teams in the sport. The 9th ranked Clemson Tigers took a 21 point loss to the Duke Blue Devils, who had not beaten a top-10 team since 1989.
Further north, controversy arose surrounding the University of Michigan. On Oct. 18, the National Collegiate Athletic Administration (NCAA) notified Michigan that the NCAA had received reports of a “sign-stealing” operation at Michigan. According to the NCAA, the Wolverines had allegedly sent members of the coaching staff to watch and film the signals of other teams for the past two seasons. While the University denied all the allegations, further investigation revealed otherwise. A staffer named Connor Stallions had purchased tickets to Michigan’s opponents’ games. The two tickets purchased for every game sat on opposite sides of the field along the 50 yard line, perfect position to watch the signals of either team. Stallions, who resigned shortly after the news broke, claimed to have been working of his own accord. However, multiple videos surfaced showing Stallions on the sideline next to different coaches holding a sheet of signals.
“I think those who say we cheated are just haters,” junior Michigan fan Jordan Steward said. “But at the end of the day there are losers and cheaters, and the Michigan Wolverines are not cheaters.”
Regardless of fan opinion, the NCAA decided to suspend Michigan Head Coach Jim Harbaugh for the remainder of the regular season, including the rivalry game against undefeated Ohio State.
The remainder of the season has yet to play out, and fans have yet to see the consequences of the monumental shake ups to the sport’s regionality and amateurism. But the 2023 season has given us moments, both good and bad, to reminisce upon for years to come.