Top 25 rankings: A closer look at every team in college football’s preseason coaches poll
The preseason USA TODAY Sports AFCA college football coaches poll is out. A deeper look at the teams that will start in the Top 25 and their outlook for the season.
1. Georgia (15-0)
Points: 1,643 (61 first-place votes). Previous ranking: 1. Opens: Sept. 2 vs. Tennessee-Martin
The Bulldogs have gone 29-1 during their two-year reign as national champions, avenging their lone loss in the process. They’ve therefore earned the benefit of more than a few doubts as they open at No. 1 despite numerous departures. The offense should be in solid shape, thanks mainly to a veteran line with plenty of all-star talent. Standout tight end Brock Bowers and top wideout Ladd McConkey are back and will be joined by transfers Dominic Lovett and Rara Thomas, arriving from Missouri and Mississippi State, respectively. The successor to two-time title-winning quarterback Stetson Bennett IV is not etched in stone, but junior Carson Beck appeared to be the likely choice coming out of the spring. The defense should be a rock once again, with linebackers Smael Mondon and Jamon Dumas-Johnson anchoring the middle.
2. Michigan (13-1)
Points: 1,510. Previous ranking: 3. Opens: Sept. 2 vs. East Carolina.
Coming off back-to-back Big Ten crowns and playoff appearances, the Wolverines look to take the next step. The pieces are in place, particularly on the offensive side. Explosive running backs Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards return and will again be working behind an outstanding group of blockers. Quarterback J.J. McCarthy also returns, but Cade McNamara, the guy he beat out for the starting job, has moved on to Iowa. There will be new starters along the defensive line and in the secondary, but veterans Junior Colson and Michael Barrett will be joined by Nebraska transfer Ernest Hausmann to form one of the nation’s top linebacker units.
3. Alabama (11-2)
Points: 1,489 (Four first-place votes). Previous ranking: 5. Opens: Sept. 2 vs. Middle Tennessee
Alabama last opened at No. 3 in 2020. Things worked out pretty well for that Crimson Tide squad, but this year’s group has a lot more questions coming in. First and foremost is finding the successor to quarterback Bryce Young, who had a terrific follow-up to his Heisman season even in the Tide’s two road losses in 2022. Speedster Jalen Milroe, highly recruited prospect Ty Simpson and Notre Dame transfer Tyler Buchner will all have opportunities to win the job in camp. Corner Kool-Aid McKinstry and safety Malachi Moore will anchor a secondary that will look to produce more takeaways.
4. Ohio State (11-2)
Points: 1,485 (one first-place vote). Previous ranking: 4. Opens: Sept. 2 at Indiana
There’s hardly a crisis of talent in Columbus, but back-to-back losses to hated rival Michigan have the notoriously cranky Buckeye fanbase more riled up than usual heading into 2023, even coming off a playoff appearance and near-miss against Georgia at the stroke of midnight. Scoring points should not be an issue, even with a new signal-caller – likely Kyle McCord or Devin Brown – taking over for C.J. Stroud. Marvin Harrison Jr. will lead an elite receiving unit that also features tight end Cade Stover, and the one-two running back punch of TreVeyon Henderson and Miyan Williams is still around. J.T. Tuimoloau looks to be next in the long line of highly drafted Buckeye rush ends, and Tommy Eichenberg will again be the linchpin at linebacker.
5. LSU (10-4)
Points: 1,294. Previous ranking: 15. Opens: Sept. 3 vs. No. 8 Florida State (Orlando)
Year one under Brian Kelly in Baton Rouge delivered an upset of Alabama, an SEC West title and a Citrus Bowl victory. Not bad, but this is the SEC, and Tiger fans want more. They might just get it. Incumbent quarterback Jayden Daniels was extremely productive despite being forced to run for his life often. He should have better protection this year from a more seasoned line, which should also mean more help on the ground from a deep stable of running backs. The defense struggled against the meat of the conference schedule, but big tackle Maason Smith, who missed nearly all of his sophomore campaign with a knee injury, will improve the unit on his own if he’s fully healthy.
6. Southern California (11-3)
Points: 1,228. Previous ranking: 13. Opens: Aug. 26 vs. Nevada
The Trojans head into their final season in the Pac-12 as the odds-on favorites. That might speak to the overall precarious state of the league as a whole, but having the reigning Heisman winner feeds that perception as well. Caleb Williams no longer has Jordan Addison to throw to, but he does have four of his next five top targets from 2022 back, and Arizona transfer Dorian Singer also joins the fold. Yes, we all know about the defensive issues, on full display in the late Cotton Bowl meltdown against Tulane. The front will be almost entirely new, but safety Max Williams is back to anchor a secondary that was at least good at forcing turnovers.
