Talkin’ season is here again.
The 2023 college football season talk starts with Georgia. Will the Bulldogs be the first team to win three straight national championships since Minnesota pulled off a three-peat from 1934-36? Georgia will start at No. 1 in most preseason publications, and the rest of the top 10 features the usual suspects.
Alabama and LSU – the other two schools to win national championships in the last four years – are in the top five. Big Ten rivals Michigan and Ohio State are in the mix. USC and Penn State are sleepers looking to get to the College Football Playoff for the first time.
The order, however, remains subjective, and Sporting News made a few tweaks from its original Way-Too-Early Top 25 based on the transfer portal and spring practice. This is our list heading into the summer. Don’t worry, we’ll change it again before the season starts.
MORE: Why the CFP schedule for 2024 will be a failure
With that, a look at Sporting News’ Top 25 for 2023:
2023 Top 25 college football rankings
What changed: Offensive coordinator Todd Monken took the same job with the Baltimore Ravens, and Kirby Smart brought back Mike Bobo to fill the position. Receiver A.D. Mitchell transferred to Texas, and heralded defensive tackle Bear Alexander left for USC.
Lowdown: Georgia has won 33 of its last 34 games. The Bulldogs are still loaded, and that was clear at the spring game. Carson Beck remains the favorite to replace Stetson Bennett at quarterback, and tight end Brock Bowers and receiver Ladd McConkey are the leaders of a deep pass-catching group. Jamon Dumas-Johnson, Javon Bullard and Kamari Lassiter are the next crop of first-round defensive talent. The Nov. 18 matchup at Tennessee will decide the SEC East.
What changed: Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh spurned the NFL again, but there was still offseason drama. The school fired offensive coordinator Matt Weiss after allegations he inappropriately accessed computer accounts at the school. Sherrone Moore was promoted to full-time OC. RJ Moten and Nikhai Hill-Green entered the transfer portal after spring practice.
Lowdown: The two-time Big Ten champions remain stacked, and they have no questions in the backfield. J.J. McCarthy and running backs Blake Corum – who returned for his senior season – and Donovan Edwards – a late-season star, form a dominant attack behind an experienced offensive line that keeps Zack Zinter. Stanford center Drake Nugent and Arizona State tackle LaDarius Henderson were huge additions from the portal. The defense features NFL talent in Junior Colson, Will Johnson and Mike Sainristil. Nebraska linebacker Ernest Hausmann should be a hit. Can the Wolverines handle the hype into November matchups against Penn State (Nov. 11) and Ohio State (Nov. 25)?
What changed: Nick Saban will have two new coordinators in 2023. Bill O’Brien left for the same job with the New England Patriots, and Saban hired Notre Dame’s Tommy Rees for the job. Kevin Steele was promoted to defensive coordinator in place of Pete Golding. Since January, five Alabama players left via the transfer portal.
Lowdown: The headline remains the arrival of Notre Dame quarterback Tyler Buchner after spring practice. That opens what will be a highly-publicized fall competition with Jalen Milroe and Ty Simpson. Alabama remains flush with blue-chip talent, and freshman Justice Haynes popped in the spring game. It still comes down to the quarterback. The defense features Dallas Turner, Kool-Aid McKinstry and Malachi Moore, and freshman Caleb Downs looked promising at safety. Texas, Tennessee and LSU come to Bryant-Denny Stadium this year, but that quarterback question lingers.
MORE: Will Buchner get the starting job at Alabama?
4. Ohio State
What changed: Receivers coach Brian Hartline was promoted to offensive coordinator. Hartline is an elite recruiter, especially at the receiver position. Receivers Kaleb Brown and Caleb Burton entered the portal after spring practice.
Lowdown: Ryan Day is 45-6 with three playoff appearances, and yet there is pressure given the consecutive losses to rival Michigan. The Buckeyes also have eight players on SN’s Top 50 Big Board for 2024, including potential No. 1 pick Marvin Harrison Jr. The quarterback battle between Kyle McCord and Devin Brown will stretch into fall camp, but there is simply too much talent on offense to fail. Defensive coordinator Jim Knowles returns a unit that features edge rushers J.T Tuimoloau and Jack Sawyer, and cornerback Denzel Burke flashed All-American level play in the spring. Ohio State’s season will hinge on Notre Dame (Sept. 23), Penn State (Oct. 21) and Michigan (Nov. 25).
