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NCAA Preseason Top 25

by Joe 412


Helmet photo courtesy of si.com.


It’s that time of year again, and college football fans are clamoring for way-too-early rankings and predictions for their favorite teams. And although many believe that any official rankings should be reserved until the first week in October (including yours truly), it’s never too early to light the fires of hope—or controversy—with a preseason top 25, and Draft 412 is willing to oblige.


Keep in mind, the four analysts at Draft 412 created an independent Top 25, then we merged our list together, added them up and found the average landing spot for our preseason rankings. Not entirely scientific, but neither’s the process…so here goes:


1. Michigan Wolverines


With rising star, J.J. McCarthy, at the helm and all-everything running back, Blake Corum, returning to captain his backfield, Michigan should remain atop a Big Ten Conference, trying to net the hat trick with their third consecutive conference title.


Not sure the B1G is ready to deliver a national champion, but the Victors should find themselves back in the playoff conversation come November and enter the season as our team to beat.


Draft 412 total: 96 points


2. Georgia Bulldogs


"Why" you may ask? Only #2 after back-to-back titles?


The answer—this Georgia team has lost plenty including their starting quarterback, half of their starting defense and weapons along the offensive front. Georgia hasn’t lost a game since the 8th grade picnic and Head Coach Kirby Smart has more talent on the bench than many teams have in their starting 22.


We don’t know who their starting quarterback will be yet, and they have plenty of holes to fill on the defensive side of the ball, but Smart will fill them with NFL type talent and compete not only for the SEC title, but a 3rd national championship in as many years.


Draft 412 total: 94 points


3. Alabama Crimson Tide


Yes, Alabama is still Alabama even with its recent losses to UGA. Like the Dawgs, the Tide lost plenty of weapons on offense and defense but should reload with Jaylen Milroe and Ty Simpson duking it out to replace Bryce Young. Saban’s defense will be elite again, even with the departures of Brian Branch and Will Anderson Jr. to the pros.


It's hard to say an Alabama team will be “sneaky good” but this team is underrated and once they fight through early season growing pains, they should be competing for a playoff spot.


Draft 412 total: 93 points


4. LSU Tigers


I know, I know… yet another SEC team in the top four, but it’s hard to discount what Head Coach Brian Kelly has coming back. Under his first season, Death Valley fans went on a bit of a roller coaster ride, capping the season with wins over Alabama and winning the Citrus Bowl—but then they also suffered losses to Tennessee and Georgia in embarrassing ways.


But have faith, Tiger fans. LSU has veterans (and veteran stars at that) returning on both sides of the ball, starting with QB Jayden Daniels. Daniels threw for just under 3,000 yards last year while rushing for just under 900 and adding 28 total touchdowns. And with defensive star LB, Harold Perkins Jr., leading a resurgent unit, the Tigers will be a hard out for most teams. And let’s face it… LSU vs anyone except ‘Bama and Georgia on a neutral field? The books will have the Tigers favored to win.


Draft 412 total: 85 points


5. USC Trojans


The Trojans blew a shot at the College Football Playoffs when they lost in the PAC-12 title game to a feisty Utah team. But remember, All-world QB Caleb Williams played that game through an injury that limited his mobility. With his return, he’s the oddsmakers favorite to be the number one pick in next Spring’s NFL Draft.


Can he replicate 52 touchdowns this year? Yes…in that offense, yes. Williams and his Trojan brethren can score with anyone in the nation. Coupled with a favorable schedule, expect USC to make some noise in 2023.


However, USC must improve on defense. It’s the Achilles heel (see what I did there, Trojan fans?) of the program and if they can be a few shades better than their 2022 showing, fans of Southern Cal may have something to sing about at season’s end.

Draft 412 total: 83 points


6. Ohio State Buckeyes


With back-to-back losses to that “team from the north,” Ryan Day has a job to do to reclaim the #1 spot in the Big Ten Conference. And he’ll have to do it without many of his weapons from the past few seasons. Gone is C.J. Stroud, JSN and a bevy of offensive linemen that will be playing on Sundays for the next decade. But new signal caller or not, the Buckeye offense will be led by Marvin Harrison Jr., who racked up nearly 1300 yards and 14 TD’s last season.

The Buckeyes defense should be good enough, but much will depend on their new QB

to keep them in B1G Conference contention in 2023.


Draft 412 total: 80 points


7. Florida State Seminoles


The Seminoles finally flashed in Mike Norvell's third season, winning their last six games. Electrifying QB, Jordan Travis, passed for over 3,200 yards and tallied 31 total touchdowns.


The ‘Noles start out the year against the LSU Tigers, so their preseason ranking will be challenged right out of the gate. But FSU’s troubles have been in keeping it together for a full season. Can Norvell challenge Clemson, UNC and Pitt and take that step forward?


