The confetti might still be falling at SoFi Stadium in the wake of Georgia’s thrashing of TCU in the National Championship Game, but it is never too early to start thinking about the next college football season.
Specifically, what teams could make a title run next year?
Certainly the Bulldogs are at the top of the list. We got a sneak peek at the talent on their roster for the 2023 campaign in the second half against TCU, and between running back Branson Robinson scoring a pair of touchdowns and backup quarterback Carson Beck making a few nice throws, the future looks bright. Plus, they bring back tight end Brock Bowers, perhaps the best tight end in the nation.
But Georgia is not the only team to watch heading into next season. Here are the teams that could win a title next year.
Might as well start with the reigning champs, correct? The Bulldogs are riding high after a 65-7 romp over TCU, but the scariest part of the team that hung 65 in the national title game is that they were relatively young this year. Key contributors such as Stetson Bennett, Jalen Carter and Christopher Smith are all going to be gone, but Georgia is well stocked at every position, and that depth came to light during the season.
Star senior pass rusher Nolan Smith tore a pec early November. The Bulldogs just reloaded with sophomore Chaz Chambliss, a four star recruit in 2020. Nose tackle Bear Alexander was dominant on Monday, and he’s a freshman. Malachi Starks played at an extremely high level the entire season, and he was a freshman. So yeah, I think they’ll be fine at the skill position.
The biggest question, of course, will be QB. Stetson Bennett leaves after one of the most storied college careers in modern college football, and in his place steps perhaps Carson Beck. Beck is a redshirt sophomore who’s waited his chance behind Bennett and impressed in the limited snaps he’s taken. If he can keep the machine humming at optimal efficiency, they’ll be back.
For the second-straight season, the Wolverines fell short in the College Football Playoff, but Michigan is primed to make another deep run next season. The Wolverines will see quarterback J.J. McCarthy return, along with a number of key contributors from this season’s team.
Perhaps the biggest? Running back Blake Corum. After suffering a knee injury against Illinois, which he re-aggravated against Ohio State, Corum underwent surgery to repair a torn meniscus. But the running back announced recently that he will be back for a final season at Michigan, giving the offense — and their hopes for a title — a huge boost.
The biggest question? Who will be coaching the Wolverines. Jim Harbaugh indicated that he expects to be back on the Michigan sideline for next season, but with a number of NFL jobs open, this could be the year that he makes the move to the NFL.
There is reason for optimism down in Tallahassee. The Seminoles won ten games for the first time in six years this season, and with the talent they have on the roster for next year, there is a legitimate chance Florida State makes a deep run.
We can start with quarterback Jordan Travis, who started all 12 games for the Seminoles this past season. Travis completed 64% of his throws for 3,214 yards and 24 touchdowns, all of which were career-high numbers. He’ll have some help on the offensive side of the ball from running back Trey Benson, wide receiver Johnny Wilson, and Jaheim Bell, the transfer tight end from South Carolina.
Then on defense, the Seminoles got a huge boost when pass rusher Jared Verse announced that he was returning for another season. Verse was receiving first-round buzz throughout the fall, but is coming back for his redshirt junior season.
Ohio State Buckeyes
Yes, the Buckeyes are losing C.J. Stroud.
But there are a number of reasons why Ohio State can make another deep run next season, and they start with wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. Harrison looked every bit the part of a future NFL WR1 last season, catching 77 passes for 1,263 yards and 14 touchdowns for the Buckeyes. However, Harrison was not the only big weapon for Ohio State in the passing game, as fellow WR Emeka Egbuka caught 74 passes for 1,151 yards and 10 touchdowns.
The favorite to replace Stroud? Harrison’s high school quarterback. Kyle McCord was a five-star recruit coming out of St. Joseph’s Prep High School, and the sixth-ranked quarterback in the 2021 recruiting class. The pair won three-straight 6A state titles, and their built-in chemistry will certainly help McCord’s transition to the starting role.
Let’s make this simple: they have Caleb Williams. The reigning Heisman Trophy winner was masterful in 2022 and is coming back for an encore next year. With Lincoln Riley pulling the strings on the offense as well as an incoming flux of transfers and the 15th ranked recruiting class (and a top 5 transfer class), the USC offense should be once again, very good.
The question is on defense. Alex Grinch was held over from Oklahoma, and once again the defense faltered when it mattered the most. USC couldn’t tackle, couldn’t stop the run or negate big plays. That unit will have to step up, or Riley will have to make some coaching changes for USC to truly get to the playoff and win a title.
