College News & Analysis

Way-too-early 2023 college football top 25 rankings

Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA; Michigan Wolverines running back Blake Corum (2) rushes at Illinois Fighting Illini defensive back Jartavius Martin (21) in the first half at Michigan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

• The two-time defending champs remain at the top: Georgia stays at No. 1 after becoming the first repeat national champions since Alabama a decade ago.

Michigan is right behind them: The Wolverines return many key players, although Jim Harbaugh’s looming NFL decision clouds their future.

Florida State’s roster is loaded: The Seminoles have one of the most talented rosters in college football heading into next season, pushing them up to No. 4. 

Estimated Reading Time: 15 mins

The 2022 college football season just ended, meaning it’s time to finally take a breather before moving on to previewing 2023.

OK, that’s enough. Here’s how I currently view the top-25 heading into next season. 

1. Georgia Bulldogs (2022 record: 15-0, Won CFP National Championship)

The reigning back-to-back champs must replace key players on both sides of the ball, namely quarterback Stetson Bennett and defensive lineman Jalen Carter

Here’s the thing: This year’s Georgia squad also had to replace key players. A record 15 Bulldogs were taken in the 2022 NFL Draft, including five first-round picks. Yet, Georgia still went 15-0 this season and became the first repeat national champions since Alabama in 2011-2012. 

Head coach Kirby Smart has gotten to the point where the program reloads, not rebuilds. The Bulldogs are still kings of college football until they’re dethroned.

2. Michigan Wolverines (2022 record: 13-1, Lost CFP Semifinal)

Michigan proved last season’s Big Ten championship and playoff berth weren't flukes, repeating those feats in 2022.

The Wolverines will return many key players from this year’s squad, including quarterback J.J. McCarthy, running back Donovan Edwards and cornerback Will Johnson.

The biggest returnee, though, is running back Blake Corum. The junior was my pick to win the Heisman Trophy this season after leading all players with a 95.9 grade. In fact, that grade ranks fourth among Power Five players since PFF began charting college football in 2014.

Highest-graded Power Five seasons in PFF College era (Since 2014)
Name Position School Year PFF Grade
Kyle Pitts Tight End Florida 2020 96.0
Chase Young Edge Defender Ohio State 2019 96.0
Quinnen Williams Interior Defensive Lineman Alabama 2018 96.0
Blake Corum Running Back Michigan 2022 95.9

He’s my pick to win the Heisman next season.

While Corum’s return is massive for Michigan, it pales in comparison to head coach Jim Harbaugh’s looming decision. The Athletic reported that those close to Harbaugh believe it’s a “done deal” if he receives an offer to coach an NFL team. He’s reportedly interviewing with the Denver Broncos this week. Harbaugh responded to the rumors by saying, “I expect to coach Michigan in 2023.” That's not exactly the most convincing statement for Wolverines fans.

With Michigan’s program under investigation for alleged recruiting violations, Harbaugh could bolt for the NFL instead of facing sanctions.

3. Ohio State Buckeyes (2022 record: 11-2, Lost CFP Semifinal)

Ohio State is likely losing quarterback C.J. Stroud, who’s a projected top-five pick in the 2023 NFL Draft.

His replacement will have the pleasure of throwing to Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka, the two most valuable Power Five receivers this season according to PFF’s wins above average metric. Harrison’s quarterback in high school, Kyle McCord, is the favorite to take over as the Buckeyes' starter next season.

4. Florida State Seminoles (2022 record: 10-3, Won Cheez-It Bowl)

Florida State is coming off its first 10-win season in six years, and expectations should be even higher for 2023.

Here are some of the Seminoles' key players for next season:

  • Quarterback Jordan Travis: The redshirt junior’s 91.7 grade this year led all Power Five quarterbacks.
  • Edge defender Jared Verse: He *was* a top-20 prospect on PFF’s 2023 NFL Draft big board before opting to return for his redshirt junior season.
  • Running back Trey Benson: The redshirt sophomore’s 0.51 forced missed tackles per attempt in 2022 broke Javonte Williams’ PFF College record.
  • Wide receiver Johnny Wilson: He led all Power Five players this season with 3.36 yards per route run.
  • Cornerback Fentrell Cypress II: The Virginia transfer allowed only 0.53 yards per coverage snap this season, the fifth-lowest mark among Power Five cornerbacks.
  • Tight end Jaheim Bell: The South Carolina transfer’s 88.8 receiving grade since 2021 trails only Georgia’s Brock Bowers among returning Power Five tight ends.
  • Interior defensive lineman Braden Fiske: The Western Michigan transfer’s 48 pressures this season tied for fifth among all interior defensive linemen in college football.
  • Offensive tackle Jeremiah Byers: The UTEP transfer was one of only six offensive tackles in the country this year to have top-25 grades both as a pass protector and run blocker.