What changed: Brian Kelly retained both coordinators, and aside from quarterback Walker Howard didn’t lose much in the transfer portal. Oregon State linebacker Omar Speights and Notre Dame linebacker Ovie Oghoufo will be immediate contributors. ND transfer RB Logan Diggs is expected to look hard at LSU after leading the Irish in rushing. The Tigers had one player enter the transfer portal after spring practice.
Lowdown: LSU won 10 games, beat Alabama and made the SEC championship game. Still worried about Kelly’s faux Southern accent? Jayden Daniels returned to school, and a second year with offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock should produce even better results. The offensive line returns intact, and Malik Nabers is a go-to receiver. Sophomore edge rusher Harold Perkins showed flashes of dominance last season, and defensive tackle Maason Smith is back. How will the Tigers respond with increased expectations? The opener against Florida State is the best game of Week 1.
What changed: Lincoln Riley kept defensive coordinator Alex Grinch, who took some heat after the 46-45 loss to Tulane in the Cotton Bowl pushed USC down to No. 93 in scoring defense for the year. Riley also hired former Arizona Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsburgy as a senior analyst and quarterbacks coach. USC added Georgia defensive tackle Bear Alexander via the transfer portal.
Lowdown: The Trojans finished 11-3 last season, and Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams is back. Mario Williams, Brenden Rice and Arizona transfer Dorian Singer, who had 1,105 yards and six TDs, form a fantastic group of receivers. The defense allowed 29.2 points per game last season, and there could be as many five transfer starters. Linebacker Mason Cobb had 96 tackles and 13 TFLs at Oklahoma State last season. Purdue transfer Jack Sullivan will be part of a revamped defensive front. Will the Trojans make the College Football Playoff in their final Pac-12 season? That is the expectation now.
7. Penn State
What changed: James Franklin retained both coordinators heading into his 10th season at Penn State. Running back Devyn Ford was the most notable player to enter the transfer portal in the spring, but this is an all-in year coming off the Rose Bowl championship against Utah.
Lowdown: The Drew Allar era begins. The five-star sophomore quarterback takes over for Sean Clifford, and the running back tandem of Nick Singleton and Kaytron Allen is dynamic. Tackle Olu Fashanu has potential to be a top-five NFL pick, and Kent State transfer WR Dante Cephas will put up numbers. The defense returns playmakers Abdul Carter and Kalen King. This is Penn State’s chance to get back to the top of the Big Ten, but it goes through Ohio State (Oct. 21) and Michigan (Nov. 11). Penn State is 4-14 against those teams under Franklin.
What changed: Not much. The Huskies have had 11 players leave via the transfer portal since January, and they have not brought any players in.
Lowdown: Second-year coach Kalen DeBoer enjoyed a 11-win season in Year 1. It starts with quarterback Michael Penix Jr., who led the FBS in total offense with 364.1 total yards per game last season. He has a pair of 1,000-yard receivers returning in Rome Odunze and Jalen McMillan. Bralen Trice and Zion Tupuola-Fetui combined for 13.5 sacks and are back on defense. Washington has road trips to Michigan State in non-confernece play and Oregon State and USC in the Pac-12 play. The Huskies are a sleeper playoff pick as a result, and with good reason.
9. Florida State
What changed: Third-year coach Mike Norvell retained both coordinators from last year’s 10-win team, and the Seminoles are back in the top 10. Edge rusher Derrick McCledon II was the biggest loss in the portal after he transferred to Colorado. Nine Seminoles have entered the portal since April.
Lowdown: Optimism is back in Tallahassee, and that’s because of quarterback Jordan Travis – who totaled 31 TDs with a brilliant play-making style that should push him into the Heisman Trophy discussion. Running back Trey Benson bypassed the 2023 NFL Draft. Receiver Johnny Wilson is an elite vertical threat, and the defense features top-10 talent in edge rusher Jared Verse. The opening weekend sequel with LSU will be a thriller, and the Sept. 23 visit to Clemson is a bellweather for the season. The Tigers have won the last seven meetings. If the Seminoles can take the ACC back, then we can start talking about the playoff.
