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College Football Top 25 Preview

Jun 26, 2023 EST

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College Football Top 25 Preview

25. UTSA

The Roadrunners have won 23 games the last two seasons while also winning back-to-back Conference USA titles. Quarterback Frank Harris (9,356 passing yards, 74 touchdown passes, 23 interceptions; 1,822 rushing yards, 24 TDs in 43 career games) was a big reason for that success. The 2022 Conference USA MVP is back for a fifth season, but UTSA will take its act to the more competitive American Athletic Conference. It will be interesting to see how the Roadrunners fare in their new surroundings. Having Harris, plus receiver Zakhari Franklin (175 receptions, 2,163 yards, 27 TDs in in 2021 and ’22), certainly helps.

24. North Carolina

North Carolina will eye a fifth straight season with a bowl trip, and quarterback Drake Maye will be there to lead the way. Maye’s decision to not only come back for a third collegiate season, but to the Tar Heels, was one of the bigger offseason stories. Maye threw for 4,321 yards with 38 touchdowns and seven interceptions last season; however, he’ll need to work with a new group of receivers. Yet, the key to Carolina’s success will again depend on the performance of the defense. Can that unit improve after allowing an average of 30.8 points in 2022?

23. Iowa

All eyes should be on offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz, who kept his job while his seat only got hotter after the Hawkeyes averaged 17.7 yards and 251.6 total yards in 2022. Despite that offensive futility, Iowa won eight games. Now, the excitement level has risen with the addition of Michigan transfer Cade McNamara (3,181 passing yards, 21 touchdowns, seven interceptions in 21 career games), who quarterbacked the Wolverines to a Big Ten title and College Football Playoff berth in 2021. Tight end Erick All (38 receptions in 2021) also comes over from Michigan. Meanwhile, the Hawkeyes yielded an average of 13.3 points last season, and defensive back Cooper DeJean (five interceptions in 2022) is certainly one to watch for a squad that expects to be in the hunt for a Big Ten West title.

22. Oregon State

First off, the Pac-12 will be stacked, from a competitive standpoint, in 2023. That said, Oregon State expects to be in the mix for a league title, and not just because former Clemson quarterback DJ Uiagalelei transferred in after throwing for 5,681 yards with 36 touchdowns and 17 interceptions — and rushing for 15 touchdowns — during three up-and-down seasons for the Tigers. Coach Jonathan Smith’s Beavers, though, return a good chunk of talent from last season’s 10-win team (the first to win that many since 2006), especially on the offensive line. They outscored their opponents 137-54 while closing 2022 with four straight victories.

21. Wisconsin


Though Wisconsin ended 7-6 and won its third straight bowl game, 2022 should be considered a disappointment in Madison. Coach Paul Chryst was fired in October, opening the door for former Cincinnati boss Luke Fickell to take over the program. Phil Longo comes over from North Carolina to serve as offensive coordinator with the hope of reviving a unit that was held to 16 or fewer points five times in 2022. Tanner Mordecai, whose career began at Oklahoma and who threw for 7,152 yards with 722 touchdowns and 22 interceptions the past two seasons with SMU, appears to be the frontrunner to start under center. Meanwhile, talented running back Braelon Allen (2,510 rushing yards, 23 TDs in 24 career games) is also back. The Big Ten West is expected to be wide open again, and the Badgers should be in the conversation.

20. Mississippi

Ole Miss started 7-0 in 2002, then won one game the rest of the way. So, what earns the Rebels a spot in our way-too-early Top 25? For starters, Ole Miss has a ridiculous amount of offensive talent. Jaxon Dart (2,974 passing yards, 29 touchdowns, 16 interceptions in 2022) is the returning starter, but former Oklahoma State star Spencer Sanders (9,553 passing yards, 67 touchdowns, 40 interception; 1,956 rushing yards in 43 career games) is also in the mix. Running back Quinshon Judkins (1,567 rushing yards, 16 touchdowns in 2022) is also back for an offense that averaged 33.5 points in ’22. Of course, the Rebels are likely to be only as good as they can stop the opponent, which they didn’t do well while yielding 31.3 points per game during SEC play last season.