As you can see, Florida State’s roster is loaded with talent. Hop on the hype train while you still can.

5. USC Trojans (2022 record: 11-3, Lost Cotton Bowl)

The season ended with a disappointing loss in the Cotton Bowl to No. 16 Tulane, but USC was knocking on the door of the College Football Playoff in Lincoln Riley’s first year as head coach.

In fact, if the Trojans didn’t collapse in the second half of the Pac-12 championship game to Utah, USC would’ve made the final four. With reigning Heisman winner Caleb Williams back under center, the Trojans will try to finish the job next season.

6. Alabama Crimson Tide (2022 record: 11-2, Won Sugar Bowl)

It was a disappointing season for Alabama. After starting the season ranked at the top, the Crimson Tide missed the College Football Playoff for just the second time in its nine-year history.

It won’t be easy for Alabama to rebound, as it loses two projected top-five picks in quarterback Bryce Young and edge defender Will Anderson Jr. Still, the Crimson Tide have the greatest coach of all time in Nick Saban. He hasn’t finished outside the top 10 since his inaugural season at Alabama in 2007. 

7. Penn State Nittany Lions (2022 record: 11-2, Won Rose Bowl)

After starting the season unranked, Penn State finished 11-2 with a Rose Bowl victory over eighth-ranked Utah. The Nittany Lions’ 11 wins came by an average of 24 points, while their only two losses came to College Football Playoff teams in Michigan and Ohio State.

Quarterback Sean Clifford rode off into the sunset after the Rose Bowl, meaning the keys to the offense are being handed to rising sophomore Drew Allar, a former five-star recruit. Protecting his blindside will be Olumuyiwa Fashanu, who was a projected first-rounder in 2023 before opting to return. The Nittany Lions also have a couple of potential first-rounders on defense in edge defender Chop Robinson and cornerback Kalen King. Robinson was the highest-graded Power Five edge defender this season, while King ranked third among cornerbacks.

8. LSU Tigers (2022 record: 10-4, Won Citrus Bowl)

Brian Kelly’s first year in Baton Rouge was a resounding success. After starting unranked, LSU won the SEC West and finished with double-digit wins. That’s the first time either has happened since the Tigers’ national championship season in 2019.

LSU returns Jayden Daniels under center, who was the Power Five’s third-most valuable quarterback this season, according to PFF’s wins above average metric. His top receiver this year, Malik Nabers, also returns. 

On defense, the Tigers bring back a budding superstar in Harold Perkins, who led all Power Five linebackers with a 91.0 pass-rushing grade as just a true freshman. LSU also brings in a couple of cornerbacks from the transfer portal in Syracuse’s Duce Chestnut and Texas A&M’s Denver Harris. Both made the top 15 of my transfer portal rankings.

9. Tennessee Volunteers (2022 record: 11-2, Won Orange Bowl)

Speaking of magical seasons, that’s precisely what Tennessee had this year. The Volunteers started unranked before reaching No. 1 in November, their first time at the top since their national championship season in 1998.

Tennessee capped its season with an Orange Bowl victory over seventh-ranked Clemson, its first New Year’s Six bowl in 18 years. Starting at quarterback in that game for the injured Hendon Hooker was Joe Milton III, who will be taking the reins of Josh Heupel’s offense next season. Milton impressed this season, with an 86.9 grade on 203 snaps. He also might have the strongest arm in college football.

10. Washington Huskies (2022 record: 11-2, Won Alamo Bowl)

This is the third straight team on this ranking that started the year unranked before proving the voters wrong.

In Kalen DeBoer’s first year as head coach, Washington went 11-2. That was the Huskies’ best season since they made the College Football Playoff in 2016. Washington’s offense trailed only USC and Tennessee in terms of EPA per play, and a major reason for that was quarterback Michael Penix Jr. The senior led the Power Five with 4,641 passing yards and is returning to the Huskies next season. Edge defender Bralen Trice also returns after leading the Power Five with 69 pressures and a 29.3% pass-rush win rate. 

11. Clemson Tigers (2022 record: 11-3, Lost Orange Bowl)

Last season was the first time Clemson didn’t win the ACC championship and make the College Football Playoff since 2014.

While the Tigers didn’t crack the final four this year, they at least won their conference and made it to the Orange Bowl. Cade Klubnik will now take over as Clemson’s quarterback after DJ Uiagalelei transferred to Oregon State. Klubnik was the top quarterback recruit in the 2022 class and endured some growing pains in his true freshman season with a 62.9 passing grade. Dabo Swinney will be hoping he makes a leap as a sophomore so Clemson can rejoin the elite of the elite in college football.

