Monthly Archives: August 2023

2023 Forecast College Football Top 35

1. Georgia – After winning their first national title since 1980, the Bulldogs lost 15 players to the NFL Draft… and followed that up with an undefeated national title in 2022. Another load of players will be off to the NFL, including underrated QB Stetson Bennett and star DT Jalen Carter, but the total number of losses is less than last year. The offense returns TE Brock Bowers and gets the top WRs from Miss State (Rara Thomas) and Missouri (Dominic Lovett), should provide ample weapons for Carson Beck or whomever wins the starting QB job. The defense completely reloaded in 2022 but with 6 starters back, is actually better positioned than coming into last season. With OOC games vs Ball State, UT Martin, UAB and GA Tech, and no Bama, A&M or LSU from the West, the schedule is laughably easy and give the Dawgs time to work out any kinks with a new QB. And once UGA makes the playoff, the depth of talent and coaching means a 3 peat is very possible.
2. Michigan – HC Jim Harbaugh, QB JJ McCarthy and RB Blake Corum all are returning to Michigan in 2023, making the Wolverines, not the Buckeyes, the favorites in the Big Ten. Harbaugh’s Wolverines again beat Ohio State to win the conference and make the playoffs. A loss to TCU in the semifinal was disappointing, especially with several fluky plays that could have gone the other way. But with the offensive stars and 8 starters back on defense, Michigan has a great opportunity to make it back to the playoffs and get that shot at a national title. The schedule is very manageable, beginning with ECU, UNLV, Bowling Green and Rutgers at home; then trips to Nebraska and Minnesota, before games with Indiana then at Michigan State before an off date at Halloween. Penn State is on the road Nov 11 and the season ender with Ohio State is at home.
3. Ohio State – If there ever was a disappointing 11-2 season, this was it. After dominating the Michigan series in recent years, the Buckeyes dropped their 2nd straight to their biggest rivals, snuck into the playoffs only to have a huge win over a dominant Georgie team slip between their fingers in the last minute. Now they have to regroup without NFL draft overall first pick QB CJ Stroud and WR Jaxon Smith-Jigba. WR Marvin Hariison and RB TreVeyon Henderson are back though to give whichever QB (likely Kyle McCord) wins the starting job some great weapons. The defense returns 7 starters but finished the season poorly in games against Michigan and Georgia. The schedule is highlighted by the usual divisional matchups with Penn State and Michigan, and includes a road trip to Notre Dame in week 4.
4. USC – Lincoln Riley’s first year at USC exemplified why the Trojans made the hire in the first place – a Heisman Trophy winning QB leading an explosive offense for a team coming off a 4-8 season that nearly made the playoffs. The other component of a Riley coached team also reared its ugly head with a terrible defense that contributed to two losses to Utah and surrendering 46 points in a loss to Tulane in the Cotton Bowl. QB Caleb Williams is back as are WRs Mario Williams, Tahj Washington and Brenden Rice. They add WR Dorian Singer (who led the Pac 12 in receiving yards last year at Arizona) to add to the embarrassment of riches on O. The defense needs some work and Riley brought in a number of transfers on that side of the ball, including LB Mason Cobb who had 96 tackles last season at OK State. The schedule is tougher in ’23 with both Washington and Oregon now added when the Trojans didn’t face either last season. Just a competent defense should be enough with this offense to get USC into the playoff race.
5. Alabama – A very disappointing season by Tide’s standards, with 2 regular season losses, no appearance in the SECCG or playoffs. And with the best offensive player in college football, QB Bryce Young and the best defensive one, Edge Will Anderson, both off to the NFL, there are more questions around the program than in many years. Talent isn’t an issue, as the Tide continues to load up in recruiting, finishing with the #1 class in 2023 after falling to 2nd (behind A&M) last season. Alabama was mistake prone, turnovers and penalties, in their 2 close losses last year, I expect HC Nick Saban to have that addressed this season. The big question is at QB, where the Tide lost out in the Sam Hartman sweepstakes but got former ND QB Tyler Buchner from the portal. It’s very risky to pick against Saban, and the last time his teams did not make the playoffs (BCS or 4 team) was his first 2 years at Alabama. Still, at this moment, it seems that the Tide have more questions going into a season than any other time in recent memory.
