A Way Too Early College Football Top 25 for 2023
The 2022 college football season has come to an end, and for the second year in a row, Georgia is officially your 2022 (or is technically, 2023?) national champions.
Yet as the confetti falls here at SoFi Stadium it's never too early to look ahead to next season.
As we always do the day after the title, let's drop our "Way Too Early Top 25" for next season, as the Aaron Torres Media staff spent the last few days putting this together for you.
One caveat: A LOT will change in the coming months, as NFL Draft decision get shored up and the transfer portal ramps back up in the spring.
If you don't like where your team is, be patient - a lot can change between now and Labor Day 2023.
Now, let's get to our Top 25.
1. Georgia Bulldogs
No, this isn't a "they're champs until you knock them off" thing. Instead, it's a "While they lose a lot - they also return a ton as well" thing.
Yes, Stetson Bennett graduates but the offense shouldn't miss a beat under Carson Beck (former Dawg Aaron Murray raved about him on Monday's Aaron Torres Podcast) and the defense was actually, largely young this year. Leading tackler Smael Mondon is back, as are edge rushers Jamon Dumas-Johnson and Mykel Williams.
Understand: This was supposed to be the year you got Georgia, before they rebuilt again.
So yeah, good luck beating the Dawgs in 2023.
2. Michigan Wolverines
The Wolverines got the second-best piece of news possible they could this off-season, with the announcement that Blake Corum would return for the 2023 season. He will join Donovan Edwards in the backfield, and it's worth noting that in an off-season where Georgia, Alabama, Ohio State and Penn State are all breaking in new quarterbacks, the Wolverines return an established star in JJ McCarthy. He wasn't great versus TCU, but they also might not have been in the playoff without him.
Of course this entire ranking hinges on the return of Jim Harbaugh, who as of this publication is actively (and awkwardly) flirting with multiple NFL teams.
For the sake of college football, hopefully Harbaugh comes to his senses and realizes he has a potential title team next season.
3. LSU Tigers
It's hard putting anyone in the SEC West ahead of Alabama, but in an off-season where Alabama loses most of its best players, LSU returns most of its key stars.
Included in the returnees are starting quarterback Jayden Daniels, top wide receiver Malik Nabers, most of the offensive line and elite edge rusher Harold Perkins. And remember, this team also lost its best edge rusher entering the season, Maason Smith, in the opening game of the season.
Now admittedly, to win the West, they will have to go to Tuscaloosa and get the win.
But right now, on paper, LSU is the better team.
4. Alabama Crimson Tide
Maybe we're idiots for putting Alabama "all the way down" at No. 4.
Or maybe it's a testament to the program Nick Saban has built that they are at No. 4 in an off-season where they'll lose an elite quarterback (Bryce Young), the sport's best defensive player and its best skill position talent.
No one should feel bad for Saban as there is plenty of talent returning, including several key pieces on offense. And they'll be buyoued by the nation's No. 1 recruiting class, many of which will likely see early playing time.
But, whether Alabama returns to its national championship form or not hinges on two things: Is there a shake-up on the coaching staff, in a season where it felt like things were out of sorts on both sides of the ball.
And, who will start at quarterback? Returnees Jalen Milroe and Ty Simpson have the inside edge. And you just never know who will emerge in the portal in the spring.
5. Ohio State Buckeyes
The bad news: Ohio State will enter next season with a new starting quarterback, likely two-year back-up Kyle McCord. The good news: He'll be throwing to the best receiving corps in the country (Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka among them) and the hope is that after surgery, TreyVeon Henderson will return to his 2021 form. The defense also took a major step up in Year 1 under Jim Knowles.
Still, there is a daunting schedule ahead that includes a trip to Notre Dame and Penn State at home. And of course, Michigan to end the season - a game that will hang over Ryan Day's head until he actually wins it.
Despite it, there is still national title talent in Columbus.
6. USC Trojans
For all the handwringing about USC's Cotton Bowl meltdown, USC won 11-regular season games and played for a Pac-12 title in a season where most were hoping for a 9-3 season.
So, while the defense certainly needs to improve, Lincoln Riley established this season: As long as Caleb Williams is his quarterback, we're probably looking at a minimum of 11 wins.
Even a slight step on defense should at least have this team in the playoff.
If not playing for something more.
7. Penn State Nittany Lions
You know that meme of Rose from "Titanic" holding her little pearl and saying to herself "It's been 84 years!!!" - well that's basically how most Penn State fans feel about the departure of Sean Clifford at quarterback. Yes, there were a lot of highs (most notably the Rose Bowl the other day, but also too many lows - especially in big games.
