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Wayne Staats | | April 20, 2023

Way-too-early college football preseason top 25 for the 2023 season

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Georgia left no doubt when it clobbered TCU to win the College Football Playoff national title, delivering consecutive CFP championships to enter an exclusive club. The Bulldogs became the first repeat champ since Alabama won it all in 2011 and 2012, back in the BCS era.

Now comes the question: Can Georgia make it three in a row? That hasn't happened since Minnesota (!) won three in a row from 1934 through 1936. It's possible Georgia starts its run for three in a row at the top of the polls. Here are some very early top 25 college football rankings for the 2023 season.

Way-too-early college football rankings for 2023

1. Georgia (15-0, won College Football Playoff national championship)

Yes, Georgia loses Heisman finalist Stetson Bennett. But coach Kirby Smart and his program will likely simply reload and remain SEC and national contenders, with Carson Beck perhaps taking over. No matter who wins the starting quarterback job — Beck, Brock Vandagriff and Gunner Stockton — the Bulldogs will be strong at running back and have TE Brock Bowers and strong WRs. LB Jamon Dumas-Johnson (9 TFL, 4 sacks) should be among the leaders of another strong UGA defense.

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2. Michigan (13-1, lost CFP semifinal)

Two disappointing endings in a row in the CFP semifinals, yes, but there's no doubting that the Wolverines have flipped the script against Ohio State the last two years. Michigan will be looking at a third consecutive conference title in 2023, only this time it will hope to take that next step and advance to the CFP title game. QB J.J. McCarthy and RBs Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards will star on offense, while DB Will Johnson (3 INTs) will be an All-America threat as a sophomore. This ranking does depend on the return of coach Jim Harbaugh.

3. Ohio State (11-2, lost in CFP semifinals)

Ryan Day is 45-6 but back-to-back losses to Michigan and a loss to Georgia in the CFP semifinals puts some pressure on the coach. Even if C.J. Stroud is gone, Ohio State will again score plenty of points — having all-world WR Marvin Harrison Jr. (1,263 receiving yards, 14 TDs) would make anyone confident.

4. Alabama (11-2, won Sugar Bowl)

A rout of K-State in the Sugar Bowl sent out Bryce Young and others on a high note, but any Nick Saban season that doesn't end with an SEC or national title will feel slightly disappointing. Jalen Milroe and Ty Simpson will probably battle it out for the starting QB job. There are a lot of questions throughout here, but Alabama is still Alabama.

5. Penn State (11-2, won Rose Bowl)

Sean Clifford's lengthy career ended with a dynamite performance in the Rose Bowl, which means highly touted recruit Drew Allar's time is here. Expect dynamic running backs Nick Singleton (1,061 yards) and Kaytron Allen (867 yards) to take the next steps as sophomores. DC Manny Diaz will keep the defense among the best.

6. LSU (10-4, won Citrus Bowl)

Brian Kelly's first season included beating Alabama and picking up a dominating bowl win along with disappointing blowout defeats to Tennessee and Georgia. The Tigers have star power on both sides of the ball, with QB Jayden Daniels (2,913 passing yards, 885 rushing yards, 28 total TDs) and LB Harold Perkins Jr. (72 total tackles, 7.5 sacks). LSU also opens up with Florida State again — a major chance for both schools to get off on the right foot (Florida State won it in 2022).

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7. Florida State (10-3, won the Cheez-It Bowl)

After going 3-6 in the COVID year and then 5-7 in 2021, the Seminoles broke out in Mike Norvell's third season a bit, winning their last six games to reach double-digit wins. As is the case for many teams here, optimism starts at quarterback thanks to Jordan Travis (3,214 passing yards and 31 total TDs) and all his weapons. FSU gets another date with LSU before important road trips to rivals Clemson and later Florida. Those three games will be the difference.

8. USC (11-3, lost Cotton Bowl)

The Trojans were one win away from the CFP, but they ended the season falling to Utah in the Pac-12 title game and then Tulane in the Cotton Bowl. USC must show progress on defense to be taken even more seriously as a true national championship contender. The good — great — news, however is that Lincoln Riley has the return of Heisman-winning QB Caleb Williams (4,537 passing yards, 382 rushing yards, 52 total TDs).

9. Washington (11-2, won Alamo Bowl)

Michael Penix Jr.'s return slots Washington as a clear Pac-12 title contender and a candidate to break the conference's CFP drought. He'll go into 2023 as a Heisman hopeful after his 4,641 passing yards. Could the Huskies take the next step USC almost did — have a Heisman winner at quarterback in the CFP?

10. TCU (13-2, lost College Football Playoff national championship)

As brutal as the loss to Georgia was for the CFP title, don't let that sour the incredible run Sonny Dykes had in his first season. TCU picked up a lot of close wins behind star QB Max Duggan and others to go from unranked to No. 2. More top talent may be gone to the NFL, but Dykes will continue to look into the transfer portal. This might be too low, if anything.

11. Utah (10-4, lost the Rose Bowl)

The Utes are the two-time defending Pac-12 champions but are going to again be underappreciated compared to the likes of USC and others in their conference. Coach Kyle Whittingham and his group are used to that and will again compete for conference honors. QB Cam Rising will be back after unfortunate injuries knocked him out of the last two Rose Bowls.

