The 2023 college football season begins on Saturday and most of the usual suspects are considered the favorites to contend for the national championship.
There hasn’t been much parity atop the rankings in recent seasons, but these teams aren’t completely flawless.
Below, we highlight the biggest question marks and points of uncertainty surrounding the top 10 teams in the preseason AP Top 25 entering the season.
(Odds via BetMGM)
AP poll ranking: 1
National championship odds: +225
There was no championship hangover for Georgia last fall. The Bulldogs lost so much talent from 2021, but were just as dominant in 2022. Will that be the case again in 2023?
On the heels of consecutive national titles, it’s hard to really nitpick the state of the roster. But there are a few minor concerns.
The obvious one is the inexperience at quarterback. Carson Beck was named the starter to succeed Stetson Bennett. Beck has never started a game and has only seen action during garbage time. There’s also the fact that offensive coordinator Todd Monken took an NFL job and Mike Bobo is now back in the OC chair. The Bulldogs are mostly loaded at the skill positions, but will the new combination of Beck and Bobo be in sync?
The health of Georgia’s running back group has also been a bit of a storyline this offseason. Kendall Milton has been dealing with a hamstring injury, while Branson Robinson hurt his foot during the spring. Additionally, Andrew Paul is coming off a torn ACL.
On defense last year, Georgia seamlessly replaced eight players who were drafted into the NFL, including five first-rounders. This year, UGA has to replace five starters, including Jalen Carter, Nolan Smith and Robert Beal up front. That’s one position group that Kirby Smart has said doesn’t have the same depth as in years past.
“We're not as deep as we've been,” Smart said after UGA’s second scrimmage of the preseason. “You're trying to grow the younger players and get your older players to play at a higher level. Without having the same depth that we had last year, we're going to have to be in better shape, and we've got to get the freshmen ready to play."
AP poll ranking: 2
National championship odds: +800
After back-to-back CFP semifinal losses, Michigan is looking to get over the hump and win a national title this season. There are a few areas that could hold the Wolverines back.
First and foremost, Michigan needs J.J. McCarthy to take a step forward in his second season as the starting quarterback. McCarthy needs to be more consistent as a passer, especially throwing downfield in obvious passing situations. McCarthy excelled in play-action and wasn’t relied on to throw downfield much with UM’s running game being so dominant.
For McCarthy to take his game to the next level, the Wolverines need a few receivers to emerge with Ronnie Bell moving on to the NFL. Bell was McCarthy’s top target by a significant margin and there is no obvious candidate to be Michigan’s No. 1 wideout. Perhaps the targets will be spread more evenly among guys like Cornelius Johnson, Roman Wilson, Tyler Morris and tight end Colston Loveland.
On defense, Michigan’s front seven is loaded but the team’s second outside corner spot is worth monitoring. Will Johnson will start on one side after emerging as a star as a freshman and Mike Sainristil is a mainstay at the nickel spot. Sainristil could move outside, but the Michigan staff is hoping somebody like Amorion Walker or UMass transfer Josh Wallace can step up to start opposite Johnson.
AP poll ranking: 3
National championship odds: +700
Ohio State is breaking in a new starting quarterback after C.J. Stroud was picked second overall. Kyle McCord will get the start in the opener but Devin Brown is expected to see the field as well. OSU coach Ryan Day has a track record of developing QBs and it’s telling that the Buckeyes did not look for a starter in the transfer market. That means the coaches are confident in what they have.
Having an absurdly talented collection of players at the skill positions will help the new QB, as long as that QB remains upright. Ohio State saw three offensive line starters from last season get drafted, including tackles Paris Johnson and Dawand Jones. The Buckeyes return Donovan Jackson and Matt Jones at the guard spots, but there will be new starters at center and left and right tackle.
