Sports

Even with 10 players selected in last week’s NFL draft, the Georgia Bulldogs remain No. 1 in the second version of the 2023 Way-Too-Early Top 25.

Just like a year ago, when the Bulldogs had to replace a record 15 players who were chosen in the NFL draft, including five first-rounders on defense, Kirby Smart’s roster is built to reload, keeping the defending national champs at the top of our list.

Michigan, Florida State, USC and Ohio State round out the top five as we’ve updated the rankings with the spring season and the latest transfer portal maneuvering behind us.

Previous ranking: 1

2022 record: 15-0, 8-0 SEC

Expected returning starters: 6 offense, 7 defense, 1 special teams

Post-spring outlook: The two-time defending national champions will have plenty of new faces on offense after former coordinator Todd Monken left for the NFL and quarterback Stetson Bennett departed. Former Georgia quarterback Mike Bobo takes over the playcalling again, and Carson Beck seemed to have the edge over Brock Vandagriff during the spring. The Bulldogs might have their deepest receiver rotation in years to help All-America tight end Brock Bowers. Missouri transfer Dominic Lovett, Dillon Bell and Arian Smith had big performances in the spring. The offensive line should be very good. Even with another round of starters leaving for the NFL, Georgia’s defense, led by edge rusher Mykel Williams, linebackers Jamon Dumas-Johnson and Smael Mondon and safety Malaki Starks, is still overflowing with talent.


Previous ranking: 3

2022 record: 13-1, 9-0 Big Ten

Expected returning starters: 6 offense, 7 defense, 0 special teams

Post-spring outlook: With Jim Harbaugh firmly committed to staying at his alma mater, the Wolverines seem to have turned the corner — on the field and the recruiting trail. They defeated rival Ohio State and reached the College Football Playoff in each of the past two seasons. The next step, obviously, is winning a game in the CFP. Harbaugh and his staff dipped deep into the transfer portal to shore up the offensive line. They didn’t have LaDarius Henderson, a left tackle from Arizona State, in the spring. Stanford transfers Drake Nugent and Myles Hinton were banged up. Receiver Peyton O’Leary, a former walk-on, and Benjamin Hall, a lightly recruited tailback, were big surprises in the spring game. Josaiah Stewart, a star pass-rusher at Coastal Carolina, had five tackles, two tackles for loss and one sack. Linebacker Ernest Hausmann, a starter at Nebraska, had eight tackles and a forced fumble.


Previous ranking: 4

2022 record: 10-3, 5-3 ACC

Expected returning starters: 8 offense, 8 defense, 2 special teams

Post-spring outlook: Florida State believes quarterback Jordan Travis is a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate, and coach Mike Norvell added a couple of key pieces to give him more options this season. Jaheim Bell (South Carolina) and Kyle Morlock (Division II Shorter) are big upgrades at tight end. Receiver Kentron Poitier seems ready to break out and freshman Vandrevius Jacobs is another budding star on the perimeter. Braden Fiske, a Western Michigan transfer, and edge rusher Patrick Payton performed well in the spring, which should be big for a defensive line that already includes star pass-rusher Jared Verse.


Previous ranking: 7

2022 record: 11-3, 8-1 Pac-12

Expected returning starters: 6 offense, 8 defense, 2 special teams

Post-spring outlook: Reigning Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams is back to lead an explosive offense that might get even better with the additions of receiver Dorian Singer (Arizona) and tailback MarShawn Lloyd (South Carolina). USC’s offensive line might have three seniors and two juniors starting this season. Coach Lincoln Riley hired former Arizona Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury as an offensive analyst, and he’ll work closely with Williams. Of course, the question is whether the Trojans will be able to stop anybody on defense. Riley feels better about the front seven with the additions of linemen Bear Alexander (Georgia), Anthony Lucas (Texas A&M) and Kyon Barrs (Arizona). Former Oklahoma State linebacker Mason Cobb might be the best newcomer on defense.


Previous ranking: 2

2022 record: 11-2, 8-1 Big Ten

Expected returning starters: 7 offense, 5 defense, 1 special teams

Post-spring outlook: Junior Kyle McCord took the first step in taking over the reins from C.J. Stroud with a solid performance in the spring. Sophomore Devin Brown, another contender, missed the spring game with a finger injury. Coach Ryan Day won’t name a starting quarterback until preseason camp. The Buckeyes are loaded at running back and receiver (Carnell Tate, a freshman from IMG Academy, was a star in the spring), but the offensive line remains a work in progress. Senior Josh Fryar was the No. 1 left tackle in the spring; sophomore Tegra Tshabola was working on the right. After ugly performances in losses to Michigan and Georgia last season, the defense seemed to make some much-needed strides in the spring. Safety Cameron Martinez might help shore up a leaky secondary. Jack Sawyer and J.T. Tuimoloau are going to be stars up front.


