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2023 Way-Too-Early College Football Top 25

Marvin Harrison Jr., Ohio State

The 2022 college football season ended much the same way the 2021 one did: with Georgia crowned as National Champions. Now begins the longest offseason of sports, with eight grueling months until things kick back off in August. With so much time to go, why not get the offseason started by recklessly speculating about which teams will be in the hunt for the National Title next fall? With so much time between then and now, "way-too-early" rankings are more fun than serious analysis, but they do give us an indication on which teams, players, and storylines to watch over the coming months.

1. Georgia Bulldogs

When Kirby Smart was hired by his alma mater, conventional wisdom indicated it was only a matter of time before he got things rolling. With two consecutive National Titles under his belt, it seems fair to say that Smart and the Bulldogs have arrived. They've overtaken Alabama (for the time being) as the most feared program in the sport, an absolute machine that brings in blue-chip recruits and churns out NFL Draft selections. That story is unlikely to change much in 2023, particularly with one of the softest schedules in FBS. Stetson Bennett's storybook career may have come to a close Monday night, but both sides of the ball should remain loaded. Expect Carson Beck and Brock Vandagriff to duke it out for the starting quarterback role, with Daijuan Edwards and Kendall Milton set to flank them in the backfield. The pass-catchers will be loaded, spearheaded by the one of the nation's best players, tight end Brock Bowers, and ultra-reliable Ladd McConkey. On the other side of the ball, UGA is set to send a host of players off to the NFL, namely Jalen Carter, Nolan Smith, and Kelee Ringo, but do you really suspect any drop-off? The front seven will be incredibly fast, athletic, and deep, while Malaki Starks appears ready to be the next great Bulldog defensive back.

2. Ohio State Buckeyes

Ryan Day and Ohio State proved a lot of detractors wrong with an impressive performance in the semifinal, even if a missed field goal left them just short in upsetting Georgia. Next year's group may have the ingredients to actually overcome the 'Dawgs, assuming they can find a suitable replacement for C.J. Stroud. Kyle McCord is expected to step into the starting role, and will have no shortage of weapons at his disposal. Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka will the most feared wide receiver duo in the nation, and tight end Cade Stover is an underrated piece of the puzzle. TreVeyon Henderson should be 100 percent after battling injuries all 2022, and the defense took major strides in Year One under Jim Knowles. They could be even better next season, assuming J.T. Tuimoloau takes the next step and develops into the dominant pass rusher most expect him to.

3. Alabama Crimson Tide

Do we really think Nick Saban is going to roll over and let Kirby Smart enjoy his moment atop the college football world? Saban will have his Crimson Tide back with a vengeance, although there are some notable losses on both sides of the ball. The obvious one is former Heisman winner Bryce Young, the likely No. 1 overall selection in this upcoming spring's draft. It will be a fascinating competition to replace him; Jalen Milroe gained valuable experience this fall, but highly touted newcomer Ty Simpson should push him. The more important thing to watch will be the rest of the offense, which has been very un-Alabama over the last two seasons. Will Bill O'Brien return to Tuscaloosa, or is a return to the NFL in the cards? No matter whether he stays or goes, the receiver corps has to find some consistency after a rough year. Defensively, Will Anderson Jr. is a major loss, but Dallas Turner has the tools to be one of the nation's best and the back-end should be strong, with Kool-Aid McKinstry and company patrolling deep.

4. Michigan Wolverines

There's some uncertainty in Ann Arbor entering the offseason, despite 25 wins over the last two seasons. For the second straight year, Jim Harbaugh is openly flirting with NFL jobs, even though he has the pieces in place to once again win the Big Ten. J.J. McCarthy was impressive after taking over as full-time starter and could be even better in 2023 with a full offseason as QB1 under his belt. He will be aided by the nation's best running back duo, Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards. Corum likely could have been a fairly high draft pick this spring, but recently announced he was returning. The offensive line will be missing a few pieces from the Joe Moore-winning 2022 group, but they should still provide plenty of running lanes. The defense was tremendous this fall and despite a few losses, they should be strong once more. Mike Sanristil has already announced he's coming back to school, and the Wolverines landed a big-time transfer in Ernest Hausmann from Nebraska.

