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idleguy.com 2023 College Football Forecast

We took the preseason AP Top 25 College Football Rankings and studied each team in a subjective manner, without the use of any grading system or power rankings (which are BS anyway).

1. Georgia Bulldogs

In search of a third straight national championship, the Bulldogs have overtaken Alabama as darlings of the SEC. They'll have a fair shot at an undefeated season again, as their conference schedule doesn't include either 'Bama or LSU. They'll be on the road for Auburn, Vanderbilt, and Tennessee, plus the annual cocktail party with Florida in Jacksonville. Home games might be a challenge: South Carolina, Missouri, Ole Miss, and Kentucky. There's plenty of talent in the SEC and all of those teams may be improving.

Carson Beck takes over the offense at QB, and he'll be tested, but early non-conference games will add valuable playing time. Tight end Brock Bowers returns from an All-American season and the receiving corps is very deep. The defense will probably be ranked in the top five, as the team returns many of their best defenders.

Idleguy Take: Georgia will lose a game or two, reach the SEC championship and lose to LSU.

2. Michigan Wolverines

After losing in a CFP semifinal for the second straight year, Michigan will be looking hard at their defense after losing that wild 51-45 decision to TCU to end their season 13-1. The game turned into a track meet, and Michigan's defenders simply couldn't keep up.

Prior to making the playoffs, the Wolverines were mighty, downing arch-rival Ohio State, 45-23, and following up that win with a 43-22 stomping of Purdue in the Big Ten championship.

The Wolverines should be steady on offense, returning their full backfield of QB J.J. McCarthy, and running back duo of Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards.

IdleGuy Take: The Wolverines are a powerhouse, but the schedule gets tougher late in the season. Minnesota, Indiana, Michigan State, Purdue, Penn State, Maryland, and Ohio State will give Michigan their best shots. Could go either way: three losses or playing for the national championship. A real toss-up.

3. Ohio State Buckeyes

In last season's semifinal game, the Buckeyes were on their way to the national championship until Georgia suddenly found their game and took control in the fourth quarter, turning around a 14-point deficit for a 42-41 win. The Buckeyes seemingly had the Bulldogs on the ropes, but the defense fell apart, losing in the final minute.

Ohio State players and coaches will likely put those bad memories behind them, but they lose the services of QB C.J. Stroud and will be looking for leadership at the quarterback position. Senior Tristan Gebbia has the most playing experience, but coach Ryan Day will likely choose sophomore Devin Brown or junior Kyle McCord. Brown's never thrown a pass for the Buckeyes, and McCord plyed some mop-up last season, but it's still up in the air.

That's not a good sign for Ohio State moving forward.

IdleGuy Take: Not their year. The Buckeyes don't have a solid starting QB and the defense still has issues. They may not win 10 games this season, which would be a really bad year in Columbus.

4. Alabama Crimson Tide

Here's another team that fell short in 2023 that will be breaking in a fresh face at quarterback. While coach Nick Saban's coaching skills are legendary, players still need to execute, especially the guy behind center. It's troubling that Saban hasn't chosen between redshirt freshmen Dylan Lonergan and Cade Carruth, or sophomores Ty Simpson and Jalen Milroe. Who knows? They all may get some playing time against Middle Tennessee prior to their September 9 match-up with the Texas Longhorns, which now looms a huge game. The Tide played at Texas in week two last season, escaping with a 20-19 win.

By September 23, when the Tide plays at Ole Miss, the #1 QB better be established or it could be a problem.

Alabama missed the CFP last season, not even making it to the SEC title game. They finished 11-2, taking down Kansas State in the Sugar Bowl, 45-20, and that was with Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young running the offense. Could be a long season down in Tuscaloosa.

IdleGuy Take: The defense will have to carry the load much of the season, and it wasn't all that great last year. Looking for the Tide to roll out in November, possibly losing two games (LSU, Auburn).

5. LSU Tigers

This is head coach Brian Kelly's second year with the Tigers and they're likely to be near the top of the rankings throughout the season, potentially in the #1 spot. The Tigers return experience at most positions, especially with Jayden Daniels, who led the team in passing and rushing last season, back at the QB spot.

Running backs Josh Williams and Noah Cain are both seniors, which helps on the experience front, and there is depth behind them.

Big games on the schedule include the September 3 opener against Florida State, at Ole Miss (9/30), at Alabama (11/4) and the closeout, at home, with Texas A&M, November 25.

The Tigers went 10-4 last season, losing to Florida State in the opener, 24-23, Tennessee, Texas A&M, and Georgia, in the SEC title game. They blew away Purdue, 63-7, in the Citrus Bowl, making a statement for this year.