Previous ranking: 5

2022 record: 11-2, 6-2 SEC

Expected returning starters: 4 offense, 5 defense, 1 special teams

Post-spring outlook: Neither Jalen Milroe nor Ty Simpson looked ready to fill former quarterback Bryce Young‘s shoes this spring, so the Crimson Tide are bringing in Tyler Buchner from the transfer portal. The former Notre Dame starter was recruited and coached by new Tide offensive coordinator Tommy Rees. Tailback Justice Haynes, whose father, Verron, played at Georgia, looks ready to contribute. The defense, even without star edge rusher Dallas Turner, who missed the spring while recovering from surgery, performed well under new defensive coordinator Kevin Steele. Caleb Downs, the No. 1 safety in the 2023 ESPN 300, might crack the starting lineup in a very talented secondary.


Previous ranking: 8

2022 record: 10-4, 6-2 SEC

Expected returning starters: 8 offense, 5 defense, 2 special teams

Post-spring outlook: Are the Tigers ready to return to the top of the SEC West under second-year coach Brian Kelly? They took down Alabama in overtime last season, but then nearly lost at Arkansas and were blown out by a bad Texas A&M team on the road. Quarterback Jayden Daniels should be better in his second season in the LSU offense and added weight in the offseason. He’ll have a great receiver corps at his disposal in Malik Nabers, Aaron Anderson (Alabama) and Kyren Lacy, who had a big spring. Daniels was very good last season, but he needs to throw the ball down the field more efficiently. With Maason Smith returning from a torn ACL to join Mekhi Wingo, the Tigers might have one of the best defensive lines in the FBS. Star linebacker Harold Perkins Jr. was just as disruptive after moving inside this spring.


Previous ranking: 6

2022 record: 11-2, 7-2 Big Ten

Expected returning starters: 8 offense, 6 defense, 1 special teams

Post-spring outlook: Can the Nittany Lions finally get past Michigan and Ohio State in the Big Ten East and contend for their first league title since 2016? It’s going to be difficult to do it this season, but they feel like they’ve got one of their better chances with Drew Allar, the No. 2 pocket passer in the 2022 ESPN 300, taking over the offense. Penn State has two very good tailbacks in Kaytron Allen and Nicholas Singleton. Kent State transfer Dante Cephas should help a receiver corps that already includes KeAndre Lambert-Smith and Harrison Wallace III. The offensive line, led by left tackle Olu Fashanu, should be better and deeper. The defense was much better under coordinator Manny Diaz last season, and cornerback Kalen King and linebacker Abdul Carter are stars.


Previous ranking: 15

2022 record: 11-3, 8-0 ACC

Expected returning starters: 7 offense, 8 defense, 1 special teams

Post-spring outlook: Clemson’s program seemed to be slipping, and coach Dabo Swinney responded by making one of the biggest hires of the offseason. New offensive coordinator Garrett Riley, who helped lead TCU to the CFP national championship game in 2022, was lured away to get the most out of quarterback Cade Klubnik. Because of injuries at receiver and the offensive line, Clemson fans didn’t get a full look at Riley’s version of the Air Raid offense this spring. Clemson’s defense is going to be dominant. Freshman defensive tackle Peter Woods made a big impression this spring and will play on a very talented line. Swinney referred to him as a “Halley’s Comet” because of his physical skills and mental traits.


Previous ranking: 16

2022 record: 8-5, 6-3 Big 12

Expected returning starters: 9 offense, 6 defense, 1 special teams

Post-spring outlook: Oh, boy. Here we go again. Despite losing star tailback Bijan Robinson to the NFL draft, the Longhorns seem poised to win the Big 12 in their final season before leaving for the SEC. Quarterback Quinn Ewers has cleaned up his act and left no doubt who’s going to start under center this season. He added muscle, cut his mullet and is making better decisions on the field. Receivers Xavier Worthy, Jordan Whittington and Adonai Mitchell (Georgia) and tight end Ja’Tavion Sanders provide him with plenty of options. Four starters are back on the offensive line, which had two true freshmen and a sophomore starting in 2022. The Longhorns have to learn to win close games (they lost five contests by seven points or less last season) and avoid losing to teams they should beat to finally turn the corner. Steve Sarkisian, whose teams have never won more than nine games in a season, likes his roster.