Beyond just the departure of Clifford though is also the arrival of former five-star Drew Allar to replace him. He'll have plenty of help around him with star freshmen Nicholas Singleton and Kaytron Allen around him, with the defense led by emerging stars Abdul Carter and Chop Robinson.
If everything clicks the way it can, this is a team good enough to make the playoff.
8. Florida State Seminoles
There is no team receiving more "Way Too Early" hype than Florida State, and with good reason. The Seminoles had an incredible close to the season, finishing with 10 wins, including five straight. Quarterback Jordan Travis is back, and the Seminoles got major news when star edge rusher Jared Verse - a likely first round pick - announced he would return as well.
As always, the Seminoles added some key pieces in the portal, including former All-ACC cornerback Fentrell Cypress from Virginia and versatile former South Carolina tight end Jahiem Bell.
Expect the Seminoles to be a trendy 2023 playoff pick throughout this off-season. They, not Clemson, are the ACC standard-bearer heading into the season.
9. Oregon Ducks
You can argue that no program has had a better overall month than Oregon, in terms of returning players, high school commitments and portal additions.
The big one of course is the return of Bo Nix for another year as this team's quarterback, and to his credit, Dan Lanning again, loaded up in both the transfer portal and high school recruiting.
Impact transfers AJ Cornelius (offensive tackle) and Traeshon Holden (Alabama) are plug and play guys, as should be five-star Matayo Uiagalelei on the defensive front.
10. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
It seemed like by the end of the year Marcus Freeman had gotten the Irish back to the power football, run between the tackles and play defense identity that Brian Kelly created when he was in South Bend.
The one thing this team has been missing - not only this year, but for several - is elite quarterback play, and they may have found it in the portal with Wake Forest transfer Sam Hartman. Hartman is one of the most prolific passers in ACC history, throwing for 38 touchdowns and over 3,100 yards passing this year. Those numbers were actually down from 2021.
If he can carry that over to South Bend, they should again be in the mix for a playoff berth.
11. Tennessee Volunteers
With Hendon Hooker gone (not to mention Jalin Hyatt, Cedric Tillman and others), the 2023 season is where we learn a lot about Josh Heupel's program. The good news for Vols fans is that this team didn't miss a beat without Hooker in the Orange Bowl against Clemson, as Joe Milton stepped in and looked good, throwing for nearly 300 yards and three touchdowns.
Milton's development is key to the Vols staying on the upward trajectory they currently find themselves on. The good news is, he got extra help on Monday, with the addition of star transfer receiver Don'te Thornton out of the portal.
12. Clemson Tigers
The Clemson program is certainly in an interesting spot heading into the off-season. Yes, they are coming off (yet another) 10-win season and ACC title. But they also fumbled away a playoff berth against South Carolina, and followed it up with a dud in the Orange Bowl. In it, Cade Klubnik looked more "overwhelmed" than "program savior."
Because of it, this program is at a crossroads. Still really good, but are they elite?
We'll continue to find out next year.
The good news is, the Tigers at least enter next season with clarity at the quarterback spot in Klubnik, with star running back Will Shipley alongside him. The defense loses several key pieces but should still be able to overwhelm most teams on talent alone.
They also get Florida State at home, which should not only determine the division, but potentially the ACC title.
13. Washington Huskies
No program has gone from "wildly under covered" to "adored by everyone" faster than the Washington Huskies in the last few weeks. An Alamo Bowl win over Texas gave this team an 11-win season in Year 1 under Kalen Deboer, and the return of Michael Penix gives their offense a Heisman caliber quarterback to build around.
That's right, while Tennessee, USC and others get credit for their explosive pass game, it was actually Washington which led the country in passing yardage. The big key is: Can Penix, a player with a history of injuries, stay healthy for a second straight season.
If he does, this feels like a playoff dark horse.
14. Texas Longhorns
Yes, we all know the "Texas is back" jokes are coming, and until the Longhorns prove it on the field, no one will believe the program has turned a corner. At the same time, when a team improves from 5-7 to 8-5 and signed multiple Top 5 recruiting classes in the previous few years, there's always going to be excitement.
Most importantly, there is plenty of returning talent, especially along a young offensive line and in the skill group. The big question is, can Quinn Ewers (who ended the season completing just 58 percent of his passes), go from "occasionally good" to "consistently great?" If not, the most famous freshman in college football might come in and take his starting spot.
15. Utah Utes
After a Rose Bowl loss to Penn State there will be questions about this Utes team - mainly whether veteran quarterback Cam Rising returns for another season. And the Utes do have a brutal schedule that includes games against Florida and at Baylor in the out of conference, and games against USC, UCLA, Oregon, Oregon State and Washington in conference.