6. LSU – A number of pundits were concerned about the fit of Brian Kelly at LSU, but turned out he fit into the Tiger fam-uh-lee just fine. In Kelly’s first year, the Tigers defeated Alabama, made the SEC Champ Game and finished with 10 wins. With QB Jayden Daniels and most of his weapons on offense like WRs Malik Nabers and Brian Thomas, plus TE Mason Taylor returning and all 5 o-lineman, expectations on the Bayou are sky high going in to 2023. The defense was mostly solid but struggled with the top offenses it faced but will build around superstar LB Harold Perkins Jr and has some key additions via the portal to help out. The schedule starts with a bang, vs FSU in Orlando, where the Seminoles themselves also have high expectations for the season, in what will likely be the only top 10 matchup opening weekend. The Tigers go to Bama this year, but don’t face Tennessee and especially UGA from the East. A win in the opener and a Top 10 finish gets more likely.
7. FSU – After a very unimpressive start to the Mike Norvell era, the Seminoles season wins have gone from 3 to 5 to 10 – the first double digit winning season since 2016. And now FSU is in good position for even better things in 2023. It starts with the return of QB Jordan Travis; Travis has always been a good runner but he put on a show last season through the air, completing 64% of his passes and throwing for over 3200 yards. His top WR, the 6’7″ Johnny Wilson (21 yards per catch) and leading rusher Trey Benson, also return. The o-line has been a weakness for years, but enough returning starters and fortified through the transfer portal, its now a strength. BIgger challenges await on a defense that looked fine statistically but really struggled against the better offenses (noticeable in the 45-38 win vs UF and 35-32 vs OU). Star edge rusher Jared Verse turned down the NFL draft to return and help from the transfer portal is also on the way for the D, tackle Braden Fiske (Western Michigan) and cornerback Fentrell Cypress II (Virginia) should help. As noted above, schedule starts with a bang vs LSU in Orlando, another program with high expectations for ’23. The ACC eliminated the nonsensical divisions, so the game at Clemson in late Sept might just be a preview of the ACC champ game.
8. Clemson – the Cade Klubnik era has begun at Clemson as former starter DJ Uiagalelei transferred to Oregon State. Klubnik was inconsistent in his performance vs Tennessee in the Orange Bowl, but with new OC Garrett Riley, expectations are high. Riley, the ’22 Broyles Award winner, turned a middle of the road TCU offense into a top 10 unit, and Riley led offenses have averaged over 38 pts per game over the past 3 years. Klubnik has a super talent on his side in RB WIll Shipley, who ran for 1182 yards and had 242 yards receiving last season. A star needs to emerge from the WR corp and that could be Antonio Williams, named to several Freshman All American teams after leading the Tigers in catches and yards last year. There are a few holes to fill on defense, including Edge Myles Murphy, but 8 starters on D return, including DT Tyler Davis. The schedule sets up nicely as the two highest ranked teams (FSu and NOtre Dame) both come to Death Valley (FSu early and Notre Dame late). The season ends as always with the rivalry game vs South Carolina, this year in Columbia. Expect Riley to get the offense on track and this will look more like previous Clem teams than the last 2 years.
