College Football’s Week One (2023):
Clemson, Duke, FSU, UNC Among TV Ratings Hits

By David Glenn
North Carolina Sports Network

While football television ratings remain the root cause of the ongoing rise, power and wealth of the Big Ten and the SEC, the relative struggles of the ACC and the Big 12, and the financially challenging circumstances of every other college sports conference, the so-called “Power Five” leagues all contributed to strong television ratings during Week One of college football’s regular season.

Here are the most-watched games of the extended Labor Day weekend, including two nonconference matchups involving ACC teams and one ACC-vs.-ACC tilt.

Game — Time Slot, Channel, Avg. Audience

1. LSU-Florida State — Sun. (7:30 pm), ABC, 9.2 million
2. Colorado-TCU — Sat. (noon), FOX, 7.3 million
3. Ohio State-Indiana — Sat. (3:30 pm), CBS, 4.7 million
4. Clemson-Duke — Mon. (8 pm), ESPN, 4.4 million
5. West Virginia-Penn State — Sat. (7:30 pm), NBC, 3.5 million
6. Nebraska-Minnesota — Thurs. (8 pm), FOX, 3.5 million
7. South Carolina-UNC — Sat. (7:30 pm), ABC, 3.4 million
8. Oregon State-San Jose State — Sun. (3:30 pm), CBS, 3.2 million
9. Rice-Texas — Sat. (3:30 pm), FOX, 3.2 million
10. Florida-Utah — Thurs. (8 pm), ESPN, 3.2 million

Other Rated^ Games Involving ACC/NC Teams

Virginia-Tennessee — Sat. (12 pm), ABC, 2.5 million
Louisville-Georgia Tech — Fri. (7:30 pm), ESPN, 1.7 million

^-Nielsen does not provide ratings for games broadcast on conference-specific (ACCN, BTN, SECN) channels and others that rarely have 1M+ audiences

The contributions of Clemson, Duke, FSU and UNC gave the ACC more schools (four) involved in these top-10 matchups than anyone except the Big Ten.

Top-10 Viewership Games By Conference (Week One)

Big Ten (5) — Indiana, Minnesota, Nebraska, Ohio State, Penn State
ACC (4) — Clemson, Duke, FSU, UNC
SEC (3) — Florida, LSU, South Carolina
Big 12 (3) — Texas, TCU, West Virginia
Pac-12 (3) — Colorado, Oregon State, Utah
American (1) — Rice
Mountain West (1) — San Jose State

While intersectional made-for-TV games often draw large audiences, it is much more difficult for most intraconference games to surpass the very solid 3 million viewer threshold.

The big numbers for two Big Ten matchups in Week One, Ohio State-Indiana and Nebraska-Minnesota, underline why and how that league just signed new TV deals worth an average of more than $1.1 billion annually.

To improve its football TV value, the ACC needs more weeks like this one, with Florida State in the most-watched game of the weekend, the Duke-Clemson matchup also finishing in the top four, and UNC in a tilt that barely missed the top five. The Duke-Clemson number, i.e., an audience of more than 4 million for an intraconference game, has happened far more often in the Big Ten and the SEC than it has in the ACC or any other league over the last decade or so.

NOTE1: According to Nielsen’s ratings system, “average audience” represents the number of viewers two years old or older who are watching a program during its average minute. The “total audience” number, representing those who tuned in for six or more minutes of a broadcast, is almost always much higher.

NOTE2: Since September 2020, Nielsen’s numbers also include out-of-home viewers (e.g., those in bars, restaurants). Same-day DVR viewers also are included.

NOTE3: Because the number of American TV households (approximately 124 million) has become so much larger than the number of American pay-TV households (approximately 76 million), the most-watched games are typically on broadcast channels (i.e., ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC) and less frequently on cable channels (e.g., ESPN, ESPN2, FS1).

NOTE4: Nielsen reports separate viewing numbers, which include streaming (still a low percentage of viewers), soon after its TV-specific numbers.