College football 2023 top 25 rankings: Who will threaten Georgia’s dynasty?

A collage of some of the top players in college football.
College football’s top teams in 2023 will have plenty of elite talent (clockwise from top left): Georgia’s Brock Vandagriff, Michigan’s J.J. McCarthy, Alabama’s Jalen Milroe, USC’s Caleb Williams, Ohio State’s Marvin Harrison Jr. and Louisiana State’s Jayden Daniels.
(Associated Press)

I’ve never attempted a way-too-early top 25, and, given the realities of the transfer portal, the idea of handicapping teams that won’t play until eight months from now seemed even crazier.

Well, as George Costanza once said: “You wanna get nuts? Let’s get nuts!”

To preserve my sanity, I tried to keep my criteria for evaluation pretty straightforward: Who is returning a proven quarterback, who has a coach who has developed a dependable culture of winning, and who is taking advantage of the transfer portal to plug holes?

Here’s where I landed as of Day 1 of the offseason — knowing that these rankings, just like the rosters that make them up, are very subject to change:


1. Georgia

Georgia running back Daijun Edwards carries the ball during the Bulldogs' win over TCU.
Georgia running back Daijun Edwards carries the ball during the Bulldogs’ win over TCU in the college football national championship game Monday.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

The back-to-back national champions are a no-brainer pick to win their third in a row in 2023. Just how much has Georgia coach Kirby Smart built the Bulldogs to last? After winning the 2021 title, Smart didn’t bring in one player from the transfer portal to build his unbeaten squad in 2022. This year, Georgia has chosen to add two four-star wide receivers, Mississippi State’s RaRa Thomas and Missouri’s Dominic Lovett, from within the Southeastern Conference. Quarterbacks Carson Beck and Brock Vandagriff are expected to battle to take over for Stetson Bennett. Vandagriff was a five-star prospect in the class of 2021 and will be the favorite to lead the offense.


2. Michigan

Michigan running back Blake Corum carries the ball against Penn State on Oct. 15.
(Paul Sancya / Associated Press)

Michigan was already positioned to start the offseason in this lofty spot before star running back Blake Corum announced Monday that he will return for his senior season, citing “unfinished business,” but now the expectations have grown even more for a third straight win over Ohio State, Big Ten championship and playoff appearance. Quarterback J.J. McCarthy should make a big jump in his second full year as the starter, and game-breaking tailback Donovan Edwards will join Corum in a terrifying backfield. Plus, Michigan owns the fourth-best transfer portal haul, according to 247Sports. The only question is whether Jim Harbaugh will be back with the Wolverines or coaching in the NFL.


3. Alabama

Alabama coach Nick Saban stands on the sideline during a game against Auburn on Nov. 26.
(Vasha Hunt / Associated Press)

Can Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide be kept out of the sport’s winner’s circle for the second straight year in 2023? Alabama has never missed two College Football Playoffs in a row, and it would be foolish to believe Saban’s program won’t be back with a vengeance even without quarterback Bryce Young, running back Jahmyr Gibbs and defensive end Will Anderson. Alabama still deserves the benefit of the doubt, with Saban adding another top-rated recruiting class to the mix. The story of the offseason will be the quarterback competition between athletic freak Jalen Milroe and five-star freshman Ty Simpson.


Top-seeded Georgia captured its second straight college football national championship in a dominant, 65-7 win over No. 3 TCU at SoFi Stadium.

Jan. 9, 2023


4. Ohio State

Ohio State wide receiver Emeka Egbuka carries the ball against Michigan State on Oct. 8.
(Carlos Osorio / Associated Press)

The Buckeyes were one field goal away from knocking off Georgia and playing for a national championship, but the assumption is that quarterback CJ Stroud will declare for the NFL draft, leaving a cavernous hole in coach Ryan Day’s lineup for 2023. Two highly rated quarterbacks, Kyle McCord and Devin Brown, a former USC commit, will compete for the job during the offseason. The winner will have the best wide receivers in the nation at his disposal in Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka, plus a stable of talented running backs. Ohio State’s defense will have some attrition, and questions will linger about the Buckeyes’ strength in the trenches.


