• Georgia leads the way: The reigning back-to-back champions open the season as the deserving No. 1 team in the country.
• Michigan comes in second: The Wolverines have won the past two Big Ten titles and have their sights on a national championship in 2023.
• Florida State in the top five: With one of the most loaded rosters in the country, the Seminoles could make the leap into the College Football Playoff.
Estimated Reading Time: 12 minutes
We’ve made it.
It’s been seven long months since the end of the 2022 college football season, and now it’s finally time to begin anew.
The 2023 college football season represents the end of many staples in the sport. It’s the final year of the four-team College Football Playoff, with an expanded 12-team one taking its place next year. The Pac-12 is essentially giving a farewell tour; nearly all of its members have found new homes for 2024 and beyond. And they’re not the only ones, as the Big 12’s flagship programs, Texas and Oklahoma, are both leaving for the SEC next season.
With that said, here are the top 25 teams in the country heading into Week 0.
Note: This ranking is how my view of the 25 best teams in the country, not necessarily how they’re rated by PFF's ELO system.
1. Georgia Bulldogs
The back-to-back national champs are the favorites to three-peat in 2023, a feat accomplished by only one other school (Minnesota, 1934-1936). Georgia does lose some key pieces after 10 of its players were selected in the 2023 NFL Draft, tied for the most of any school. However, the Bulldogs went a perfect 15-0 last season after having a record 15 players taken in the 2022 draft, proving head coach Kirby Smart simply reloads, not rebuilds.
2. Michigan Wolverines
Not only is Michigan coming off back-to-back Big Ten titles and College Football Playoff appearances, but the team is also returning most of its production from last year. One of the most surprising returners was running back Blake Corum, who set the PFF record for the highest-graded season by a Power Five player in 2022 (96.2). This is the best chance Jim Harbaugh has had to bring a national championship to Ann Arbor.
3. Ohio State Buckeyes
Despite having to replace quarterback C.J. Stroud, Ohio State will continue to field one of the most explosive offenses in the nation. Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka form the best receiver duo in college football are simply the two best receivers in college football. The Buckeyes also have one of the best backfields in the country with TreVeyon Henderson, Miyan Williams and Dallan Hayden, in addition to a top-10 tight end in Cade Stover. As for under center, Ohio State’s new quarterback will be either Kyle McCord or Devin Brown, who each were five-star recruits in their respective classes.
4. Florida State Seminoles
Florida State is one of my picks to make the College Football Playoff this season and has one of the most stacked rosters in the country. I also predict Jordan Travis to win the Heisman Trophy after he placed second among all Power Five quarterbacks with a 91.7 grade last season. Edge defender Jared Verse also returns even though he could’ve been a top-20 pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. The Seminoles have a loaded offense in terms of skill position players, while the defense has a few potential stars, as well.
5. Alabama Crimson Tide
Alabama is coming off a disappointing season by its standards, finishing 11-2 and missing the College Football Playoff in 2022. The Crimson Tide enter this year with two new coordinators and must replace three top-15 picks in the 2023 NFL Draft, one of them being quarterback Bryce Young, the first overall selection.
Still, the last time head coach Nick Saban went consecutive years without making the College Football Playoff or BCS National Championship was in 2007-2008, his first two years at the helm. Doubt him at your own risk.
6. LSU Tigers
In his first year as LSU's head coach, Brian Kelly turned a program that was coming off its worst two-season stretch of the 21st century into one that played in the SEC championship game. Jayden Daniels is back at quarterback for the Tigers after leading the FBS in both rushing yards (1,079) and turnover-worthy play rate (0.6%) among quarterbacks. With those two spearheading the program in addition to some emerging superstars like linebacker Harold Perkins Jr., LSU should once again compete for an SEC title and, potentially, a playoff berth.
7. USC Trojans
Over the past six years, Lincoln Riley has coached three Heisman-winning quarterbacks. Two of them, Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray, were taken with the first overall pick in subsequent drafts. The other, Caleb Williams, is back for his junior campaign and will have many NFL teams wondering if they should tank this season. With those two running the offense, USC is the favorite to win the Pac-12 in its final season as a member of the conference.
8. Clemson Tigers
The biggest story for the Tigers is how their offense will look with new faces at play caller and quarterback. Garrett Riley is Clemson’s offensive coordinator after winning the Broyles Award at TCU last year as the best assistant coach in the country. Cade Klubnik is the new man under center and was the top quarterback recruit in the 2022 class. On the other side of the ball, the Tigers lost some key players along the defensive line but still have the best linebacker unit in the country and one of the nation’s best secondaries.