7. Penn State (11-2)
Points: 1,181. Previous ranking: 7. Opens: Sept. 2 vs. West Virginia
The Nittany Lions took care of everyone on their schedule not named Michigan or Ohio State. Obviously, they’ll have to change that if they want to do damage in the final year of the Big Ten’s current configuration. With Sean Clifford finally off to the NFL, the keys to the offense belong to prized prospect Drew Allar. His primary targets are talented but unproven at the Power Five level. But they’ll have help in the form of Nicholas Singleton leading a deep running back corps and a veteran line featuring Olu Fashanu at left tackle. The defense, which was the best in the Big Ten in several categories, must replace some key parts, but edge Abdul Carter is back to lead what should be a formidable pass rush.
8. Florida State (10-3)
Points: 1,145. Previous ranking: 10. Opens: Sept. 3 vs. No. 5 LSU (Orlando)
FSU was arguably the best team in the ACC at the conclusion of the 2022 season, but an early three-game skid had eliminated the Seminoles from championship contention. That might be less of an issue in 2023 with the Atlantic and Coastal Divisions now a thing of the past, but the ‘Noles will still have to get by Clemson to return to the top of the league. The offense, with well-seasoned Jordan Travis back at the controls, should again be quite formidable. Big target Johnny Wilson is a matchup nightmare for opposing cornerbacks, and top rusher Trey Benson should have another big year with the interior line no longer a weakness. The difference-maker on defense will again be rush end Jared Verse, coming off a nine-sack campaign in his first year in Tallahassee.
9. Clemson (11-3)
Points: 1,078. Previous ranking: 12. Opens: Sept. 4 at Duke
In 2022, Clemson swept the ACC, including the conference title game and ran its streak of double-digit win campaigns to 11. And yet a couple of regular-season setbacks and a lackluster finish against Tennessee in the Orange Bowl left Tiger fans wanting. The explosive passing attack that defined the recent national championship squads was again missing, and now it will be up to Cade Klubnik to rediscover it. Will Shipley will again do a lot from the backfield, but Beaux Collins and Co. need to make more things happen down the field. One thing that hasn’t changed for Clemson is developing dominant defensive linemen. Tackles Tyler Davis and Ruke Orhorhoro will anchor this year’s front.
10. Tennessee (11-2)
Points: 991. Previous ranking: 6. Opens: Sept. 2 vs. Virginia (Nashville)
The expectations around the program have changed following last season’s breakthrough. There are also few concerns about the offense despite the loss of star quarterback Hendon Hooker, with former backup Joe Milton poised to take over and play at an all-conference level. Question marks that do exist focus primarily on the defense, which was also improved in 2022, games against South Carolina and Alabama notwithstanding. To take the next step, the Volunteers will need to land an immediate impact from two Brigham Young transfers set to play big roles in the back seven (linebacker Keenan Pili and cornerback Gabe Jeudy-Lally) while continuing to rank among the best in the SEC at getting pressure in the backfield.
11. Washington (11-2)
Points: 941. Previous ranking: 8. Opens: Sept. 2 vs. Boise State
Washington is grouped among the impressive second tier of playoff contenders thanks to coach Kalen DeBoer’s rapid transformation of what had been a middling, wildly underachieving offense. In his first season, DeBoer’s unit finished second nationally in scoring and nearly landed the Huskies in the Pac-12 championship game with a playoff berth on the line. With quarterback Michael Penix Jr. and wide receivers Rome Odunze and Jalen McMillan leading the way, this offense might be even better. Add in the makings of a strong pass rush and you have a good-to-great team capable of winning the conference. The big games? Oregon (Oct. 14), at USC (Nov. 4) and at Oregon State (Nov. 18).
12. Texas (8-5)
Points: 848. Previous ranking: 25. Opens: Sept. 2 vs. Rice
Texas is … back? Not quite. Or, put another way, not yet. There’s plenty to like, though, as the Longhorns enter the regular season as the favorite in the Big 12. Start with quarterback Quinn Ewers, who held Arch Manning at bay during the spring and has earned raves for his work on and off the field since the end of 2022. Coach Steve Sarkisian has compiled several high-profile recruiting classes, giving Texas what looks like on paper the best roster in the conference. Things can and often do go wrong in Austin, however, so no one would be blamed for being skeptical of the team’s chances. But there’s depth, experience and loads of talent to help Texas break out and leave the Big 12 with a bang.