9. Penn State- The Nittany Lions had another 11 win season, this one capped by a Rose Bowl win over Utah, but as also true for the others, did not end in a playoff berth. Could this be the year? The offense was great last year but loses star QB Sean Clifford. Fans in Happy Valley are ready and excited to see what uber recruit Drew Allar can do, and will have RBs Nick Singleton and Kaytron Allen in the back field to help. The defense was much improved under first year DC Manny Diaz, finishing in the top 20 in total and scoring defense. With most of the front 7 back, the D could be even better in 2023. The schedule is very manageable (top OOC game is home vs WVU) and as usual will come down to the 2 biggies – at Ohio State in October and home vs Michigan in November. Get one of those, and Penn State is very much alive in the playoff hunt.
10. Washington – HC Kalen DeBoer had a fantastic first season, improving the Huskies by an amazing 7 games and winning Pac 12 Coach of the Year honors. He had help though, especially from OC Ryan Grubb to bring the Huskie offense out of the doldrums and into an aerial attack not seen in Seattle in decades. QB Michael Penix set all kinds of school records from season passing yards (4641 yds) to single game passing yards (516 yds vs Arizona). Penix returns as a Heisman candidate, and so does Grubb, turning down mega offers from a couple of SEC schools. The Huskies had 2 1000 yard receivers for the first time in history and both Rome Odunze and Jalen McMillan return. The leading rusher is gone, but the rest of the RB room is back; there is some rebuilding on the o-line as 3 starters depart. The passing defense was the big liability in ’22, but a lot of that was due to numerous injuries in the secondary. With 8 starters back on D, better health will likely bring much better results. The schedule is more difficult this season – home vs Boise and at Michigan State are on the OOC schedule. Huskies will be notable favorites but both of these teams have talent. The bigger story is in conference, where the Huskies skipped both USC and Utah last season (the 2 teams in the conf champ game) but face both in ’22. The combo of Deboer, Grubb and Penix means Washington is a Pac 12 champion and playoff contender.
11. Notre Dame – An up and down season if there ever was one for the Irish in 2022. Notre Dame looked good in an opening loss to Ohio State, followed by ugly losses to Stanford and Marshall, but wins over UNC and Clemson (the two ACCCG participants) and a win over a hot South Carolina in the bowl finished the season looking up. The big news in the offseason was the arrival of transfer QB Sam Hartman from Wake. Hartman has thrown for over 13000 yards in 5 years with the Deacs – you can’t get much better or more experienced than that! THe top 3 tailbacks and top 3 -lineman return, so there’s a lot of experience around Hartman, although super star TE Michael Mayer to the NFL Is a big loss on offense. Six starters are back on the defense that limited opponents to 5.2 yards per play. The schedule is the usual cross country barnstorming, with the biggest games vs USC and Ohio State at home and a late season trip to Clemson. If the offensive staff from Notre Dame can get as much out of Hartman as Wake’s did, the sky’s the limit for this team.
12. Oregon – the Dan Lanning era at Oregon started with a thud, a 46 pt loss to Georgia in Atlanta. But the Ducks rallied, winning 7 straight games and finishing 10-3. The losses were painful though with a 3pt loss to rival Washington can a 4pt loss to instate rival Oregon State. QB Bo Nix has a great year after transferring in from Auburn, but will have a new OC in ’23 (Kenny Dillingham HC at Arizona St now). A couple of transfers (from Alabama and Troy will give Nix experience at WR and the RB room is solid with Bucky Irving and Noah Whittington returning. Lanning was the architect behind the phenomenal defense at UGA the previous year before taking on the HC job at Oregon, but the Duck’s defense wasn’t great in ’22. The challenge in ’23 is top defensive players LB Noah Sewel and CB Christian Gonzalez are off to the NFL. But Lanning had a top 1- recruiting class in his first full recruiting season, so more talent is on its way.
13. Texas – Even with the loss of Bijan Robinson, Horn’s seemed poised for bigger things this year after a number of closs losses in ’22. The future is now with Quinn Ewers taking over the QB position and not really a competition at this point. WR Adonai Mitchell from UGA is a big addition to his available weapons. The o-line returns 4 starters to provide the protection needed. The schedule includes a marquee OOC game at Alabama plus 9 conference games vs a deep Big 12. Weird that Sark has never won more than 9 games in his career (8 in reg season) but this Horns should be in the race for the conference championship.