19. Texas Tech

There should be plenty of preseason hype surrounding the Red Raiders for Year 2 under coach Joey McGuire. They won their final four games, capped by a 42-25 win over aforementioned Ole Miss in the Texas Bowl. Texas Tech also beat Texas and Oklahoma in 2022. Returning quarterback Tyler Shough, who missed six weeks with a shoulder issue last season, was MVP of the bowl win, and threw for 436 yards against the Sooners. The Red Raiders held six teams under 30 points last season, and Big 12 foes West Virginia and Iowa State to 10 apiece. The addition of edge-rushing Syracuse transfer Steve Linton should boost their defensive cause.

18. Kansas State

After beating CFP-participant TCU in the Big 12 Championship game, Kansas State made quite the statement in 2022. Chris Klieman’s Wildcats’ won 10 games and should be excited about the future. Even with running back Deuce Vaughn gone, the addition of Florida State transfer Treshaun Ward (1,241 rushing yards, 12 touchdowns in 25 games) is intriguing. Quarterback Will Howard (3,143 passing yards, 24 touchdowns, 15 interceptions; 10 rushing TDs) appears set for a fourth season in Manhattan, but touted freshman Avery Johnson is waiting in the wings. If the Wildcats can settle down things on a defensive unit that held six opponents 17 or fewer points and pitched two shutouts – but also gave up more than 31 five times – then a league-title repeat could be in the cards.

17. Texas

There’s literally “Arch Madness” at Texas with the presence of prep legend Arch Manning on campus. However, it’s not a done deal that he will take the Longhorns’ starting quarterback job from former elite high school prospect Quinn Ewers, who threw for 2,177 yards with 15 touchdowns and six interceptions in 10 games last season. Now, Texas still must replace Bijan Robinson at running back, but stud receiver Xavier Worthy (122 receptions, 1,741 receptions, 21 touchdowns in 25 career games) is back. Defensively, Jaylan Ford (119 tackles, four interceptions, two sacks in 2022) is among the best in the nation, and teamed with prized recruit Anthony Hill could make up one of the most promising linebacker groups in the country.

16. Oregon

Bo Nix’s return from last season’s 10-win squad is a big deal for the Ducks, who should once again contend for a Pac-12 championship. Nix enjoyed the best of his four college seasons, and first in Eugene, in 2022, when he set career highs for passing yards (3,593), passing touchdowns (29), rushing yards (510) and rushing touchdowns (14). However, the key to more success for Nix and the Ducks will likely be the play of an offensive line that’s been restocked from the transfer portal after losing most of its starting talent from last season.

15. Utah

Utes quarterback Cameron Rising apparently can’t get enough of playing college football. After throwing for 5,527 yards with 46 touchdowns, 13 interceptions, and rushing for 964 yards and 12 touchdowns the last two seasons, he’ll be back for the two-time reigning Pac-12 champs. Whether his supporting cast can continue that level of success will be interesting to see. Still, even amid what should be a strong season for the conference as a collective, it’s never wise to cast off the Utes, who have won at least 10 games in three consecutive full seasons.

14. Tulane

Jerome Miron/USA TODAY Sports

The 2022 campaign was certainly special for Tulane, which went 12-2, won the American Athletic Conference championship and took down USC in the Cotton Bowl. So, what do the Green Wave have for an encore? They should again be the favorite among Group of Five schools, with four returning starters and LSU transfer Cameron Wire making up the offensive line. That group will provide plenty of protection for quarterback Michael Pratt (7,196 yards, 68 touchdowns, 21 interceptions; 861 rushing yards, 23 rushing touchdowns in 34 career games). If the Green Wave can overcome the loss of some key members of their secondary, they could be in store for even bigger moments in 2023.

