Now that the 2022 college football season is over, it's already time to start looking ahead to 2023.
As always, this is simply a first look. Things are going to change. And this is for entertainment purposes only.
We'll have a better idea of what teams will look like over the next few weeks as players declare for the NFL draft before the Jan. 16 early entry deadline and coaches continue to add transfers and finalize their recruiting classes in February.
Even with that said, it's time to make our first guess at what the Top 25 will look like ahead of the 2023 season.
Georgia will have a new starting quarterback in 2023. But if Kirby Smart could win two national championships with Stetson Bennett, you’d have to think the Bulldogs can compete for another with one of the young, highly rated QBs on the roster. Carson Beck was Bennett’s backup this year and Brock Vandagriff and Gunner Stockton will also likely be in the mix to start. Brock Bowers is back at tight end and there have already been a few portal additions at wideout. Defensively, there’s always another group of coveted prospects ready to step into more prominent roles as standouts like Jalen Carter, Kelee Ringo and Nolan Smith seem NFL-bound. The Bulldogs already had quite a few underclassmen starting on defense in 2022 with guys like Mykel Williams and Malaki Starks looking like future stars. Couple the overall talent on this roster with another easy schedule, and it'd be a shock if UGA wasn't back in the playoff field next season.
Alabama always reloads but how will the Crimson Tide fare without Bryce Young and Will Anderson? Young could end up as the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft. Jalen Milroe and Ty Simpson look like the main candidates to take the reins at quarterback. Milroe showed flashes when he filled in for an injured Young, but also struggled with turnovers. Simpson, meanwhile, was a top-40 recruit in the 2022 class. The skill positions look good on paper, and there are burgeoning stars all over the place on defense, including Dallas Turner, Malachi Moore and Kool-Aid McKinstry. With LSU visiting Bryant-Denny Stadium, will Alabama be able to return to the top of the SEC West?
Jim Harbaugh’s latest dalliance with the NFL continues to loom, but from a roster perspective Michigan should be right back in contention for another Big Ten title next fall. The Wolverines have won the conference the last two seasons and return J.J. McCarthy, Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards on offense and have an emerging star at cornerback in Will Johnson. Michigan has also added several quality players in the transfer portal, including ex-Nebraska linebacker Ernest Hausmann, ex-Coastal Carolina pass rusher Josaiah Stewart and three potential starters on the offensive line.
4. Ohio State
How will Ryan Day and Ohio State respond after a heartbreaking loss to Georgia in the CFP semifinals? The Buckeyes recruit at such a high level that it’s hard to envision much of a drop-off, especially with players like Marvin Harrison Jr., Emeka Egbuka, TreVeyon Henderson and Cade Stover all returning on offense. The big question will be quarterback with C.J. Stroud almost certainly moving on to the NFL. Kyle McCord and Devin Brown appear to be the two candidates who will compete for the starting job. On defense, the Buckeyes move to Year 2 with coordinator Jim Knowles. That unit made strides, but there’s still room for improvement if Ohio State wants to return to the top of the Big Ten and win a national title.
Brian Kelly won the SEC West in his first year at LSU, and the Tigers should be better in his second season. Jayden Daniels is returning at quarterback, linebacker Harold Perkins and defensive tackle Maason Smith will be back on defense and there’s a deep group of skill position players ready to take another step forward in their development. Kelly has also dipped into the transfer portal to bolster his team's depth, especially on the defensive line. If the offensive line shows improvement, LSU could be back in the College Football Playoff conversation.
USC will have lofty goals in 2023 after losing in the Pac-12 title game and just missing out on the College Football Playoff. USC’s offense should be one of the best in the nation once again with Heisman winner Caleb Williams back at quarterback. The Trojans also added some big pieces from the portal, including ex-South Carolina running back MarShawn Lloyd and ex-Arizona receiver Dorian Singer. But the major question remains on defense. The Trojans won 11 games despite having one of the worst defenses in the country. Even a marginal improvement could make a big difference in 2023.
7. Penn State
Is Penn State ready to make the leap to the top of the Big Ten? PSU hasn’t won the conference since 2016 and is coming off an 11-2 season that culminated with an impressive Rose Bowl victory. The only two losses came at the hands of Ohio State and Michigan, but there are reasons for optimism in Happy Valley with so much talent returning. Many of the team’s best players were underclassmen, including true freshman running backs Nick Singleton and Kaytron Allen and linebacker Abdul Carter. If quarterback Drew Allar lives up to his recruiting billing, PSU could be a really dangerous team. The Nittany Lions could also use some help at receiver with Parker Washington and Mitchell Tinsley departing.