IdleGuy Take: LSU has about as tough a schedule of any team in the country, but talent galore and possibly the coach of the year in Brian Kelly, who was never able to get the top recruits at Notre Dame. With better players, this team should have strong consideration for the CFP and might win it all.

6. USC Trojans

In 2022, the Trojans were one of the teams which was in the running for the CFP but fell just short. One team, the Utah Utes, wrecked their chances of making college football's Final Four.

Utah defeated the Trojans in Utah, 43-42, on October 15. Other than that loss, USC was unbeaten and untied, reaching the PAC-12 conference championship against those same Utes, who trounced them, 47-24. USC lost in the Cotton Bowl to an inspired team from Tulane, 46-45. Three games, two teams kept the Trojans from a date with destiny.

They may fare better in 2023. Caleb Williams, who may be the best player in the nation, returns at QB. In 2022, Williams threw for 4,537 yards, 42 TDs with only five pics, as a sophomore. He also rushed for 382 yards and won the Heisman Trophy. With that spectacular season under his belt, Williams doesn't need much help getting the Trojans to the winner's circle in every game this year.

Losing leading receiver, Jordan Addison (NFL), will hurt USC, but only a little, because That Washington, Mario Williams, and Brenden Rice, who caught 129 balls between them, all return. Austin Jones and his 5.2 yards per carry in 2022, is the leading rusher, but the Trojans have more. They come in waves.

The defense will also be better. Last year, they held five different opponents to 17 or fewer points. A few additions from recruiting adds depth to an already solid group.

IdleGuy Take: Playoffs. It's time the West coast gets the representation it deserves and the 2023 should be able to stay on the field with anyone.

7. Penn State Nittany Lions

After going 11-2 in 2022 with a 228-point scoring differential, there's an argument to be made for Penn State as a power in the Big Ten. However, Ohio State was also 11-2 and their scoring differential was 302. Michigan was even better, with a 13-1 mark, losing in a CFP semifinal, and a differential of 341. Penn State's two 2022 losses were to - you guessed it - Michigan and Ohio State.

The three teams are not only in the same conference, they are in the same (East) division of the Big Ten, so getting to the promised land looks like an uphill battle for the Nittany Lions.

The pre-season ranking at #7 might be just a tad lofty. Florida State, Clemson, Texas, Tennessee, and TCU might be better. Sean Clifford, who started 45 of 48 games for the lions from 2019 to 2022, is now with the Packers in the NFL. Replacing leadership like that isn't ever easy. Either Beau Pribula or Drew Allar will be the signal-caller in 2023. Good luck.

As usual, Penn State will bring it on defense, a unit that was solid in all but their two losses and in a season-opening, 35-31 win at Purdue. Other than those games nobody scored more than 17 points in nine of their wins. Utah put up three TDs in a 35-21 loss in the Rose Bowl.

IdleGuy Take: With an 11-2 record in 2022, Penn State looks to be on to better things, but they meet the Wolverines and Buckeyes in the regular season, plus, road games at Illinois, Northwestern, Maryland, and Michigan State are potential pitfalls.

8. Florida State Seminoles

The Seminoles are about to return as an offensive powerhouse in the ACC. QB Jordan Travis returns for another year, after tossing 24 TDs against just five interceptions, leading his team to a 10-3 record. Leading rusher Trey Benson (990 yards) and receiver Johnny Wilson (897 yards) also return for another year, with expectations high to emerge this season as ACC champions.

Consecutive mid-season losses to Wake Forest, NC State, and Clemson were damaging, but the team regrouped and finalized the season with a 45-38 win over arch-rival Florida and a 35-32 win over Oklahoma in the Cheez-It Bowl.

The schedule might be easier than last year, including LSU in the season opener, September 3rd. The 'Notes beat the Tigers, 24-23 last season, but that was before LSU found its best stride, so there's a potential blow right off the bat. They also play at Clemson in September, and have back-to-back road games at Wake Forest and Pitt, October 28 and November 4.

Florida State's defense has the ability to be one of the best. In four-game stretch following their three October losses, the defense allowed just 39 points, all easy wins.

IdleGuy Take: Last year's Seminole squad looked like one that beat up on lesser foes but struggled against quality opposition. How they do in their conference road games will reveal much about this team's overall quality. Probably not capable of winning the conference.

9. Clemson Tigers

It seemed almost unfair that Clemson wasn't in the CFP last season, their only losses coming against non-conference, unranked opponents, Notre Dame (35-14) and South Carolina (31-30). Otherwise, they won the ACC, pounding North Carolina 39-10, but a 31-14 loss to Tennessee in the Orange Bowl left a bad feeling.

