College Football’s Week Three (2023):
UNC, FSU, Pitt 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 Southeastern Conference, the relative struggles of the Atlantic Coast Conference and the Big 12, and the financially challenging circumstances of every other college sports conference, the so-called “Power Five” leagues all contributed to solid television ratings during Week Three of college football’s regular season.

Below are the 10 most-watched games of Sept. 16, including five intraconference matchups (three in the SEC, one in the ACC, one in the Big Ten) and five nonconference contests.

The latter category showcased the amazing eyeball-drawing ability of the resurgent Colorado program under new coach Deion Sanders, plus the traditionally powerful pulls of heavyweight programs such as Alabama and Ohio State, which drew big numbers despite facing much lower-profile opponents in South Florida and Western Kentucky, respectively.

Game — Time Slot, Channel, Avg. Audience

1. Colorado State-Colorado — Sat. (10 pm), ESPN, 9.3 million
2. South Carolina-Georgia — Sat. (3:30 pm), CBS, 5.4 million
3. Tennessee-Florida — Sat. (7 pm), ESPN, 5.3 million
4. Alabama-South Florida — Sat. (3:30 pm), ABC, 4.8 million
5. Florida State-Boston College — Sat. (noon), ABC, 3.5 million
6. Penn State-Illinois — Sat. (noon), FOX, 3.2 million
7. Western Kentucky-Ohio State — Sat. (4 pm), FOX, 2.8 million
8. LSU-Mississippi State — Sat. (noon), ESPN, 2.8 million
9. Pittsburgh-West Virginia — Sat. (7:30 pm), ABC, 2.4 million
10. Minnesota-North Carolina — Sat. (3:30 pm), ESPN, 1.6 million

Other Rated^ Games Involving ACC/NC Teams

Syracuse-Purdue — Sat. (7:30 pm), NBC, 1.3 million
Louisville-Indiana — Sat. (noon), BTN, 828,000*
Virginia-Maryland — Fri. (7 pm), FS1, 776,000
Virginia Tech-Rutgers — Sat. (3:30 pm), BTN, 720,000*
Wake Forest-Old Dominion — Sat. (noon), ESPN2, 324,000
VMI-NC State — Sat. (2 pm), CW, 205,000

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

*-this game, part of a split audience, was responsible for only part of this total

With ACC football television heavyweights Clemson (which hosted Florida Atlantic on Saturday night) and Miami (which hosted Bethune-Cookman on Thursday night) both appearing on the ACC Network, which doesn’t publicly report viewership numbers and is not rated by Nielsen, the ACC’s #1 football TV brand of the last decade, Florida State, helped draw the fifth-largest audience of the weekend.

Along with Pitt’s trip to West Virginia and UNC’s game against Minnesota in Chapel Hill, the Seminoles continued the ACC’s impressive theme from Week One, which was a true ratings bonanza for the conference, with LSU-FSU, Clemson-Duke and South Carolina-UNC leading the way.

Through three weeks, FSU and UNC are among the schools that already have drawn two top-10 television audiences each, as documented in our TV-oriented summaries from Week One and Week Two.

Elsewhere, East Carolina’s visit to Appalachian State in Boone was a huge attendance success, with the Mountaineers tying the all-time Kidd Brewer Stadium record (40,168) during their 43-28 victory over the Pirates. However, everyone is left to guess the game’s streaming audience, because ESPN+ does not publicly report such numbers for individual games.

In 2021, when App State and ECU opened the season with a Thursday night matchup in Charlotte, the nationally televised broadcast of the game drew an average audience of only 245,000 on ESPNU. On the same night, and in the same time slot, the Ohio State-Minnesota game drew 6.3 million on FOX.

In 2022, when NC State visited ECU, the 21-20 Wolfpack win brought an average audience of about 2 million on ESPN. UNC’s trip to App State last year, a thrilling 63-61 Carolina victory, drew about 520,000 on ESPNU.

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.