We’re getting closer and closer to the college football season.
It’s been a busy and eventful offseason but now we’re less than two weeks from actual action on the field, beginning with Notre Dame vs. Navy over in Ireland.
Before the games begin, let’s dive in on the biggest storylines entering the 2023 season.
1. Georgia goes for the three-peat
Georgia has the chance to do something that has never been done in the modern era of college football: win three consecutive national championships.
The only three-peat in college football history came all the way back in 1934-36 when Minnesota claimed three straight national titles. The Bulldogs are on the precipice of history and enter the season as the favorites to make it even as they work in new players on both sides of the ball.
The Bulldogs lost 10 more players to the NFL Draft. While defensive tackle Jalen Carter, offensive tackle Broderick Jones and pass rusher Nolan Smith all went in the first round, QB Stetson Bennett also went off the board in the fourth.
Carson Beck, Bennett’s backup last fall, is the favorite to start in 2023 and he’s got a stellar offensive line and an extremely deep group of pass catchers — highlighted by tight end Brock Bowers — to work with. The defense is loaded again, too, with Mykel Williams up front, Jamon Dumas-Johnson at linebacker and Malaki Starks, Javon Bullard and Kamari Lassiter leading the secondary.
With so much talent on the roster and a very favorable schedule, the table is set for Georgia to win another championship.
2. The Pac-12’s swan song
The Pac-12 has been gutted by conference realignment, but the league’s final season as we know it has the chance to be very compelling.
USC, which returns Heisman Trophy-winning QB Caleb Williams, is the preseason favorite ahead of Washington, Utah and Oregon. USC has a stacked offense and made additions at every level of its defense via the transfer portal.
Like USC, Washington and Oregon are headed to the Big Ten in 2024 and all are looking to win a Pac-12 title on their way out. Both teams return senior QBs with Michael Penix back at UW and Bo Nix back with the Ducks.
Utah, a future Big 12 member, is the two-time defending Pac-12 champion and has QB Cam Rising coming back from a torn ACL. The Utes could also have the best offensive and defensive lines in the conference. Elsewhere, UCLA could be very dangerous on offense again even as it breaks in a new QB (potentially 5-star freshman Dante Moore) and Oregon State is coming off a 10-win season.
Can the Pac-12 end its CFP drought, which dates back to 2016? At the very least, it should be an excellent conference race.
3. Alabama vs. LSU in the SEC West
In its first season under head coach Brian Kelly last season, LSU unexpectedly surged past Alabama and won the SEC West. Can the Tigers do it again?
LSU upset the Crimson Tide, 32-31, with a gutsy overtime two-point conversion try that propelled the Tigers into first place in the West. LSU clinched the division the next week, a major accomplishment for Kelly in his first year in the SEC.
Entering 2023, LSU has the chance to be even better, but Alabama is out for revenge. Alabama is coming off an 11-2 season and those two losses — at Tennessee and at LSU — came by a combined four points.
The main question for the Crimson Tide entering 2023 is quarterback, with 2021 Heisman winner Bryce Young moving on to the NFL. It’s currently a three-man battle for the job between Jalen Milroe, Ty Simpson and Notre Dame transfer Tyler Buchner.
Other than the uncertainty at quarterback, Alabama’s roster doesn’t have any obvious holes and the Tide’s toughest games of the season all come at home. After back-to-back seasons with two losses, there’s been offseason talk that Alabama could be declining. Doubt Nick Saban at your own risk.
4. The Big Ten East’s 3-way battle
The Big Ten East features three legitimate College Football Playoff contenders.
Michigan has won the Big Ten and reached the CFP in the last two seasons, but both Ohio State and Penn State feel like they can knock off the Wolverines and compete for a championship.
Ohio State had dominated its rivalry with Michigan, winning 15 of 16 matchups from 2004 to 2019 before Michigan turned the tables the last two seasons. There’s some pressure now on OSU coach Ryan Day to get the better of Jim Harbaugh and the Wolverines and get back to the playoff.
Penn State, meanwhile, has just not been able to get over the hump in the division since it won the Big Ten back in 2016. The Nittany Lions have one of the best defenses in the country but are working in new QB Drew Allar. Allar was one of the top recruits in the country two years ago, and PSU fans are hoping he can lead the Nittany Lions to their first CFP berth.
5. Can Texas win the new-look Big 12 before departing to the SEC?
It’s the first of two years of transition for the Big 12.
It’s the final season with Oklahoma and Texas as Big 12 members. Additionally, BYU, Cincinnati, Houston and UCF are all playing their first seasons in the league. Next year, Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah will join the fold while Oklahoma and Texas depart for the SEC.
But for the 2023 season only, the Big 12 is a 14-team conference that figures to be very competitive. Texas, the preseason media pick to win the league, has one of the most talented rosters in the country but routinely fails to live up to expectations. Can the Longhorns win their first Big 12 title since 2009?
Texas finished third last year behind Kansas State and TCU. TCU went a perfect 12-0 in the regular season before falling to K-State in the Big 12 title game. TCU rebounded to upset Michigan in the CFP semifinals before getting destroyed by Georgia in the national title game.