12. Oregon Ducks (2022 record: 10-3, Won Holiday Bowl)

Oregon rebounded nicely after a season-opening 49-3 loss to eventual national champion Georgia, winning 10 of its final 12 games.

Returning to the Ducks is quarterback Bo Nix, who had a career resurgence this year. Over his first three seasons at Auburn, Nix’s 69.7% adjusted completion rate ranked just 108th among FBS quarterbacks. This season, Nix’s 82.3% mark led the Power Five and ranked second in the nation. Nix’s adopted brother, Tez Johnson, is transferring in from Troy after posting the third-most yards per route run in college football this year. Running back Bucky Irving returns after forcing a missed tackle on 42% of his attempts this season, which was the second-highest rate in the nation.

The big question will be how the offense looks with offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham leaving to become Arizona State’s head coach. Under Dillingham, the Ducks had the sixth-most efficient offense by EPA per play. Oregon was the only school in the top six with a head coach who had a defensive background.

Most efficient offenses by expected points added per play | 2022
School EPA per play
USC 0.285
Tennessee 0.248
Washington 0.246
UCLA 0.221
Ohio State 0.218
Oregon 0.217

Replacing Dillingham is Will Stein, who was UTSA’s co-offensive coordinator this season.

13. TCU Horned Frogs (2022 record: 13-2, Lost CFP National Championship)

Yes, the Horned Frogs are losing key players from this year’s Cinderella team, namely quarterback Max Duggan and wide receiver Quentin Johnston, but do you really want to doubt Sonny Dykes again?

TCU finished the 2021 season at 5-7. This year, the Horned Frogs became only the second team ever to make the national championship game after not receiving a vote in the preseason AP poll (Auburn, 2013). This year’s team was largely the same as last season’s. The only major difference was a new head coach in Dykes.

TCU will start Chandler Morris at quarterback in 2023, who was the original starter this year before getting hurt in the season opener. The Horned Frogs also dominated the transfer portal, bringing in a trio of Alabama players in wide receiver JoJo Earle, running back Trey Sanders and offensive tackle Tommy Brockermeyer.

14. Notre Dame Fighting Irish (2022 record: 9-4, Won Gator Bowl)

The first season of the Marcus Freeman era got off to a rocky start. Notre Dame started the season fifth in the preseason AP poll before losing its first two games of the season to Ohio State and Marshall. The Fighting Irish rebounded with a 9-2 record after that, including a victory over then-No. 4 Clemson.

Notre Dame secured the biggest prize of the transfer portal in Wake Forest quarterback Sam Hartman. The redshirt junior is the most valuable player over the past two seasons according to PFF’s wins above average metric. Only Bryce Young, Caleb Williams and C.J. Stroud have higher grades than Hartman (92.2) over that span among Power Five quarterbacks.

15. Utah Utes (2022 record: 10-4, Lost Rose Bowl)

Utah was the sole reason USC didn’t crack the College Football Playoff, as the Trojans’ only two losses before the bowl game came to the Utes. One of those was in the Pac-12 championship game, Utah’s second straight conference championship. 

The X-factor to whether the Utes can make it three in a row is quarterback Cameron Rising’s health. The junior suffered a knee injury in the Rose Bowl that head coach Kyle Whittingham described as “serious.” Rising’s 85.4 grade since 2021 is a top-25 mark among Power Five quarterbacks.

16. Texas Longhorns (2022 record: 8-5, Lost Alamo Bowl)

Quinn Ewers was one of the most hyped quarterback recruits in recent memory. His first season as a starter was about average, though. The redshirt freshman’s 72.4 grade ranked 79th among 148 FBS quarterbacks.

With Texas losing its top two running backs in Bijan Robinson and Roschon Johnson, the former being the best running back prospect since Saquon Barkley, the pressure will be on Ewers to make a jump next season. Fortunately for him, he’ll have one of the best receiving corps in the country, as the Longhorns return their top three receivers in wideouts Xavier Worthy, Jordan Whittington and tight end Ja’Tavion Sanders. Isaiah Neyor will also come back after suffering a season-ending injury before the season even began. His seven touchdowns on deep throws in 2021 while at Wyoming were tied for seventh among FBS players.

If Ewers can’t make the leap, the Longhorns could always turn to Arch Manning, the 2023 class’ No. 1 overall recruit and the next in line to continue the Manning dynasty.

17. Oregon State Beavers (2022 record: 10-3, Won Las Vegas Bowl)

Oregon State had an unbelievable season this year. After starting unranked, the Beavers went 10-3, their best record since 2000.