14. Tennessee – An incredible job by 2nd year HC Josh Heupel, leading the Vols to an 11-2 season, highest ranking in over 20 years and wins over Florida and Alabama. Tennessee loses stars QB Hendon Hooker and WRs Jalin Hyatt and Cedric Tillman but new QB Joe MIlton performed well in filling in for the injured Hooker in the last 2 games, and his back up is super recruit Nico Iamaleava. The replacement WR’s showed out in the Orange Bowl win over Clemson. The defense last year was good against the run, but struggled at times against the pass. Injuries in the secondary were part of the issue, and greater health in ’23 should lead to greater success. Milton should put up big numbers in HC Josh Heupel’s offense, But Hooker and those WR’s will be hard to replace to duplicate last years success.
15. Utah – All the hype in the Pac-12 this year is either on Coach Prime in Colorado or on USC and their chance at the playoffs. Meanwhile, Utah just chugs along as the two time defending Pac-12 champs! Utes are led QB Cameron Rising, a gritty phyiscal kid perfect for the HC Kyle Wittingham mentality, but is recovering from torn ACL. He is expected to be ready for the key opener vs Florida. The Utes feature a deep RB room and have 3 starters back on the o-line. Utah has 8 starters back on D, including the Pac 12’s Freshman of the year in each of the last 2 years – DL Junior Tufuna and LB Lander Barton. They add LB Levani Damuni from Stanford, the Cardinal leading tackler. The schedule is formidable, with the Utes going to Baylor after the opener vs Florida, and visit both USC and Washington (but get Oregon at home). In a deep Pac-12, Utah is in the race for the conference title with the other top 3 teams.
16. K State – Defending Big 12 champs welcome back QB WIll Howard. RB Duece Vaughn is off to the NFL and is a big loss, but transfer Teshaun Ward from FSU and Keagan Johnson from Iowa are solid replacements. Howard and the backs will be protected by a very experienced o-line as all 5 starters return. Defense is a bit of a rebuild with only 5 starters back, but transfer DE Jevon Banks from Miss St will help fill holes on the line. The LB corp is the strength of the defense and may need to be as the inexperienced secondary gets its groove. The expanded Big 12 shakes up the schedule, with no OU and the big game with Texas in Austin. Wildcats had no problem with former rival Missouri last year but goes to Columbia and don’t overlook the home game with Troy. A solid, physical team in ’23, but too many big playmakers lost to repeat the conference championship of ’22.
17. Texas A&M – Connor Weigman is expected to be the starting QB and threw for 900 yards 8 TDs and 0 INTs in 5 starts last season. He’ll operate behind and experienced oline where 4 starters are back. RB Devon Achane to the NFL Is a big loss, but Ags are high on incoming 5* true fr Reuben Owens. WR Evan Stewart had a good fr seasonand Ainias Smith is back after only playing 4 games last year due to injury. The defense had most of the starters back on the line and in the LB corp, but needs to improve on 100th ranking in total defense last year. schedule features OOC at Miami and draws Tenn and SC from the East. Overall, A&M was one of the least experienced teams in the nation going into last season, but are now one of the most experienced. That experience, plus the talent level, should lead to a rebound in ’23.
18. Wisconsin – Badgers made one of the best offseason hires when they brought in HC Luke Fickell from Cincinnati, after Fickell led the Bearkats to the first G5 playoff bid. And these are not your father’s (or even older brother’s Badgers) as Fickell plans to open up the offense. He brought in SMU transfer QB Tanner Modecai , a 2 year starter for the Mustangs. Wisconsin didn’t have great WR’s on the roster so Fickell brought in several from the portal. The running game won’t go away though and that area is well under control with their top 2 backs. Badgers have a tricky OOC game at Washington State, but don’t play Michigan or Penn State and get Ohio State at home. These transitions usually have some bumps in the road but Fickell has been successful wherever he goes.
