College football: Ten teams with best shot to reach the CFP
The last year of the four-team College Football Playoff is set for 2023, and there are plenty of contenders heading into the season.
ESPN’s College Football Power Index measures the strength of teams and predicts how games and seasons will unfold. FPI has Ohio State as the top team entering the 2023 season and also gives the Buckeyes the best chance to reach the College Football Playoff.
In total, ESPN’s FPI has 17 teams with at least a 1 percent chance to reach the CFP. Here is a look at the top 10 College Football Playoff contenders, according to FPI, as well as their chance to reach the playoff:
Ohio State was in the College Football Playoff last year and could be right back there in 2023. The Buckeyes were a made field goal away from beating Georgia in last year’s semifinals, before the Bulldogs went on to dominate TCU in the national title game.
Ohio State lost quarterback CJ Stroud, but the Buckeyes return plenty of playmakers. That includes receiver Marvin Harrison Jr., who is arguably the top player in college football heading into the 2023 season. If the Buckeyes can get improved play on defense, they will be legit national title contenders this fall.
The two-time defending national champions are attempting to become the first program since Minnesota in the 1930s to win three straight titles. Like Ohio State, Georgia must replace its starting quarterback in Stetson Bennett. But the Bulldogs are once again loaded on both sides of the ball.
Kirby Smart has built a machine in Athens, and Georgia doesn’t rebuild, it reloads. The Bulldogs also have a manageable schedule by SEC standards and are expected to be right back in the College Football Playoff again in 2023.
Georgia has surpassed Alabama as the current top program in college football, but Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide shouldn’t be counted out. Yes, Alabama must replace Bryce Young, who was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. And yes, Saban brought in new coordinators on both sides of the ball this offseason. But Alabama has as much talent, if not more, than anyone in the country.
The Crimson Tide are viewed by some as trending down, but many experts expect Alabama to contend for a national title this season. That includes ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit, who said this offseason that he is “leaning to Alabama” to win the national title.
Former Alabama assistant Steve Sarkisian is the leader of the program that is next on this list. The Longhorns have steadily improved under Sarkisian, going from 5-7 in Year 1 to 8-5 last year.
Sarkisian should have his most talented team yet in Austin in 2023, led by star quarterback and Ohio State transfer Quinn Ewers. The Longhorns are clearly trending in the right direction, and if they can upset Alabama on Sept. 9, watch out. Texas nearly pulled off the upset last year, despite Ewers going down with an injury early on in the matchup. There is a large gap from the top three teams to Texas, but don’t count out the Longhorns.
Michigan has defeated Ohio State in back-to-back seasons and won back-to-back Big Ten titles. The Wolverines made the College Football Playoff in 2021 and 2022 and will look to make it three straight appearances this fall.
The Wolverines return star running backs Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards and also get back quarterback JJ McCarthy, who was solid last year. Michigan will likely be without head coach Jim Harbaugh for the first four games of the season as he is expected to be suspended, but with games against East Carolina, UNLV, Bowling Green and Rutgers Weeks 1-4, it shouldn’t matter.
The Trojans just missed out on a College Football Playoff berth last season but should be right back in the mix in 2023. Heisman winner Caleb Williams is back and has plenty of talented receivers to throw the ball to.
Head coach Lincoln Riley is no stranger to the CFP, having led Oklahoma there three times during his time in Norman. Riley has yet to win a game in the playoff, but with the talent the Trojans return on offense, this could be the year he gets over the hump. USC will need to be much better defensively, though.
Clemson is behind only Alabama as far as College Football Playoff appearances with six, but the Tigers have missed out on the fun each of the past two seasons. Garrett Riley was brought in from TCU this offseason to get Clemson back to being elite on that side of the ball.
Dabo Swinney has publicly stated that he would love to make the playoff in the final year of the four-team format, and he has the talent on both sides of the ball to do so. If Riley can get the Clemson offense back to being explosive, the Tigers are loaded defensively and could get back in the national title conversation.
LSU surprised much of the college football world in 2022, reaching the SEC Championship game in Brian Kelly‘s first season in Baton Rouge. You can make the case that LSU has an even better roster entering this fall, and the Tigers should be right back in the mix to win the SEC West.
LSU does have a brutal schedule, opening with Florida State, before having to navigate a loaded SEC West. But if the Tigers can get off to a fast start and beat the Seminoles, the college football world better watch out.
Brian Kelly’s former team is also in a position to make some noise this fall. ESPN’s FPI has Notre Dame as one of its contenders to reach the College Football Playoff in Year 2 under Marcus Freeman.
Notre Dame had an up-and-down first season under Freeman that included blasting Clemson. The Irish added Wake Forest quarterback Sam Hartman from the transfer portal, and he should provide a big boost to the offense. Freeman has proven that he is an excellent defensive coach, and the Irish should once again have a strong running game. If Hartman can take the passing game to another level, the Irish could be dangerous.
Year 1 for Brent Venables as the head coach at Oklahoma was without a doubt a disappointment. The Sooners struggled to a 6-7 mark and were particularly bad on defense, which is Venables’ specialty.
With a better culture in place and a better understanding of what Venables is trying to do defensively, look for the Sooners to take a big step forward in 2023. Oklahoma’s last four losses of the 2022 season were each by a field goal. If the Sooners can finish close games and stay healthy, they could be one of the surprises of the college football season.
The ESPN FPI list features expected teams such as Georgia, Ohio State and Alabama, as well as a couple of surprises, including Oklahoma. College football season is right around the corner, and soon the contenders and pretenders will be decided on the field. The final year of the four-team College Football Playoff has a chance to be a special one.CJ StroudMarvin Harrison Jr.Stetson BennettKirby SmartNick SabanBryce YoungSteve SarkisianQuinn EwersBlake CorumDonovan EdwardsJJ McCarthyJim HarbaughCaleb WilliamsLincoln RileyGarrett RileyDabo SwinneyBrian KellyMarcus FreemanSam HartmanBrent Venables