Nick Saban does not rebuild, he reloads. Sure, the Crimson Tide are losing Bryce Young and Will Anderson Jr., — perhaps the first two players to be selected in the 2023 NFL Draft — and they are coming off an 11-2 season that saw them watching the College Football Playoffs from home.
Offensively, Alabama has Jalen Milroe — a former four-star recruit — and Ty Simpson, a five-star, vying to replace Young under center. Milroe stepped into the lineup when Young was injured earlier this season, but expect a fascinating QB camp battle throughout the spring and into the fall. Jase McClellan, Alabama’s second-leading rusher, is back as well, and true freshman Jamarion Miller is expected to carve out a bigger role in Alabama’s backfield. The wide receiver room should take a step forward in 2023, as junior Jermaine Burton and sophomore Ja’Corey Brooks settle into their second seasons playing a big role for the Crimson Tide.
On the defensive side of the ball, yes some big names are departing including Anderson, but waiting in the wings is Chris Braswell, a former five-star recruit who recorded three sacks last season. Kool-Aid McKinstry could be the next great Alabama cornerback, and safety Kristian Story, another former four-star recruit, is expected to take on a much bigger role after being a backup the past few seasons.
Oh, and Saban signed the top-ranked recruiting class, including seven five-star recruits.
Plus, after this from Monday night, the legendary head coach probably started watching film on the flight back to Alabama:
LSU started off the 2022 season slow. I mean, what do you expect when you bring in a new coach and a bunch of transfers? However, they were the definition of peaking at the right time, knocking off Alabama and getting a spot in the SEC Championship game in Brian Kelly’s first year. Now he’s got another year under his belt and returns QB Jayden Daniels, as well as a young group of contributors such as TE Mason Taylor and Malik Nabers. The young tackles also grew up extremely fast this season and flashed the potential to be stars.
Defensively, they’ll have to replace a lot of talent including BJ Ojulari and Ali Gaye, but Harold Perkins was a one man wrecking crew last season and they’ll be getting Maason Smith back from injury.
The top ten recruiting class needs to yield some instant impact starters, but overall they have a puncher’s chance in the SEC, which means you have a shot at the title.
Josh Heupel is still at Tennessee following a record year for the Volunteers offense. Tennessee put up video game numbers while knocking off rival Alabama and winning the Orange Bowl, but of course will have to replace a lot of that offensive talent. The reason Tennessee is on here is because of the QB. Incoming freshman Nico Iamaleava is a budding star, and in Heupel’s offense he should put up great numbers. Replacing all of the receivers is going to be an issue, but nothing Heupel’s offense can’t overcome.
Defensively, they’ll have to replace a senior-laden group, but the Volunteers are bringing in two four-star CBs and a four-star LB who can help out immediately. Getting the defense ironed out is a big question, but when you have offense, you can do anything in college football.
The Rose Bowl champs are on this list because the same team that won the Rose Bowl got major contributions from underclassmen who are returning. RBs Nicholas Singleton and Kaytron Allen are both freshmen, and WR Parker Washington is a sophomore. Not to mention Olu Fashanu, the left tackle that many thought would be the first offensive linemen off the board in the 2023 NFL Draft, is returning to school. They’ll need to potentially replace the entire right side of the OL, but the offense should once again be explosive.
Defensively, the group is young but led by star LBs Abdul Carter and Curtis Jacobs. Replacing CB Joey Porter Jr. is a big hurdle, but sophomore Kalen King can step into that role well.
If Drew Allar is everything that he was supposed to be, then the Nittany Lions could make a title run next year.
In their first season under new head coach Kalen DeBoer, the Washington Huskies won 11 games, making a bowl game appearance for the first time since 2019, when they won the Las Vegas Bowl under Chris Petersen.
But there are a number of reasons to think that 2023 could be an even more successful campaign for the Huskies. One is the return of Michael Penix Jr. The Indiana transfer shined in his first year with Washington, completing 65.3% of his passes for 4,641 yards and 31 touchdowns. He’s back, along with two of his favorite wide receiver targets in Jalen McMillan and Ja’Lynn Polk. Another wide receiver, Rome Odunze, could also return, and if he decides to forgo the NFL draft, Washington would return 14 of their 22 starters from 2022.
On the defensive side of the football, the Huskies look stout up front, with Bralen Trice and Zion Tupuola-Fetui back in the fold. Their secondary is a question mark, but Washington added a trio of four-star cornerbacks — transfer Jabbar Muhammad along with Caleb Presley and Curley Reed in their recruiting class — which should go a long way towards improving the back half of their defense.