5. Louisiana State

LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels looks to pass against Purdue in the Citrus Bowl on Jan. 2.
(John Raoux / Associated Press)

Brian Kelly might need to work on his Southern accent, but he showed in Year 1 at LSU why the Tigers backed up the Brink’s truck to bring him to Baton Rouge. LSU upset Alabama and won the SEC West behind improved play throughout the season from quarterback Jayden Daniels, the Arizona State transfer from San Bernardino El Cajon. Daniels is back for 2023, and the Tigers are bolstering their roster with the third-ranked transfer portal class thus far. If LSU can avenge its loss to Florida State in the season opener in Orlando — certainly a big if — the Tigers will remain a playoff contender the rest of the way.


6. USC

USC coach Lincoln Riley and quarterback Caleb Williams stand on the sideline during the Cotton Bowl on Jan. 2.
(Sam Hodde / Associated Press)


If this seems high for the Trojans, who lost their last two games because of second-half implosions against Utah and Tulane, just try to remember that USC was positioned for the playoff entering December in coach Lincoln Riley’s first season. Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams returns to lead what will be a dynamic offense, and let’s be honest, the defense can’t possibly be any worse than it was down the stretch. That said, defensive coordinator Alex Grinch has his work cut out for him to make sure the Trojans don’t waste a transcendent quarterback like Williams. USC’s latest transfer portal roster overhaul is ongoing, but the early returns are impressive.


7. Penn State

Penn State running back Nick Singleton carries the ball for a touchdown.
Penn State running back Nick Singleton carries the ball for a touchdown during a win over Utah in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 2.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

The Nittany Lions made a statement about where they’re going by pushing around Utah in in a 35-14 Rose Bowl win. Penn State loses four-year starter Sean Clifford at quarterback, but it’s possible the team will find an upgrade in five-star freshman Drew Allar. It might not happen right away, but Allar should give the Nittany Lions a higher ceiling and a better chance to advance to the program’s first CFP in the coming years. Allar’s transition to starter will be made easier by handing off to exciting sophomore tailbacks Nick Singleton and Kaytron Allen. Expect Penn State to maintain its excellence on defense.


8. Washington

Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr. throws against Texas in the Alamo Bowl on Dec. 29.
(Eric Gay / Associated Press)

After their shocking loss at Arizona State, coach Kalen DeBoer’s Huskies rolled off seven straight wins to finish the season, culminating with a 27-20 victory over Texas in the Alamo Bowl. Washington received great news with the return of quarterback Michael Penix Jr., who will be one of the favorites to challenge Williams for the Heisman Trophy. The Huskies added a proven tailback in Mississippi State’s Dillon Johnson from the portal, and Jalen McMillan returns to anchor the wide receiver corps. Washington came out of nowhere in 2022 and won’t be surprising anyone next season.


9. Florida State

Florida State quarterback Jordan Travis looks for a wide receiver during the Cheez-It Bowl on Dec. 29.
(Phelan M. Ebenhack / Associated Press)


Other than a rough three-game losing streak in October during which the Seminoles fell to Wake Forest, North Carolina State and Clemson, they seemed like a team on the verge of building something special. Florida State finished with wins over rival Florida and Oklahoma, an encouraging sign for its 2023 prospects. Quarterback Jordan Travis returns and should continue to dazzle as a dual-threat star. The Seminoles have the second-ranked transfer class so far, adding some intriguing players to a defense that will return star defensive end Jared Verse. This feels like the year Florida State could take down Clemson and challenge for a playoff spot.


10. Oregon

Oregon quarterback Bo Nix looks to pass against North Carolina in the Holiday Bowl on Dec. 28.
(Denis Poroy / Associated Press)

The Ducks were dancing with the potential of a Pac-12 Conference championship in Dan Lanning’s first season as coach before being upset by Washington and Oregon State down the stretch. Quarterback Bo Nix reached his potential in his first year in Eugene after floundering at Auburn, and he loved his new home so much that he decided to return for next season. The Ducks lost offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham to Arizona State, but Nix should provide the continuity to keep the offense humming.