5. USC Trojans

Lincoln Riley has orchestrated a quick turnaround in Los Angeles, but USC's two defeats to close out 2022 should be an extra motivation for them heading into the offseason. The 2023 group will be headlined by reigning Heisman winner Caleb Williams, the first 'SC quarterback to take home the award since Matt Leinart. Williams will be the leader of a terrifying offense, with receivers Mario Williams, Brenden Rice, and newcomer Dorian Singer on the perimeter. Raleek Brown appears primed to take over feature back duties with Austin Jones and Travis Dye set to move on, although new South Carolina transfer MarShawn Lloyd will push him. However, the key for the Trojans will be fixing a defense that was atrocious in some of their bigger moments. The pressure is on coordinator Alex Grinch, who has garnered attention as a future head coaching candidate, but who has struggled as of late. The front seven suffers heavy losses, but adding pieces like Oklahoma State transfer Mason Cobb at linebacker should help in a big way.

6. Penn State Nittany Lions

Penn State has played third fiddle to Ohio State and Michigan the last several years, but the 2023 group might be the one to jump both of them. There's plenty of young playmakers who already have made an impact, aiming to do greater things. Nick Singleton and Kaytron Allen became the first true freshman teammates to eclipse 700 yards in Big Ten history, and the Nittany Lions will lean on the ground game early and often with Sean Clifford moving on. Clifford was a source of frustration for many PSU fans, but there's no denying that the program will miss their longtime leader, meaning youngster Drew Allar has big shoes to fill. On defense, there are a few big names set to move on, but coordinator Manny Diaz seemed to find his rhythm with this unit down the stretch. Corner Kalen King has a chance to emerge as a legit Jim Thorpe contender, and Chop Robinson and Abdul Carter should terrorize opposing offenses up front. Going on the road to Ohio State next year is a tough draw, but the Nittany Lions do get Michigan at home, and their cross-division games are winnable.

7. Washington Huskies

Not even the most optimistic Washington fan should have expected the Huskies to go 11-2 in 2022, but Kalen DeBoer did magical things in Seattle this past fall. The outlook looks even better next season, as Washington has a serious shot to return to the CFB Playoff for the first time since 2016. Michael Penix Jr. will be in the Heisman conversation after a massive 2022 campaign, reuniting with his former play-caller, DeBoer. His receiver corps takes a slight hit, but Taj Davis has proven is worth and keep an eye on Michigan State transfer Germie Bernard as a serious breakout candidate. The defense is still a work-in-progress, but it played very well in the bowl game and has some interesting pieces. I'm still waiting on Sav'ell Smalls to have his eventual breakthrough; the former blue-chipper is too talented to continue being an afterthought.

8. Florida State Seminoles

Remember October 2021, when Florida State was coming off a heartbreaking loss to Jacksonville State an we didn't know whether Mike Norvell was going to make it past his second year? Oh, how silly that sounds a year later. The Seminoles won nine games in 2022 and have serious momentum; they look like the early ACC favorite for next fall. Quarterback Jordan Travis displayed real growth this season and has Heisman-level upside, while his favorite target, Johnny Wilson, is likely to return. Those two should lead a quality Seminole offense, but it's the defense that has FSU fans particularly excited. Jared Verse likely would have been a Top 20 selection in the 2023 NFL Draft, but instead decided to come back for one more run in Tallahassee. He will likely be a preseason All-American, and is joined by one-time Ole Miss transfer Fabien Lovett up front. On the back-end, Fentrell Cypress II was one of the most sought after players in the transfer portal this cycle and now arrives to lead the FSU pass defense.

