Ranking College Football's Most Talented Teams for the 2013 Season
College football head coaches get paid the big bucks when they build a program into a powerhouse championship contender that can consistently compete for big BCS bowl berths.
Still, just because it’s the coaches who receive the credit, the publicity and the big day, that doesn’t mean that they’re playing the biggest factor in their team’s success.
The talent out on the field is what wins you national championships. It’s no big secret.
If you want to compete with the big boys of college football, a team has to have enough elite talent, and there are only a few few teams every year which have that talent.
While we won’t learn just how good teams really are until at least October, there are still some teams that at least have a clear talent advantage on paper going into next season.
Here’s a look at college football’s 25 most talented teams for the 2013 season.
1. Alabama Crimson Tide
Alabama has to replace nine players—RB Eddie Lacy, TE Michael Williams, OT DJ Fluker, OG Chance Warmack, OC Barrett Jones, DT Jesse Williams, LB Nico Johnson, CB Dee Milliner and SS Robert Lester, who will hear their name called in the upcoming 2013 NFL draft.
This is the Tide we’re talking about, though. Nick Saban has stockpiled plenty of former highly touted blue-chip recruits in Tuscaloosa. He’s now simply preparing to unleash his next crop of big-time stars onto the college football world in 2013.
The Tide bring back 10 players—QB AJ McCarron, RB T.J. Yeldon, WR Amari Cooper, OT Cyrus Kouandjio, OG Anthony Steen, DE Ed Stinson, linebackers CJ Mosley and Adrian Hubbard, and safeties Vinnie Sunseri and HaSean Clinton-Dix, who will compete for All-American honors next season.
McCarron, Yeldon and Cooper will form one of the most dangerous trios in college football, while Mosley and Hubbard will lead one of college football’s most dominant defenses.
There’s no reason Saban’s squad, which has won the past two national championships, shouldn’t be the undisputed preseason favorite to win the BCS championship next season.
2. Ohio State Buckeyes
Ohio State put together a perfect 12-0 season in 2012. Now, the Buckeyes will be looking to repeat that feat and end next season with an appearance in Pasadena in the national title game.
The team certainly has the talent and firepower to reach that lofty goal.
Star QB Braxton Miller proved that he was a perfect fit for Urban Meyer’s spread offense with his performance this past season. Miller is one of the most dangerous dual-threat quarterbacks in the country. The scary part is, he’ll have plenty of help at his disposal such as RB Carlos Hyde and receivers Corey Brown and Devin Smith.
The defense will be led by three of the best defenders in the country—LB Ryan Shazier, CB Bradley Roby and safety C.J. Barnett. It’s a unit that will also feature plenty of former blue-chip recruits along the defensive line, most notably Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington.
Ohio State will clearly be the most talented team in the Big Ten in 2013. The Buckeyes will enter next season ranked in the top three of the preseason polls, and they’ll be considered one of the top overall national title contenders in the country.
3. Florida State Seminoles
Florida State lost some big names on both sides of the ball, most notably DE Bjoern Werner, CB Xavier Rhodes, QB EJ Manuel and OT Menelik Watson.
Still, even though the Seminoles will have new unproven starters at key positions in 2013, they’ll also have enough elite playmakers on both offense and defense to compete for a national title.
It remains to be seen who will win the quarterback battle between Clint Trickett and Jameis Winston. But whoever does will have some scary weapons to work with.
The running back duo of Devonta Freeman and James Wilder and the receiver corps comprised of Rashad Greene, Kenny Shaw, Kelvin Benjamin and Greg Dent will be some of the strongest positional units in the country.
It also helps that the offensive line will feature four potential All-ACC players—OT Cameron Erving, offensive guards Josue Matias and Tre Jackson, and center Bryan Stork.
The defense will miss the presence of players like Werner, Rhodes and Tank Carradine. But the unit will still have plenty of speed and athleticism with the return of potential stars such as DT Timmy Jernigan, DE Mario Edwards, LB Christian Jones, CB Ronald Darby and FS Lamarcus Joyner.
4. Oregon Ducks
Not only did Oregon lose head coach Chip Kelly to the NFL this offseason, the Ducks also lost a bunch of players that will soon be joining Kelly in the pros.