Previous ranking: 10

2022 record: 11-2, 6-2 SEC

Expected returning starters: 7 offense, 6 defense, 0 special teams

Post-spring outlook: Did the Volunteers catch lightning in a bottle last year with quarterback Hendon Hooker and receivers Jalin Hyatt and Cedric Tillman? We’re going to find out this season as all three of them will be playing in the NFL. Michigan transfer quarterback Joe Milton III worked with the No. 1 offense throughout the spring after performing well in a 31-14 victory over Clemson in the Capital One Orange Bowl. Freshman Nicholaus Iamaleava, the No. 6 pocket passer in the ESPN 300, looked the part. He’s 6-foot-6 and wasn’t overwhelmed by the tempo of coach Josh Heupel’s hurry-up offense. Receiver Bru McCoy missed the spring and Oregon transfer Dont’e Thornton was held out of the spring game. The Volunteers have to get a lot better on defense if they’re going to contend with Georgia in the SEC East.


Previous ranking: 11

2022 record: 11-2, 7-2 Pac-12

Expected returning starters: 7 offense, 7 defense, 1 special teams

Post-spring outlook: Washington’s priorities in the spring included rebuilding its offensive line, which lost both starting guards and its center. The good news: Guards Nate Kalepo and Julius Buelow and center Matteo Mele played quite a bit while rotating in the lineup last season. If the front can be solidified, Washington’s offense, led by quarterback Michael Penix Jr., should be very good again after averaging 39.7 points in 2022. The Huskies added a pair of running backs through the portal: Dillon Johnson (Mississippi State) and Daniyel Ngata (Arizona State). The Huskies had to get better in the secondary to compete in the pass-happy Pac-12. Oklahoma State transfer Jabbar Muhammad looks like an upgrade at cornerback, and Elijah Jackson and Thaddeus Dixon were competing at the other spot.


Previous ranking: 14

2022 record: 9-4

Expected returning starters: 6 offense, 6 defense, 1 special teams

Post-spring outlook: Fighting Irish coach Marcus Freeman hoped to have a quarterback competition stretching into August. That won’t happen after Tyler Buchner decided to transfer to Alabama, leaving former Wake Forest starter Sam Hartman as the man in South Bend, Indiana, this coming season. He threw for nearly 13,000 yards with 110 touchdowns during five seasons with the Demon Deacons. Tailback Logan Diggs, the second-leading rusher last season, entered the transfer portal Thursday. Jaden Greathouse, the No. 4 tight end/H-back in the ESPN 300, looked like he’ll be able to contribute right away. The Fighting Irish lost top pass-rushers Isaiah Foskey and Jayson Ademilola. Nose guard Jason Onye and end Jordan Botelho made some strides in helping this spring.


Previous ranking: 13

2022 record: 10-4, 7-2 Pac-12

Expected returning starters: 6 offense, 8 defense, 2 special teams

Post-spring outlook: With quarterback Cameron Rising recovering from a torn ACL in his left leg, redshirt freshman Brandon Rose got a lot of work with the No. 1 offense this spring. Utes coach Kyle Whittingham said Rising is on schedule in his recovery and he’s “cautiously optimistic” he’ll be ready for the opener. The two-time defending Pac-12 champs have depth at running back with converted quarterback Ja’Quinden Jackson picking up where he left off at the end of the 2022 season. Micah Bernard is also back after entering the transfer portal. Freshman receiver Mikey Matthews was a nice surprise during the spring. Ole Miss transfer Miles Battle should help shore up a secondary that lost star Clark Phillips III. Colorado transfer Cole Becker looks like a big upgrade in place-kicking from the past couple of seasons.


Previous ranking: 9

2022 record: 10-3, 7-2 Pac-12

Expected returning starters: 5 offense, 7 defense, 2 special teams

Post-spring outlook: There has been quite a bit of turnover in Eugene, Oregon, since the Ducks defeated North Carolina 28-27 in the San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl to finish 10-3 in coach Dan Lanning’s first season. Quarterback Bo Nix has yet another offensive coordinator after UTSA’s Will Stein was hired to replace Kenny Dillingham, who was named Arizona State’s head coach. Nix had a couple of new targets in the spring: Traeshon Holden (Alabama) and Tez Johnson (Troy). Four starters on the offensive line departed; new center Jackson Powers-Johnson had a good spring. Lanning believes his team will be more physical this season. South Carolina transfer Jordan Burch should help improve the pass rush. Oregon had just 18 sacks in 13 games in 2022, the program’s fewest since 1986. Transfers Tysheem Johnson (Ole Miss), Khyree Jackson (Alabama) and Evan Williams (Fresno State) seem ready to contribute in the secondary.


