NCAA Football

My too-early preseason Top 25 for the 2023 college football season

My too-early preseason Top 25 for the 2023 college football season

College football teams do not play as national champions. This. doesn’t do. There are. At least not in the modern era of sports.

So Georgia fans should take note. The Bulldogs may have the best team in college football next year. They can cruise through a weak non-conference schedule. They could be the No. 1 seed in the College Football Playoff.

But until Kirby Smart, a new quarterback, and that UGA defense win their third straight national title, I’ll be picking another team to top the list. And this is a team that nearly beat UGA in the CFP semifinals.

1. Ohio State: Considering the team hasn’t posted a true three-peat since before World War II, we’ll assign the Bulldogs No. 2 and take the Buckeyes, who are breaking in a new quarterback but return so many of their key players. OSU’s defense will be better after two years of Jim Knowles’ system.

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2. Georgia: No Stetson Bennett, no Jalen Carter, no Alabama, no LSU on the regular season schedule. UGA will cruise through the regular season and get a rude awakening in the postseason. This time, the Bulldogs misplaced a last-second field goal.

3. LSU: One college football coach matches the bloodless, ruthless ambition of Georgia’s Kirby Smart, and that’s Brian Kelly, who has the quarterback (Jaden Daniels) and the roster to win the SEC West. Ready for a tight SEC title game?

4. Pennsylvania: This is an important moment for James Franklin. He built a team that runs the ball and stops the run, has a rising quarterback in Drew Allari and Michigan in Beaver Stadium.

5. Michigan: Regardless of who the coach is, the Wolverines have good linebackers, a decent quarterback in JJ McCarthy and will return the best stable of running backs in the Big Ten. The non-conference schedule is a joke again, but UM won’t be demoted because of it.

5. USC: The Trojans have a tough schedule again, with trips to Notre Dame and Oregon no joke, but Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams is back and USC’s defense will almost certainly be improved.

6. Florida State: The Seminoles finished the season hot and have already loaded up on incoming transfers. FSU will be the ACC favorite with LSU tied for the opening game.

7. Alabama: Times are changing in Tuscaloosa, where quarterback Bryce Young is headed, and the Crimson Tide doesn’t have the elite roster it once did. How soon can the top recruits of 2022 and 2023 arrive? We see two or three losses.

8. Mother of God: Do you believe in Marcus Freeman? I do. The second-year Fighting Irish coach has games against Ohio State, USC and Clemson — and could lose all three — but appears to be building in the right direction for the future.

9. Washington: So 2023 will be the end of the Pac-12 as we know it, and the Huskies might just cut USC down to the wire. Quarterback Michael Penix is ​​special, and Utah and Oregon are coming to Seattle.

10. Texas: While the Longhorns lose elite running back Bijan Robinson, they return key pieces on offense and most of a solid offensive line. This is an up-and-down team that could make the CFP — or fall out of the top 25.

11. Tennessee: The Volunteers are regressing a bit to the mean — trips to Florida and Alabama — but still posted another 10-win, 40-point-per-game season.

12. Clemson: On paper, the Tigers return a lot, but they no longer have their original elite line of relievers, and it shows. Quarterback Cade Strawberry is no Trevor Lawrence either.

13. Utah: This is Kyle Whittingham. You know what his teams are doing. The schedule is tough — Florida in Salt Lake City, Baylor in Waco — but that’s part of what makes the Utahns tough.

14. Texas Tech: No one wants to mess with the Red Raiders, who finished 2022 well and return almost all of their starting 22, barring a late defection.

15. Oregon: The fourth-best team in the Pac-12 is nothing to worry about. But that’s where the Ducks are, at this point.

16. Texas A&M: Don’t mock. Jimbo Fisher’s 2022 recruiting class — one of the best ever assembled — will get bigger in the offseason.

17. PKU: The Horned Frogs can’t count on as many close wins and thrilling comebacks in 2023. Eight or nine good wins seems likely.

18. Louisville: The team is better than you think the second half of 2022 gets Jeff Brohm as the head coach for 2023. The schedule is cooperative.

19. Kansas State: Deuce Vaughn is headed to the NFL, and K-State could also lose a couple more defensive dudes to the league. But Chris Kliman’s system is working, and quarterback Will Howard has a hose for an arm.

20. Tulane: Speed! The Green Wave had a top-five team in 2022 and could get it again in 2023, though several Mountain West teams could chase it.

21. North Carolina: The ACC is a mediocre league at best, and quarterback Drake Maye might be mediocre at best.

22. Mississippi State: I envision the Bulldogs continuing the success of the late Mike Leach for several years, especially with quarterback Will Rogers there.

23. Oregon State: The Beavers had a great year in 2022, finishing well with a rout of Florida. Not sure I like the addition of defender DJ Uiagaleiei.

24. Mississippi: For the second consecutive season, the Rebels can host the best non-academy game in the country. The defense needs to be strengthened a bit.

25. Iowa: When picking the Big Ten West champion, look for one that avoids Michigan and Ohio State. Guess what the Hawkeyes did to the 2023 schedule?

Matt Ruhl’s 2023 Nebraska football coaching staff

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