9. Penn State Nittany Lions
Penn State exceeded expectations in 2022, finishing 11-2 with a Rose Bowl victory after starting the season unranked. The Nittany Lions return many key contributors from that team, including three of the top 20 players in college football — cornerback Kalen King, offensive tackle Olu Fashanu and edge defender Chop Robinson. Drew Allar is the new man under center for Penn State, but he should have some of the pressure relieved by a great ground game led by sophomores Nicholas Singleton and Kaytron Allen. Michigan and Ohio State are still the cream of the crop in the Big Ten, but the Nittany Lions could close the gap this season.
10. Texas Longhorns
Outside of Ohio State, Texas has the best receiving corps in college football. Wide receiver Xavier Worthy and tight end Ja’Tavion Sanders are both top-four players at their respective positions, and the Longhorns have excellent depth with Adonai Mitchell, Jordan Whittington and Isaiah Neyor. The question is, can Quinn Ewers deliver them the ball consistently? The former top quarterback recruit in the 2021 class was up and down in his first year as a starter, earning a 72.4 grade. If he lives up to the hype as a redshirt sophomore, Texas could finally be back and make a serious run at the College Football Playoff.
11. Tennessee Volunteers
Tennessee is coming off its best season in over two decades after going 11-2 and winning the Orange Bowl. While the Volunteers lose their leader in Hendon Hooker, Joe Milton III has the strongest arm in the country and could put up outstanding numbers in a Josh Heupel scheme that relies on vertical shots.
12. Washington Huskies
The Washington offense should produce fireworks in 2023 with one of the most prolific passing attacks in college football. Michael Penix Jr. is a top-five quarterback in the country and led all Power Five signal-callers last year with 4,641 passing yards. His top two targets next season will be Rome Odunze and Jalen McMillan, who trail only Ohio State’s Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka as the best receiver duo in the country.
The Huskies also return edge defender Bralen Trice, who led the nation last year with 70 pressures. The Huskies have the firepower to win a Pac-12 championship and potentially crash the College Football Playoff.
“We have the best offense in the country for sure. I feel like nothing can stop us. So, let’s roll.”
It may be July 5th, but expect to see a lot more fireworks from @UW_Football next season ????
— Max Chadwick (@MaxChadwickCFB) July 5, 2023
13. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
The first year of the Marcus Freeman era got off to a rocky 0-2 start, but Notre Dame rebounded to end the season 9-4. Still, 2022 was the Fighting Irish’s first year without 10 or more wins in six seasons.
There’s reason for optimism in Year 2, especially with quarterback Sam Hartman transferring in from Wake Forest. Over the past two seasons, no player has been more valuable than the sixth-year senior, according to PFF’s wins above average metric. He’ll also have the nation’s best offensive lineman, Joe Alt, protecting his blindside.
14. Oregon Ducks
Bo Nix is back for another year at Oregon and revived his career in Eugene this past season. The redshirt senior’s 82.3% adjusted completion rate ranked second in the country in 2022 after he placed just 108th across his first three years at Auburn. He’s now one of my top five quarterbacks in college football and is the No. 3 quarterback prospect in the 2024 NFL Draft, according to PFF lead draft analyst Trevor Sikkema. He’ll have the pleasure of throwing to his adopted brother, Troy transfer Tez Johnson, in addition to a potential first-rounder in Troy Franklin.
15. Utah Utes
While fourth among Pac-12 teams in this ranking, Utah is coming off its second straight conference title and was the sole reason USC missed the College Football Playoff last season. The Utes bring back Cameron Rising at quarterback, although he did tear his ACL in the Rose Bowl against Penn State. Head coach Kyle Whittingham revealed to me that Rising is “50-50” to be ready for the Utes’ season-opener against Florida.
16. Oklahoma Sooners
Brent Venables’ first season as Oklahoma’s head coach couldn’t have gone much worse, as the Sooners endured their first losing season this century. Still, there’s reason for optimism in 2023. Oklahoma went 0-5 in one-possession games last year, with four of them decided by a field goal. Dillon Gabriel is back at quarterback and ranked second among FBS signal-callers in 2022 with a 1.1% turnover-worthy play rate.
17. TCU Horned Frogs
TCU was the ultimate Cinderella last season. After starting the year unranked, the Horned Frogs went undefeated in the regular season and made it to the national championship game. Even more impressively, it was Sonny Dykes’ first season as head coach. A fall back to earth should be expected this year, especially after the team lost Max Duggan, Quentin Johnston and offensive coordinator Garrett Riley. Still, Dykes should have this team very competitive once again.
