College Football Way Too Early Top 25: 2023 Spring Edition
As spring practices are kicking off across the country, it is only right for us to try and piece together what we think the Top 25 programs are going to be coming into the 2023 season.
With the early transfer portal period now closed until the summer, we have a pretty good idea of what most rosters and coaching staffs are going to look like, but even with that, preseason ballots are tough to put together.
We are a little more than 6 months away from the season kicking off, so I am sure this list will turn out to be a complete dumpster fire, but we're gonna give it a shot anyway. Think of this as more of a ready, fire, aim type deal. Let's start with the bottom of the list.
#25 - Iowa
I am not sure there is a fanbase I feel worse for in College Football than the Iowa Hawkeyes faithful. A program that I believe should be competing for Playoff Berths, is struggling to win the B1G West because of Kirk and Brian Ferentz. Without a doubt one of the best defenses in the country on an annual basis is countered by the worst offense in the country. But don't worry, all Iowa has to do is average 25 Points Per Game and Brian Ferentz keeps his job! What a joke. This is a sleeping giant that Kirk Ferentz keeps sedating with Nepotism and Incompetence. Unless they hire a real offensive coordinator, I don't see the Hawkeyes winning the big games they need to in order to move closer to the Top 10
#24 - Tulane
One of the darlings of the 2022 season look to put together a solid squad for their 2023 campaign. The Green Wave capped off a record 12-win season with a Cotton Bowl victory over USC. Willie Fritz welcomes back Senior signal caller Michael Pratt, who threw for over 3000 Yards in 2022. The American Conference just got significantly weaker, with Cincinnati, UCF, and Houston jumping ship to the Big 12, so Tulane should have no issue repeating as conference champions in 2023. A home non-conference game against Ole Miss could really shape whether or not they find themselves in a NY6 bowl again.
#23 - Texas Tech
In Joey McGuire's first season, the Red Raiders really began to round into form as the season went on winning their last four games. Texas Tech took down the two giants of the Big 12, as they were able to walk away with victories against both Texas and Oklahoma. Tyler Shough returns under center for the Red Raiders, and he will get a chance to take down his former school as they take on the Oregon Ducks in the second week of the season. A home atmosphere should help give them an edge, and that matchup against what I have as a Top 10 team should tell us a lot about what we can expect from Texas Tech this season.
#22 - Oklahoma
The first year for Head Coach Brent Venables didn't exactly go to plan, which lead to a 6-7 season which included some ugly losses like a 49-0 defeat at the hands of their rival Texas Longhorns. Despite these shortcomings, the Sooners were able to sign the #4 overall class for the 2023 recruiting cycle according to the 247sports composite, as well as the #8 overall transfer class. They almost ended the season on a high note when they lost the Cheez-It Bowl 35-32 to Florida State, a team many (not me) view as a possible Playoff team in 2023.
#21 - South Carolina
In what was beginning to look like another subpar campaign during the 2022 season after getting blown out 38-6 against a bad Florida team that left South Carolina at 6-4, the Gamecocks rallied off two straight wins against Tennessee and Clemson to end the season at 8-4 and inside the CFP Committee's final Top 20 for the season. Shane Beamer is one of the best young coaches in the game, and he is bringing back a good portion of that squad that turned some heads last November. If Spencer Rattler can continue to build upon what he did later on in the season, the Gamecocks can definitely make a little noise in what is becoming a crowded SEC East.
#20 - UCLA
Our future B1G brothers put together a really strong 2022 campaign, and Chip Kelly is on the short list of coaches that I will always trust to put together a really good squad. Despite having Dorian Thompson-Robinson walking out of the program doors, 5-Star 2023 QB Dante Moore steps right into his place as QB1 this fall. In my opinion, Moore was the best prospect in the 2023 class, and could have similar instant success like Caleb Williams had in his freshman year at Oklahoma. A reasonably easy non-conference schedule makes way for a huge showdown with Utah on September 23rd in Salt Lake City. That game could make or break the Bruins Pac-12 Title hopes.
#19 - Wisconsin
The Badgers may have made the hire of the offseason in bringing Luke Fickell to Madison. As we all know, Fickell can flat out coach it and recruit it, which is a combination that Wisconsin hasn't had with their head coach in quite some time. With some big wins in the transfer portal already, as well as a massive OC hire with Phil Longo coming in from North Carolina, I expect the Badgers to quickly turn things around under Fickell. With one of the best Running Backs in the country in Braelon Allen, this offense should be able to put up some points and give their defense some breathing room unlike past years.
#18 - Oregon State
There was a bit of buzz about the Beavers going into last season, as many beat writers on the west coast were raving about the program that Jonathan Smith was putting together up in Corvallis. A 10-3 season with a bowl win is about as good as Oregon State fans can ask for, and they were the huge beneficiaries of the transfer portal this offseason. Former Clemson QB DJ Uiagalelei will get a shot at redemption as he attempts to lead a competent offense after struggling in Dabo Swinney's system. This is a team that could find itself in the Pac-12 Championship for the first time in program history.
