One Word for Every College Football Top 25 Team's Offseason

David KenyonFeatured Columnist IVJanuary 26, 2023

One Word for Every College Football Top 25 Team's Offseason

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    Kirby Smart
    Kirby SmartAustin McAfee/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    If you need to describe the college football offseason as succinctly as possible, a single word will suffice: hectic.

    Several teams have to reshape a roster, but others are welcoming back a bunch of key players. Some programs need to replace a head coach or top assistants. Problematic trends must be corrected, and breakout seasons need to be sustained.

    And that's merely the beginning.

    Over the next seven-plus months, all 131 teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision will tackle any number of tasks. We're focusing on 25 of the best programs from the 2022 season.

25-21. NC State, Mississippi State, Troy, UTSA, Texas

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    Dave Doeren
    Dave DoerenJared C. Tilton/Getty Images

    25. North Carolina State Wolfpack: Familiar

    The context is always slightly different, and NC State has a quarterback conundrum heading into 2023. For the fifth time in six years, though, the Wolfpack are hoping to build on an eight- or nine-win season. What specifically has to improve for NC State to finally reach the ACC Championship Game? That's the defining question for Dave Doeren and his staff.

    24. Mississippi State Bulldogs: Change

    After the sudden death of head coach Mike Leach, Mississippi State promoted defensive coordinator Zach Arnett. That alone is a gargantuan change. But the defense also had 15 seniors—some return-eligible, many others not—in 2022, and most of them aren't returning.

    23. Troy Trojans: Pleasant

    Considering what Neal Brown accomplished before accepting the West Virginia job, Troy had Sun Belt title dreams each season. However, a run of three straight five-win years led to Chip Lindsey's dismissal and lowered expectations. Jon Sumrall stepped in and oversaw a 12-win campaign, putting Troy right back in the conversation as a potential top Sun Belt team annually.

    22. UTSA Roadrunners: Exciting

    Not only is UTSA heading from Conference USA to the AAC, the Roadrunners received a string of great personnel news. Though offensive coordinator Will Stein left for Oregon, quarterback Frank Harris and key receivers Joshua Cephus and De'Corian Clark all decided to use their extra year of eligibility to return.

    21. Texas Longhorns: Typical

    Talent! Optimism! Texas! This broken record keeps on spinning. Will the Longhorns finally break through? Since losing in the 2009 season's national title, Texas has managed double-digit wins in a single year. Texas improved from a disastrous 5-7 in Steve Sarkisian's debut to a more-respectable-but-still-disappointing 8-5 mark in 2022.

20-16. South Carolina, Notre Dame, UCLA, Oregon State, LSU

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    Sam Hartman
    Sam HartmanDavid Jensen/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    20. South Carolina Gamecocks: Favorable

    In program history, the Gamecocks have reached the nine-win mark in only seven seasons. Shane Beamer has notched seven and eight in two years, and South Carolina capped the 2022 campaign with upsets of Tennessee and Clemson. The arrow is pointing up in 2023, especially since quarterback Spencer Rattler decided to stick around.

    19. Notre Dame Fighting Irish: Promising

    After a frustrating start to 2022, Notre Dame rattled off a 6-1 finish to hit nine victories. While suspect depth at receiver is a legitimate concern for 2023, the arrival of Wake Forest transfer Sam Hartman gives the Fighting Irish a high-upside quarterback. Don't expect Notre Dame to make the College Football Playoff, but a year-end Top 10 ranking is plausible.

    18. UCLA Bruins: Curious

    Specifically, the intrigue is at quarterback. Dorian Thompson-Robinson started all five years of his eligibility, and 5-star signee Dante Moore has a similar chance to take the QB1 reins immediately. But the Bruins—who are entering their last season in the Pac-12—have a road-filled schedule in 2023 and an overhauled offense. Can a young roster piece together a strong year before joining the Big Ten?

    17. Oregon State Beavers: Lively

    How could there not be a positive feeling around the program? Prior to 2022, Oregon State had notched 10 victories in only two seasons. Plus, the Beavers picked up Clemson transfer DJ Uiagalelei. While he's not a certain upgrade over Ben Gulbranson, Uiagalelei is a former 5-star prospect who simply might need a change of scenery—and should have a quality offensive line to ease the transition.

    16. LSU Tigers: Confident

    LSU's ascent from "struggled with Auburn and getting smoked by Tennessee" to "SEC West champions" was remarkable. If a division title can happen in Brian Kelly's first year as quarterback Jayden Daniels adjusted to a new offense, why can't LSU repeat it? After all, the players know what to expect in the offseason this time around. Alabama remains an obvious obstacle, but LSU won't lack confidence.

15-11. Oregon, Tulane, Florida State, Washington, Kansas State

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    Rome Odunze
    Rome OdunzeNorm Hall/Getty Images

    15. Oregon Ducks: Fascinating

    We could talk about Oregon's tremendous recruiting. However, the Bo Nix story continues, and I am mesmerized by his redemption arc. Through four college years, his most effective seasons—one as a freshman at Auburn and in 2022 at Oregon—both happened with Kenny Dillingham as the coordinator. He left for Arizona State, and Oregon replaced him with Will Stein. On paper, the partnership should work. But will Nix shake the trend of struggling without Dillingham?