18. Kansas State Wildcats
The only two teams to beat the aforementioned TCU in 2022 were Georgia in the national championship and Kansas State in the Big 12 championship. It was the Wildcats’ first conference title in a decade. If they’re going to repeat, it’ll be because of Will Howard, whose 6.3% big-time throw rate in 2022 placed third among Big 12 quarterbacks.
19. Oregon State Beavers
Despite being left behind in the Pac-12’s mass exodus of conference realignment, Oregon State’s stock is rising on the field. The Beavers finished 2022 as the No. 14 team in the country, their first ranked finish since 2000.
With one of the best offensive lines in the country and a rising star in running back Damien Martinez, Oregon State will play a smashmouth brand of football this season. They’ll still be able to air it out with Clemson transfer DJ Uiagalelei now at quarterback. The former five-star recruit posted a career-high 79.6 grade last year.
20. Ole Miss Rebels
Ole Miss has one of the most intriguing quarterback battles in college football. Incumbent starter Jaxson Dart returns for his junior season and led all SEC quarterbacks in 2022 with a 6.4% big-time throw rate. Spencer Sanders transfers in after starting for Oklahoma State in each of the past four seasons. In 2021, his 84.5 grade ranked third among Big 12 signal-callers. Walker Howard comes in from LSU and was a top-50 recruit in the 2022 class.
No matter who’s under center for head coach Lane Kiffin, their job will often entail handing the ball to Quinshon Judkins. The sophomore is my No. 2 running back in the country and picked up 91 rushing first downs plus touchdowns as a true freshman, the fourth most in the FBS.
21. Wisconsin Badgers
Wisconsin made the hire of the offseason by bringing aboard Luke Fickell as its new head coach. He went 57-18 across his six years at Cincinnati, and in 2021 his Bearcats became the first Group of Five school to make the College Football Playoff.
With an offensive coordinator who comes from an Air-Raid background in Phil Longo and an exciting transfer quarterback in Tanner Mordecai, the Badgers' offense will look very different this year. However, they’ll still be able to rely on a dominant run game since Braelon Allen is back for his junior season and is a top-five running back in the country.
22. Tulane Green Wave
Tulane orchestrated the greatest turnaround in college football history this past season. After going 2-10 in 2021, the Green Wave improved to 12-2 last year with a Cotton Bowl victory over USC.
Tulane returns quarterback Michael Pratt, who produced the second-lowest turnover-worthy play rate among Group of Five signal-callers in 2022 (1.7%).
23. Arkansas Razorbacks
The bread and butter of Arkansas’ offense is the ground game, which should be alive and well once again in 2023. Raheim Sanders returns as one of the best running backs in the country, while KJ Jefferson’s 559 yards after contact in 2022 ranked second among FBS quarterbacks. It also doesn’t hurt that the Razorbacks have Beaux Limmer helping pave the way, my No. 2 interior offensive lineman in college football heading into next season.
Raheim Sanders keeps a dry-erase board in his room with his goals written on it.
For the longest time, there was only one.
“Be a man.”
Now, there’s another.
“You can do it.”
— Max Chadwick (@MaxChadwickCFB) June 27, 2023
24. Kentucky Wildcats
While Kentucky loses Will Levis under center, the Wildcats have a more-than-capable replacement in N.C. State transfer Devin Leary. His 85.1 passing grade in 2021 ranked 11th among Power Five quarterbacks. Kentucky also returns many key contributors to a defense that ranked in the top 20 in the country last year in expected points allowed per play.
25. North Carolina Tar Heels
Outside of Caleb Williams, there isn’t a better quarterback in college football than North Carolina’s Drake Maye. He was the most valuable player in the country last year, according to PFF’s wins above average metric, while his 45 big-time throws were 10 more than the next-closest FBS quarterback. He also tied for second in that same group with 56 combined rushing first downs and touchdowns.
He may have to rely on his legs even more in 2023, as the Tar Heels' wide receiver room is looking thin. Their top two receivers last season, Josh Downs and Antoine Green, both moved on to the NFL. Kent State transfer wide receiver Tez Walker, a PFF preseason All-ACC first-team selection, was recently ruled ineligible for 2023 by the NCAA. Maye does have a top-five tight end to throw to in Bryson Nesbit. Make no mistake: North Carolina will need Maye to carry the team on his shoulders.