CFB top 25: Our post-spring practice rankings

We are four months from the start of the end of an era.

The upcoming season marks the last year of the four-team College Football Playoff. This time next spring, the Hotline will be pondering which 12 teams will qualify for the event.

(That time cannot come soon enough, by the way.)

Our initial top-25 forecast for the 2023 season was published in January. The following rankings have been tweaked to reflect offseason personnel developments.

The Hotline’s final preseason rankings will be available in early August.

1. Georgia: The NFL attrition was heavy, but does that matter given the level of recruiting that has unfolded in Athens in recent years? The two-time defending champs will have a new quarterback (likely Carson Beck) but are again stocked on defense and along the offensive line. And the array of pass catchers is something to behold. Previous: 1

2. Michigan: Another team with loaded lines of scrimmage. Add two talented tailbacks and the return of quarterback J.J. McCarthy and the Wolverines are built to beat Ohio State. Which makes them the Big Ten East favorite. And the Big Ten title favorite. And a playoff contender. Previous: 2

3. LSU: The Tigers are set at quarterback with Jayden Daniels (now in his 11th season), they possess the SEC’s best defender in linebacker Harold Perkins, and the lines of scrimmage are deep and experienced. Win the opener against Florida State, and all things are possible. Previous: 3

4. Washington: We see no reason to ramp down expectations for the Huskies in 2023 after an offseason that brought no unexpected developments. UW has a first-rate attack led by quarterback Michael Penix, a slew of playmakers and stout tackles. The strength of the defense can be found on the edge. Previous: 5

5. Alabama: The last time Nick Saban didn’t make the CFP (2019), he won the national title the following year. But the 2023 roster has more questions than any we can remember in the Saban era, topped by the uncertainty at quarterback and the assimilation of new playcaller Tommy Rees (from Notre Dame). Previous: 3

6. Florida State: There’s a 1990s vibe in Tallahassee as coach Mike Norvell continues to build a playoff-caliber roster. The talent should flow from every position, including quarterback (Jordan Travis), but the Seminoles must be ready for LSU in the opener. The loser will have a steep climb into the CFP. Previous: 8

7. Ohio State: Clarity began to emerge at quarterback, with former five-star prospect Kyle McCord exiting spring practice as the frontrunner. OSU is the antithesis of Michigan: absolutely loaded at the skill positions but vulnerable up front and across the defense. Previous: 6

8. Notre Dame: The combination of top-10 recruiting classes and the arrival of quarterback Sam Hartman (from Wake Forest) provides a first-rate foundation. But the schedule is ridiculous with Ohio State, Clemson and USC. And we remain slightly skeptical of second-year coach Marcus Freeman. Previous: 7

9. USC: Coach Lincoln Riley again made ample use of the transfer portal with a focus on the defensive line, so expect improvement on that side of scrimmage. But look for the Trojans’ insane turnover margin (+21) to revert to the mean, thereby offsetting any upgrades in personnel. Previous: 11

10. Clemson: The former ACC kingpin has lost ground relative to Florida State but remains in the top tier of the conference under Dabo Swinney, who should field an ironclad defense. But can the Tigers score consistently enough to navigate a tough schedule and return to the playoff? Previous: 14

11. Tennessee: Joe Milton, the former Michigan starter, is expected to replace quarterback Hendon Hooker, who left for the NFL. There is a distinct plug-and-play aspect to coach Josh Heupel’s offense, but until proven otherwise, the Vols are multiple touchdowns away from overtaking Georgia. Previous: 16

12. Kansas State: Meet the team most likely to prevent Texas or Oklahoma from winning the Big 12 in their final season in the conference. It happens to be the defending Big 12 champs, fresh off a 10-win season and possessing a veteran quarterback (Will Howard) and masterful coach (Chris Klieman). Previous: 10

13. Penn State: Location, location, location: The ever-bright outlook in State College would be even brighter if the Nittany Lions played in the Big Ten West or either of the ACC’s divisions. But alas, the same two hurdles, Michigan and Ohio State, remain in place. Previous: 13

14. Utah: We picked the Utes to finish second in the Pac-12 but have them behind both UW and USC here. Why the discrepancy? The top 25 is based on overall performance, and Utah will face two daunting challenges early (Florida and Baylor) as quarterback Cam Rising rounds into form after missing the offseason with a leg injury. Previous: 17

15. Oregon: The heavy attrition on the offensive line, combined with lingering questions about a defense that underperformed in 2022, are reasons to be slightly skeptical about Oregon’s outlook. Will the rise of USC and Washington come at the Ducks’ expense? The dynamics are worth watching, for sure. Previous: 9

16. Texas: The apparent maturation of quarterback Quinn Ewers stands as one of the top developments of the offseason, not only in the Big 12 but across the Power Five. If he delivers, the Longhorns have more than enough talent elsewhere to join the elite. Previous: 22

17. Wisconsin: With full faith in new coach Luke Fickell and the veteran defense, we hereby proclaim the Badgers the class of the Big Ten West — and championship game fodder for the East winner. Previous: 19

18. Oregon State: In a mild surprise, Clemson transfer DJ Uiagalelei did not take full control of the quarterback situation — freshman Aiden Chiles was impressive, as well. As long as one of them provides consistent play, OSU will be a factor in what should be an ultra-competitive Pac-12 race. Previous: 15

19. Tulane: Dismiss the Green Wave as a one-hit wonder at your peril. Coach Willie Fritz and quarterback Michael Pratt are back, which makes Tulane the team to beat in the AAC and a threat to return to the New Year’s Six. Previous: 20

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20. South Carolina: Spencer Rattler’s return provides the stability and playmaking needed for the Gamecocks to build on their strong finish in 2022, when they beat Tennessee and Clemson back-to-back. Previous: 21

21. TCU: The Horned Frogs lost a load of talent to the NFL and cannot possibly receive all the breaks on the margins that supported their miraculous season. But the backslide should be limited thanks to a veteran defense. Previous: 12

22. UCLA: Plenty of issues remain unresolved coming out of spring practice, including the quarterback position. But Chip Kelly’s system will generate enough points to make the Bruins somewhat relevant. Whether they are more than that depends on the defense. Previous: 23

23. Texas A&M: Coach Jimbo Fisher took a major step forward after a deeply disappointing season by hiring Bobby Petrino as his playcaller. Whatever you think of him, Petrino knows offense. Previous: Not ranked

24. Boise State: Look for the Broncos to pick up where they left off (after rectifying the offensive offense) and roll to the Mountain West title in what might be the league’s final year as we’ve come to know it. Previous: 25

25. Texas Tech: The season-ending winning streak (four games) raises expectations for 2023 under second-year coach Joey McGuire. Will 2023 be the season Tyler Shough becomes an elite quarterback? If so, the Red Raiders could win the Big 12. Previous: 18

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*** Pac-12 Hotline is not endorsed or sponsored by the Pac-12 Conference, and the views expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the views of the Conference.

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