Previous ranking: 12

2022 record: 13-2, 9-0 Big 12

Expected returning starters: 3 offense, 8 defense, 0 special teams

Post-spring outlook: There’s no question the Horned Frogs are going to miss the core of players who guided them to last season’s CFP national championship game: quarterback Max Duggan, receiver Quentin Johnson, tailback Kendre Miller and guard Steve Avila. Riley leaving for Clemson also was a big blow, but coach Sonny Dykes lured offensive coordinator Kendal Briles away from Arkansas to call plays. Chandler Morris was the starting quarterback going into the 2022 season before he was hurt and is more than capable of running the high-tempo offense. Transfer receivers JoJo Earle (Alabama), John Paul Richardson (Oklahoma State) and Dylan Wright (Minnesota) will help compensate for Johnson’s departure. There were also some big personnel losses on defense, especially linebacker Dee Winters and cornerback Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson.


Previous ranking: 17

2022 record: 10-3, 6-3 Pac-12

Expected returning starters: 8 offense, 5 defense, 1 special teams

Post-spring outlook: Oregon State’s quarterback battle is undecided heading into the summer. Clemson transfer DJ Uiagalelei and returning starter Ben Gulbranson got some unexpected competition from freshman Aidan Chiles, a dual-threat passer from Downey, California. Uiagalelei might benefit from a full summer learning the system. The Beavers were 105th in the FBS in passing last season, so they need to figure out how to get better. On defense, inside linebacker Easton Mascarenas and cornerback Tyrice Ivy, a 6-foot-3 transfer from College of San Mateo, are potential breakout stars. The secondary suffered a blow during the spring, as projected starter Skyler Thomas tore an ACL and will miss the 2023 season.


Previous ranking: 18

2022 record: 10-4, 7-2 Big 12

Expected returning starters: 7 offense, 5 defense, 1 special teams

Post-spring outlook: Kansas State coach Chris Klieman doesn’t believe in spring games — he didn’t have them at North Dakota State, either — so much of the defending Big 12 champions’ work was done behind closed doors this spring. Quarterback Will Howard is back, and tailbacks DJ Giddens and Treshaun Ward (Florida State) are the favorites to replace star Deuce Vaughn. The Wildcats lost first-round NFL draft pick Felix Anudike-Uzomah and nose tackle Eli Huggins up front. Mississippi State transfer Jevon Banks and Uso Seumalo will be counted on to plug holes. There are also good ongoing battles at cornerback (starters Julius Brents and Ekow Boye-Doe departed) and safety (Drake Cheatum, Josh Hayes and Cincere Mason left).


Previous ranking: 19

2022 record: 12-2, 7-1 AAC

Expected returning starters: 6 offense, 6 defense, 2 special teams

Post-spring outlook: After leading the Green Wave to an AAC title and stunning upset of USC in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic, coach Willie Fritz had a busy offseason. He was in the mix to take over at Georgia Tech, but elected to stay in New Orleans. Then he lost defensive coordinator Chris Hampton to Oregon — and the coach he hired, Lance Guidry, left for Miami after less than a month on the job. Tulane hired Troy’s Shiel Woods, whose unit held eight of its past nine opponents under 20 points last season. Quarterback Michael Pratt returns, along with four of five starting offensive linemen. Running back Tyjae Spears and receivers Duece Watts and Shae Wyatt departed. The defense will have to replace its top four tacklers. Darius Swanson, a transfer from Division II Nebraska-Kearney, was working as the No. 1 free safety in the spring.


Previous ranking: 23

2022 record: 8-5, 5-4 Big 12

Expected returning starters: 8 offense, 6 defense, 1 special teams

Post-spring outlook: I’m taking a flier on the Red Raiders, who won their last four games in 2022, including a 42-25 victory against Ole Miss in the TaxAct Texas Bowl. The loss of defensive end Tyree Wilson, the No. 7 pick in last week’s NFL draft, is going to sting. But eight seniors might be starting on Tim DeRuyter’s defense this season. Myles Cole was working at Wilson’s spot in the spring (Joseph Adedire was sidelined), and Syracuse transfer Steve Linton is another player to watch on the edge. Safety CJ Baskerville (San Diego State) had a big spring in the secondary. Quarterback Tyler Shough and Behren Morton were locked in a pretty good battle for the starting job, although it’s probably still Shough’s job to lose.