College Football Top 25 Preview

13. Clemson

The Tigers returned to prominence in the ACC by going 11-3 and winning the league title in 2022. However, the Tigers split their final six games to see any chance of a national championship bid come to an end. Can they contend at that level in the fall? A lot will depend on the progression of sophomore quarterback Cade Klubnik, the touted recruit who was roughed up by Tennessee in the Orange Bowl last season. He’ll have running back Will Shipley (1,182 rushing yards, 15 TDs) to lean on in 2023. Meanwhile, linebacker Jeremiah Trotter Jr. (team-leading 92 tackles, 13 1/2 tackles for loss, 6 1/2 sacks) leads a defense that must reload on the defensive front.

12. TCU

Offensive stars Max Duggan and Quentin Johnson, plus defensive stalwarts Dee Winters and CB Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson, are gone. However, the Horned Frogs should still be able to build on last year’s remarkable turn from a preseason unranked squad to playing for the national championship, then finishing 13-2. Sonny Dykes locked down what’s considered the best recruiting class in school history and made some noise via the transfer portal with the additions of former Alabama receiver JoJo Earle (24 receptions, 303 yards in 17 career games) and Jack Bech (59 receptions, 689 yards, four TDs in 22 career games) from LSU.

11. Tennessee


As we’ve already seen in our rankings, quarterbacks will play a key factor in potential success for 2023. Tennessee had one of the best in Hendon Hooker, but many around Knoxville believe Joe Milton has a chance to earn some Heisman Trophy consideration, too. This will be Milton’s sixth season of college football, but he’s only thrown for 2,540 yards with 17 touchdowns and six interceptions spanning 30 games. He threw for 251 yards and three touchdowns to help beat Clemson in the Orange Bowl. Meanwhile, the Volunteers need to show defensive improvement after yielding 63 points to South Carolina and 49 versus Alabama last season.

10. Florida State

The Seminoles will bring a six-game winning streak into the 2023 season. Coming off its first 10-win campaign since 2016, Florida State is a sexy pick to challenge for a spot in the College Football Playoff this season. Quarterback Jordan Travis (3,214 yards, 24 touchdowns, five interceptions; seven rushing TDs) is back for his sixth season of college football action, so the experience is there — and perhaps leadership value, as well. Defensively, cornerback and Virginia transfer Fentrell Cypress II (39 tackles, 14 pass breakups in 2022) and lineman Gilber Edmond (39 tackles, 9.0 tackles for loss) from South Carolina are expected to be major contributors.

9. Notre Dame

Marcus Freeman’s tenure as Notre Dame coach got off to a rough 0-2 start last season, but his first squad ended up winning nine games and beating South Carolina in the Gator Bowl. The Irish lost their two best players in tight end Michael Mayer and defensive end Isaiah Foskey. However, the addition of former Wake Forest star Sam Hartman (12,967 passing yards, 110 touchdowns, 41 interceptions over 48 career games) should have the offense humming — if he can beat out incumbent Tyler Buchner. Keep an eye on defensive lineman Howard Cross III, who has recorded five sacks the past two seasons, and made 33 tackles in 2022.

College Football Top 25 Preview

8. Washington

Kalen DeBoer got Washington back to its winning ways by going 11-2 in 2022. And, with exciting quarterback Michael Penix Jr. back, the Huskies have the look of a true Pac-12 title contender. The Indiana transfer threw for 4,641 yards with 31 touchdowns and eight interceptions during his first run with the Huskies. However, a revamped offensive line might ultimately be the key to Penix’s success this season. While Washington gets Oregon and Utah at home, it plays at USC and Oregon State — not to mention Michigan State in nonconference play.

7. USC

The Trojans won 11 games during Lincoln Riley’s highly anticipated first season as coach, but a 23-point loss to Utah in the Pac-12 Championship Game cost them a spot in the College Football Playoff. Now, Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams (4,537 passing yards, 42 touchdowns, five interceptions, 10 rushing TDs in 2022) returns, along with a talented group of receivers. However, Oklahoma State transfer Mason Cobb (93 tackles) and cornerback Christian Roland-Wallace, who starred the past three seasons at Arizona, need to help improve a defense that allowed an average of 37.1 points over the final eight games of 2022.