RB Kenjon Barner, OL Kyle Long, DE Dion Jordan and linebackers Kiko Alonso and Michael Clay all leave some sizable holes to fill.
There are still plenty of reasons for optimism remaining in Eugene, however.
The offense, which will be led by the dynamic backfield duo of QB Marcus Mariota and RB De’Anthony Thomas, should once again be one of the most potent and powerful attacks in college football in 2013.
The defense will also feature some top-notch difference-makers such as DE Taylor Hart, LB Boseko Lokombo, cornerbacks Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and Terrance Mitchell and safeties Erick Dargan and Avery Patterson.
Even without Kelly running the show, there’s no doubt that Oregon has enough talent to compete for both a conference title and a national title in 2013.
5. LSU Tigers
No other team in college football was hit as hard by early underclassmen declarations for the 2013 NFL draft than LSU was.
The Tigers lost 10 underclassmen early to the pros—running backs Spencer Ware and Michael Ford, OT Chris Faulk, defensive ends Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery, DT Bennie Logan, LB Kevin Minter, CB Tharold Simon, FS Eric Reid and P Brad Wing.
Normally, you would probably think that a team that experiences so many debilitating defections wouldn’t be able to compete for a national title the following season. But LSU is one of the rare exceptions.
Les Miles’ squad will have plenty of explosive playmakers on offense, including running backs Jeremy Hill, Kenny Hilliard and Alfred Blue, and receivers Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry.
The defense will have plenty of new faces, but it will also have some potential breakout stars as well, including DT Anthony Johnson, DE Jermauria Rasco, LB Lamin Barrow, CB Jalen Mills and safety Craig Loston.
Ultimately, QB Zach Mettenberger will be the team’s key player to success. If Mettenberger can develop into a more consistent passer and a better team leader, LSU will be one of the top contenders in the SEC in 2013.
6. Georgia Bulldogs
Mark Richt received some great news when his star quarterback Aaron Murray announced that he would forego the chance to be a high pick in the 2013 NFL draft in order to return to Georgia for his senior year.
With Murray back to lead the offense, the Bulldogs have the type of leader they need to compete for an SEC championship in 2013. The senior signal-caller will be the centerpiece of an offensive trio, which also includes two other terrific playmakers, RB Todd Gurley and WR Malcolm Mitchell.
It’s obvious that Georgia will have plenty of talent on offense. The big question, however, is how the defense will hold up next season following so many key losses.
Future NFL draft picks such as linebackers Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree, defensive tackles John Jenkins and Kwame Geathers, DE Cornelius Washington, CB Sanders Commings and safeties Bacarri Rambo and Shawn Williams will all have to be replaced.
Luckily, the team has plenty of intriguing defensive pieces such as DE Garrison Smith, LB Jordan Jenkins, CB Damian Swann and safety Josh Harvey-Clemons to build around.
Although a defensive drop-off is to be expected, the Bulldogs' offense should definitely be good enough to compete for a third straight SEC East division title.
7. Texas A&M Aggies
QB Johnny Manziel, the defending Heisman Trophy winner, will be college football’s most celebrated cover boy this offseason. But he isn’t the only reason why the Aggies are capable of competing for a national title in 2013.
Manziel will have the benefit of handing off to one of the SEC’s best running backs, Brandon Williams, one of the conference’s best receivers, Mike Evans, and he’ll be protected by the best offensive tackle in the country, Jake Matthews.
Those are certainly four nice building blocks on offense.
On defense, the losses of DE Damontre Moore and LB Sean Porter were damaging. But the unit still has a few standout playmakers such as CB Deshazor Everett, LB Donnie Baggs and DE Julien Obioha.
“Johnny Football” will be the most talked-about player in College Station this summer, but there are plenty of other Aggies that will be making a ton of noise this fall.
8. South Carolina Gamecocks
Jadeveon Clowney is going to be the one South Carolina player who you’re going to read all about this offseason, and rightfully so, considering Clowney’s the most talented player in the country.
The All-American defensive end is the early favorite to be the No. 1 pick in the 2014 NFL draft. But scouts will also be keeping a close eye on his fellow underclassmen defenders such as DT Kelcy Quarles, DE Chaz Sutton, CB Jimmy Legree and safety Brison Williams.