Previous ranking: 21

2022 record: 9-5, 6-2 ACC

Expected returning starters: 6 offense, 8 defense, 2 special teams

Post-spring outlook: Coach Mack Brown’s priorities this offseason were finding quarterback Drake Maye some help and turning around his team’s woeful defense. Transfer receivers Nate McCollum (Georgia Tech) and Devontez Walker (Kent State) developed chemistry with Maye quickly, and Chip Lindsey was hired after offensive coordinator Phil Longo left for Wisconsin. Brown thinks his team’s defensive line is more skilled and disruptive, and Kaimon Rucker, Jaybron Harvey and Beau Atkinson were bright spots in the spring and might help star Myles Murphy up front. East Tennessee State transfer Alijah Huzzie made quite an impression in the secondary. Another cornerback, Virginia Tech transfer Armani Chatman, missed the spring because of shoulder surgery.


Previous ranking: 20

2022 record: 8-5, 4-4 SEC

Expected returning starters: 8 offense, 5 defense, 1 special teams

Post-spring outlook: Few FBS teams had as much turnover as the Rebels, who underwent dramatic roster and coaching staff changes after they dropped their final four games in 2022. Coach Lane Kiffin brought in six new assistant coaches, including former Alabama defensive coordinator Pete Golding, who will try to improve a unit that allowed 34.5 points per game during the late-season swoon. Quarterback Jaxson Dart probably remains the starter heading into the summer, after battling transfers Spencer Sanders (Oklahoma State) and Walker Howard (LSU) in the spring. Linebacker Monty Montgomery (Louisville), cornerback Zamari Walton (Georgia Tech) and safety John Saunders Jr. (Miami, Ohio) look like key additions on defense.


Previous ranking: 22

2022 record: 11-3, 8-0 C-USA

Expected returning starters: 8 offense, 7 defense, 1 special teams

Post-spring outlook: After winning two straight Conference USA titles, the Roadrunners were able to keep coach Jeff Traylor and quarterback Frank Harris, who is back for a seventh season after throwing for 4,063 yards with 32 touchdowns in 2022. Those were big wins for a program that is preparing to play its first season in the AAC. Associate head coach/co-offensive coordinator Justin Burke is taking over the playcalling after Will Stein left for Oregon. Harris and receivers De’Corian Clark, Joshua Cephus and Zakhari Franklin were held out of the spring while recovering from injuries. Franklin, who caught 93 passes for 1,137 yards with 15 touchdowns in 2022, unexpectedly entered the transfer portal Friday.


Previous ranking: NR

2022 record: 7-6, 3-5 SEC

Expected returning starters: 8 offense, 6 defense, 2 special teams

Post-spring outlook: While much of the attention this spring might have been on the transfers replacing quarterback Will Levis (former NC State starter Devin Leary) and tailback Chris Rodriguez Jr. (former Vanderbilt starter Ray Davis), rebuilding a porous offensive line was a primary focus for coach Mark Stoops and new offensive coordinator Liam Coen. The Wildcats ranked 112th in the FBS in scoring (20.4 points) and 116th in total offense (324.7 yards) in 2022. Kentucky surrendered 46 sacks last season, the most by any Power 5 program. Northern Illinois transfer Marques Cox was working at left tackle and Eli Cox moved back to right guard from center. Jager Burton was working at center. Last week, the Wildcats received a commitment from USC’s Courtland Ford, who could fill a hole at right tackle.


Previous ranking: NR

2022 record: 7-6, 4-5 Big Ten

Expected returning starters: 8 offense, 7 defense, 1 special teams

Post-spring outlook: Under new coach Luke Fickell, the Badgers have ditched the “three yards and a cloud of dust” offense that had been a staple since Barry Alvarez was roaming the sidelines. Now, Wisconsin is running offensive coordinator Phil Longo’s version of the up-tempo Air Raid attack. Quarterback Tanner Mordecai, a two-year starter at SMU, struggled in the spring game but performed well otherwise. Four transfer receivers — Quincy Burroughs (Cincinnati), Will Pauling (Cincinnati), CJ Williams (USC) and Bryson Green (Oklahoma State) — were also brought in to help with the transformation. Longo wants the Badgers to be balanced; tailbacks Braelon Allen and Chez Mellusi combined to run for 1,715 yards in 2022.

Dropped out: James Madison, Iowa

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