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Way Too Early CFB Top 25

2022 was a very entertaining season from start to finish.

We were able to see the first back-to-back College Football Playoff championship run which doesn't seem to irritate the landscape of the sport. Why? Because no one hates Georgia. Maybe folks outside the South and SEC do but the Bulldogs are an admirable program that has sat on the cusp of greatness for what seems like the better part of 20 years.

Last Year's Contenders

Mark Richt had them right there but it took a man like Kirby Smart to motivate them to the pinnacle of our great sport. Honestly, I wouldn't mind even seeing them win their third title in the row if that may be the case. The Bulldogs have plenty of young talent at nearly every position but will have to find their quarterback for the future to replace Stetson Bennett.

TCU was a great story rebounding from a dismal 5-7 season and seeing the ousting of the great Gary Patterson. The Horned Frog brass hired cross-town rival head coach at SMU, Sonny Dykes as he gave TCU the alignment necessary to win the Big 12 and a CFP berth.

To say it bluntly, the national title game wasn't that interesting at all. TCU definitely deserved to be there after an incredible performance against the Michigan in the semifinals. They were absolutely prepared for that game but simply didn't have what it took to win it all. We definitely saw where TCU lacked at the line of scrimmage and that will be addressed during the offseason. This won't be the last time the Frogs make it to the college football playoff under Dykes.

Ohio State gave Georgia their best challenge of the season but ultimately couldn't maintain the momentum needed to prevent the Bulldogs from the title game. Ryan Day shouldn't be of too much blame and to read Buckeye fans anger toward a guy with a 45-6 overall record, a berth in the 2020 CFP championship and an appearance in the CFP three out of four seasons as head coach is outstanding. Day will have to find another quarterback which shouldn't be hard considering the type of play they have seen at that position since 2014.

Rumors around the world of football is that Jim Harbaugh could leave Michigan for the NFL once again. It likely won't be in Detroit as they narrowly missed the playoffs under popular head coach Dan Campbell. But word is there is "strong mutual interest" between Denver and the Harbaugh camp. If this does happen where will Michigan turn? They have flipped the script in the Big Ten with consecutive victories against hated rival Ohio State and seem to be contenders for a playoff spot each season.

Looking In

There's quite a few teams that were on the outside looking as the season dwindled down in 2022. Obviously, Alabama almost lucked into a playoff berth even with two losses. It was even funnier watching their head coach make a claim as to why they deserved to even be chosen.

That was definitely cringe-worthy but we all knew they wouldn't let a two-loss team in until the playoff is expanded to 12 teams.

For much of the season it looked like Tennessee would be the team to watch as they went on a Cinderella run of sorts. They eventually lost to Georgia and South Carolina but 11-wins in year two under Josh Heupel shows promise moving forward for Volunteer fans. And you don't even have to tell them to be confident since it comes naturally.

As long as USC keeps Lincoln Riley around they will be in the mix for an annual playoff bid as well. It didn't come this past season with their defense not willing to tackle anyone on the Utah offense. The Trojan brand itself will attract those highly touted defensive players whether they are in high school or the transfer portal. And lets face it with the state of NIL that can get USC on track very quickly.

James Franklin didn't let a mid 2021 season hold his program down very long. Honestly, it didn't seem to feel like there were many eyes on the Nittany Lions at all with their 11-2 finish. Eyes are always going to be on the big two, Michigan and Ohio State. But, a terrible Iowa offense earned more attention the Penn State did all season. Happy Valley will be hopping again in 2023 with high hopes of competing for a Big Ten title.

Clemson definitely hit the jackpot when they lured away Garrett Riley away from TCU. The Tigers certainly didn't meet their high expectations with only winning 11 games but they'll be alright. There could be a stark change in offensive philosophy next season but they should be back on track in 2023.

One Hit Wonder?

Washington was a team that earned a lot of attention last season and surprisingly so. Who would have thought they would contend in the Pac 12 with a quarterback that seemed to be forgotten about in Michael Penix who will forgo the NFL Draft and return to the Huskies for 2023? His performance alone this past season gives him Washington fans reason to hope for a run at a playoff spot.

If the Huskies want to make that run they'll have to trek through one of college football's toughest schedules opening with Boise State in week one followed with a week three matchup at Michigan State. They have road games at Oregon State, Stanford and USC in conference play but get Oregon, Utah and Washington State at home. Pac 12 after dark will be something to watch next season.

On The Way Up

LSU, Oregon, Florida State, South Carolina, UCLA, Kansas State, North Carolina and Notre Dame are all teams that will need to prove that they have staying power going into 2023.

Oregon with their Holiday Bowl victory over North Carolina put destiny into their own hands as they look to creep back into the limelight of the college football playoff. They have serious resources when it comes to NIL and a very good head coach in Dan Lanning with an exceptional staff at his disposal.

The Ducks will have to travel to Lubbock, Texas next season and play Texas Tech in week two which could be must-watch TV if you're into offensive football. The Ducks play conference home games against Oregon State, USC, Colorado and Washington State. Road games against Utah and Washington could derail hopes of moving up a tier.

No one took advantage of a down SEC Western Division more than LSU and first-year head coach Brian Kelly. Kelly showed how well he could coach when he transitioned to life in the South and did well winning ten games, advancing to the SEC Championship game and beat the brakes off of Purdue 63-7 in their bowl game. Now, that's a statement.

As it always is in college football, how can the Tigers replicate that type of success in 2023? They have backed it up with the seventh ranked high school recruiting class and a transfer class that sits fifth overall with both rankings coming from 247sports. Jayden Daniels returns to Baton Rouge for one last go around after exceeding expectations and single-handedly defeating archrival, Alabama, for the cherry on top.

South Carolina, UCLA, Kansas State, North Carolina and Notre Dame are all teams with outside shots at making a splash in 2023. All of these programs made their mark on college football last season but none quite like the Gamecocks, especially late in the year with their pair of upsets against top ten teams in Tennessee and Clemson. The question is can Shane Beamer keep the momentum going in Columbia? The return of Spencer Rattler at quarterback is enough to keep hopes alive.

Kansas State had a berth in the Sugar Bowl against Alabama. With an early 10-0 lead, Alabama immediately capitalized on simple mistakes by the Wildcats and on their way to a rout did they go on. Oklahoma and Texas won't stay down forever either so if Kansas State has any plans on breaking through then 2023 is their shot.

North Carolina has Drake Maye and he alone elevates the Tar Heels as a dangerous team moving forward. Notre Dame will always be who they are but can they take the next step with second year head coach Marcus Freeman?

Early Top 25 ranking:

  1. Georgia

  2. Ohio State

  3. Michigan

  4. Alabama

  5. Tennessee

  6. USC

  7. Penn State

  8. Clemson

  9. TCU

  10. Utah

  11. LSU

  12. Florida State

  13. Oregon

  14. Kansas State

  15. North Carolina

  16. UCLA

  17. Washington

  18. South Carolina

  19. Notre Dame

  20. Oregon State

  21. Miami

  22. Ole Miss

  23. Wisconsin

  24. Illinois

  25. Maryland

Next 10 to watch:

  1. Texas

  2. Oklahoma

  3. UTSA

  4. Iowa

  5. Pitt

  6. Tulane

  7. Mississippi State

  8. Texas Tech

  9. Washington State

  10. Arkansas

Jacob is a college football and basketball columnist for Sidelines Sports. You can follow him and get engaged in all his sports thoughts by following him on Twitter @jacobscottdavis.

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