On offense, it’s all about QB Connor Shaw.
The Gamecocks have finished with 11 wins in each of the past two seasons. Now, it’s time for Shaw, one of the most talented dual-threat quarterbacks in the country, to elevate the Gamecocks to the next level.
With running backs like Mike Davis and Brandon Wilds and receivers like Bruce Ellington, Damiere Byrd, Nick Jones and Shaq Roland and TE Rory Anderson all surrounding him, Shaw has the necessary firepower he needs to bring home an elusive SEC title in 2013.
9. Clemson Tigers
Tajh Boyd plus Sammy Watkins is an equation that could end up equaling the most dangerous passing combination that we’ve seen in college football in quite some time.
Boyd looked outstanding during his exceptional junior campaign in 2012. But Watkins just could never seem to get on track after returning from an early suspension. However, the two should still be able to create plenty of magic through the air in 2013.
The Tigers' offense will also feature one of the best lineman in the ACC, OT Brandon Thomas and a potential breakout star rusher in RB Roderick McDowell.
On defense, LB Stephone Anthony is loaded with natural ability, and so are safety Travis Blanks and DE Corey Crawford as well.
Dabo Swinney’s squad has the talent it takes to compete for an ACC title and a BCS championship in 2013.
Clemson has two potential Heisman contenders in Boyd and Watkins and enough overall athleticism to beat any opponent on its schedule.
10. Stanford Cardinal
Going into the 2012 season, Stanford was a bit of an afterthought. There didn’t seem to be many people who thought the Cardinal could win a conference title following the loss of star signal-caller Andrew Luck.
David Shaw’s squad did just that, however. The Cardinal beat the league’s two preseason favorites, Oregon and USC, and compiled a 12-2 record that included a Pac-12 championship and a victory in the Rose Bowl.
Stanford will now go into the 2013 season expected not just to contend for another conference title, but a BCS championship as well.
QB Kevin Hogan looks like he’s going to be the team’s next great player at the position. Hogan will miss ultra-reliable running back Stepfan Taylor and tight ends Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo. However, he’ll still be joined by plenty of potential standouts on offense such as RB Anthony Wilkerson, receivers Ty Montgomery and Kelcey Young and All-Pac-12 caliber lineman David Yankey, Andrus Peat and Cameron Fleming.
On defense, DE Ben Gardner, linebackers Shayne Skov and Trent Murphy and safety Ed Reynolds make up the core of a defense that ranked first in the Pac-12 in scoring defense, total defense and rushing defense this past season.
The Cardinal certainly have all the pieces it takes to put together a successful conference title defense campaign in 2013.
11. Texas Longhorns
Texas has not been a true factor in the Big 12 championship race for the past three years. But that should change in 2013.
Admittedly, the Longhorns have lost some key defensive leaders such as DE Alex Okafor and FS Kenny Vaccaro. However, they’ll bringing back plenty of experienced veteran starters to offset those losses.
The team’s running back trio of Johnathan Gray, Joe Bergeron and Malcolm Brown is one of the deepest and most talented backfields in college football. And the wide receiver duo of Mike Davis and Jaxon Shipley is just as dangerous.
Up front, the offensive line will have two potential All-Big 12 offensive guards, Mason Walters and Trey Hopkins, leading the way.
DE Jackson Jeffcoat is the MVP of the defense. But LB Steve Edmond, cornerbacks Quandre Diggs and Carrington Byndom and DT Desmond Jackson all possess star potential as well.
Ultimately, if Texas can get solid enough play out of starting quarterback David Ash, and if the team can remain fully focused and motivated for a full season, the Longhorns should return to national prominence in 2013.
12. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Manti Te’o may have been the most publicized player on Notre Dame’s defense this past season. But Te’o was just one of the many key defenders, who helped the Irish rank second in the nation in scoring defense and seventh in rushing defense.
DE Stephon Tuitt and DT Louis Nix are two of the best defensive linemen in the country; LB Prince Shembo looks like he could be one of the top pass-rushers in college football; and CB Bennett Jackson is a tremendous looking cover corner.
All four players will challenge for All-American honors next season.