    14. Tulane Green Wave: Triumphant

    Until proven otherwise, seasons like 2022 simply don't happen often at Tulane. After winning a first-ever AAC title, the Green Wave pulled off a brilliant comeback to shock USC in the Cotton Bowl. Yes, it's exciting that quarterback Michael Pratt is returning. Sure, it's imperative to understand past successes will guarantee anything in the future. But the Wave should be reveling in the recent campaign all offseason long.

    13. Florida State Seminoles: Hype (Part I)

    12. Washington Huskies: Hype (Part II)

    Florida State and Washington fit an identical mold: If a key player had a stay-or-go decision, just about everyone stayed. Among the most notable returning players, FSU kept quarterback Jordan Travis, wide receiver Johnny Wilson and edge-rusher Jared Verse. Washington brought back quarterback Michael Penix Jr., wideouts Rome Odunze and Jalen McMillian and a host of NFL-caliber defenders. You'll probably see both FSU and UW in preseason Top 10s.

    11. Kansas State Wildcats: Stable

    Star running back Deuce Vaughn and edge-rusher Felix Anudike-Uzomah are headed to the NFL. Still, the reigning Big 12 champions have a great foundation with an entirely intact offensive line coming back to create space for veteran quarterback Will Howard and running back Treshaun Word, a transfer from Florida State.

10-6. Clemson, Penn State, USC, Utah, Tennessee

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    Caleb Williams and Lincoln Riley
    Caleb Williams and Lincoln RileyLuis Sinco / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

    10. Clemson Tigers: Influential

    Clemson holds the juxtaposition of success that isn't good enough. In the last two seasons, the Tigers have won 10 games and 11 with an ACC title. But in both years, the offense was significantly less efficient than its recent standard. Clemson hired offensive coordinator Garrett Riley from TCU and will move forward with Cade Klubnik at quarterback. How quickly they mesh—or don't—is the decisive piece for the Tigers' outlook in 2023 and beyond.

    9. Penn State Nittany Lions: Demanding

    James Franklin has guided the Nittany Lions to a quartet of 11-win seasons with a Big Ten title and a victory in each of the Fiesta, Cotton and Rose Bowls during his nine years. Penn State has also reached the CFP zero times—unlike Ohio State and Michigan—and is a combined 4-14 against those key opponents. Penn State should be excited about quarterback Drew Allar and what he might accomplish. Yet the Nittany Lions, as of now, remain the third-best team in the division.

    8. USC Trojans: Positive

    The memory of wasting a chance to secure a Pac-12 title, failing to make the College Football Playoff and collapsing in the Cotton Bowl will sting. Nevertheless, USC ascended from 4-8 to 11-3 in Lincoln Riley's debut year with Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams leading the offense. While it's not a joyous offseason, the Trojans have established themselves as a national threat once again.

    7. Utah Utes: Confident

    In the meantime, Utah is sitting on its Pac-12 throne with star quarterback Cam Rising on the way back. Yes, the two-time defending league champions have a tough 2023 schedule with trips to Oregon State, USC and Washington, along with a nonconference game at Baylor. But the message from the Utes is inarguable: You're still chasing us.

    6. Tennessee Volunteers: Compelling

    Gone is quarterback Hendon Hooker, who played an integral role in changing the short-term trajectory of what was a volatile program two years ago. Tennessee has regained its footing in the SEC, begun recruiting at a high level and entered the offseason after expected 2023 starter Joe Milton III propelled UT to an Orange Bowl victory. Can the Vols stick in the national race, or should an eight- or nine-win season be a fine expectation next season?

5-1. Alabama, Ohio State, TCU, Michigan, Georgia

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    Nick Saban
    Nick SabanKevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    5. Alabama Crimson Tide: Transition

    As usual, Alabama has a stream of NFL-bound talent. Most notably, quarterback Bryce Young and edge-rusher Will Anderson Jr. could be the first two players selected in the 2023 draft. However, Nick Saban has to replace three key coordinators. Bill O'Brien returned to oversee the New England Patriots' offense. Pete Golding left to lead the Ole Miss defense, and associate coordinator Charles Kelly joined Deion Sanders' staff at Colorado.

    4. Ohio State Buckeyes: Anxious

    If only the field goal in the Peach Bowl hadn't sailed to the left; Ohio State probably would've won a national championship. Instead, the Buckeyes are dealing with consecutive 11-win seasons that included a loss to rival Michigan. They'll be eager to atone for back-to-back disappointing finishes while Kyle McCord presumably takes over at quarterback.

    3. TCU Horned Frogs: Upbeat

    Whether the Horned Frogs can sustain their 2022 breakout is the most important question, particularly with key departures all over the offense. But as TCU attempts to stick near the top of the Big 12, the mood will be significantly more cheerful. While the program won't be dwelling on what happened in the championship game, the fact TCU reached that plateau can be satisfying.

    2. Michigan Wolverines: Chaotic

    Jim Harbaugh flirted with the NFL again and is the subject of an NCAA probe into recruiting infractions. Michigan fired co-offensive coordinator Matt Weiss after an investigation into allegations of computer access crimes. Nine players have transferred out, but at least seven are coming in. Seven starters entered the draft, yet 10 key contributors passed up the NFL. It's been nonstop news in Ann Arbor.

    1. Georgia Bulldogs: Methodical

    This one is pretty easy, right? Georgia has celebrated the last two national titles. Beyond that, the Dawgs have appeared in five of the last six SEC Championship Games and won twice. They constantly build a top-ranked recruiting class. While the roster must be retooled, it was a similar story last offseason. Kirby Smart won't be changing the routine this offseason.