19. Oregon State – HC (and former star QB) Jonathan Smith has rebuilt the Beavers into a very physical unit that few teams in the Pac 12 look forward to playing. His efforts led to the breakout ’22 season, their first 10 wins season since 2006, that included wins over rival Oregon and in a bowl vs and SEC team (Florida). Oregon State was able to accomplish this with a run oriented, smash mouth offense that did not include great QB play. The QB will be of much interest in ’23 as the Beavs signed a blue chipper at QB in Aidan Chiles; but the true fr is not expected to be the starter, that opportunity likely will go to DJ Uiagelelei, the transfer from Clemson. Expectations were through the roof, but his time at Clemson was mostly frustrating and he lost the starter job late last season. Maybe a change in scenery in a different offense will bring that blue chip talent back out. Its a bit of a rebuild on the defense as the top 3 players, the all conference picks, move on; but the d line will still be a strength. The schedule isn’t too bad with no USC and Washington, Utah and UCLA come to Corvalis.
20. Iowa – If it wasn’t for stunning ineptitude by the President and other top leaders at Northwestern, Iowa’s offseason drama would the Big Ten West’s biggest story. Frustration with the anemic offense finally boiled over and the ultimatum came down – the team had to average at least 25 points per game or beleaguered OC Brian Ferentz (son of HC Kirk Ferentz) would be fired. In this day and age though, the transfer portal can heal all wounds. The Hawkeyes brought in Cade McNamara, the former Michigan QB that led the Wolverines to the Big Ten title in ’21. McNamara was ultimately benched at Michigan, but even ok QB play would be a big step for the offense that finished next to last in total yards and had 7 receiving TDs on the year. There are some weapons including RB Kaleb Johnson (last season’s leading rusher) and TE Luke Lachey, who caught 4 of those 7 receiving TDs. TE Ercik Ali, also from Michigan, was a nice add in the portal. The defense does lose some leaders with LB Jack Campbell and DL Lucas Von Ness off to the NFL. But DC Phil Parker has done an amazing job with the defense over the years, and a minor step back is still a very good D. If defense isn’t the calling card of the Hawkeyes, its special teams and both their punter and kicker return. The schedule improves with Michigan and Ohio State dropping off, and only Penn State as one of the East big 3 appearing. I think the Ferentz is on a mission to prove that the offense can be better and with the strong D and great special teams, Iowa is a top threat to win the West.
21. TCU – A dream season in 2022 for the Horned Frogs, with a new coach and coming off a 5-7 season, TCU won blew out preseason Big 12 favorite Oklahoma, won 7 straight conference games by 10 pts or less, and not only made the playoffs, but upset Michigan in a thriller. Matching anywhere near that level of success will be a steep challenge, starting with the loss of QB Max Duggan. Duggan willed the team to win in several of those close games and was a dynamic leader. Chandler Morris was actually the starter at the beginning of the year, but was replaced by Duggan after an injury. The top RBs and WRs depart, but HC Sonny Dykes added a number of offensive players from the portal, including WRs Jojo Earl (Bama) and Jack Bech (LSU) and RB Trey Sanders (also Bama). The offense also gets a new OC as Garret Riley left for Clemson, Dykes brought in Kendall Briles from Arkansas. The rebuild on defense is more modest as they do lose the Jim Thorpe award winner, but 7 starters are back from a defense that held Texas to 10 pts in the huge win in Austin. OOC schedule does not include any top 30 teams, opening with Colorado and also has cross metroplex rival SMU. But conference schedule is challenging with road trips to K State, OU and Texas Tech. The loss of experience on the offense and the number of close wins suggests a significant drop off from last season, but the talent is there in a deep Big 12 for a solid season.