Next year, Oregon State will have a new quarterback in Clemson transfer DJ Uiagalelei. Despite getting benched multiple times this season, the junior showed major improvement. His 79.6 grade this year was over 13 points higher than what he posted in 2021. If he continues improving, the Beavers could push for a Pac-12 title.

18. Kansas State Wildcats (2022 record: 10-4, Lost Sugar Bowl)

Kansas State and Georgia are the only two teams to beat TCU this season. The Wildcats did so in the Big 12 championship game, their first conference title in a decade. 

Kansas State loses running back Deuce Vaughn, the only FBS running back over the past three years with top-10 grades as both a runner and receiver. Quarterback Will Howard returns, though, and was 10th in the Power Five with a 6.3% big-time throw rate.

19. Tulane Green Wave (2022 record: 12-2, Won Cotton Bowl)

Tulane completed the biggest turnaround in college football history this season. After going 2-10 last year, the Green Wave went 12-2 this season and beat No. 10 USC and Heisman winner Caleb Williams in the Cotton Bowl. It was Tulane’s first New Year’s Six bowl victory in 88 years, back when it was a member of the SEC.

The Green Wave lose workhorse running back Tyjae Spears but return Michael Pratt under center. The junior’s 89.8 grade this season ranked fifth among Group of Five quarterbacks. 

20. North Carolina Tar Heels (2022 record: 9-5, Lost Holiday Bowl)

North Carolina has one of the best quarterbacks in the country in Drake Maye. The redshirt freshman was the most valuable player in college football this season, according to PFF’s wins above average metric.

The issue is that the Tar Heels don’t have much outside him, especially with star receiver Josh Downs off to the NFL. North Carolina’s offensive line was one of the Power Five’s 15 lowest-graded this season, while the defense was the ninth-worst in terms of EPA per play allowed. Still, with Maye under center, the Tar Heels deserve a spot in the top 25.

21. Ole Miss Rebels (2022 record: 8-5, Lost Texas Bowl)

Ole Miss started the season 8-1 before ending on a four-game losing streak.

Despite the sour end, expectations should be high for 2023. That’s because the Rebels bring back a rising superstar in running back Quinshon Judkins. His 88.2 grade was tied for the best among all Power Five true freshmen, and he ranked fourth in the nation this year with 91 rushing first downs plus touchdowns. Ole Miss also returns Jaxson Dart at quarterback, who tied for seventh in the Power Five with 25 big-time throws. 

22. South Carolina Gamecocks (2022 record: 8-5, Lost Gator Bowl)

South Carolina played the role of spoiler in 2022. The Gamecocks ended the playoff aspirations of both Tennessee and Clemson in back-to-back weeks to close out the regular season.

The big question is whether quarterback Spencer Rattler returns to Columbia next season. It wasn’t always pretty, but the Oklahoma transfer showed off his talented arm with 21 big-time throws, a top-15 mark in the Power Five.

23. UTSA Roadrunners (2022 record: 11-3, Lost Cure Bowl)

UTSA has gone 23-5 over the past two seasons, winning the Conference USA championship in both years. Now, the Roadrunners will try to have similar success in the new-look American Athletic Conference.

The biggest reason for UTSA to be optimistic for another double-digit win season is the return of quarterback Frank Harris for his seventh season. He was the fourth-highest-graded and second-most valuable Group of Five quarterback this season, according to PFF’s wins above average metric.

24. Wisconsin Badgers (2022 record: 7-6, Won Guaranteed Rate Bowl)

After starting the season ranked in the top 20, Wisconsin went through three head coaches this season as it stumbled to a 7-6 record. 

The third coach is what should have Badgers fans ecstatic for 2023 and beyond. Luke Fickell comes to Madison from Cincinnati where he led the Bearcats to the Group of Five’s first-ever playoff berth.

Wisconsin also brings in a pair of transfer quarterbacks in Oklahoma’s Nick Evers and SMU’s Tanner Mordecai. The latter has 51 big-time throws over the past two seasons, 10th most among FBS quarterbacks. The Badgers also return running back Braelon Allen. The sophomore’s 1,500 yards after contact since 2021 are sixth among Power Five running backs.

25. Oklahoma Sooners (2022 record: 6-7, Lost Cheez-It Bowl)

After starting the year in the top 10, Oklahoma suffered its first losing season this century in head coach Brent Venables’ first year at the helm.

Still, there are reasons to be optimistic for the Sooners in 2023. Of Oklahoma’s seven losses, five came by one score. Quarterback Dillon Gabriel is back after having the Power Five’s second-lowest turnover-worthy play rate this season (1.1%). 

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