9. Utah Utes

USC has become the flashy team in the Pac-12 but one thing is clear: the conference still runs through Salt Lake City. Utah beat the Trojans twice in 2022 and will be back in the CFB Playoff hunt once more this upcoming fall. Veteran quarterback Cam Rising has already announced his intentions to return, giving the Utes a proven, reliable signal-caller to run the show. It will help that he's likely to have two of his favorite targets back in tight end Brant Kuithe and wide out Devaughn Vele. Kuithe missed most of 2022 with injury, but is one of the nation's best when healthy. Add in converted QB Ja'Quinden Jackson, who will likely be the feature back, and this could be one of the best Utah offenses in a long time. The defense will undoubtedly miss Clark Phillips III, but Morgan Scalley reloads as well as anyone. They'll be tough and physical up front, and getting Stanford linebacker transfer Levani Damuni was big.

10. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

A surprising 0-2 start could have sent Notre Dame spiraling, but Marcus Freeman and company righted the ship and finished 9-4. It was an understandable season of growing pains for the first-time head man, but the Irish should feel good looking ahead to 2023. For one, the quarterback position is about to get a major upgrade in the form of Sam Hartman, who smashed record after record at Wake Forest. He'll open up an offense that was pedestrian and one-dimensional in 2022. The supporting cast will be in store for a transition as Michael Mayer and numerous backs move on, but could this be the year Chris Tyree puts it all together? Al Golden looks like he'll be back as the defensive coordinator, and despite losses up front, the back-seven looks good.

11. LSU Tigers

Brian Kelly's first season in Baton Rouge was a success, as the Tigers took home an SEC West Title and won ten games. The 2023 group has the chance to repeat as division champs, even with Alabama likely to return with a vengeance. Quarterback Jayden Daniels was a pleasant surprise this fall, and now will return for his final season of college football. He's a dynamic runner, but it was his improved passing ability that came as a real surprise in 2022. We thought Daniels would have the luxury of having his top receiver, Kayshon Boutte, back for another year but after previously announcing his intention to return to school, Boutte pulled a 180 and went pro. Even so, Malik Nabers proved that he was quite the playmaker as a true sophomore, and has the potential to be even better. On defense, Harold Perkins was a superstar as a freshman and could be the most dominant defender in the country in 2023.

12. Clemson Tigers

It shows the standard that Dabo Swinney has set at Clemson that the Tigers are coming off two consecutive "down" years, despite 21 wins in that span. To be fair, Clemson has shown significant cracks in their armor after an astounding run in the mid-2010s, but don't expect them to roll over and let FSU take the ACC. Tailback Will Shipley is already one of the nation's best, and should enter 2023 on most Doak Walker Award shortlists. He'll be the fuel of the offense, but Clemson is hoping Cade Klubnik can provide much-needed stability at the quarterback position after two rollercoaster seasons with D.J. Uiagalelei. Klubnik is young, but he showed he could handle the spotlight in short spurts this fall, and he has higher upside than Uiagalelei. He'll be helped by the fact the offensive line should return most of its starters, and the receiver corps will also be well-stocked. It's actually the defense where more questions lie, as Myles Murphy, Bryan Bresee, and Trenton Simpson all look like they're off to the NFL.

13. Oregon Ducks

Dan Lanning had a strong debut campaign in Eugene, as the Ducks went 10-3 and came back to beat North Carolina in the Holiday Bowl. The prognosis for 2023 looks promising, even with the defense set to suffer significant losses. Quarterback Bo Nix was one of the best stories of the 2022 college football season, a player who was a constant source of hate among wide swaths of the college football community before putting together a remarkable year. He flirted with the idea of going pro, but instead opted to return for one more run. He'll be joined in the backfield by Mar'Keise "Bucky" Irving, who flashed elite playmaking ability after transferring from Minnesota. Lanning and Oregon were also quietly one of the major winners of the early transfer portal period, as they landed two instant starters on the O-Line in Junior Angilau and Ajani Cornelius and a productive corner in Khyree Jackson.