On offense, the team will have to replace many of its key skill-position players from 2012 such as running backs Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick and TE Tyler Eifert. However, the Irish will welcome back starting QB Everett Golson, as well as three very intriguing athletic specimens, RB George Atkinson III and receivers TJ Jones and DaVaris Daniels.
If Brian Kelly can get his team properly refocused after a pitiful performance in the BCS championship game, the Irish should once again compete for a BCS bowl berth in 2013.
13. Oklahoma State Cowboys
Oklahoma State will have one of the most intriguing must-watch quarterback battles of the offseason. J.W. Walsh, Wes Lunt and Clint Chelf all got the chance to prove themselves as starters in 2012, and all of them will be worthy candidates for the starting signal-caller job.
Whoever ends up as the starter (I’d pick Walsh) will be lucky, because he’ll be surrounded by an abundance of explosive offensive weapons.
WR Josh Stewart, RB Jeremy Smith and TE Black Jackson are three of the best players in the Big 12, and all of them will compete for All-American honors.
On defense, the player to watch is CB Justin Gilbert, one of the best athletes in the country. He’s got the potential to be a big breakout defensive star in 2013.
Safety Daytawion Lowe, DT Calvin Barnett and linebackers Shaun Lewis and Caleb Lavey should all be standouts as well.
The Cowboys couldn’t successfully defend the Big 12 title in 2012. But they should be right back in the hunt for a conference championship next season.
14. Michigan Wolverines
Michigan started off the 2012 season with all kinds of hype. The Wolverines were ranked in the top 10 of the preseason polls, and they were considered by many to be the favorite to win the Big Ten title.
Things didn’t go as planned, however, and Brady Hoke’s squad ended up finishing the year just 8-5.
The Wolverines will now be looking to put the disappointing campaign in the rear-view mirror with a bounce back season in 2013.
The offense will miss the playmaking ability of dynamic dual-threat QB Denard Robinson. However, Robinson’s replacement, Devin Gardner, may turn out to be an even better all-around quarterback.
Gardner will be joined on offense by Outland Trophy candidate, OT Taylor Lewan, and three potential breakout stars—RB Fitzgerald Toussaint, WR Jeremy Gallon and TE Devin Funchess.
The team’s best overall player, LB Jake Ryan, a Clay Matthews clone, will lead a defense that should be one of the most stout units in the Big Ten.
If Gardner turns out to be the electric and exciting playmaker that many are expecting him to be, Michigan has the talent to challenge Ohio State for a conference title.
15. USC Trojans
USC was the most disappointing team of the 2012 season. The Trojans started off ranked in the top three of both preseason polls, yet they finished the season just 7-6.
Now, looking forward to 2013, maybe it’s actually a bit better that the spotlight isn’t shining so brightly on Lane Kiffin and his team going into next season.
Kiffin’s got a big question to answer at quarterback, where Matt Barkley is set to be replaced by either Max Wittek, who struggled mightily when Barkley was injured, or incoming prized recruit Max Browne.
Whether it’s Wittek or Browne leading the way (I’d pick Browne), the Trojans' offense should still remain highly productive either way. RB Silas Redd is a workhorse, Marqise Lee is the best receiver in the country, Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer are the best tight end tandem in the country, and Nelson Agholor is a secret weapon, who is both versatile and explosive.
The new look 3-4 defense will be fun to see, especially since the team has so much talent in the defensive front seven. DTs Leonard Williams and George Uko, DEs Morgan Breslin and Devon Kennard and LBs Hayes Pullard, Lamar Dawson and Dion Bailey should all be solid fits for Clancy Pendergast’s new system.
This will be a make-or-break season for Kiffin. But luckily, he’s got the talent it takes to bounce back and compete for a Pac-12 championship in 2013.
16. Florida Gators
Florida’s season ended on a disappointing down note in the Sugar Bowl, when Louisville shocked the Gators, 33-23.
Still, it’s hard to complain about an 11-2 season that resulted in a BCS bowl berth.
Next season, it could culminate with even better results if Florida’s new starters step up and shine.
RB Mike Gillislee, TE Jordan Reed, OT Xavier Nixon, DT Sharrif Floyd, linebackers Jon Bostic and Jelani Jenkins and safety Matt Elam all have to be replaced.