13. Notre Dame (9-4)
Points: 841. Previous ranking: 18. Opens: Aug. 26 vs. Navy (Dublin, Ireland)
Notre Dame added the offseason’s most impactful transfer in former Wake Forest quarterback Sam Hartman, a huge upgrade at a position of major need. One of the most prolific passers in ACC history and one of the most experienced starters in the entire FBS, Hartman changes the complexion of this offense. There’s also hope that second-year coach Marcus Freeman will press the right buttons after the Fighting Irish suffered two very ugly losses last season (Marshall and Stanford). This year’s schedule should have the Irish at 4-0 heading into a key matchup with Ohio State on Sept. 23.
14. Utah (10-4)
Points: 839. Previous ranking: 11. Opens: Sept. 2 vs. Florida.
Utah’s quest for another Rose Bowl berth could hinge on the answer to this: Is quarterback Cam Rising healthy? If he’s recovered from the knee injury suffered in January’s bowl loss to Penn State, the veteran gives the Utes an elite starter and a steadying presence for an offense that still needs to lock down on a lead back. On the defensive side, Utah may struggle to replace cornerback Clark Phillips II but has a number of options, including Mississippi transfer Miles Battle. Elsewhere, the defense is deep on experience up front. Coach Kyle Whittingham also shored up his kicking game with the addition of Colorado transfer Cole Becker.
15. Oregon (10-3)
Points: 820. Previous ranking: 16. Opens: Sept. 2 vs. Portland State
Transfers will make their impact on defense. While four newcomers, three coming from Power Five schools, are set to take on big roles in the secondary, Iowa transfer Justin Jacobs will help the Ducks replace linebacker Noah Sewell. But the biggest impact should come from South Carolina transfer Jordan Burch, a former five-star prospect who took a huge step forward in 2022. If Burch can help transform the pass rush, look out: Oregon could compete for a playoff berth. The offense brings back Bo Nix and will be better up front with the addition of Rhode Island transfer Ajani Cornelius.
16. TCU (13-2)
Points: 655. Previous ranking: 2. Opens: Sept. 2 vs. Colorado
Lightning won’t strike twice for TCU, which reached last year’s championship game in one of the great Cinderella stories in recent FBS history and then promptly lost to Georgia by 58 points. But while the Horned Frogs won’t take anyone by surprise, several factors point to them remaining a factor in the Big 12 and deserving of a place in the Top 25. For one, while Max Duggan often carried last year’s offense, new quarterback Chandler Morris has already opened eyes this offseason. Most of all, though, the overall roster is in better shape entering Sonny Dykes’ second season, with a deeper grasp of his offense and expectations.
17. Kansas State (10-4)
Points: 440. Previous ranking: 14. Opens: Sept. 2 vs. Southeast Missouri State
The reigning Big 12 champions continue to improve under one of the nation’s most underrated coaches, Chris Klieman. There’s a big hole to fill without running back Deuce Vaughn, but the Wildcats have two intriguing options in holdover DJ Giddens and Florida State transfer Treshaun Ward. The offense will go through quarterback Will Howard, who blossomed as the starter in 2022 and will have Iowa receiver transfer Keegan Johnson added into the mix in the passing game. The potential stumbling blocks come on defense. The Wildcats have three experienced starters on the line but will sorely miss edge rusher Felix Anudike-Uzomah. The back seven is solid at linebacker but iffy in the secondary, where only one starter returns.
18. Oregon State (10-3)
Points: 365. Previous ranking: 17. Opens: Sept. 3 at San Jose State
The Beavers had their first 10-win campaign in 16 years and bring in Clemson transfer quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei to juice up an offense that was solid but not spectacular last season. Expect a big jump in production with a veteran offensive line able to protect Uiagalelei, and his running ability adding a boost to the ground attack that has sophomore Damien Martinez leading the way. The defense led the Pac-12 in yards allowed but returns several important pieces. If the group can maintain its high standards, don’t be surprised if Oregon State is pushing for a conference championship.
19. Oklahoma (6-7)
Points: 320. Previous ranking: NR. Opens: Sept. 2 vs. Arkansas State
How bad was the first season for Sooners coach Brent Venables? Oklahoma had its first losing record since 1998 and its worst loss ever to rival Texas. However, there is reason for optimism. The last four losses were by three points, and a host of transfers on defense – especially up front – should bring massive gains to Venables’ area of expertise. QB Dillon Gabriel was inconsistent in his first year after transferring from Central Florida. He’ll likely be better, and a run in the Big 12 seems possible if the receiving corps emerges with options beyond Jalil Farooq.
20. North Carolina (9-5)
Points: 315. Previous ranking: NR. Opens: Sept. 2 vs. South Carolina (Charlotte, N.C.)
The Tar Heels will go as far as standout quarterback Drake Maye can carry them, and we’ll see how much help their leaky defense can provide when the junior isn’t on the field. Maye threw for 4,321 yards and 38 touchdowns and also led the team in rushing. Bigger gains are needed on defense, where the unit ranked near the bottom in the country in total defense, passing yards and scoring. One sign of optimism: Leading tacklers Cedric Gray and Power Echols will anchor the linebacking group.