14. TCU Horned Frogs

The National Championship blowout shouldn't erase just how amazing TCU's 2022 was. Sonny Dykes took over a 5-7 program that had just fired longtime head coach Gary Patterson and took them all the way to the National Championship in under 12 months. However, he'll have to show he can keep things rolling, as the Horned Frogs are set to lose three of their most important pieces, Max Duggan, Quentin Johnston, and Kendre Miller. Chandler Morris was originally pegged as the Day One starter in 2022 before injury and should reclaim the role, and he may actually end up being a better fit for Dykes' offense than Duggan. He will lead an untested, but talented, offense that has brought in a host of transfers. The defense remains a work-in-progress and it doesn't help that Dee Winters and Tre'Vius Hodges-Tomlinson are set to depart, but names like Mark Perry and Jamoi Hodge give them a decent starting point.

15. North Carolina Tar Heels

A year later than most expected, North Carolina rose to the top of the ACC and won the Coastal Division. They now enter the offseason as a serious threat to overpower Clemson and Florida State in the conference, although the ACC forgoing divisions will make a repeat trip to the Championship Game more difficult. The Tar Heels are blessed with one of the nation's top quarterbacks, Drake Maye, who could be the 2023 Heisman favorite. There was some question whether he may test the transfer waters to land a large NIL deal, but he appears committed to Chapel Hill. Maye will have to make do without his offensive coordinator, Phil Longo, or top wide out, Josh Downs, but there's still plenty of talent. The defense has been the Achilles Heel since Mack Brown's return and the back-end is a real question mark, but the staff has recruited this side of the ball very well and the talent will start showing through eventually.

16. Tennessee Volunteers

I don't see Tennessee as a one-hit wonder, but it's fair to wonder if the Vols may be in store for a slight step-back after their best season in two decades. Hendon Hooker is off to the NFL and offensive coordinator Alex Golesh took the head coaching job at South Florida, but Josh Heuepel's system remains in place. Former Michigan transfer Joe Milton should step in and take over for Hooker, and he was a revelation in their bowl win over Clemson. Milton won't have the luxury of the team's top two receivers, Jalin Hyatt and Cedric Tillman, but there remains a healthy amount of playmaking weapons dotting the roster. Defensively, Tennessee is unlikely to put up great numbers considering how much they have to be on the field with this offense, but they showed they survive playing an aggressive, downhill style. Losing Byron Young up front hurts, but plenty returns in the back-seven.

17. Kansas State Wildcats

A friendly reminder: Kansas State, not TCU, was the Big 12 Champion in 2022, and Chris Klieman has built a consistent winner in Manhattan. They will have to move forward without dynamic tailback Deuce Vaughn, who is set go pro, but the Wildcats got a win in the transfer portal by landing Florida State transplant Treshaun Ward. He will be joined in the backfield by veteran QB Will Howard, although don't be shocked if newcomer Avery Johnson receives plenty of fanfare. He's one of the highest-rated recruits in program history, and K-State fans will be calling for him the moment the offense struggles. Klieman always seems to have strong defenses and that should be the case next season, particularly if impact edge rusher Felix Anudike-Uzomah returns. The Wildcats are also helped by the fact the Big 12 is wide open as it's ever been. TCU will be back in the hunt, but they suffer heavy losses, and traditional powers Oklahoma and Texas remain in a strange transition stage. All four of the teams set to make their grand entrance to the league in '23 (Cincinnati, BYU, Houston, and UCF) all face similar questions, giving K-State a golden opportunity to repeat.