#17 - Texas
Is Texas finally going to be back this year? Quick answer, is no, but they're close. The Longhorns have been recruiting well under Steve Sarkisian as he heads into his third season, but the schedule is certainly a challenging one. After an easy opener against Rice, they will have to make the unfortunate trip to Tuscaloosa to take on a pissed off Alabama team that will be eager to prove themselves after dropping 2 games last season. The biggest question for Texas will be if Quinn Ewers makes the jump that many believe him capable of making. If he lives up to the billing of his former #1 recruit status, then Texas may just find themselves in the playoff discussion in November.
#16 - Kansas State
The reigning Big 12 Champion certainly got a wake up call when they met Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, and lost 45-20. Some key losses will impact the offense early on, as Deuce Vaughn and Malik Knowles both declared for the NFL Draft. Will Howard at QB and a veteran Offensive Line unit should help steady the tide for the Wildcats once they get into conference play. Chris Klieman is one of the most underrated coaches in College Football, and there is no doubt that he will have Kansas State as one of the key players in the Big 12 race.
#15 - TCU
Fresh off an appearance in the National Championship Game (the worst one ever), it is tough to imagine TCU repeating its successes for a second year in a row. Despite this, Sonny Dykes is building a strong program in Fort Worth. With big transfer additions such as OT Tommy Brockermeyer, WR Jojo Earle, and RB Trey Sanders (all from Alabama), the biggest question for the Horned Frogs will be the QB position. Heisman Finalist Max Duggan was an absolute warrior for them in close games last year, and will be sorely missed. If TCU can find a reliable signal caller, expect them to be a tough out for anyone in the Big 12.
#14 - Clemson
Clemson finally seemed to get their QB situation figured out last season with Cade Klubnik replacing D.J. Uiagalelei, and they saw immediate dividends from that decision. The Tigers will be in an unusual position this year as they will likely not be the preseason favorites in the ACC, and that may just be enough to give them the chip they need to return to their old ways. A huge matchup on September 23rd against Florida State could very well be a preview for the ACC Championship Game, as the conference will no longer have divisions, sending the two best teams to the play for the ACC Title (we're looking at you B1G).
#13 - Utah
The Utes will look to Three-pete as Pac-12 Champions this season, and getting Cam Rising to return for his final season was the best way to get that campaign started. Kyle Wittingham appears to have Lincoln Riley's number early on in this new coaching rivalry, and the two will meet in Los Angeles on October 21st for a highly anticipated rematch of last seasons Pac-12 Championship. A tough non-conference schedule that includes Florida and Baylor should be a great primer for Pac-12 play, in what could be the deepest conference in 2023.
#12 - Tennessee
Tennessee will have the tough task of replacing Hendon Hooker and Jalin Hyatt, but Joe Milton and Co. appeared to do just fine as they took ACC Champ Clemson to the woodshed in the Orange Bowl. An impressive 2023 recruiting class is a big step in helping to solidify Tennessee as a consistent national power under Josh Heupel, who just signed a massive extension through 2028 with $9 Million a year. The Vols will be taking no one by surprise this season and will have to go to Tuscaloosa to play an Alabama team with revenge on its mind. Back to Back wins over the Tide could go a long way for the program.
#11 - Notre Dame
8-4 was probably not the season Marcus Freeman and his team were expecting last year, but there were still some bright moments for the Irish. A limited offense will look to bolster itself with the addition of Sam Hartman from Wake Forest. However, this addition was met with a counter, as Notre Dame could not find an Offensive Coordinator, as they were either too cheap or no one was interested, and Gerard Parker was given the position. Parker's last stint as an OC went less than stellar, as he was stripped of play-calling duties while at West Virginia in 2021. Maybe he will have more success in South Bend, but Irish fans should certainly be hesitant to expect great things from the offense.
#10 - Washington
Big Penix Energy is definitely the theme for the Huskies after an 11-2 season has led to the resurgence of football in Seattle. Michael Penix finished the season with 4,461 yards to go along with 31 TDs and 8 INTs, and the best news for Washington fans is that he is back. With a Heisman contender at QB, a great receiver core, and one of the best defenses in the Pac-12, the Huskies should definitely expect to be in contention for a conference title this year. An early matchup in East Lansing against Michigan State could go a long way in determining where Washington sits among the top contenders in the country.
#9 - Florida State
Pound for pound the best haul in the transfer portal for the 2023 recruiting cycle, the Seminoles have a lot to be excited about this season. They finished 2022 as one of the nation's hottest teams and got possibly their best recruiting wins with Jordan Travis and Jared Verse announced that they would be heading back to Tallahassee. Jeremiah Byers (OT) and Fentrell Cypress (CB) should add two more All-American caliber players to the offensive and defensive side of the ball. Florida State has certainly received a lot of hype this offseason, but an early matchup with Clemson should tell us if they are a pretender or a contender.