22. Kentucky – HC Mark Stoops has been very successful at Kentucky, but a disappointing year in ’23 with poor offensive play, especially on the line. You might think losing a 2nd round draft pick at QB would mean a rebound is unlikely, but in the age of the transfer portal, anything can happen. Stoops brought in QB Devin Leary, who threw for over 3300 yards for the Pack in ’21, but got injured in the 5th game of the season last year. Stoops is still working the portal to bring in some guys to fortify the o-line, but the defense should be solid as usual. Wildcats do draw Bama this year from the West, but don’t have a decent OOC game until the annual rivalry game with Louisville to end the year.
23. Oklahoma – a terribly disappointing debut for new HC Brent Venables return to Norman. QB Dillion Gabriel is back after throwing for over 3000 yards and 25 TDs in 12 games. Top RB Eric Gray is off to the NFL but two solid backs in Javantae Barnes and Gavin Sawchuk return. The defense was surprisingly bad under Clemson’s former DC, but with a top 10 signing class and more importantly, reinforcements from the transfer portal, the defense could make a leap forward in ’23. The d-line added Trace Ford (Ok St), Jacob Lacy (ND) Dajon Terry (tenn), and Rondell Brothroyd (14 sacks at Wake last 2 years). Sooners loss 5 one score games in 2022, that luck likely reverses in 2023.
24. Louisville – Cardinals HC Scott Satterfield left for Cincy after an 8-5 season and Louisville brought ‘home’ Jeff Brohm; and Brohm brought with him his former QB at Purdue, Jack Plummer, who threw for over 3000 yards last year at Cal. They have 7 starters back from a defense that gave up only 19.3 ppg. Brohm also used the portal well to fortify the defense. UL does get Notre Dame and Kentucky in their OOC schedule, but skips FSU, Clemson and UNC in conference.
25. Tulane – the biggest good news for the Green Wave coming off their AAC championship and stunning upset of USC in the Cotton Bowl, is that both HC WIllie Fritz and QB Michael Pratt returned after entertaining offers from other schools. Most of Pratts friends upfront return too, but not many of his offensive weapons. And the top 4 leading tacklers are gone off the defense as well. But with UCF, Houston, and Cincy all off to the Big 12, Tulane seems the best team in the AAC and is a big favorite to repeat as champs. Big OOC game when Ole Miss comes to New Orleans in the 2nd week of the season.
26. Ole Miss – The Rebels were off to a great start in 2022, jumping out to 7-0 and #7 in the AP Poll, thanks in a part to a manageable schedule. Then the wheels came off as losses to LSU and Alabama (no shame there), were followed by losses to Arkansas and Miss State and culminating in a blowout loss to Texas Tech in the Texas Bowl. There are reasons for optimism in Oxford heading into 2023 though, starting with the return of QB Jaxson Dart, now in his 2nd year. HC Lane Kiffin added QB Spencer Sanders , the #2 all time passer at Oklahoma State to fortify the QB room. RB is set with Quinshon Judkins returning, first team all SEC as a Fr last year, with over 1500 yards rushing and 16 TDs. The top receivers are gone, but Kiffin brought in 2 from the portal, including La Tech’s Tre Harris, an All CUSA pick last year. The defense struggled in the late season slump, so DC Pete Golding from Alabama to shore up the Rebel D. Sr DE’s Jared Ivey and Cedric Johnson return, and LB Monty Montgomery from Louisville, will play a big role. The challenge is going to be the schedule, not only playing Bama and LSU every year, but now drawing UGA from the East this season. Rebels could be a very good team, but more than 8 wins will be hard to come by.