18. Tulane Green Wave

Willie Fritz engineered the greatest single-season turnaround in college football history this fall, taking Tulane from 2-10 to 12-2, with a New Year's Six Bowl victory to cap it all off. Fritz entertained the possibility of taking a Power Five job but instead decided to return to Tulane, likely assuring another great year for the Green Wave in 2023. Even more important than the return of Fritz was the return of star QB Michael Pratt, who likely could have earned a sizable NIL deal from a larger school, but instead stuck around. A lot of the major pieces from the offense are gone, but the O-Line should be experienced and the skill positions have loads of potential. Defensive coordinator Chris Hampton could have also taken a bigger job, but his return likely assures a quality unit once again. He's quickly become a big name to watch on the coaching carousel; don't be shocked if he's up for head coaching jobs next offseason. The Green Wave also benefit from the shifting landscape of college football; UCF, Cincinnati, and Houston all depart, making the conference even easier to win.

19. Ole Miss Rebels

Lane Kiffin's 2022 Ole Miss team essentially had two different seasons. One was in the first half of the year, when the Rebels went 7-0 and looked like a serious SEC contender. The other was in the second half, when the bottom fell out, and they lost five of six. Which will show up in 2023? Kiffin will have one of the nation's most exciting backs at his disposal in Quinshon Judkins, but he needs more consistency from QB Jaxson Dart. Dart will miss two of his top wide outs in Jonathan Mingo and Malik Heath, but Jordan Watkins and Dayton Wade seem ready to step up and tight end Michael Trigg has unlimited potential. The defense made major strides in 2023 under the tutelage of Chris Partridge, but there are heavy losses here. Defensive linemen J.J. Pegues could be a name to watch up front and UCF transfer Jeremiah Jean-Baptiste was a nice get, assuming he can make the jump to SEC ball.

20. Troy Trojans

Looking to jump on a Group of Five team's bandwagon in 2023? The Troy Trojans would be a great place to start. Jon Summrall went 12-2 in his first season with the Trojans, and they should be the Sun Belt favorite looking ahead towards next fall. Quarterback Gunnar Watson should return, but the big name on offense is tailback Kimandi Vidal, who topped 1,000 yards and ran all over UL-Monroe and Arkansas State last fall. The receiver corps took a hit when Tez Johnson transferred, but there's still weapons here, and the offensive line should be good. The defense was one of the nation's best in 2022 and despite losing program stalwart Carlton Martial, Troy should be okay. There's still names like corner Reddy Steward and fearsome pass rusher Richard Jibunor, and coordinator Shiel Wood opted to stay in town.

21. Texas Longhorns

Steve Sarkisian enters a pivotal third year in Austin. The Longhorns showed real progress in 2022, but Sarkisian is still just 13-12 with the program and the 2023 campaign could be their last one before their transition to the SEC. Fortunately, Texas has no shortage of talent, but can they reach their potential? Quinn Ewers is set to return at quarterback and should hold on to the job, even with the arrival of Arch Manning. Ewers won't have Bijan Robinson with him to take the pressure off him, but the receiver corps will be dangerous, with Xavier Worthy, Jordan Whittington, and tight end Ja'Tavion Sanders set to return. The defense will be the X-factor, a group that has regularly underachieved all the way back to the end of the Mack Brown era. There's notable losses, but the defensive line is loaded with talent and newcomer Anthony Hill Jr. could be an instant impact player at linebacker.

22. Oregon State Beavers

There may not be a more underrated coach in America than Oregon State's Jonathan Smith. The one-time Beaver great has completely turned things around at his alma mater, and has this program in the hunt for a Pac-12 Title. They'll be dangerous in 2022, with notable pieces set to return and a healthy influx of talent through the transfer portal. Tailback Damien Martinez ran for 982 yards as a true freshman this past fall and could emerge as one of the nation's best with a full offseason under his belt. He'll be the focal point of the offense, but Oregon State did land a major get in the portal in quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei. Uiagalelei should benefit not only from returning to his native West Coast, but going to a less high-pressure situation than he experienced at Clemson. Defensively, the front seven should be solid after making major strides in 2022, but there are losses on the back-end. All eyes remain on linebacker Omar Speights, one of the team's best players, who is mulling an NFL Draft decision.

