Updated: Aug 12
The top team from the past two seasons comes back projected in the top spot for '23, but they don't appear invincible. New/Old OC Mike Bobo is a step down from Todd Monken and even though the Bulldogs had the #1 defense in '22; they were not as good as the '21 version by a decent bit. Georgia should be very very good and might not need a Big Offense to win it in '23.
The Tigers might be the team that benefits most from Georgia losing Todd Monken. Brian Kelly is never going to put up big offensive numbers in advanced stats, but if Georgia is merely very good offensively in '23 then LSU has them in striking distance. The Tigers will need to improve in all three phases, especially special teams, but they have a good amount of production coming back and no turnover amongst playcallers and HC.
Not to sound like a broken record, but Jim Harbaugh is another guy who might benefit from offenses coming back to earth from the Big Offense era. The Wolverines have definitely benefitted from Ohio State's defense being substandard the last two seasons, but also from the Buckeyes coming back to earth from their 2019 offensive high. The Wolverines have a massive amount coming back from this year, but they do have a new offensive playcaller and mileage may vary. Michigan and LSU are definitely very high floor/lower ceiling teams coming into '23.
#4 Ohio State
Now we hit the part of the list where we have real offensive upside. The Buckeye's floor is going to be set by the progress of the defense in year two under Jim Knowles, but the ceiling is going to be set by the offense. I like the defense to continue to improve and that should tighten up the gap between them and Michigan. The offense put up huge numbers in 2019 under Day, but they have not put up similar numbers since; they also have not run the ball well (even with the new O-Line coach). It's possible Ohio State can be very good on offense and defense and get to the top this season, but it will be a lot easier if the offense can be excellent again.
#5 Florida State
Its certainly been quite the roller coaster ride for the Seminoles the last few seasons and now they might be in for the top of the wave. FSU finished at #8 last season after jumping up from #37 in '21. The ACC isn't overwhelming, but in order to compete with the top teams the defense and special teams need to make a jump. Norvell runs his own system and you can argue we've never seen him with a complete offensive team at this kind of talent level so there might be offensive upside.
Bet you didn't know Texas's defense finished at #6 overall in Beta_Rank last season. Beneath the truly torpid QB play and cartoonish mistakes that cost them games; Texas made real strides in year two of Kwiatkowskie with Gary Patterson as advisor. Texas was much better in advanced stats than in their record last season which should give some confidence that this is not simply a mirage was a team playing well, but still prone to mistakes and figuring out how to win. It's all going to depend on the offense figuring it out this season and a point in their favor is that the have Sarkesian, probably the best in CFB, calling plays, but the case against starts at QB where Ewers was really mediocre. If they get QB figured out then the Horns could be actually, really truly, back in '23.
Of all the teams that could turn 2023 on its head with a BIG offensive output I have the most faith in the Vols. Sure they lose some pieces, including Hendon Hooker, but it's not like Hooker was some sure thing when he transferred in from Virginia Tech. I think Heupel's system is very player friendly and they should be able to get everyone up to speed and ready to go without a major drop off. So what is the catch? The defense made real progress last season, improving up to #23 overall, but more improvement is needed if they are going to take the next step.
I can definitely go on ad nauseum about how Nick Saban's real superpower is hiring, but if feels like the rule has exceptions lately. I think people give a little too much credit to Lane Kiffin for the Alabama offensive uptick, but he was definitely better than what came before. Locksley is the one that first put up really big numbers and then Sarkesian perfected it, but now in the period after the O'Brien fall off and departure I just can't make sense of the Tommy Rees hire beyond everyone else on the list saying no. I like the Steele hire, he was really good at Auburn, but the defense has not been the problem even if they have not been quite as good as Georgia's. It will be an interesting year in Tuscaloosa.
The Huskies had a really good offense last season grading out at #6 overall and they return both coordinators and a good amount of production so things could fall into place for them if the defense improves. They were a bad Power 5 defense last season at #65 overall and really struggled defending the pass. The Huskies getting to the top of the Pac-12 against a tougher schedule this season is going to depend largely on how much the defense improves, but if they have any higher aspirations then the offense has to get better too, they were only 83% as effective as the #1 offense last season and they might still have some headroom to improve.
The Utes had a better offense in '21, but for my money last season was Andy Ludwig's opus. QB injured where he's not really a run threat and all the tight ends injured (basically all the dangerous folks in the passing game and Ludwig still found a way to manufacture a top 15 offense out of a really good running game and whatever he could gadget around it with limited resources. The Utes should have better luck this year with injuries on offense. They return a lot of production again, but they have a sneaky problem the last two seasons, they have only been Power 5 average at pass defense and they lose Clark Phillips. Washington is rolling on the schedule and the rest of the Pac-12 powers seem on the upswing so they'll need some fixes to stay on top.
In an offseason where Georgia, Alabama, and Notre Dame all went out and made OC hires that we are not high on; Clemson went out and made a great OC hire. The offense has been their bugbear the last few seasons and even at it's best; it was not in danger of getting into the rarefied air of the top offenses the last few years. The defense has been really solid and might improve this season. We like Clemson to beat this projection and be right there with Florida St chasing a playoff spot in the ACC.
Tulane seems primed to improve on their breakthrough last season. As has been pointed out after we did the video Slade Nagle called plays last season and the offense took a big step forward. With Pratt returning there is ample room for optimism. The defense should be in good shape and they have an opportunity to make a statement against Ole Miss. Should be a fun year in New Orleans.
Caleb Williams, Riley, Kingsbury and a loaded wide reciever room feels a bit like cheating in CFB. The offensive line really has to improve though and Riley hasn't put up really big offensive numbers in a few season. The defense is the most important question as they were flat awful last year. It's definitely make or break for Alex Grinch as the Trojans should have enough talent to be a lot better; though that might not even get them to good. The schedule is heavily backloaded so they will have some time to figure it out. With Washington and Oregon rolling on the schedule the Trojans are going to have to earn double digit wins this season.