Draft 412 total: 74 points


8. Penn State Nittany Lions


Penn State may be the darling of some of my colleagues’ polls, but in truth, before they earn a top ten spot in my mock, Head Coach James Franklin is going to have to prove it. Alas, I was outvoted, and Penn State lands at the eight spot.


In their defense, If there was a year to knock off an Ohio State, this might be it. But they still need to face down the Wolverines, and Franklin’s track record against top teams is abysmal. But they do get to face the Maize and Blue at home this season.


But be hopeful, Lions fans. Drew Allar should be an improvement on Sean Clifford and running backs Nick Singleton and Kaytron Allen could both post 1,000-yard seasons running behind one of the Big Ten’s best offensive lines. But can the Lions finally clear the OSU and Big Blue hurdles? Only time will tell.


Draft 412 total: 72 points


9. Washington Huskies


Michael Penix Jr.'s return will make the Huskies an interesting wildcard in the PAC-12. Can they get by Oregon without a stumble? Are they ready to face down USC head-to-head? These questions and others will need to be answered on the field and Penix will need to reprise his 2022 role by chasing his own record of almost 4,700 passing yards.


Penix has had an issue staying healthy and as he goes, so do the Huskies. But if he plays a full season, Washington could be a dark horse contending for the college football playoffs.


Draft 412 total: 64 points


10. Clemson Tigers


Clemson resurged last season even with a quarterback rotation and reclaimed the ACC title. Are they CFP worthy? Likely not, but QB, Cade Klubnik, is the real deal. No controversies this year as Klubnik will take over the reins full time. With a favorable schedule and another solid offseason, Head Coach Dabo Sweeney looks to return to the CFB conversation.


With the likes of future NFL’ers, Will Shipley, at running back and a possible top ten choice next season in Jeremiah Trotter Jr. on defense, Clemson should earn a shot at the ACC top spot again in 2023.


Draft 412 total: 62 points


11. Tennessee Volunteers


What will Head Coach Josh Heupel do with Joe Milton? The new Vols' starting QB has a cannon for an arm and showed very well in his Orange Bowl performance. Odds are, the two connect well and Tennessee makes some noise in the SEC again this season. Heupel is a good coach with a gimmicky offense that may be just what Milton needs to succeed.


But the Vols' defense needs to play better. They, much like USC, can score with anyone, but can they stop Georgia? ‘Bama? LSU? Vols' fans shall see in good time. Heupel has done an effective job adding talent through recruiting and if they develop, the Vols may enjoy another 10-win season.


Draft 412 total: 58 points


12. Utah Utes


The Utes have won back-to-back PAC-12 championships but rarely will have the preseason hype of a USC, Oregon or even a Washington. Yes, they have the firepower to win the PAC-12 again, and Head Coach Kyle Whittingham returns hardcore QB, Cam Rising, to lead the effort.


Draft 412 total: 57 points


13. Oregon Ducks


Head Coach Dan Lanning in his first year posted a 10-win season under the direction of resurgent QB and Auburn transfer, Bo Nix. In year two, Lanning is aiming higher, but will have to get through traditional rival Washington and of course Heisman favorite, Caleb Williams at USC. Lanning has plenty of talent to work with, but does he have enough to compete in the PAC-12?

The Ducks will fly but not too high. The 13th spot feels like where they land.


Draft 412 total: 53 points


14. Notre Dame Fighting Irish


The Irish flirted with the top 15 last season and went on to finish the season strong with a win in their bowl game. Head Coach Marcus Freeman enters his sophomore season in South Bend, and nabbed former Wake Forest starting QB, Sam Hartman, to run his offense. Hartman at times has been a beast, throwing for 76 touchdowns in the last two years, but last year wasn’t as good as 2021.


The Irish are a bit crippled with a heckuva schedule—with games against Ohio State, USC, Clemson and Pitt, so this may not be the year to expect a CFP birth. But they should be competitive and finish in the top 15. #14 seems about right.


Draft 412 total: 48


15. Texas Longhorns


The Longhorns have perennially failed to live up to pre-season expectations since the Mac Brown era and this year might be the make-or-break season for third year Head Coach Steve Sarkisian. Starting QB, Quinn Ewers, is back with a plethora of offensive weapons, even with the departure of Bijan Robinson.


Draft 412 total: 44 points


16. TCU Horned Frogs


TCU may be a bit underrated here as Head Coach Sonny Dykes had a rookie season to remember, leading the Horned Frogs to a CFP title shot, only to fall to the Bulldogs of Georgia like everyone else. Nothing to be ashamed of, but he does need to find replacements for most of his offensive weapons, including QB Max Duggan and WR Quentin Johnston.