23. UCLA Bruins

It looks like Chip Kelly finally has things figured out in Westwood, and the Bruins will still be a major player in the Pac-12 race. They do lose two of their best offensive pieces in longtime starter Dorian Thompson-Robinson and productive tailback Zach Charbonnet, but they've worked the portal and landed a big-time talent in five-star freshman Dante Moore. It might be a bit much to expect Moore to start in 2023, with Kent State transfer Collin Schlee the likely Day One guy, but don't be surprised if Kelly finds creative ways to get the talented youngster on the field. Schlee will be joined in the backfield by another MAC transplant, Ball State's Carson Steele, who went for over 1,500 yards in 2022. The receiver corps is a bit unproven at this point, but the defense gives reason to believe in the Bruins. Although UCLA struggled with consistency, they've become a much more physical, disciplined group than the early Kelly years. Whether or not twin defensive linemen Grayson and Gabriel Murphy go pro will be an interesting storyline to watch in the offseason.

24. Oklahoma Sooners

Oklahoma suffered through their first losing season in over two decades during the debut campaign for Brent Venables, but there's hope for improvement in 2023. Quarterback Dillon Gabriel has already announced he will be back for another year after dealing with injuries throughout the fall, giving the Sooners a veteran signal-caller to lead the way. He'll have some interesting weapons around him; while Eric Gray and Marvin Mims are set to depart for the NFL, Gavin Sawchuk is a real breakout candidate and Jalil Farooq could emerge as the top option outside. The Sooners also had a nice get in the portal, landing Michigan transfer Andrel Anthony Jr. The key, however, will be fixing a defense that was horrifyingly bad at times in 2022. The fact of the matter is things really can't get much worse, but Oklahoma needs a few young pieces to step up. Several additions in the portal should help out, including Indiana's Dasan McCullough, and leading tackler Danny Stutsman is set to return.

25. Duke Blue Devils

It didn't get a ton of national attention, but Mike Elko had arguably the best debut season with their new program of any head coach not named Lincoln Riley. He led the Blue Devils to a 9-4 mark, which included a bowl victory over UCF in the Military Bowl. They could be a sleeper in 2023, thanks in large part to the return of quarterback Riley Leonard, who led the team in passing and rushing this fall. He could be a dark horse Heisman candidate looking ahead to next year. Leonard is set to be joined by top tailback Jordan Waters and Jordan Moore, who is set to replace Jalon Calhoun as the top receiver. The other side of the ball should be stout, too, and I really like some of these pieces. Brandon Johnson has All-ACC talent in the secondary and DeWayne Carter swallows up opposing rushing attacks on the interior D-Line.

Just Missed the Cut

SMU Mustangs: Tanner Mordecai may be off to Wisconsin, but former high-profile recruit Preston Stone could took over as the new face of the offense at quarterback. He'll be paired with two former five-star running backs, Camar Wheaton and L.J. Johnson Jr.

South Carolina Gamecocks: South Carolina showed real progress during Shane Beamer's second season and they could be the greatest threat to Georgia in the division if Tennessee takes a step back. Getting Spencer Rattler back at quarterback was huge and he could have a huge grand finale.

Texas Tech Red Raiders: There's a feeling of momentum in Lubbock entering 2023, as Joey McGuire delivered an eight-win debut and has had success on the recruiting trail. The Red Raiders will have a veteran quarterback leading the way in Tyler Shough and an experienced defense that could become one of the Big 12's best.

Arkansas Razorbacks: The Razorbacks were a disappointment in 2022, but they could be in store for a bounceback this upcoming fall. K.J. Jefferson has already announced he'll be back and should form a fearsome duo with Raheim Sanders in the backfield. The defense loses Drew Sandders and coordinator Barry Odom, but there's still some interesting pieces.

Kentucky Wildcats: Kentucky has become of the most consistent programs in the nation and they should be a threat in 2023. Offensive coordinator Liam Coen is back after a one-year return to the Los Angeles Rams and now has an experienced quarterback to run the offense in NC State's Devin Leary.

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