10. Notre Dame
What changed: Rees took the Alabama job, and Buchner followed. Second-year coach Marcus Freeman hired Gerad Parker as offensive coordinator. Running back Logan Diggs and receiver Lorenzo Styles Jr. were among the high-profile players who transferred this spring.
Lowdown: The Irish won nine games in Freeman’s first year, and Wake Forest transfer quarterback Sam Hartman took hold of the starting job in the spring. Hartman had a ACC record-setting career with the Demon Deacons. Audric Estime leads the running back committee, and freshman Jaden Greathouse should be an early-impact receiver. Future first-round pick Joe Alt anchors the offensive line. Cornerback Benjamin Morrison leads a defense that returns eight starters. The big-ticket games against Ohio State (Sept. 23), USC (Oct. 14) and Clemson (Nov. 4) are the pivot points.
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What changed: Tennessee is coming off a breakout season under second-year coach Josh Heupel, and the Vols had five players selected in the 2023 NFL Draft. That included quarterback Hendon Hooker. Offensive coordinator Alex Golesh took the USF job. Quarterbacks coach Joey Halzle was promoted to the position. A dozen Tennessee players entered the transfer portal.
Lowdown: Orange Bowl MVP Joe Milton is the X-factor. Will the live-armed quarterback be as efficient as Hooker? Or will the calls for five-star freshman Nico Iamaleava become a thing? Bru McCoy and Squirrel White are the top returning receivers. The defense will need to rebuild, but another recruiting cycle should help. Top tackler Aaron Beasley returns, and BYU transfer Keenan Pili is a great addition at linebacker. Virginia is on the non-conference schedule, and the road games at Florida and Alabama will not be easy. Where will the Vols be when Georgia visits Neyland Stadium this year?
What changed: Offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham took the Arizona State job, and UTSA co-offensive coordinator Will Stein made the jump to Oregon. Dan Lanning had a successful first year, and Lanning used his SEC ties to land a few intriguing transfers in Alabama receiver Traeshon Holden and defensive back Khyree Jackson along with Ole Miss safety Kasheem Johnson.
Lowdown: Bo Nix – who totaled 44 TDs last season – is back at quarterback. Bucky Irving and Troy Franklin should have breakout seasons, and the defense is experienced. The non-conference schedule is friendly, and USC comes to Autzen Stadium on Nov. 11. The road trips to Washington (Oct. 14) and Utah (Oct. 28) will be telling.
What changed: Clemson made a bold move by hiring TCU offensive coordinator Garrett Riley, meaning the Tigers will have their third OC in three seasons. Dabo Swinney does not engage in the portal much. The Tigers had just one player leave in spring practice, and Alabama quarterback Paul Tyson was the most-notable addition.
Lowdown: The Tigers won the ACC championship, but they split their last six games and have gradually slipped down preseason rankings the last two years. Cade Klubnik is alone atop the quarterback depth chart, and running back Will Shipley totaled 1,425 yards from scrimmage and 15 TDs in 2022. Jeremiah Trotter Jr., Andrew Mukuba and Sheridan Jones are the next wave of high-round NFL defensive talent. The Tigers get Florida State, Notre Dame and North Carolina at home, and the regular-season finale against South Carolina will have more heat given the Gamecocks broke Clemson’s 40-game home win streak last season.
What changed: It’s a pivotal third year, but Steve Sarkisian, offensive coordinator Kyle Flood and defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski have maintained continuity on the coaching staff. Four players exited via the transfer portal after spring practice, but there is optimism heading into 2023.
Lowdown: Quinn Ewers settled in at quarterback in spring practice, and that will allow for five-star freshman Arch Manning to develop. Georgia transfer A.D. Mitchell, Xavier Worthy and tight end Ja’Tavion Sanders give Ewers an NFL-caliber receiving corps, and freshman linebacker Anthony Hill Jr. pairs well with Jaylen Ford at linebacker. Texas will be the Big 12 favorites in its farewell tour. The Longhorns have five losses of eight points or less each of the last two seasons. Sarkisian needs to change that now.