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12. Tennessee (11-2, won Orange Bowl)

Hendon Hooker is gone, but the Volunteers and their fans hope Joe Milton's performance in the Orange Bowl (251 passing yards, 3 TDs) is a sign of another Heisman contender at quarterback. Josh Heupel and his staff continue to recruit well. If the defense takes a step forward, Tennessee will challenge Georgia for the SEC East championship.

13. Notre Dame (9-4, won Gator Bowl)

The Irish recovered from an 0-2 start to hand Clemson its first defeat, climb to the top 15 for a bit and then beat red-hot South Carolina in the bowl game. Some 2023 optimism in Marcus Freeman's second year is due to QB Sam Hartman transferring from Wake Forest. Hartman passed for 76 total touchdowns the last two seasons. Key games include USC, Clemson and Ohio State.

14. Clemson (11-3, lost Orange Bowl)

Clemson got back to being ACC champs again but a late-season loss to rival South Carolina ended any CFP dreams. Cade Klubnik is the guy at quarterback, though RB Will Shipley is going to be rather busy in 2023. Jeremiah Trotter Jr. will star on defense.

15. Oregon (10-3, won Holiday Bowl)

Dan Lanning and his Ducks regrouped from a humbling loss to Georgia to begin the season by winning 10 games. Oregon could swing much higher or drop notably depending on how the new offensive line works with returning QB Bo Nix.

16. Oregon State (10-3, won Las Vegas Bowl)

The Beavers broke out in Jonathan Smith's fifth season, winning 10 games for only the third time ever. Oregon State brings back almost all its offensive line and will be one of the Pac-12 favorites in 2023. QB Ben Gulbranson will be back, but Oregon State also brings in Clemson transfer DJ Uiagalelei.

17. Texas (8-5, lost Alamo Bowl)

The Longhorns had their moments — pushing then-No. 1 Alabama, toppling Kansas State on the road — but they'll be expecting more in Steve Sarkisian's third season. RB Bijan Robinson is gone, but QB Quinn Ewers is is the highly touted Arch Manning. Texas has had quite a lot of close defeats lately, so it'll have to switch those around to get back to the elite.

18. Tulane (12-2, won Cotton Bowl)

The Green Wave will be one of the top AAC — and thus Group of Five — contenders next season. Running back Tyjae Spears (205 yards against USC in the Cotton Bowl) declared for the NFL Draft, though QB Michael Pratt (3,010 passing yards, 478 rushing yards and 37 total TDs) will be back.

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19. Texas Tech (8-5, won the Texas Bowl)

The Red Raiders surged late in Joey McGuire's first season, winning their last four. Texas Tech also beat both Texas and Oklahoma. QB Tyler Shough will be back and will lead the Red Raiders against his former team, Oregon, in the second week of the season. That will go a long way into just how much Texas Tech can climb in 2023.

20. Kansas State (10-4, lost Sugar Bowl)

The Wildcats upset TCU to win the Big 12 title, so even though Deuce Vaughn (1,558 rushing yards, 9 TDs) is off to the NFL, doubt Chris Klieman at your own risk. Should Will Howard be back at quarterback, K-State will score enough to challenge for another conference crown. The defense should also be typically tough.

21. Iowa (8-5, won Music City Bowl)

If the Hawkeyes' offense improves but only a little, they'll make a run for the Big Ten West crown. After all, Iowa averaged only 18.15 points and 251.6 yards per game last year — and still won eight games. Michigan transfer Cade McNamara could take over. On defense, they lose star Jack Campbell, but DB Cooper DeJean (5 interceptions) is back.

22. North Carolina (9-5, lost Holiday Bowl)

The Tar Heels started outside the top 25 but got into the top 15 of the CFP before losing their final four games. However, UNC could break out in 2023 with the return of QB Drake Maye (4,321 passing yards, 45 total TDs). The offense should score A TON of points, so any progress will depend on defensive improvement. As usual.

23. Wisconsin (7-6, won Guaranteed Rate Bowl)

The Badgers brought in Cincinnati's Luke Fickell to take over the program after he went 57-18 with the Bearcats. It's Wisconsin, so the defense should again be strong in what figures to be another open Big Ten West race. Former UNC offensive coordinator Phil Longo will be the Badgers' new OC — a return to double-digit win seasons will depend on the offense.

24. Ole Miss (8-4, lost Texas Bowl)

The Rebels got to No. 7 before losing five of its last six. Running back Quinshon Judkins and a good offensive line will work with QB Jaxson Dart, but the defense will have to improve. It also doesn't help to be in the same division as Alabama and rising LSU.

25. UTSA (11-3, lost Cure Bowl)

The Roadrunners went undefeated in C-USA play and were a bowl win against Troy away from remaining in the top 25 to end this past season. QB Frank Harris is back after throwing for more than 4,000 yards and has a lot of talent around him like WR Zakhari Franklin (1,136 yards) and RB Kevorion Barnes (845 yards as a freshman). This will be UTSA's first season in the AAC.

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