Dykes still has talent on the bench but may be a team that struggles early on until the new offensive and defensive units mature and gel. Look for them to lose an easy one by early October and win a surprising one later in the year, once again challenge for the Big XII title.


Draft 412 total: 43 points


17. Kansas State Wildcats


The Wildcats won the Big XII title in 2023 but have lost a ton of players to graduation and the NFL. K-State should make some noise and compete again in the transitioning Big XII, but until they show on the field, it’s hard to rank them any higher (or lower) than 17.


Draft 412 total: 32 points


18. Wisconsin Badgers


Big changes in Madison this offseason as the Badgers hired away Cincinnati's Luke Fickell to lead the team this year. Fickell is a lifelong Big Ten guy, with legacy ties to Ohio State and understands how to win in the Conference. He inherits a program in transition but one with

a deep bench and rabid fanbase. And let’s face it—the Big Ten West isn’t as stacked at the Big

Ten East. Fickell should have the Badgers competitive again in year one.


The Wisconsin defense should be stout, but it’s the offense that will be the big question mark heading into 2023. When the season is over, a preseason ranking of 18 may be low, but it’s hard to gauge a new group until they take the field. With Fickell’s success and a core group of returning talent, this isn’t a rebuild, but more of a matter of installing a new offense and giving offensive coordinator, Phil Longo, time to take the wheel.


19. Oregon State Beavers


The Beavers won ten games last season under Head Coach Jonathan Smith’s leadership and returns an impressive offensive line. Behind their front five should be Clemson transfer QB, D.J. Uiagalelei, who hopes to improve on some of the inconsistencies that plagued him in Tiger Country.


Draft 412 total: 30 points


20. Tulane Green Wave


The Green Wave made a big splash last year and should remain atop the AAC again in 2023, even with the loss of elite running back Tyjae Spears. Expect the Wave to compete for another 10-win season, but without seeing them on the field, Draft 412 could only list them at the back end of the preseason Top 25.


Draft 412 total: 18 points


21. Mississippi Rebels


Ole Miss had an up and down 2022, rising as high as the seven spot in some polls before cratering at year’s end. Former USC transfer, Jaxson Dart, returns in his second season to run the Rebs offense, and with a solid, veteran OL unit and a rising back in Quinshon Judkins, the team will be competitive. The concern here is fixing an ailing defense, and if you don’t have a defense in the SEC…ouch.


Draft 412 total: 18 points


22. North Carolina Tar Heels


The Tar Heels return one of the NCAA’s best quarterbacks in Drake Maye, who is looking to post another 4,000+ yard, 45 total TD season for UNC. Maye loses some weapons around him to the NFL (Josh Downs) and or to graduation, but the question in Tar Heel land is—and seems to always be—on defense.


Draft 412 total: 13 points


23. Pitt Panthers


Well, well, well… look who made the top 25 on the Draft 412 board. Sure, call us homers, but in reality, this is where the Panthers should be in the beginning of the season—using it as a big chip firmly planted on their shoulder.


Most of the national media polls will sleep on Pitt, but this team is built to win most of their games. Head Coach Pat Narduzzi reloads on defense and this 2023 unit is no different. The question marks are at receiver and QB, but if transfer QB, Phil Jurkovec, stays healthy, this

team will compete for a spot in the ACC championship game. Winners of 20 games in the last

two seasons, Pitt is better than most think, and perhaps will use this ranking as locker room,

bulletin board material to motivate them.


Draft 412 total: 13 points


24. Texas Tech Red Raiders


The Red Raiders won the last four games of the 2022 campaign and tallied wins against

rivals, Texas and Oklahoma. Not a bad start for rookie Head Coach Joey McGuire and so, as it

goes in Texas, greater things are expected this year.


The Red Raiders return starting QB, Tyler Shough, a former Oregon transfer with some pedigree, but the Big XII might be too much to expect more from a thin Texas Tech bench in the

upcoming season. 8-4, 9-3, 7-5 are all possible here.


Draft 412 total: 12 points


25. Iowa Hawkeyes


The Hawkeyes gained the services of Michigan QB transfer, Cade McNamara, which could help their troubled offense. Head Coach Kirk Ferentz’s team struggled mightily to score points in 2022, averaging only 18 points per contest. In this day and age of college football, that’s not going to win you many games.


Thankfully for Ferentz, his 2022 defense was stellar, pulling the weight for the team and helping their anemic offense to 8 wins. Sure, they lost stud linebacker, Jack Campbell, and the captain of that unit to the Detroit Lions, but they do return DB, Cooper DeJean, and his five picks

from last season to a defensive unit that is good enough to challenge for a Big Ten West title.


Draft 412 total: 10 points


Others receiving votes: Oklahoma (7), Texas A&M (6), Arkansas (3), Minnesota (2), UTSA (2)

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