6. LSU

No coach in college football last season, not even the aforementioned Lincoln Riley, was under the collective microscope more than Brian Kelly. Yet, Kelly’s first season at LSU proved to be a successful one, and has set the program up for better days in 2023. The Tigers’ 10-3 season included an entertaining win over Alabama and claiming the top spot in the SEC West. Back from that team is versatile quarterback Jayden Daniels (2,913 passing yards, 17 touchdowns; 885 rushing yards, 11 rushing TDs in 2022) and receiver Malik Nabers (72 receptions, 1,017 yards). Defensively, Maason Smith returns from a knee injury, while linebacker Harold Perkins Jr. (72 total tackles, 7 1/2 sacks) is a star in the making. For the second straight season, LSU opens with Florida State. Last year’s 24-23 Tigers’ win was an instant classic.

5. Penn State

Penn State

Penn State’s two 2023 losses came to Michigan and Ohio State — both CFP participants. However, the Nittany Lions closed with five consecutive victories, capped by a 35-21 win over Utah in the Rose Bowl. Entering the ’23 campaign, Penn State has its sights set on seriously challenging for a Big Ten crown and spot in the Playoff. While the Nittany Lions must replace Sean Clifford’s extended time at quarterback, Nick Singleton (1,061 rushing yards, 12 rushing TDs) and Kaytron Allen (867 yards, 10 TDs) might be the best backfield duo in the country. Meanwhile, sophomore linebacker Abdul Carter (56 tackles, 10 1/2 tackles for loss, 6 1/2 sacks) returns to lead a defense that allowed an average of 18.2 points in 2022.

4. Alabama

The intrigue surrounding Alabama’s prospects for 2023 will be high. Bryce Young is gone, leaving Jalen Milroe and Ty Simpson likely in the mix for the starting quarterback job. However, there are other areas that need to improve, like the offensive line and some overall team discipline after committing 103 penalties (accepted) in 2022. While it’s not smart to write off Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide before the season starts, there are more questions than undisputed facts entering the fall. Texas provides an early home test, but Alabama also gets Ole Miss, Tennessee and LSU at home, so expect this to be another CFP contender.

College Football Top 25 Preview

3. Ohio State

Even though C.J. Stroud is gone, Ohio State has too much talent not to remain a favorite to earn a spot in the College Football Playoff for 2023. Marvin Harrison Jr. (77 receptions, 1,263 yards, 14 TDs) and Emeka Egbuka  (74 receptions, 1,151 yards, 10 TDs) make up the best receiving duo in the country, while TreVeyon Henderson is poised for a comeback after injuries limited limited him to eight games, 571 rushing yards and six touchdowns from last year. However, after two straight losses to rival Michigan, the Buckeyes still have work to do within the Big Ten. But, obviously, it’s a case of reloading, not rebuilding.

2. Michigan

Speaking of Michigan. Back-to-back wins against rival Ohio State, two straight Big Ten titles and consecutive College Football Playoff appearances are nice, but did not result in a national championship. So, can quarterback J.J. McCarthy (2,719 yards, 22 touchdowns, five interceptions) and running backs Blake Corum (1,494 yards, 18 TDs) and Donovan Edwards (991 yards, seven TDs) lead the Wolverines to the promised land in 2023? Perhaps, but only with help from another stout defensive group led by budding star in defensive back Will Johnson (27 tackles, three interceptions, three passes defended).

1. Georgia

No Stetson Bennett still might be no problem for the Bulldogs, who should be in the pole position to open the 2023 season. Georgia has too much overall talent and depth from last season’s 15-0 group to not be considered worthy of repeating as national champion. Tight end Brock Bowers (114 receptions, 1,703 yards, 18 TDs in 29 career games) and receiver Ladd McConkey (54 receptions, 710 yards, seven touchdowns in 2022) lead on an offense that should be guided under center by junior Carson Beck. Defensively, the Bulldogs bring back their top three tacklers in linebackers Smael Mondon Jr. (76 total tackles, 8.0 tackles for loss) and Jamon Dumas-Johnson (70 total tackles, 9.0 tackles for loss), and defensive back Malaki Starks (68 total tackles, seven passes defended, two interceptions) from a unit that gave up 14.3 points per game in 2022.

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