27. North Carolina– The big question heading into last season for the Tar Heels, was how to replace all time career leader in passing, QB Sam Howell. The answer came in the first game when fr QB Drake Maye threw for 300 yards in 6 of his first 7 games and became the only Fr in FBS history to throw for 30 TDs in his first 9 games. The top two WRs are gone, but the entire RB room plus 4 o-line starters are back. Maye will be in the discussion for top pick in the 2024 NFL draft. The reason the Heels are down here in the rankings though is the defense. How’s this for some stats on the D – last in the ACC in scoring, total, sacks, passing efficiency. Most of their leading tacklers return but is that a good thing? And several players, especially in the secondary transferred out. Meanwhile, UNC doesn’t play FSU, but starts with South Carolina, App State, and Minnesota, then opens ACC play at Pitt.
28. Maryland – There’s good news for the Terps heading into 2023… they come off their first 8 win season since 2010 and back to back bowl wins. Also, Taulia Tagavailoa, who has thrown for nearly 8000 yards and 51 TDs in his two years for the Terps. In a league full of bigger name programs, Tagavailoa was 2nd team all Big Ten at QB. Meanwhile, HC Mike Locksley has continued to recruit well and the overall talent level is as good as it’s been in years. The bad news though starts with Maryland in the Big Ten East and ends with having to rebuild both the offensive and defensive lines. But WR Jeshaun JOens leads a talented receiver room and RB Roman Hemby was 3rd among all FBS freshman with 1287 yards from scrimmage. I’m not expecting any wins vs the big 3 – Ohio St, Michigan or Penn State. But the OOC schedule of Towson, Charlotte and UVA should result in a 3-0 start, and neither Wisconsin or Iowa appear on the schedule. Looks like another 8 win season on tap for the Terps.
29. UCLA – HC Chip Kelly did not bring instant success to the Bruins as many thought he might; but the last 2 seasons have shown why UCLA was excited to bring Kelly in. And last season was the best yet, a 9-3 record, wins over highly ranked Utah and Washington, lead by a 5th year QB in Dorian Thompson-Robinson. While DTW departs, the fans in Westwood are very excited about incoming Fr Dnate Moore, the #3 rated QB in the nation in last year’s recruiting class. Moore is the highest rated QB to ever sign with UCLA. They lose top rusher Zack Carbonnet, but have some depth behind him and bring in the MAC’s leading rusher in Carson Steele from Ball State. The top 2 receives are also gone, but again reinforcements come through the transfer portal, including Cal’s leading WR J Michael Sturdivant. The defense wasn’t great and Kelly brought in D’Anton Lynn from the NFL’s Ravens to improve their play. UCLA will have experience up front and in the linebacking corp, so improvement is possible. The OOC schedule features 2 strong G5s programs in Coastal Carolina and San Diego State, and the conference is deep with good teams again in ’23, but the Bruins do skip Washington. It will be hard to replace DTR, but a top notch QB coming in offers a lot of excitement for the season.
30. Boise State – significant improvement for HC Andy Avalos in year 2, as the Broncos improved to 10 wins and an appearance in the Mountain West Conference Champ game. Fr QB Taylen Green took over for the injured Hank Bachmeier and never looked back, throwing for over 2000 yards, rushing for nearly 700 in the last 10 games of the season, earning himself Fr of the year in the MW. Green returns as does both top Rbs, George Holani (1157 yds) and Ashton Jeanty (821nyds) to form a dynamic duo. The top 4 leading receivers are back too. The Broncos have a bigger rebuilding job on the defensive side of the ball, but reinforcements to the line comes through the transfer portal, including TYler Wegis from Utah and Kivon Wright from BC. The talent is there for a big season and finish in the rankings… if it weren’t for the schedule. The blue turf boys open at Washington, then host UCF, and have road games at San Diego State, Memphis, Fresno. This should be a good team, but will hard to top last year’s 9-3 regular season record.