Oklahoma is coming off its first losing season since 1998 but is expected to bounce back. Elsewhere, Texas Tech is viewed as a sleeper Big 12 contender while teams like Baylor and Oklahoma State are flying under the radar and could surprise.
6. Can Florida State overtake Clemson in the ACC?
Could Clemson’s run of dominance in the ACC be coming to an end?
The Tigers have won the ACC title in seven of the past eight seasons, but they could be in for a serious challenge from Florida State in 2023. FSU had a breakthrough 10-win season in 2022 and returns a ton of talent from that team. The Seminoles also made upgrades at several positions via the transfer portal.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney refuses to utilize the portal even when there are position groups on his roster that could use some help. Swinney, however, did finally relent and make a change to his coaching staff by hiring offensive coordinator Garrett Riley away from TCU.
Clemson made six consecutive CFP appearances between 2015-20, winning two national championships. In the last two seasons, Clemson has not played up to that standard — particularly on offense. With Cade Klubnik in place at QB and Riley calling the offense, Swinney’s program is aiming for a resurgence.
7. The final season before playoff expansion
This is the final season of the College Football Playoff’s four-team format. Beginning in 2024, the CFP will expand to 12 teams, but the mechanism for selecting those 12 teams is now in flux.
When the 12-team format was approved for 2024 and 2025, it was supposed to feature six automatic qualifiers and six at-large teams. The automatic qualifiers would be the six highest-ranked conference champions — presumably the five Power Five champions and the top-ranked champion from the Group of Five.
But that could change now that the Pac-12 is on the verge of collapse. Yahoo Sports’ Ross Dellenger reported last week that CFP officials are weighing changing the format for the 12-team playoff. Could it drop to five automatic qualifiers and seven at-large spots? Or could there be no automatic qualifiers at all? There are also questions, of course, about the distribution of revenue from the CFP.
The CFP’s contract with ESPN expires after the 2025 season. That means the format could change entirely ahead of the 2026 season. Stay tuned.
8. It’s Coach Prime Time at Colorado
Deion Sanders has turned Colorado into must-see TV.
The Pro Football Hall of Famer inherited a one-win CU team and completely turned over the roster in one offseason. Now, all eyes will be on the Buffs as they open the season with national television games versus TCU and Nebraska.
The quality of the roster has massively improved, but how many games can Colorado win in Sanders’ first season? The Buffs have a pretty good group at the skill positions and a two-way star in WR/CB Travis Hunter, but they cannot afford to lose starting QB Shedeur Sanders to injury. There is very little behind Sanders and there are questions about the team’s depth on the offensive line.
And from a bigger perspective, it’s fair to wonder how an almost entirely new team can assimilate in just a few months and how well that can translate to results on the field.
9. How will new coaches fare at Auburn, Nebraska and Wisconsin?
Aside from Sanders in Boulder, there are some other first-year coaches to keep an eye on.
Let’s start with Hugh Freeze at Auburn. Freeze certainly has SEC experience, but his tenure at Ole Miss flamed out amid a slew of controversies. He rebounded with a four-year run at Liberty and has added a heavy transfer class to a lackluster Auburn roster. The Tigers are coming off back-to-back losing seasons. How quickly can Freeze have them competing among the upper echelon of the SEC?
In the Big Ten, Nebraska brought in Matt Rhule. Rhule rebuilt Temple and Baylor before a tough run with the Carolina Panthers. Nebraska hasn’t even played in a bowl game since 2016, but the ability to upgrade the roster via the portal should pay some immediate dividends for Rhule. A bowl game would be a significant building block for the Huskers.
Another Big Ten team with a new coach is Wisconsin, which fired Paul Chryst and hired Luke Fickell from Cincinnati. Expectations are already high in Madison. Fickell is making some changes by bringing in Phil Longo as offensive coordinator. Wisconsin has long been known for a physical, run-heavy offense; Longo comes from the Air Raid tree. The transition is going to be fascinating to watch.
10. Can teams like Texas A&M and Miami rebound?
Some high-profile programs are coming off tough seasons. Will they be able to bounce back?
Texas A&M entered the 2022 season ranked in the top 10 before face-planting and finishing 5-7. The Aggies have to be better this year, right? If Jimbo Fisher and new OC Bobby Petrino can co-exist, the Aggies should improve. The personnel is there with QB Conner Weigman and an excellent receiver group led by Evan Stewart and Ainias Smith. The Aggies also have a ton of promise on the defensive line.
Elsewhere in the SEC, Florida is coming off consecutive 6-7 seasons. It’s the first time the Gators have had a losing record in back-to-back seasons since 1978-79. This is UF’s second season under Billy Napier and the Gators open the season with a major challenge — a trip to Utah.
In the ACC, Miami is coming off a disastrous 5-7 record in Year 1 under Mario Cristobal. Cristobal replaced both coordinators and bolstered both sides of the ball with transfers. At the very least, the Hurricanes should be back in a bowl game.
And then there’s Oklahoma, which went 6-7 in its first year under Brent Venables. Before 2022, OU hadn’t won fewer than eight games since 1999. Entering 2023, a favorable schedule should give OU a path to compete for a Big 12 title.