Oregon won 10 games in Year 1 under Dan Lanning, thanks to an explosive offense led by QB Bo Nix. Nix is set to return for his second season with the Ducks, but offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham is now the head coach at Arizona State. Will Stein from UTSA will be the play-caller next year and the Ducks will work in a lot of new faces up front. Adding Rhode Island transfer Ajani Cornelius — arguably the top offensive lineman in the portal — should help that cause. Lanning will still be in charge of the defense and that unit was up-and-down in 2022. With the level of quarterback play in the Pac-12, Lanning will need to work in some new talent to contend for a league title. Some of the stars from his top-10 recruiting class could see the field early.
9. Florida State
Florida State fans are expecting a major step forward for the Seminoles. There are plenty of reasons to feel that way. In Mike Norvell’s three seasons, FSU has gone from 3-6 to 5-7 to 10-3. Could the Seminoles return to the top of the ACC in 2023? So many of FSU’s top players have decided to return, including defensive linemen Jared Verse and Fabien Lovett, quarterback Jordan Travis, receiver Johnny Wilson and RB Trey Benson. FSU has also tried to fill some holes in the transfer portal, adding players such as ex-Virginia CB Fentrell Cypress and ex-Western Michigan DT Braden Fiske. This will be one of the most-hyped teams off the offseason. How will the Seminoles handle the expectations?
Even without Hendon Hooker, Jalin Hyatt and Cedric Tillman, Tennessee’s offense looked pretty good in the Orange Bowl win over Clemson. Joe Milton stepped in at quarterback for Hooker and showed off arguably the strongest arm in college football. Will he be able to play that well against top-tier SEC competition? Or will five-star freshman Nico Iamaleava push him for the starting job? Josh Heupel brought Tennessee back into the national conversation quicker than expected. Now the challenge for the Vols will be maintaining that level of success before ultimately trying to surge past Georgia in the SEC East.
Kalen DeBoer inherited a team that went 4-8 in 2021 and coached the Huskies to 11 wins in 2022. With Michael Penix Jr. back at quarterback, could Washington compete for the Pac-12 title in 2023? Penix will enter the season with some Heisman hype and should have plenty of talent surrounding him on offense. Before DeBoer’s arrival, Washington was more known for its defense. The Huskies have finished in the top three in the Pac-12 in total defense for eight consecutive seasons.
12. Notre Dame
The first season of the Marcus Freeman era had plenty of ups and downs, including an ugly 0-2 start. But the Irish rebounded and ended up winning nine games, so there’s plenty of reasons for optimism moving into 2023. The addition of Wake Forest transfer Sam Hartman at quarterback is a big one, as are an excellent recruiting class and a deep stable of running backs. Receiver is still a question mark, especially with All-American tight end Michael Mayer moving on to the NFL. The defense should be solid once again and that unit will be tested with Ohio State and USC on the schedule again.
This feels like it could be an inflection point for Clemson. For most programs, going a combined 21-6 over the past two seasons would be an accomplishment. But for the standard Dabo Swinney’s program has set, it’s been a step back. The defense was solid, but nowhere near as stout as many expected. The offense was better than it was in 2021, but it was still mediocre at best. Cade Klubnik and Will Shipley have the talent to be a great QB-RB duo in the ACC, but it feels like the scheme as a whole could use a refresh. If that doesn’t happen, Clemson will likely carry on as one of the ACC’s best, but not one of the nation’s best.
Utah has won back-to-back Pac-12 titles and there’s a lot to like about the Utes in 2023. Kyle Whittingham’s program is consistently good on defense and along the offensive line. Cam Rising will be back at quarterback for his third year as the team’s starter and several other veterans on offense, including tight end Brant Kuithe and receiver Devaughn Vele, are also set to return. Additionally, Ja’Quinden Jackson could emerge as one of the top running backs in the Pac-12. There are a lot of intriguing teams in the Pac-12, but the Utes should still be regarded as one of the favorites.
Will TCU’s magic carry over to 2023? It’s hard to replicate such a fantastic run from one season to the next, especially with stars like Max Duggan and Quentin Johnston moving on to the NFL. Even if the Horned Frogs aren’t national title contenders, Sonny Dykes’ team should still be one of the best in the Big 12. Chandler Morris won the starting quarterback job out of camp but got hurt in Week 1, opening the door for Duggan. Morris should be the guy in 2023, and he’s shown a lot of potential whenever he’s seen the field. On defense, there are quite a few important players with impending NFL draft decisions. If some of those guys come back, TCU’s defense could be even better in Year 2 of playing in Joe Gillespie’s 3-3-5 system.