The tackle spots are of particular concern. OSU brought in two Group of Five transfers — Josh Simmons from San Diego State and Victor Cutler from UL Monroe. Cutler is expected to be a backup but Simmons has reportedly been the starter at left tackle during preseason camp. Simmons was just a redshirt freshman at SDSU last year and started at right tackle. Now he will apparently be relied upon to protect his QB’s blindside for a potential national title contender. That’s asking a lot.
At right tackle, Josh Fryar is the projected starter. Fryar, a senior, has been one of OSU’s key backups but has started just one career game. He was the first-team left tackle during spring, but the OSU staff still sought help in the portal and moved him to the right side. That doesn’t inspire much confidence.
AP poll ranking: 4
National championship odds: +600
Jalen Milroe and Ty Simpson were Young’s backups in 2022 and they took the bulk of the first-team reps during spring practice. Nick Saban evidently was not thrilled with what he saw, so he added Tyler Buchner from Notre Dame after the spring.
Alabama’s new offensive coordinator Tommy Rees spent the last six seasons at Notre Dame, so he is very familiar with Buchner. At the same time, Rees was still coaching with the Irish when they recruited Sam Hartman out of the portal to be their starter instead of Buchner.
There is no obvious answer in Tuscaloosa. Milroe showed incredible athleticism but struggled with ball security when he played for an injured Young last season. Simpson is in just his second season on campus and brings a different skill-set than Milroe. Buchner was used often as a runner in South Bend but struggled as a passer.
On the whole, it’s not an ideal situation for a team as talented as Alabama. Whoever takes care of the ball and runs the offense the most efficiently will likely win the job. And you know Saban is not afraid to make any changes he deems necessary. This QB saga could linger into the season.
AP poll ranking: 5
National championship odds: +1200
LSU surprised by winning the SEC West in its first season under Brian Kelly. Now there are major expectations for the Tigers entering 2023, but there are a few position groups that could potentially hold them back.
On offense, the running back room remains unsettled with eight scholarship backs competing for carries. But the main concern is the secondary, particularly at cornerback. It’s a transfer-heavy unit with Zy Alexander from Southeastern Louisiana and Duce Chestnut from Syracuse being the main two additions to know. While Texas A&M transfer Denver Harris — a one-time five-star recruit — got a lot of offseason attention, Alexander and Chestnut are projected to start on the outside.
Sage Ryan has mainly been a rotational player at LSU but is expected to have a much bigger role. Harris missed part of fall camp due to “personal matters” and is further down the depth chart than most anticipated. Another transfer, JK Johnson from Ohio State, injured his leg and is going to be sidelined for awhile.
At safety, returning starters Greg Brooks and Major Burns are really solid, and Tulane transfer Andre Sam should see the field quite a bit too. But like at corner, the depth is a bit of a concern and some underclassmen could be forced into action if there are injuries.
AP poll ranking: 6
National championship odds: +1400
The need for defensive improvement for USC is obvious as it enters Year 2 under Lincoln Riley. Other than a knack for causing turnovers, the Trojans were horrific last year, allowing 6.53 yards per play. That ranked No. 124 out of 131 FBS teams, and USC was bad at all levels. Even simple fundamentals like tackling were a struggle, yet Riley opted to stick with defensive coordinator Alex Grinch for another year.
Grinch was the subject of criticism dating back to his days with Riley at Oklahoma, but he should have much better personnel to work with in 2023. USC attacked the transfer portal hard and upgraded at nearly every position. Couple the newcomers with the best of last year’s group, and you could see a much-improved USC defensive unit.
On offense, the return of Heisman-winning QB Caleb Williams masks a lot of issues. But the USC offensive line was mediocre at best last year and the group will also be relying on transfers this fall. Luckily, USC’s early season schedule is pretty easy and should give the coaching staff time to figure out the best five up front.
AP poll ranking: 7
National championship odds: +2200
Penn State should have one of the best defenses in the country. But if the Nittany Lions want to surge past Michigan and Ohio State in the Big Ten East, they need to answer some questions about their offense.
