UMass QB Taisun Phommachanh led his new Minutemen team to a 41-30 season opening win at New Mexico State in Week 0. (Courtesy of UMass Athletics)

The 2023 college football season got started in what used to be a select few games on the week before most teams start over Labor Day weekend. This year, there were seven FBS games with all of those involving at least one Group of Five squad. There were also three FCS games in this week before the season.

My highlight of the weekend was Massachusetts defeating New Mexico State on the road 41-30. The Minutemen to put it boldly, one of the worst FBS teams really since UMass moved up from the FCS ranks to the FBS ranks in 2012. The former FCS title contenders (national runner-up in 1978, won the title in 1998 and again was a finalist in 2006) have not found their way to the top of the FCS ranks really ever since their move up over a decade ago. In fact, the Minutemen have not had a winning record over that time. The most wins UMass has claimed was four both in 2017 and 2018.

But the new season has brought some joy to the Amherst campus so far for the fall 2023 semester. UMass defeated an FBS team in its opener for the first time since the move-up 12 years ago.

UMass last year turned to the last coach that got the team to the FCS title game in Don Brown. His first season back with the team was not very good as the losing ways seemed to continue with a 1-11 overall mark for 2022 and the lone win was over FCS Stony Brook.

But Brown has revamped his roster that includes 15 transfers, which includes QB Taisun Phommachanh, who originally was at FBS power Clemson but transferred to Georgia Tech last year and now has the starting job in Amherst.

The Minutemen were traveling to a New Mexico State Aggies team, who last year played at Amherst and defeated UMass 23-13. The Aggies were also coming off a bowl winning season where NMSU defeated Bowling Green in the Quick Lane Bowl last year.

But with the new players, UMass just maybe turning the corner after already equaling last season’s win total after a single game. UMass won the game 41-30 but quite honestly was not as close as the final score would indicate.

Phommachanh ran 26 yards on a fourth-and-seven play midway through the fourth quarter to set up a 10-yard touchdown run by Lynch-Adams that gave the Minutemen a 10-point lead. On New Mexico State’s ensuing possession, Isaiah Rutherford intercepted a pass and returned it 55 yards to give UMass a 34-17 lead with 6:40 remaining.

The back-to-back touchdowns came after New Mexico State drew within 20-17 on a 42-yard deep ball from Diego Pavia to Trent Hudson, who made a leaping grab in front of a teammate for the touchdown. New Mexico State connected on another deep route, Pavia throwing 40 yards to Jordin Parker to make it 34-24 with 4:35 remaining.

UMass added a 21-yard touchdown run by Lynch-Adams two plays after a fumble by Pavia that was recovered by Billy Wooden at the NMSU 24.

New Mexico State added a 1-yard scoring pass from Pavia to Hudson on the final play.

Phommachanh completed 10 of 17 passes for 192 yards and added 92 yards on the ground and while it is just one game, looks to me like the best quarterback to play for UMass in at least the FBS era.

Here are some video highlights of this game:

Next Big Game

The second game of this opening Saturday of football that I had my eyes on was Ohio at San Diego State. Ohio has been predicted to win its division in the MAC, while San Diego State was predicted a couple notches down from the top spot in the Mountain West. For SDSU, most fans thought this season might be its swansong for the G5 ranks and move up to a Power Five league but with the implosion of its most likely destination of the PAC-12 a few weeks ago, the Aztecs likely will remain a Mountain West school unless there is some other kind of conference movement in the near future.

But back this game, it turned out to be one of the best of this weekend.

Jalen Mayden threw two touchdown passes to Mark Redman and the Aztecs opened the season with a 20-13 win over the Bobcats.

The game turned in the final minute of the first half when Cedarious Barfield intercepted Ohio QB CJ Harrison inside the Aztecs 30 yard line. Mayden then drove the Aztecs 71 yards in 44 seconds, hitting Redman for a 13-yard score as time ran out. That made it 10-6 at halftime SDSU.

The Bobcats then missed a 31-yard field goal to cap the opening drive of the second half, a drive that chewed up more than half of the third quarter.

After a 3-and-out, San Diego State put together two long drives — a 10-play, 77-yard drive for Jack Browning’s 21 yard field goal and an 11-play, 79-yard march capped by a 4-yard Redman touchdown.

Ohio threw three straight incompletions from the SDSU 6 with less than three minutes to play and on fourth down Marcus Ratcliffe had a 100-yard interception return nullified by a roughing-the-passer penalty.

The Bobcats then cashed in with a 3-yard touchdown pass from Harris to Miles Cross with 2:04 to go. The onside kick went out of bounds but the Aztecs only picked up eight yards on four runs and Ohio got the ball back on its 35 with 55 seconds to play.

Ohio picked up a pair of first downs before New Zealand Williams had an interception at the 20, returning it 40 yards before stepping out of bounds with a second to play to seal the Aztecs’ victory.

See highlights of this game below:

Nearly a Power Five Upset

Another close game in Week 0 was Hawai’i playing at an SEC school in Vanderbilt. The two teams actually also played last year on the Hawaiian islands and Vandy handedly defeated the Rainbow Warriors 63-10.

But 2023 was much different.

After a lengthy weather delay at the start of the game, the Commodores.

Jayden McGowden returned a kickoff untouched 96 yards to put Vanderbilt ahead to stay at 14-7 midway through the first, and QB AJ Swann threw a pair of TD passes to Will Sheppard. Swann found London Humphreys for a 32-yard TD and a 35-14 lead to start the fourth quarter.

Hawai’i though would make its comeback attempt next.

Hawaii scored twice in the fourth but could not quite get the touchdown equalizer.

The second score came with 4:49 left on a 1-yard keeper by reserve QB Dalen Morris to pull within 35-28 after the Rainbow Warriors forced a turnover on downs. Hawaii nearly recovered the ensuing onside kick, but Jalen Smith’s right elbow was out of bounds as he recovered the ball but Hawai’i still got the ball back after forcing the Commodores to punt after this drive.

Vandy though did seal the win when De’Rickey Wright picked off his second pass of the game with 1:43 left and the Vandy offense could kneel the rest of the way to secure the win.

See highlights of this game below:

First FBS Win

There are two new FBS teams this season in Jacksonville State and Sam Houston with both playing in the new look Conference USA. The first of those newcomers got its chance to show a long time C-USA member in UTEP that a high end FCS team to move-up is not an easy win. And if fact, it was just the opposite.

Jacksonville State defeated UTEP 17-14 at home.

Safety Jeremiah Harris picked off a UTEP pass at the Jax State 22 with 1:15 left as the Gamecocks held on to defeat favored UTEP 17-14 before a raucous crowd of 17,982 at Burgess-Snow Field in the first ever FBS game in the Alabama campus.

The Miners elected not to attempt a 40-yard field goal after driving from their 12 to Jax State’s 24 in the game’s waning moments, only to see Harris come up with the game-sealing interception on fourth down.

See full highlights of this game below:


Last Three Games

The following are some highlights of the other three games involving G5 squads in this Week 0. Louisiana Tech defeating FIU was the other C-USA conference game in come-from-behind fashion, with the other two being rather lopsided wins by two Power Five squads.

Louisiana Tech 22 FIU 17 (RUSTON, La.)

USC 56 San Jose State 28 (LOS ANGLES, Calif.)

Notre Dame 42 Navy 3 (DUBLIN, Ireland)