11. Notre Dame

Notre Dame coach Marcus Freeman gestures on the sideline during the second half of a loss to USC on Nov. 26.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

The second year of the Marcus Freeman era got off to a great start last week when Wake Forest quarterback Sam Hartman announced he was transferring to Notre Dame. Over five seasons with the Demon Deacons, Hartman passed for 12,967 yards and 110 touchdowns. After a shaky start, Freeman coached Notre Dame to a 9-4 finish, sparking renewed hope that the Fighting Irish will be OK without Kelly.


12. TCU

TCU cornerback Josh Newton (24) takes the field before a loss to Georgia.
TCU cornerback Josh Newton (24) takes the field before a loss to Georgia in the college football national championship game at SoFi Stadium on Monday.
(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)


What to do with Texas Christian? This was one of the toughest questions when grappling with 2023. One one hand, we want to honor what the Horned Frogs accomplished this season, and there’s no doubt coach Sonny Dykes is going to build a lot of momentum going forward. But on the other hand, quarterback Max Duggan is off to the NFL and so are a host of other key contributors such as wide receiver Quentin Johnston. TCU will need to have a second consecutive masterful usage of the portal to be a top-five team again. But top 15? That seems reasonable.

Georgia captured its second straight college football national title in a dominant victory over TCU. Here’s everything you need to know about the game.

Jan. 9, 2023


13. Clemson

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney calls for a timeout against Tennessee in the Orange Bowl on Dec. 30.
(Rebecca Blackwell / Associated Press)

After two straight down years — at least for Clemson’s new standards — the Tigers have a lot to prove entering 2023. Coach Dabo Swinney continues to avoid using the transfer portal, so he’s going to need his player development to do the heavy lifting. Quarterback Cade Klubnik showed promise during his freshman season, eventually unseating DJ Uiagalelei as starter, but he’s going to need to grow up fast for the Tigers to contend for a playoff spot next season.


14. Tennessee

Tennessee quarterback Joe Milton III throws oranges after the Volunteers' win over Clemson in the Orange Bowl on Dec. 30.
(Rebecca Blackwell / Associated Press)


The Volunteers were the story of the season until falling on their face at South Carolina in November and ending their hopes of crashing the playoff. They’re losing quarterback Hendon Hooker and standout wide receivers Jalin Hyatt and Cedric Tillman, but Tennessee beat Clemson in the Orange Bowl without those three and should still be highly competitive next season. The most interesting question of the offseason will be whether veteran quarterback Joe Milton can fend off incoming five-star prospect Nico Iamaleava of Downey Warren High.


15. Utah

Utah quarterback Cameron Rising looks to throw against Penn State in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 2.
(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

The Utes are losing a lot of talent this offseason, including running back Tavion Thomas, tight end Dalton Kincaid and cornerback Clark Phillips III, but the back-to-back Pac-12 champions can’t be overlooked no matter what at this point. Plus, quarterback Cameron Rising announced Monday that he will return for his final season, giving coach Kyle Whittingham’s team a legitimate shot to contend for a third consecutive league crown.


16. Oregon State

Oregon State coach Jonathan Smith holds a football before a game against Colorado on Oct. 22.
(Amanda Loman / Associated Press)

Coach Jonathan Smith has been building his alma mater back to respectability bolt by bolt, culminating in a surprising 10-3 season in 2022 that included an amazing comeback win over Oregon. That he has done it without a dependable starting quarterback makes it even more impressive. Now the Beavers will have Uiagalelei piloting their offense. There’s a world in which Oregon State contends for the Pac-12 title next season.


17. Tulane

Tulane quarterback Michael Pratt throws on the sideline before a win over USC in the Cotton Bowl on Jan. 2.
(Sam Hodde / Associated Press)

Star quarterback Michael Pratt and coach Willie Fritz are back for Tulane, which is riding the (green) wave of its thrilling 46-45 upset of USC. Because of that continuity, Tulane should be the favorite to repeat as the Group of Five’s best team.