BENDER: With Ewers at QB1, Texas poised for monster season
What changed: Offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig visited Notre Dame but ultimately stayed on Utah’s staff. Kyle Whittingham has built a program on consistency, and that comes from keeping the talent at home. The Utes lost seven players to the transfer portal.
Lowdown: The two-time defending Pac-12 champions will be undersold again in the Pac-12, and that under-the-radar treatment suits the program fine. Quarterback Cam Rising returned, and the tag team of Micah Bernard and Ja’Quinden Jackson will keep the running game rolling. Safety Cole Bishop is a first-round talent in the secondary. Utah’s non-conference schedule features the home opener against Florida and a road test at Baylor.
What changed: Riley leaving to take the offensive coordinator job at Clemson was a huge loss, and the Horned Frogs sent eight players to the 2023 NFL Draft from last year’s College Football Playoff championship runner-up. Now, the challenge for Sonny Dykes is to do that all over again with new offensive coordinator Kendal Briles.
Lowdown: Can the Horned Frogs reload and win the Big 12 again? Chandler Morris beat out Max Duggan in fall camp last year, and the additions of Alabama transfers Trey Sanders and JoJo Earle at running back and receiver, respectively, should help. The 3-3-5 defense was a hit last year, and senior linebackers Johnny Hodges and JaMoi Hodge return. The opener against Deion Sanders-led Colorado will be highly visible, but it’s the November farewell matchups against Texas (Nov. 11) and Oklahoma (Nov. 25) that matter most.
17. Kansas State
What changed: The Wildcats had just four players enter the portal after the spring. Florida State transfer Treshaun Ward, who had 628 yards and seven TDs last season, is the most-intriguing addition.
Lodown: Chris Kliemann enters his fifth season with a 30-20 record the last four seasons and stability. The Sugar Bowl loss to Alabama was a reality check, but don’t let that take away from what Kliemann has built for the defending Big 12 champions. Will Howard returns at quarterback, and All-American guard Cooper Beebe anchors an offensive line that returns four starters. The defense will have to compensate for the loss of first-round pick Felix Anudike-Uzomah, but leading tackler Austin Moore is back. Kliemann will have another team capable of double-digit wins.
What changed: Luke Fickell’s first spring was a success, and the offense will look different with new offensive coordinator Phil Longo. That doesn’t mean the Badgers will abandon their typical powerful rushing attack. Quarterback Chase Wolf was one of the eight transfers through spring practice.
Lowdown: Cincinnati had 16 players selected in the last three NFL Drafts. Wisconsin has 11 in the same stretch. Fickell’s talent development will win out at Wisconsin. It’s just a matter of how long it takes. SMU transfer quarterback Tanner Mordecai is the right veteran to help that transition, and Braelon Allen is an All-American-caliber talent at running back. Veteran defensive coordinator Mike Tressel will mold a veteran front seven that features five seniors. Circle Oct. 28 on the calendar. That’s when Ohio State – Fickell’s alma mater – visits Camp Randall Stadium.
19. Oregon State
What changed: Nobody entered the transfer portal after spring practice. The big addition came in December when Clemson quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei transferred to Oregon State. The Beavers also added JUCO transfer Tyrice Ivy Jr., who could be a sleeper in the secondary.
Lowdown: Jonathan Smith has led a gradual turnaround at Oregon State, and Uiagalelei’s arrival is a huge addition. Damien Martinez returns after rushing for 982 yards and seven TDs. The defense should click more with second-year coordinator Trent Bray, and freshman linebackers Oluwaseyi Omotosho and Nikko Taylor will get their chances to make plays. A brutal schedule closes with back-to-back games against Washington and Oregon.
20. Texas A&M
What changed: The Aggies have had 17 players enter the transfer portal since last December, and last year’s 5-7 nightmare season forced Jimbo Fisher to make major changes. That starts with hiring offensive coordinator Bobby Petrino. North Carolina transfer Tony Grimes – a five-star recruit at cornerback – had 19 pass breakups the last three seasons.