The Tigers had been a fixture in the CFP, qualifying six straight years (2015-2020). Their downfall coincides with the graduation of Trevor Lawrence and running back Travis Etienne following the 2020 season.

The Tigers get their top running back, Will Shipley, back for his junior year. Shipley averaged 5.6 yards per carry and rushed for 1,182 yards. Sophomore Cade Klubnik inherits the QB duties. He threw for 279 yards and a TD in the Tigers' ACC title win, on 20 of 24 passing. He's expected to keep the job and actually improve the offense from last season.

Clemson needs to fill a receiver spot, as wideout Joseph Ngata and TE Davis Allen graduated to the NFL. Jake Briningstool played well at tight end last season and will likely be the starter. Antonio Williams returns. He was the leading receiver in 2022. Beaux Collins caught 22 passes in 2022, and should improve on those numbers.

Defensively, Clemson will need to be faster and more disciplined if their goal is a return to the elite ranks.

IdleGuy Take: With Dabo Swinney at the helm, there's a good bet that the Tigers won't be losing to Notre Dame again. South Carolina is another story. Top 10 material easily.

10. Washington Huskies

If it seems like Husky QB Michael Penix Jr. has been playing college ball for an awfully long time, it's because he's in his sixth season of eligibility, dating back to 2018 as a redshirt freshman at Indiana. When Penix transferred from the Hoosiers to the Huskies in 2022, it marked a turnaround for Washington, going 11-2, culminating in a 27-20 win over Texas in the Alamo Bowl after a forgettable 4-6 season in 2021.

With a full year under his belt and a scary crew of receivers including Jalen McMillan (79 catches in 2022) and Rome Odunze (75), Penix, one of the most gifted athletes in the country, will roll up extreme numbers. He passed for 300 or more yards in 10 games and 4,641 overall last season and will be a serious Heisman candidate.

Washington has USC, Utah, and Oregon State in successive weeks in November, so Washington better hope to be 8-0 or 7-1 prior to that.

IdleGuy Take: The Huskies may be the best team in the PAC-12, or at least in the top three. They'll make it to a bowl game at least. Can they exceed expectations, win the conference and make the CFP? Maybe. There is plenty of upside.

11. Texas Longhorns

Steve Sarkisian is entering his third season as Texas head coach, which means he's had two off-seasons in which to recruit and play the portal lottery. One of the players Sark nabbed in the off-season was safety Jalen Catalon from Arkansas, who adds punch and coverage skills to strengthen a secondary that was less than perfect last season.

The Longhorns were 8-5 in 2022, but the losses were by no means embarrasing. A 20-19 loss to Alabama in week two was a hopeful sign, but a week four, 37-34, overtime loss at Texas Tech took its toll. The other three losses, to Oklahoma State, TCU, and Washington in the Alamo Bowl, were each by seven points.

Hudson Card and Quinn Ewers were not the answer at the QB spot and cost the 'Horns at least a couple of games. Card is gone, so the job falls to Ewers, but eventually, everybody knows it's Arch Manning (yeah, that Manning family) who will get the starting nod. Whether that comes this season or next remains to be seen.

How Ewers does in that September 9 meeting at Alabama will go a long way in determining the QB and the team's fate.

The top runner from 2022, Bijan Robinson is now an Atlanta Falcon. Backups, Jonathon Brooks and Keilan Robinson move up the depth chart.

IdleGuy Take: Texas will be better defensively, but the offense is questionable with a highly touted QB in Ewers who is short on experience in big games, and some unknowns in the backfield, the Longhorns could be 8-5 again or could take the watered-down Big 12 by storm.

12. Tennessee Volunteers

The Vols will miss sensational QB Hendon Hooker and the swift Jalen Hyatt at wideout, but Joe Milton has a rocket arm and coach Josh Heupel brings in a fine recruiting class.

Tennessee shocked the SEC with a mid-season win over Alabama, 52-49, in what may have been the best regular season game of the year in college football. Disappointing losses to Georgia and South Carolina kept them short of the SEC championship, but they thrashed Clemson, 31-14, in the Orange Bowl, finishing a very respectable 11-2.

Jabari Small and Jaylen Wright return as running backs, and they'll likely get more touches this season. There are five freshman receivers on the roster, so expect one or more to emerge as the season progresses.

The defense needed better tackling and coordination, but the unit should become more cohesive in 2023.

IdleGuy Take: Virginia in the season opener, and September 16 at Florida will be litmus tests for the Vols. If they win those games, the sky's the limit.

continued on page 13

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