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idleguy.com College Football Forecast, teams 20-25
continued from page 13

20. Oklahoma Sooners

Coming over from his role as defensive coordinator at Clemson last year, Brent Venables' first season as OU head coach was a complete bust. The Sooners went 3-6 in the Big 12 and 6-7 overall, losing to Florida State in the Cheez-It Bowl, 35-32.

QB Dillon Gabriel had a solid season in 2022, throwing 25 TD passes and just six picks, but the Sooner defense was the real disappointment. In a three-week stretch from September 24 to October 8, the Sooners gave up 145 points in losses to Kansas State, TCU and Texas, and only the TCU game was a real road game.

OU ended their regular season with a 51-48 OT loss at Texas Tech, leaving them at 6-6 and just barely bowl-eligible.

IdleGuy Take: Oklahoma needs star power and a credible defense if they're going to crack the Top 25 and stay there. They have neither. Even the early part of their schedule, opening with Arkansas State, then, SMU, followed by back-to-back road games at Tulsa and Cincinnati, may be challenging. Big 12 games with Texas, OK State, and TCU may all be losses.

21. North Carolina Tar Heels

With Drake Maye at quarterback the Tar Heels have a good chance to improve upon their pre-season ranking, possibly making it into the Top 10, and an appearance in the conference championship. but Clemson and Florida State are formidable conference opponents standing in the way.

Fortunately for the Tar Heels, they play in the coastal division, which allows a clear path to the championship game. They avoid Florida State, but ACC contests at Pitt, Clemson, and NC State appear as roadblocks. The opener against South Carolina will set the tone as the Gamecocks are improving fast.

North Carolina made the title game and got blown out by Clemson, 39-10, then lost to Oregon, 28-27, in the Holiday Bowl, ending the season with four straight losses.

This team has no discernible defense, which is why they're ranked so low. The offense, however, is capable of outscoring just about anybody that comes along

IdleGuy Take: Another championship appearance is probably in the cards for the Heels, but they're not going to be highly regarded until they make dramatic improvements defensively.

22. Ole Miss Rebels

It's a mystery why the Rebels are ranked pre-season, after finishing 2022 at 8-5, losing four of their last five SC contests before falling, 42-25, to Texas Tech in the Texas Bowl.

It's possible that voters in the poll believe Jaxson Dart will improve as a junior. His 2022 campaign wasn't all that bad, throwing for 2,974 yards with 20 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Top rusher, Quinshon Judkins (1,567 yards), is also back, though the top two receivers from last season, Malik Heath and Jonathan Mingo are now in the NFL.

A pair of seniors, Dayton Wade and Jordan Watkins, will step into starting receiver roles.

The teams responsible for the Rebels' late-season collapse - Arkansas, Alabama, LSU, and Mississippi State - are all on the 2023 schedule, plus Georgia and Tulane.

IdleGuy Take: Ole Miss may have snuck into the Top 25 before the season begins, but it's doubtful they'll be there at the end.

23. Texas A&M Aggies

Why are the Aggies even ranked?

They went 5-7 in 2022, Jimbo Fisher's worst full season as a head coach. (He was 5-6 in 2017 with Florida State, leaving before the final regular season and bowl game.) Since coaching the Aggies starting in 2018, conference play hasn't been good. In 2020, A&M went 8-1, but that was the screwy cover season. Other than that he's gone 5-3, 4-4, 4-4, and 2-6.

While the Aggie defense was sound, allowing 254 points in the regular season, the offense lacked consistency and was unable to sustain drives in most games, scoring just 273 points overall, the second worst in the SEC.

On the 2023 schedule, Auburn, Alabama, Tennessee, South Carolina, Ole Miss, and Arkansas are all capable of notching wins. In fact, four of those teams - Auburn, Alabama, South Carolina, and Ole Miss - did beat the Aggies in 2022.

IdleGuy Take: Becoming bowl eligible again would be a suitable goal for Texas A&M. Making the Top 25 is questionable.

24. Tulane Green Wave

The Green Wave put together a remarkable season in 2022, finishing with a record of 12-2, taking the American Athletic Conference title by avenging an earlier loss to UCF, then capping of the campaign with a thrilling, 46-45, victory over unsuspecting USC in the Cotton Bowl. Repeating that kind of performance will take some doing, but Tulane returns a host of their top players, including QB Michael Pratt (3,010, 27, 5), and receiver Jha'Quan Jackson, but missing will be wideout Deuce Watts (Packers) and star RB Tyjae Spears (Titans).

The offense was explosive, scoring 40 or more six times and they have plenty of hungry players looking to make impacts on the fast-paced offense.

A September 9 meeting with Ole Miss will be an important non-conference game, a measuring stick for the Green Wave. They could possibly sweep the conference schedule and make noise in the post-season if some of the missing parts are replaced adequately.

IdleGuy Take: Tulane was ranked #16 by the end of the 2022 season. They might find themselves higher up the ladder this year.

25. Iowa Hawkeyes

Being ranked #25 pre-season isn't exactly an endorsement, but it may be motivation for the Hawkeyes to improve off their 8-5 showing last year. Iowa only faces two ranked teams this season: Penn State and Wisconsin, and both of those are winnable games. The September 9 meeting with Iowa State will be important, along with securing a win over Mid-American Western Michigan the following week.

The Iowa defense was a strong point last season, as they held nine different teams to 10 or fewer points, including a shutout of Kentucky, 21-0, in Nashville's Music City Bowl.

QB Spencer Petras returns for his senior year, but he's got to be better if Iowa is to find offensive success. Five TDs and five INTs isn't going to cut it, even in the Big Ten. There is likely to be a focus on the running game, led by returnees Kaleb Johnson and Leshon Williams and a host of others capable of grinding down opponents.

With the schedule favorable down the stretch, closing out with Minnesota, Northwestern, Rutgers, Illinois, and Nebraska, the Hawkeyes could make a late run to a better bowl game. Taking the conference's West division may be possible, but winning the Big Ten title is probably just a dream.

IdleGuy Take: Iowa will be in the hunt for the West title and the chance to get stomped by either Ohio State or Michigan in the conference championship. They still may finish the season at 10-4 or 11-3, maybe even better.

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