Luckily, however, Urban Meyer brought in plenty of big-name recruits before he left Gainesville, so the Gators are still well-stocked for 2013.
Former blue-chip recruits such as QB Jeff Driskel, OT Chaz Green, DE Dominique Easley, DE/LB Ronald Powell and CB Loucheiz Purifoy will form the core of a team that will be looking to topple South Carolina and Georgia and win the SEC East next season.
17. Oklahoma Sooners
Blake “The Belldozer” Bell has the potential to be Oklahoma’s next star quarterback. But we must first find out two things:
1) Can Bell handle being a full-time starter for a whole season?
2) Is he consistent enough as a passer to be a true dual-threat weapon?
Bell will have a lot to prove next season. But luckily, he’ll also have plenty of help on offense.
Center Gabe Ikard, OT Daryl Williams, RB Damien Williams, FB Trey Millard and wide receivers Sterling Shepard and Jalen Saunders will all compete for All-Big 12 honors in 2013.
On defense, CB Aaron Colvin and LB Corey Nelson are both huge difference-makers, while DE Chuka Ndulue is destined to be the team’s next star pass-rusher.
If Bell’s as good as advertised, Oklahoma will be a sleeper team to watch out for in the national title race in 2013.
18. UCLA Bruins
In just his first season as the starting quarterback, Brett Hundley became one of the Pac-12’s biggest breakout stars in 2012.
Hundley totaled over 4,000 yards of offense and accounted for 38 touchdowns.
He led the Bruins to a surprisingly successful nine-win season, which included a Pac-12 South division title and a victory over crosstown rival USC.
The athletic sophomore signal-caller will return to lead a UCLA offense that will feature one of the best offensive guards in the country, Xavier Su’a-Filo, along with one of the best receivers in the Pac-12, Shaquelle Evans.
UCLA’s true MVP is on defense. LB Anthony Barr, a former fullback, flashed remarkable pass-rushing skills and incredible playmaking ability throughout the 2012 season, racking up 13 sacks and 21 tackles for loss.
Barr, DE Cassius Marsh, fellow linebacker Eric Kendricks and safety Tevin McDonald will all start the 2013 season on prestigious preseason award watch lists.
Hundley and Barr are the type of elite impact players that you can build a national championship contender around.
19. Louisville Cardinals
QB Teddy Bridgewater will enter the 2013 season as one of the top Heisman contenders in the country. If Bridgewater actually wants to have a serious shot at winning the award, however, he’s going to need the help of his supporting cast.
Luckily, he’ll have plenty of talent surrounding him on offense. The Cardinals bring back the productive and reliable rushing duo of Senorise Perry and Jeremy Wright, and they have a potential star receiver in DeVante Parker.
The defense is also loaded with impact players at all three levels, most notably DE Lorenzo Mauldin, linebackers Preston Brown and Keith Brown and safeties Hakeem Smith and Calvin Pryor.
Bridgewater will be the team’s big star. But make no mistake about it, the Cardinals will have plenty of other great players in 2013 besides their big-name quarterback.
20. TCU Horned Frogs
Gary Patterson has to be at least a little upset about losing WR Josh Boyce and DE Stansly Maponga a year early to the 2013 NFL draft. Boyce and Maponga would have played critical roles in the Horned Frogs’ success next season, and both would have benefited from having another year to improve their draft stock.
Still, even though Boyce and Maponga won’t be in the lineup, TCU still has enough talent to win the Big 12 in 2013.
The quarterback battle between Casey Pachall and Trevone Boykin will be an interesting one to to watch. Whoever ends up winning the job will be lucky to have skill-position players such as running backs Waymon James and B.J. Catalon and receivers Brandon Carter and Lardarius Brown surrounding them.
The defense, which has the chance to be one of the strongest units in college football, will be led by two potential All-Americans, DE Devonte Fields and CB Jason Verrett. They’re two of the
best players at their respective positions in the country.
Look for the Horned Frogs to make a major move up in the conference pecking order this year, following a mediocre 7-6 campaign last season.
21. Nebraska Cornhuskers
Nebraska overcame one big hurdle in 2012. The Cornhuskers won a less-competitive-than-expected Big Ten Legends division and actually got to the conference title game.