After four years with Sean Clifford starting at QB, PSU will turn the reins over to sophomore Drew Allar. Allar was one of top QB recruits in program history, and fans are hoping he can help propel the program to the next level. He’s 6-foot-5 and 240-plus pounds, and PSU smartly got him action in eight games last fall. He has a higher ceiling than Clifford, but he’s still a young player who could experience some growing pains.
There’s also the fact that PSU’s receiving group appears to be pretty underwhelming. Keandre Lambert-Smith caught an 88-yard touchdown in the Rose Bowl last fall, but hasn’t done much to prove that he’s ready to be a No. 1 receiver. Harrison Wallace, who caught 19 passes for 273 yards last year, is expected to be the other starter on the outside. The speedy Omari Evans could have a role, too.
Kent State transfer Dante Cephas appeared on a lot of “top transfer” lists this offseason, but has been reportedly working with the second-team offense during camp. You can look at that two ways. Either he’s had trouble transitioning into a big-time program, or players like Wallace and Evans have taken big leaps forward and are ready to emerge as Big Ten-level players.
AP poll ranking: 8
National championship odds: +1800
After five consecutive lackluster seasons, Florida State made the leap back to 10 wins in 2022. Does this FSU team have an even bigger step forward? FSU has been one of the most-hyped teams of the offseason; it can be tough to go from a team being doubted to one with a ton of expectations.
Mike Norvell has done a great job upgrading the talent on this roster, but do the Seminoles have enough to compete with the nation’s best? With the offensive line finally a position of strength, there are no obvious weaknesses on this roster. But there are a few position groups that appear rather mediocre and others that lack depth.
Both Jared Verse and Patrick Payton, last year’s ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year, are back at defensive end. Gilber Edmond was a solid addition from South Carolina, but there’s very little proven depth behind those three. FSU also isn’t very deep at linebacker and it’s going to be tough replacing Jammie Robinson at safety.
To be clear, this team is very good but it’s worth wondering if there’s enough top-end talent for the Seminoles to meet some of the CFP projections that have been out there this offseason.
AP poll ranking: 9
National championship odds: +1800
Clemson made six consecutive CFP appearances between 2015 and 2020 with two national championships. But in the last two seasons, Clemson has not played up to that standard — particularly on offense.
Dabo Swinney has been resistant to hiring outside of his coaching tree, but he relented and brought in Garrett Riley from TCU to run the offense. It should be an upgrade from the unimaginative scheme that the Tigers have used in recent years, but it’s still a “believe it when we see it” scenario for Clemson.
That’s especially true when the Tigers are working in a new QB and are largely unproven at receiver. Cade Klubnik showed flashes of excellence last year in limited action, but he also looked like an overwhelmed freshman in Clemson’s Orange Bowl loss to Tennessee.
For Clemson to get back to the CFP, Klubnik needs to live up to the hype and get some help from his receivers. Antonio Williams and Beaux Collins are expected to be the top targets with Cole Turner and Adam Randall in the mix. Williams, just a sophomore, has shown the most of that group.
Additionally, Clemson is going to need to overcome major losses on the defensive line. The Tigers are deep in the middle and have some veteran pass-rushers but are going to need some young guys to make an impact right away.
AP poll ranking: 10
National championship odds: +4000
Washington went from 4-8 in 2021 to 11-2 in 2022, its first season under Kalen DeBoer. The Huskies should be excellent on offense again, but there are some reasons for concern up front with three offensive line starters needing to be replaced. Both starting tackles are back, but both guards and the center spot will be occupied by new starters.
On defense, Washington needs to be much better for this team to have any shot of winning the Pac-12 and reaching the CFP. The Huskies have a bunch of talent on the defensive line, but they are just OK at linebacker and the secondary could be a major weakness again.
Washington brought in Jabbar Muhammad from Oklahoma State to play a big role at cornerback. According to local reports, he seems to have locked down a starting spot on the outside, but the other spot could be up for grabs. There are also questions about the talent of the safety group.