21. Wisconsin (7-6)
Points: 309. Previous ranking: NR. Opens: Sept. 2 vs. Buffalo
A culture change is in the air with the Badgers luring Luke Fickell from Cincinnati after coach Paul Chryst was fired midway through a disappointing 2022 season. Fickell has the same hard-nosed approach on defense that should continue the success Wisconsin has enjoyed on that side of the ball. The biggest adjustment comes on offense. Gone will be the overreliance on the run game and more emphasis on big plays in the passing game. SMU transfer Tanner Mordecai will be the quarterback in the new system implemented by coordinator Phil Longo. Running back Braelon Allen, after consecutive 1,000-yard seasons, should be productive but with fewer carries. The numbers for the wide receiving group, led by Chimere Dike and Skyler Bell, definitely will improve, as should the number of wins.
22. Mississippi (8-5)
Points: 303. Previous ranking: NR. Opens: Sept. 2 vs. Mercer
Are the Rebels more the team that started 7-0 or the one that finished with one win in its last six games? The answer will determine whether they are potential contenders in an open SEC West or whether they’ll just be fighting for a bowl game. There were three candidates for the quarterback job, with last year’s starter Jaxson Dart getting pushed by two transfers – Spencer Sanders (Oklahoma State) and Walker Howard (LSU). Someone must emerge to take the pressure off running back Quinshon Judkins, who was a standout in his freshman season but needs support to stop defenses from ganging up on him. The defense brings in former Alabama coordinator Pete Golding after the unit cratered in the final month. Golding has enough pieces to improve things, especially up front. Modest gains on both sides of the ball might be enough to put Ole Miss within the top of the division.
23. Tulane (12-2)
Points: 225. Previous ranking: 9. Opens: Sept. 2 vs. South Alabama
It was a dream season last year for the Green Wave after winning the American Athletic title, then beating Southern California in the Cotton Bowl. QB Michael Pratt and most of an impressive offensive line return to an offense that could get even better if there are solutions found at the skill positions. New pieces are needed on defense to maintain the high standard set last season. Defensive lineman Patrick Jenkins and defensive back Jarius Monroe provide a solid foundation.
24. Texas Tech (8-5)
Points: 200. Previous ranking: NR. Opens: Sept. 2 at Wyoming
It was quite the debut season for coach Joey McGuire as the Red Raiders knocked off Texas and Oklahoma and won eight games for the first time since 2013. The trick will be to carry the momentum with QB Tyler Shough in control of the offense after three signal-callers saw significant time last year. Jerand Bradley has the makings of an elite receiver, and the offense should be one of the best in the Big 12. Defense is always a question mark in Lubbock, but the group quietly led the conference in sacks and could improve enough to see the Red Raiders finish in the rankings, after being ranked in the preseason following a 15-year absence.
25. Texas A&M (5-7)
Points: 196. Previous ranking: NR. Opens: Sept. 2 vs. New Mexico
Nobody’s seat among high-profile coaches is hotter than Jimbo Fisher’s after the bottom fell out on the program last season. If things are to turn around, much of the responsibility will fall on QB Conner Weigman and new offensive coordinator Bobby Petrino. The good news is the Aggies return the receiving combo of Evan Stewart and Moose Muhammad, and the defense looks stout. But will that be enough to win the close games that led to their first losing season since 2009?
Others Receiving Votes: Iowa (8-5) 169; South Carolina (8-5) 89; Florida (6-7) 63; Texas-San Antonio (11-3) 59; Pittsburgh (9-4) 52; UCLA (9-4) 42; Kentucky (7-6) 34; Baylor (6-7) 28; Troy (12-2) 25; Arkansas (7-6) 20; Fresno State (10-4) 19; North Carolina State (8-5) 19; Auburn (5-7) 18; Boise State (10-4) 18; Miami (Fla.) (5-7) 16; Minnesota (9-4) 16; Mississippi State (9-4) 13; Oklahoma State (7-6) 12; Missouri (6-7) 11; Maryland (8-5) 10; SMU (7-6) 8; South Alabama (10-3) 8; Illinois (8-5) 7; Air Force (10-3) 6; Wake Forest (8-5) 6; Toledo (9-5) 5; Washington State (7-6) 4; Houston (8-5) 3; Arizona (5-7) 2; Brigham Young (8-5) 2; Duke (9-4) 2; James Madison (8-3) 1; Kansas (6-7) 1; Memphis (7-6) 1.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: College football preseason coaches poll: Outlooks for the Top 25 teams