The problem was, they got destroyed and embarrassed 70-31 by Wisconsin once they got there.
After following that up with a 45-31 loss to Georgia in the Capital One Bowl, it’s not as if Bo Pelini’s team is riding a huge wave of momentum going into the offseason.
There are still plenty of reasons, however, to get excited about the Cornhuskers in 2013.
QB Taylor Martinez should be motivated to quiet his critics once and for all with a solid senior season, and RB Ameer Abdullah and WR Kenny Bell are two players that should send shivers down the spines of every Big Ten fan.
On defense, there are a lot of key starters that need to be replaced. But there are also plenty of intriguing returning players such as LB David Santos, cornerbacks Ciante Evans and Andrew Green and DE Jason Ankrah, who are ready for leadership roles.
Pelini’s team certainly will be a factor in the Legends division once again in 2013.
22. North Carolina Tar Heels
North Carolina lost its best overall player, RB Giovani Bernard, who was the most productive offensive player in college football in 2012, averaging 171 yards from scrimmage per game.
The Tar Heels also took some sizable hits on defense with the departures of DT Sylvester Williams and LB Kevin Reddick.
Still, there’s plenty of returning talent on both sides of the ball that’s worth getting excited about. Coach Larry Fedora clearly has the pieces he needs to assemble a conference contender in his second season.
On offense, QB Bryn Renner and WR Quinshad Davis form a lethal passing duo, and OT James Hurst and center Russell Bodine are two great offensive linemen to build around.
The defense will feature some of the ACC’s best defenders in DE Kareem Martin, SS Tre Boston and CB Tim Scott.
Going 8-4 in year one of the Fedora era was a good start. Now, it’s time for the Tar Heels to take the next step in 2013.
23. Oregon State Beavers
Oregon State doesn’t have the amount of flashy highlight-reel worthy offensive stars on its roster as its in-state rival, the Oregon Ducks. But the Beavers do have two of the Pac-12’s most gifted and underrated playmakers in RB Storm Woods and WR Brandin Cooks.
They also have one of the best pass-rushers in the country, DE Scott Crichton, leading a defense that should be one of the top units in the Pac-12 next season.
This is a team that has the talent and the leadership in place to be a dark-horse contender in the conference race next season. Hopefully, either Sean Mannion or Cody Vaz can take the reins at quarterback and lead the Beavers where they need to go.
24. Michigan State Spartans
Michigan State’s offense has plenty of question marks surrounding certain key positions. But there aren’t many question marks surrounding the team’s dominant defense.
It’s true, losing DE William Gholston, a future Day-2 NFL draft pick, early to the pros does hurt. But even without Gholston, the Spartans still return 11 of the top 15 tacklers from a unit that ranked fourth in the nation in total defense, eighth in rushing defense and ninth in scoring defense.
The linebacker tandem of Max Bullough and Denicos Allen is one of the best in the country, as is the secondary pairing of CB Darqueze Dennard and safety Isaiah Lewis. Plus, DE Marcus Rush possesses unlimited potential.
If the offense, led by RB Nick Hill and WR Bennie Fowler, can produce at a higher level in 2013, the Spartans should contend for a spot in the Big Ten title game.
25. Miami Hurricanes
All you have to do is mention one name to Miami fans to get them excited about the 2013 season. That one name is Duke Johnson.
Johnson, a Miami native, is coming off one of the greatest freshman performances that we’ve ever seen from a Hurricane player.
The sensational star running back is the savior that Miami needs. But he isn’t the only player that fans should be excited about. QB Stephen Morris seems like he could be on the verge of putting together a breakout performance next season. He may even end up being the 2013 version of Johnny Manziel.
Johnson and Morris should be able to put up plenty of points, while the defense, led by DE Shayon Green, LB Denzel Perryman and safety Kacy Rodgers, should be able to consistently keep opposing offenses contained.
It remains to be seen if Miami’s self-imposed postseason bans will continue in 2013. If they don’t, the Hurricanes could very well end up winning the ACC and making it into a BCS bowl.
Arizona State Sun Devils
Boise State Broncos
Mississippi State Bulldogs
Virginia Tech Hokies
West Virginia Mountaineers