#8 - Oregon
One of the top dogs in what is shaping up to be a loaded Pac-12, Oregon is another contender that is getting a veteran QB back, as Bo Nix announced that he would be coming back for his 5th season. Experience under center is as valuable of a resource as you can get in college football, and thanks to the Covid rule, the Ducks will have a player with 47 collegiate starts leading their offense. Dan Lanning's approach to building a team through the Line Of Scrimmage should bring strong dividends in year 2, and we could see them push through to the CFP for the second time in program history.
#7 - USC
It is always nice for a team to say they are bringing back the Heisman Trophy winner, and that is exactly what USC has the luxury of doing. We all know the offense under Lincoln Riley will be elite, but the true question for the Trojans will be the defense. Alex Grinch, or the defensive Brian Ferentz as he should be called, is about as bad of a Defensive Coordinator as you could have. What is frustrating for Trojan fans is they are going to be at worst a Top-15 team, but if that defense can't figure things out, that is all they will be. That doesn't exactly cut it for the fans out in Los Angeles. If things don't improve quickly for Alex Grinch's unit, the CFP will be out of play once again, and he could likely find himself being made available to the industry.
#6 - LSU
It is no secret that Brian Kelly can coach with the best of them, as he took down Nick Saban and won the SEC West in his first year. A reoccurring theme among these teams at the top of my ballot is experience returning at the Quarterback position, and LSU is no exception. Jayden Daniels really started to impress as the 2022 season went on, and Harold Perkins stepped up as a true freshman star on the defense. With both of those playmakers back, and much of the roster returning, the Tigers could very well find themselves back in Atlanta this year. It will most likely come down to a trip to Tuscaloosa, as the West has become an annual grudge match between Alabama and LSU.
#5 - Penn State
Is Drew Allar the answer for the Nittany Lions? This will be the burning question for that program for the next six months. A 5-Star recruit in the class of 2022, Allar is as talented of a passer as we have seen in recent years. The arm strength is undeniable, and if he can mix that with touch and accuracy, this Penn State team could reach new heights. Coming off an 11-2 season that ended with a 35-21 Rose Bowl win over Utah, the Nittany Lions will have their sights on their first division championship since 2016. Unfortunately for Penn State, the two teams that will have something to say about this are sitting towards the top of our rankings.
#4 - Alabama
This is a program that needs no introduction. I could fill out this section with "It's Alabama" and that would be a perfectly valid explanation as to why I have them in the Top 4. A lot of talent is leaving Tuscaloosa, but NINE (!!!!!!!) 5-Star prospects in the 2023 class definitely softens that blow. The three biggest games for The Tide this year (Texas, Tennessee, and LSU) are all at home. A talented team with revenge on its mind is always a scary one, and Nick Saban will definitely have this team ready to go with a new Defensive Coordinator in Kevin Steele. I would not be shocked to see two SEC teams in the CFP again if they meet Georgia in Atlanta at 12-0
#3 - Ohio State
It almost all came together for the Buckeyes against Georgia in the Peach Bowl, as they dropped the matchup 42-41, but hopes should still be high in Columbus. A revamped secondary under second year Defensive Coordinator Jim Knowles should give Ohio State a lot of flexibility in coverages they want to deploy. The biggest storyline this spring will be whether Kyle McCord or Devin Brown emerges as the leader of the best offense in College Football, and the pieces they will have around them will be unmatched. Marvin Harrison Jr. is a cheat code, and if they can figure out how to consistently get yards on the ground, Ohio State may just be the best team in America. Losing to Michigan three straight years is simply not an option for Ryan Day, and we will see what he does with his back against the wall.
#2 - Michigan
The defending B1G Champions appeared to take their matchup with TCU in the CFP Semifinals way too lightly last season, and it came back to bite them. The good news for the Wolverines is that they are getting most of the pieces back from a team that went 13-1 and won 45-23 in Columbus. The non-conference schedule is once again Charmin-soft, and crossover games against Purdue, Nebraska, and Minnesota should be manageable. It will all come down to a trip to Happy Valley, which will undoubtedly be a White-Out, and a home matchup against Ohio State. I still don't think Michigan has what it takes to win a National Title, but they will have their best shot since 2006.
#1 - Georgia
The back to back National Champions get to hold on to the #1 spot until they lose it. Them's just the rules. But, their is certainly an opening to other teams to attack the dynasty that Kirby Smart has started to build. They lost their offensive coordinator Todd Monken, and replacing him will be a tall task. Mike Bobo has stepped into the role, but his track record doesn't exactly blow anyone away. The defense is going to be good, but if they run into a team that can threaten them vertically, they have shown that they can really struggle. A trip to Knoxville will be their most daunting task of the year, and if they drop that game, they could very well be watching the SEC Championship from the stands. The sky is the limit for this team, but they could come back to earth in 2023.