Still, Kyle Whittingham has won at least nine games in each of the last four non-Covid seasons, and two straight Pac-12 titles. Are you really betting against him? Me neither.
16. Wisconsin Badgers
Maybe this is a little bit of a reach here, but it's also a bet on Luke Fickell. He inherits a program that was far from terrible through the last few years, but couldn't get over the hump of mediocre quarterback play. Well, now Graham Mertz is gone, and in is transfer quarterback Tanner Mordecai, to run an offense that will look a lot different than anything anyone has seen from Wisconsin, pretty much ever.
Plus, let's be honest: Someone's gotta win all those games in the Big Ten West. Why not the Badgers?
17. Ole Miss Rebels
While things didn't end great for the Rebels with four losses in their final five games, it's kind of worth noting one thing: This was always supposed to be a rebuilding year after losing most everyone off a 10-win team a year ago.
Well, fast forward to 2023 and Lane Kiffin has clarity at quarterback with Jaxon Dart and one of college football's most explosive skill guys in Quinshon Judkins.
18. TCU Horned Frogs
Yes, Max Duggan is gone off the national runners-up, and Quenton Johnson is expected to follow him. But one unintended benefit of the Frogs magical ride to SoFi Stadium Monday was the build in momentum it had in the portal.
TCU shored up its skill positions with a pair of Alabama transfers (wide receiver JoJo Earle and running back Trey Sanders) and then added another former Crimson Tide star (Tommy Brockermeyer) to the offensive line for good measure.
19. Tulane Green Wave
Tulane is coming off a 12-win season that included wins over the Big 12 champ Kansas State and Pac-12 runner-up in.
That, alone, is enough to get them on this list.
What puts them over the top: Remember, Cincinnati, Houston and UCF all leave the AAC next year, leaving the conference wide open.
20. Oregon State Beavers
There's very likely never been a more quiet 10-win season than the one Oregon State just completed a few weeks ago, one that included a win over rival Oregon and a bowl victory over Florida.
Now they enter 2023 with as much hype as the program has had in years, with the return of most of their key pieces. The one question of course is at quarterback, where DJ Uiagalelei was brought in to replace the departed Chance Nolan. If Uiagalelei comes anywhere close to reaching his high school hype, it has a chance to be a special season in Corvallis.
21. Texas A&M Aggies
Ok, so we know we'll take some flack for this one, but here's a hot take: A&M will be better than you think next year.
National title good? No, probably not. But for all the crap Jimbo Fisher took during this 5-7 season, five of the Aggies seven losses were by a touchdown or less, this despite being down to the team's third-string quarterback, its best wide receiver and three starting offensive linemen by the end of the year.
Bottom-line: If the offense is even just a little bit better under new offensive coordinator Bobby Petrino (still weird to type, by the way), and if there are no major losses in the portal, this team should see a major improvement in the win-loss record next season.
22. Kentucky Wildcats
Yes, it was a bit of a down season. And yes, you might be surprised to see the Wildcats here. But you probably shouldn't be.
Most of the excitement comes based on two things: The return of offensive coordinator Liam Coen, who is expected to return from the NFL (especially if Sean McVay really does retire this off-season). And the arrival of quarterback Devin Leary, who threw for 34 touchdowns in 2021 for the Wolfpack.
Leary will be throwing to a young, talented receiving corps (freshmen Barrion Brown and Dan Key combined for 87 catches) and the offensive line and defensive lines were largely shored up through the portal. The Wildcats do get Alabama in an SEC cross-over game, but all the pieces are there for the Wildcats to return to 8 or 9 regular season wins.
23. UCLA Bruins
To Chip Kelly's credit he seems to have figured out how to make things work for him at UCLA, largely eschewing recruiting high-profile high school players and instead adding transfers. With that said though, there is one high-profile freshman worth nothing: Five-star quarterback Dante Moore, who will compete with Kent State transfer Collin Schlee for the starting job. Ball State transfer Carson Steele (who finished with over 1,500 yards rushing this season) should replace Zach Charbonnet in the backfield.
24. Baylor Bears
It feels like everyone was a year early on Baylor, a team that was picked to win the Big 12 this year, despite losing its starting quarterback and most of the key pieces off last year's Big 12 title team.
Well fast-forward to 2023 and all the key pieces on offense are back including starting quarterback Blake Shapen and near-1,000-yard rusher Richard Reese. It remains to be seen what the new schedule in the expanded Big 12 looks like, but the Bears are also in line to get Texas and Oklahoma at home.
25. Kansas State Wildcats
The reigning Big 12 champion does lose a lot, most notably star running back Deuce Vaughn. But this offense really took off when Will Howard got under center late this season.
A second straight Big 12 title probably isn't in the cards.
But another solid season should be expected.
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