It is very easy to poke fun at Clemson and head coach Dabo Swinney, but there are some reasons to think that their current down cycle — if you can call going 21-6 over the past two years a “down cycle” — will turn around next year.
One reason is quarterback Cade Klubnik. The former QB1 from the 2022 recruiting cycle will take over under center, and showed some promise in his limited action this past season. He hit on 20 of 24 passes for 279 yards and a touchdown in Clemson’s win over North Carolina in the ACC Championship Game, and will have some talent around him next year. Running back Will Shipley is back, along with wide receiver Antonio Williams. In all, perhaps as many as nine starters will be back on offense from 2022.
A number of key players are back on the defensive side of the football, including Xavier Thomas, Tyler Davis, Ruke Orhorhoro, and Justin Mascoll up front, along with Sheridan Jones and Jalyn Phillips in the secondary. Clemson ranked 23rd in the nation in scoring defense, and could improve on that ranking given the talent that is coming back to campus.
The Pac-12 is going to be fascinating to watch next season, with the quarterbacks that are going to be under center in the conference. We have already talked about Caleb Williams and Michael Penix Jr., but let’s not forget Bo Nix. The Auburn transfer shined in his first season in the Pacific Northwest, completing 71.9% of his passes for 3,593 yards and 29 touchdowns, along with 7 interceptions. That success put Nix in the Heisman conversation for a while, until the Ducks lost to the Huskies in a thrilling game late in the season.
Looking ahead, Oregon returns running back Bucky Irving, as well as one of Nix’s favorite targets in wide receiver Troy Franklin. Franklin led the Ducks with 61 receptions for 891 yards and 9 touchdowns. Nix will get another receiver to throw to via the transfer portal, and a familiar one at that. His adopted brother, Tez Johnson, committed to Oregon at the end of December. Johnson caught 56 passes for 863 yards and 4 touchdowns last season for the Troy Trojans.
TCU Horned Frogs
Sure, the Horned Frogs were blown out in the title game by Georgia. Yes, they are losing two of their most important players in Max Duggan and Quentin Johnston, but when you step back and look at their roster for 2023, you can make the case that TCU is just getting started.
With the departure of Duggan, Chandler Morris steps back into the huddle as TCU’s expected starter at quarterback. Morris was the team’s starting QB heading into the 2022 campaign, before getting hurt in the season opener. Morris has seen limited action for TCU over the past few years, but did lead the Horned Frogs to a win over Baylor in November of 2021, completing 29 of 41 passes for 461 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the victory.
He’ll have some new teammates joining him in the huddle, via Tuscaloosa. Former Alabama players JoJo Earle, Trey Sanders, and Tommy Brockermeyer all committed to TCU as transfers. Earle, a wide receiver, caught a pair of touchdowns for the Crimson Tide last season. Sanders was a five-star recruit at running back who has seen limited action for Alabama the past few seasons, as was Brockermeyer, an offensive tackle.
Tulane Green Wave
This might be a bit of a fence swing, but given that TCU came seemingly out of nowhere to make a run to the title game this season, could another school follow a similar path? That leads us to the Tulane Green Wave. Tulane finished 2-10 a season ago, but completely flipped the script in 2022, finishing with a 12-2 record. That earned the Green Wave an invitation to the Cotton Bowl, where they defeated Caleb Williams and the USC Trojans.
Tulane loses running back Tyjae Spears, which will be a big loss, but they return quarterback Michael Pratt, who hit on 63.6% of his passes for 3,009 yards and 27 touchdowns this past season. Iverson Celestine and Shaadie Clayton-Johnson will get the opportunity to replace Spears in the backfield, and the Green Wave return the bulk of their offensive line, including talented center Sincere Haynesworth.
A huge part of their turnaround came on the defensive side of the ball, as the Green Wave allowed just 22.2 points per game this past season, down from 34 points per game during 2021. Some of their key players are departing, including Dorian Williams and Nick Anderson, but Tulane is adding some talent on defense through the transfer portal. A.J. Hampton arrives from Northwestern, and while Hampton missed time last year with an ankle injury, he was an All-Big 10 Honorable Mention back in 2021. Louisiana Tech transfer Tyler Grubbs joins the Green Wave as well, and while he too was limited by injuries in 2021, he is a three-time All-Conference USA selection.