Here we go again. Steve Sarkisian is 13-12 at Texas, going 5-7 in 2021 and then 8-5 in 2022. What will Year 3 have in store? The hype is going to be there as always, as will the expectations from the fanbase. Quinn Ewers will be back at quarterback and will have to compete for the starting job with Arch Manning, arguably the most-hyped recruit in college football history. UT won’t have star running back Bijan Robinson, but the offensive line could be one of the nation’s best and the receiving corps is stacked. There are question marks throughout the defense, but the talent level is on the rise throughout the roster. Can the Longhorns compete for a Big 12 title?
17. Kansas State
Chris Klieman has this program up and running at a high level. Kansas State is coming off a Big 12 title and returns Will Howard at quarterback and a bulk of the offensive line. Howard began the season as the backup but brought a new dimension to the offense once he stepped in for the injured Adrian Martinez. Filling the shoes of Deuce Vaughn at running back won’t be easy, but DJ Giddens showed promise as Vaughn’s backup, and tight end Ben Sinnott emerged as a very intriguing weapon over the second half of the season. The coaching staff will be sweating out a few NFL draft decisions on defense ahead of next week’s deadline.
18. Oregon State
Oregon State has gradually improved under Jonathan Smith and the Beavers have now won 17 games over the past two seasons, including the program’s first 10-win effort in more than 15 years. Can the Beavers continue to ascend in the Pac-12? They were so reliant on the running game in 2022, thanks to a stellar line and a deep group of backs. With so many of those key players expected back, could the addition of ex-Clemson QB DJ Uiagalelei make the Beavers more well-rounded on offense? This team could have a high ceiling in 2023.
Chip Kelly’s Bruins are losing Dorian Thompson-Robinson and Zach Charbonnet to the NFL, but there are some intriguing pieces returning next fall. UCLA has also been active in the transfer portal once again with 1,500-yard rusher Carson Steele and dual-threat quarterback Collin Schlee among the additions. Kelly was also able to land five-star quarterback Dante Moore, flipping him from Oregon. If Moore is ready to play as a freshman, UCLA could be back in the mix in the Pac-12 yet again.
There’s going to be a lot of pressure on Brent Venables in his second season at OU. The Sooners finished 6-7 in 2022, their first losing record since 1998. There were so many new players for OU that it’s hard not to expect some level of improvement in 2023. The return of QB Dillon Gabriel will certainly help that effort and the Sooners’ performance in a bowl loss to Florida State was pretty encouraging. With a strong transfer class, a top-10 recruiting class and so many players returning from the 2022 team, there are reasons for optimism for Oklahoma as its time in the Big 12 winds to a close.
21. Texas Tech
Texas Tech was better than expected in Joey McGuire’s first year on the job, going 8-5 and finishing with four straight wins. Could the Red Raiders be a sleeper team in the Big 12 in 2023? McGuire’s staff has elevated the program’s recruiting and the offense could be due for a jump in its second year running Zach Kittley’s high-flying offensive system.
Though star running back Tyjae Spears is off to the NFL, Tulane has to be considered the early favorite in the new-look AAC in 2023 with Cincinnati, UCF and Houston all headed to the Big 12. The Green Wave got big news when quarterback Michael Pratt decided to stay with the program after helping guide the team to 12 wins, including a conference title and a thrilling Cotton Bowl victory over USC.
23. North Carolina
It’s hard not to include UNC when it has Drake Maye returning. Maye could be the No. 1 pick in the 2024 NFL draft if he turns in another season like he did in 2023, but the Tar Heels won’t accomplish much if the defense doesn’t improve. UNC stumbled mightily down the stretch in 2022, going from 9-1 to 9-5. Any time the offense wasn’t playing at an extremely high level, the defense wasn’t even close to picking up the slack.
24. South Carolina
South Carolina was just OK for most of the 2022 season before a very strong finish that included upset wins over Tennessee and Clemson and a close bowl loss to Notre Dame. Can that carry over to 2023? Spencer Rattler’s NFL decision looms large for the Gamecocks as the Oklahoma transfer put up some eye-popping numbers down the stretch. If Rattler comes back, the Gamecocks could be that team in that SEC that nobody wants to play. Shane Beamer has been steadily adding talent to the roster.
Iowa's prowess on defense and special teams has been a constant, as has its general ineptitude on offense. Even with some of the additions the Hawkeyes have made in the transfer portal — including ex-Michigan QB Cade McNamara — it's hard to be optimistic that there will be a major step forward if Brian Ferentz continues to call plays. But as bad as the offense has been, the Hawkeyes find ways to win games. That'll continue in some form or fashion, especially with the Big Ten continuing to have divisions.