Lowdown: How will that mass exodus via the portal impact the depth of the program? This is a year where all that recruiting has to pay off. Connor Weigman showed promise with eight TDs and no interceptions last season, and Petrino is a known quarterback whisperer. Sophomore Evan Stewart and Moose Muhammad III should have huge seasons. Demani Richardson is the leader of a talented secondary. The Fisher-Petrino dynamic is the headline, and the schedule is loaded with road pot-holes against Miami, Tennessee and LSU. It will be interesting in College Station.
21. South Carolina
What changed: Marcus Satterfield left after two years as offensive coordinator to take the same job at Nebraska. The Gamecocks hired Dowell Loggains for the same position. Third-year coach Shane Beamer has a top-10 recruiting class in the works for 2024.
Lowdown: The Gamecocks have surged into the top half of the SEC East, and the best news of the offseason was the respective returns of quarterback Spencer Rattler and star receiver Juice Wells. Freshman Nick Emmanwori returns to the defense. The opener against North Carolina at Bank of America Stadium is a flashy early-season game. South Carolina also has road trips to Georgia (Sept. 16) and Tennessee (Sept. 30) in a front-loaded schedule.
22. North Carolina
What changed: North Carolina had five more players enter the transfer portal after spring practice, and Longo left to take the same job at Wisconsin. Former Troy coach Chip Linsdey is the Tar Heels’ new offensive coordinator. Coastal Carolina guard Willie Lampkin was a nice interior offensive line addition from the portal.
Lowdown: This is Mack Brown’s fifth year in his second stint with the Tar Heels, which has come with a 30-22 record and ACC championship appearance. Drake Maye is a first-round NFL Draft talent at quarterback. Maye ranked second in the FBS with 358.5 yards per game but had a curious dropoff at the end of his first season as starter. The defense needs to improve, but linebackers Cedric Gray and Power Echols – who combined for 248 tackles last season – are a good start. The opener against South Carolina is huge considering the Gamecocks have won four of the last five meetings since 2007.
What changed: Tulane offensive coordinator Jim Svoboda left the program, and he was replaced by Slade Nagle. Running back Tyjae Spears left for the 2023 NFL Draft. The Green Wave had four players leave through the transfer portal after spring practice. Tulane did add LSU tackle Cam Wire and Louisiana receiver Dontae Fleming through the portal.
Lowdown: Willie Fritz took the long route in building the next American Athletic Conference buster, but the trick is holding on to that momentum. Michael Pratt passed for 27 TDs and five interceptions last season. He is an efficient playmaker that will attract NFL buzz because of that decision-making. Wire solidifies the offensive line. Linebacker Darius Hodges is among the returners who must step up from a unit that lost its top five tacklers. The opener against Ole Miss is a good test.
What changed: UCLA hasn’t lost anybody in the transfer portal since the spring. Coach Chip Kelly signed an extension that runs through the 2027 season. Kelly also hired a new defensive coordinator in D’Anton Lynn, who was the Ravens’ safeties coach the last two seasons.
Lowdown: The Bruins are the sixth Pac-12 team on this list. This speaks to the expected breakout of quarterback Dante Moore, a five-star freshman who flipped from Oregon to UCLA and adds to an incredible cast of quarterbacks in the Pac-12. Cal transfer receiver Michael Sturdivant, who had 65 catches for 755 yards and seven TDs last season, is a nice addition. A tricky home opener against Coastal Carolina and road trips to Utah and USC are the flex points in the schedule.
What changed: The Sooners finished 6-7 in Brent Venables’ first season, but they saw an overhaul in the roster heading into 2023. Oklahoma added eight players through the transfer portal, and most of them should contribute right away. Indiana edge rusher Dasan McCullough, Wake Forest defensive lineman Rondell Bothroyd and Michigan receiver Andrel Anthony are potential starters.
Lowdown: Last year’s slide didn’t affect recruiting. Five-star quarterback Jackson Arnold, edge rusher Adepoju Adebawore and safety Peyton Bowen are future team leaders that will help the program make the transition to the SEC. In the present tense, quarterback Dillon Gabriel is healthy, and that should allow Arnold to develop as a backup. Leading tackler Danny Strutsman returns to an improved defense. The schedule is set up for a fast start. The Sooners will be ranked when the Red River Rivalry against Texas is revisited on Oct. 7.