College football rankings: Georgia, Michigan lead way-too-early top 25 ahead of 2023 season

1 The post-Stetson Bennett IV era begins with either Carson Beck or Brock Vandegriff at quarterback. Standouts Chris Smith and Kelee Ringo leave the secondary, but there is a possibility that all five starters on the offensive line will return. That’s a great place to start both in the SEC and with UGA’s goal of dominating the nation again. There is no Oregon on the schedule in the non-conference slate. No. Alabama, either. In the first month, Georgia plays UT-Martin, Ball State and UAB. Can you say three-peat? 2 Harbaugh holds the entire program in his sway. It wasn’t too long ago he had his salary slashed in half as the story was him being unable to beat Ohio State. That’s not the issue after a second consecutive CFP semifinal exit. Harbaugh & Co. have the roster to win it all in 2023. Quarterback JJ McCarthy should develop into a difference-making star as a junior based on his finish to 2022. Donovan Edwards will be the workhorse at running back alongside Blake Corum, who is returning to the Wolverines but faces a long recovery from his season-ending knee injury. 3 Despite the loss of CJ Stroud to the NFL, the QB room is stocked and may get stronger whether Ryan Day is successful in the transfer portal or not. The Buckeyes have to play Notre Dame, Michigan and Wisconsin on the road. Despite defensive failures against Michigan and Georgia, coordinator Jim Knowles made strides in 2022. 4 The best offensive (Bryce Young) and defensive (Will Anderson Jr.) players of 2022 depart. Jalen Milroe and Ty Simpson will battle at quarterback. Nick Saban must find a receiving combination that takes the top off the defense. That may have been the difference between 11 wins in 2022 — tied for the fewest since 2010 — and a playoff berth. 5 West Coast football is back. The Huskies are poised to dominate the Pac-12. Michael Penix Jr. is a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate who should surpass 5,000 passing yards considering the talent that is coming back. Coach Kalen DeBoer is a turnaround artist who has the Huskies back in the national conversation. Perhaps the biggest reason to favor UDub in the Pac-12? It gets Oregon and Utah at home. 6 Chandler Morris takes over at QB following an inspiring playoff run led by Max Duggan. The likely loss of leading receiver Quentin Johnston to the NFL Draft will hurt, but the receiver room is deep. Defensive coordinator Joe Gillespie was sneaky good with a scheme (3-3-5) that is the sum of its parts. In the first year of the new Big 12, look for the Horned Frogs to have a legitimate chance at repeating. 7 Last we saw, the Nittany Lions were dancing off the Rose Bowl turf like they had won the national championship. Being the third-best team in the Big Ten never felt so good. The roster is loaded in ’23. Celebrated QB Drew Allar makes his debut as a starter. Nick Singleton and Kaytron Allen give Penn State one of the most explosive backfields in the country. If the Nittany Lions can find a way to knock off one or both of their masters in the Big Ten East (Michigan, Ohio State) they’ve got a chance to be in the playoff. 8 Brian Kelly overachieved in his first season winning 10 games and the SEC West. Now the mandate is to be better. That means beating Alabama again and playing for the SEC West title (again). The somewhat surprising return of QB Jayden Daniels gives the Tigers a chance offensively. Mason Taylor might be the best tight end in the country. Linebacker Harold Perkins Jr. might have been the best freshman in 2022. 9 This is a key year for Dabo Swinney and Clemson football. Sure, the Tigers have won at least 10 games for 12 consecutive seasons, but missing the CFP in 2023 would mark three years in a row without a Football Four berth. The at-times messy transition to Cade Klubnik looks to have settled the offense. It’s going to be tough replacing tackle Bryan Bresee and end Myles Murphy on defense. Miami and South Carolina are on the road, but can the Tigers win another ACC title? Florida State will have a say. 10 The addition of Sam Hartman at QB in the transfer portal gives the Fighting Irish some CFP buzz. The ACC’s all-time leader in touchdown passes (110) will have to integrate himself into a thinned receiving corps that lost TE Michael Mayer. Marcus Freeman did an amazing job after starting 0-2 (0-3 if you count the Fiesta Bowl). 11 Bo Nix’s two best seasons (one at Auburn, one at Oregon) came under former offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham, who left to become Arizona State coach. Nix surprisingly returned with a renewed reputation. The dude can play and make the difference in a Pac-12 title. The defense needs to be retooled in Dan Lanning’s second season. 