18. Kansas State

Kansas State running back Deuce Vaughn carries the ball against Kansas in November.
(Colin E Braley / Associated Press)

The Wildcats won the Big 12 Conference but received a dose of reality about their national standing against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. Still, coach Chris Klieman has established a strong identity and quarterback Will Howard should continue to improve with an offseason as the starter. Star running back Deuce Vaughn is off to the NFL, but the Wildcats added Florida State’s Treshaun Ward in the portal.


19. Mississippi

Mississippi quarterback Jaxson Dart passes against Texas Tech on Dec. 28.
(Michael Wyke / Associated Press)

Many had Lane Kiffin pegged for the Auburn coaching job, but he’ll be back at Ole Miss after leading the Rebels to three bowl appearances in his three seasons. Kiffin will enjoy a second season with quarterback Jaxson Dart, a USC transfer, and running back Quinshon Judkins, who will be one of the top ballcarriers in the country after rushing for 1,567 yards and 16 touchdowns.


20. Iowa

Quarterback Cade McNamara passes for Michigan against Connecticut on Sept. 17.
Quarterback Cade McNamara passes for Michigan against Connecticut on Sept. 17. McNamara will be leading Iowa’s offense next season.
(Paul Sancya / Associated Press)


The Hawkeyes are easy to ridicule because of their anemic offense, but their defense is so good year in and year out that it’s hard to keep them out of the top 25. Iowa was second in total defense in 2022, and the offense should be able to move the ball much more efficiently with Michigan transfer Cade McNamara running the huddle.


21. Wisconsin

Wisconsin coach Luke Fickell gestures on the side during a game against Oklahoma State on Dec. 27.
(Rick Scuteri / Associated Press)

The “Air Raid” in Madison? Are we being serious? It’s happening, whether hardened Badgers fans like it or not. This ranking is a statement of faith in new coach Luke Fickell, who got Cincinnati to the playoff in 2021 and should maintain Wisconsin’s defensive chops going forward. The transition to a pass-happy offense under new coordinator Phil Longo should be eased by the addition of Southern Methodist quarterback Tanner Mordecai in the portal.


22. Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh coach Pat Narduzzi, left, argues win a referee during a win over UCLA in the Sun Bowl on Dec. 30.
(Andres Leighton / Associated Press)

Coach Pat Narduzzi has built a hard-nosed program in his Youngstown, Ohio, mold at Pitt. The Panthers got subpar quarterback play from Kedon Slovis, a former USC passer, and still finished 9-4 in 2022. They should upgrade that position with Boston College transfer Phil Jurkovec, who hails from the Pittsburgh area.


23. Oklahoma

Oklahoma quarterback Dillon Gabriel carries the ball against Florida State in the Cheez-It Bowl on Dec. 29.
(Phelan M. Ebenhack / Associated Press)

The Sooners had a rough go of it without Riley and Williams in 2022, but next season should go better for coach Brent Venables, who has added a couple of intriguing transfers for his defense. Quarterback Dillon Gabriel’s decision to come back to Oklahoma for one more year gives the Sooners a fighting chance to get back to their winning ways.


24. North Carolina

North Carolina quarterback Drake Maye passes against Oregon in the Holiday Bowl on Dec. 28.
(Denis Poroy / Associated Press)

The Tar Heels’ defense can’t stop anybody under coach Mack Brown and defensive assistant Gene Chizik, but North Carolina should be able to stay in any game with quarterback Drake Maye back directing the offense.


25. Colorado

Colorado coach Deion Sanders speaks during his introductory news conference on Dec. 4.
(David Zalubowski / Associated Press)


New coach Deion Sanders has one offseason to get the Buffaloes ready for “Prime Time.” He has already following through on his promise to quickly remake Colorado’s roster, compiling the top-ranked transfer portal class so far, led by five-star cornerback Travis Hunter and Sanders’ son, quarterback Shedeur Sanders.