31. Pitt – It’s been a very successful 2 years for the Panthers, with 20 wins, an ACC championship, and a Heisman finalist. HC Pat Narduzzi has positioned the program for another successful year if the transfer QB works out better than last year. After ’21 QB Kenny Pickett went in the first round of the NFL draft, Narduzzi brought in transfer QB Kedon Slovis from USC; but the passing numbers fell off and Pitt ended up running the ball more. This year, longtime BC starting QB Phil Jurkovec transfers to Pitt, but the key may be Narduzzi also brought in OC Frank Cignetti , who was the OC when Jurkovec had his best year. The Panthers will need an improved passing attack, as they’ll miss RB Izzy Abanikanda, who led the nation in rushing TDs. THey bring in RB Derrick Davis from LSU to bolster the RB room. Narduzzi was known for his defenses at Michigan State, and he and DC Randy Bates have continued that success in Pittsburgh. The Panthers have finished in the top 5 in the nation in sacks all 4 years, including last year when two All Americans were drafted the previous year. That year to year consistency is key as the rebuild this year is a little bigger than most with 4 starting d lineman gone and 2 all conference DBs. Even with these departures, Pitt has a lot of depth in both the line and the backfield, and can fill in with quality replacements. The schedule features a couple of big OOC rivalry games up front, vs Cincy and at WVU, and also includes a trip to Notre Dame. The questions on defense are why I have the Panthers just outside the Top 25, but Narduzzi could easily outdo expectations.
32. Toledo – 2022 was a successful season for the Rockets, winning the MAC championship game and their bowl over LIberty, but they’re looking for more in ’23. The offense The offense returns most of their weapons, including a very experienced QB in JDequan Finn, their entiere RB room (their 6! leading rushers) and their top 2 WRs. The Rockets do have some rebuilding on their D line but their LB corp and secondary are among the best in the MAC. The schedule is less challenging with a OOC game at Illinois vs at Ohio State, and a home game vs San Jose State vs at San Diego State. Toledo has a very good chance at a double digit win season this year.
33. Texas Tech – HC Joey McGuire’s debut was a success, beating Ole Miss in the bowl to finish with 4 straight wins and an 8-5 first year campaign. QB Tyler Slough returns, although he’ll be pushed by Behren Morton. Edge Tyree Wilson picked number 7 in the NFL draft is a big loss, but the defensive starters will feature 8 seniors. Tough schedule in ’23 with no team in the Big 12 an easy out and the OOC schedule features a monster home game vs Oregon.
34. UTSA – HC Jeff Traylor has done an amazing job with Roadrunners, with back to back 11+ win seasons. UTSA has been rewarded for its success by moving up to the American Athletic Conference. The Roadrunners are lead by 7 year Sr Frank Harris, who threw for over 4000 yards, with a 69.6% completion % and a 32/9 TD/INT ratio. The o-line returns 3 starters, but was bagned up last season, and back-ups got some experience. The d-line is a strength of the team , and features transfers from LSU and NC State. UTSa won Conference USA last year, but it will be a rougher go in the American, even as several of the top AAC teams left. The OOC features the opener at Houston and a visit to Tennessee, and the Roadrunners to Tulane in conference. As long as Harris is healthy, this team is capable of competing for the conference championship even in a tougher league.
35. South Alabama – Ohio State, Michigan, FSU, LSU, Texas… and South Alabama each have 2 players on the Maxwell Award Watch List, the Maxwell Award given to the “Collegiate football player of the year”. USA Sr QB Carter Bradley set the school record for passing yards with 3343 yards and a 64% completion rate. RB LaDamian Webb, a transfer from FSU, also broke a school record, this for rushing yards in a season with 1063 yards, even though he missed 2 games with injury. Troy was the class of the Sun Belt last season, going 12-2 including an upset of UTSA in the bowl game, but USA was also 7-1 in conference just like Troy, and finished 10-2 in the regular season, the only losses by 4 to Troy and 1 to UCLA. The schedule is tough with SBC games at Troy, at James Madison and home vs Marshall, and get OOC at Tulane and at Ok State. Their 18 starters back from last years 10 win squad, give them the edge to win the Sun Belt.