12 After the biggest turnaround in the history of FBS (10 games, from 2-10 to 12-2), the Green Wave has arrived. The return of QB Michael Pratt will help Tulane stay at the top of a retooled American. Four starters return on the offensive line. Tulane knocked off both Kansas State and USC on its way to winning the AAC and the Cotton Bowl. Ole Miss better watch out in a September visit to New Orleans. 13 Until Lincoln Riley finds a consistent defense, it will be difficult to consider the Trojans a playoff contender. They were handled twice by Utah, and the collapse against Tulane in the final minutes was epic. But USC always has a chance with quarterback Caleb Williams at the helm. Expecting him and the offense to outscore everyone, though, is just too much to ask. 14 If you want a trendy ACC pick, take the Seminoles. In Year 4, coach Mike Norvell has FSU positioned for a New Year’s Six run. The Noles won 10 games for the first time in 2016 as QB Jordan Travis laid the groundwork for a Heisman Trophy chase. The defense was bolstered by the returns of end Jared Verse and tackle Fabien Lovett. 15 The Beavers will be one of the most interesting teams to watch in 2023. DJ Uiagalelei chose Oregon State to reset his career. It will continue to compete in the Pac-12, and if coach Jonathan Smith’s year-over-year improvements continue, it could be a special season. Oregon State is coming off a 10-win campaign for the first time in 16 years. It bears watching to see if All-Pac 12 linebacker Omar Speights returns. UCLA, Utah and Washington are at home. 16 There have been too many losses for a repeat of the 11-win season, but in Josh Heupel’s third campaign, the Volunteers continue their ascension to becoming a national program again. The quarterback battle will be fascinating between strong-armed veteran Joe Milton and prodigy Nicol Iamaleava, who will be playing for a contract the moment he steps on campus. (He has a potential $3 million NIL deal with a local collective.) Pass catchers Bru McCoy and Squirrel White should be enough to keep Heupel’s offense humming. 17 As usual, this will be an unusual year on the Forty Acres. Steve Sarkisian is coming off an eight-win season but is still only 13-12 at Texas. That makes this a pivotal year with the arrival of savior QB Arch Manning while Quinn Ewers attempts to hold onto the starting job. Bijan Robinson will be hard to replace in the backfield. Sark has recruited well, but if the Horns don’t beat Oklahoma and challenge for the Big 12, there will be rumblings. 18 The next step is clear for Kyle Whittingham and the Utes: Get to the CFP. They are two-time defending Pac-12 champions coming off consecutive 10-win seasons for the first time in 13 years. They’ve lost consecutive Rose Bowls to Big Ten opponents. Another run hinges on the play of QB Cam Rising, who announced his return Monday, along with an already stout defense. 19 The defending Big 12 champions are peaking under Chris Klieman. The only Big 12 team to defeat TCU loses RB Deuce Vaughn, but QB Will Howard can run around and make enough space to keep the Wildcats in every game. 20 With or without NIL riches, QB Drake Maye’s return gives the Tar Heels a chance. Let’s not forget UNC played for the ACC title last season. Mack Brown still has gas left in the tank. He has to get away from winning shootouts. The defense must improve. 21 Lane Kiffin is entertaining as hell, but the end of the 2022 season was a disappointment with a four-game losing streak. That included a loss to Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl. Did Kiff’s flirtation with Auburn impact the Rebels’ attention span? The offensive pieces are in place for nine wins, but the defense has to get better. 22 Better to overdeliver than underachieve. Ask Shane Beamer how he feels going into his third season. Defeating top 10 opponents in consecutive weeks (Tennessee and Clemson) makes the Gamecocks the upset kings of the SEC. Ignore them at your own peril. A return by QB Spencer Rattler would help ease concerns over a rash of transfers. 23 Dorian Thompson-Robinson leaves, but Chip Kelly made recruiting headlines when he flipped Dante Moore away from Oregon and Ohio State. Kent State transfer Collin Schlee helps ease the loss of RB Zach Charbonnet. The defense must get better, especially against the pass. 24 Jeff Traylor has won 23 games and consecutive Conference USA titles over the last two seasons. The return of QB Frank Harris was huge. If Traylor can keep larger programs from poaching his players, he’ll be at UTSA forever. If not, he might have to take a Power Five job. The tampering for him has become maddening. 25 OK, call it a charity ranking. The Sooners have a lot of work to do after their first losing season since 1998. Dillion Gabriel was just OK AT QB. His best receiver (Marvin Mims) and rusher (Eric Gray) have left. There’s going to be some pressure on Brent Venables in his second season after his D gave up 35 points per game. A top 10 recruiting class should help.

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