The Top 25 Best Teams of the 2022 Season (And a way too early look at the Top 25 going into 2023)
My Top 25 of 2022
Despite looking beatable at times this year (a trait most teams founded on great defense shares) the Dawgs emphatically repeated. 29-1 in two seasons is amazing. They are the undisputed champions of college football. They made Vince Dooley proud. There’s nothing else that can be said, the goose egg in 15-0 does all the talking that needs to be done.
I know they just got pasted 65-7 but TCU was one of only three teams to get 13 wins this year. They played the other two teams. They beat one of them and lost to the other. I can’t fault them for a year of 13-2 when they had a brand new coach and a brand new quarterback. Besides, they beat the number three team who beat the number four team who gave number one their best game in two seasons as national champions.
3) Michigan (13-1)
The Wolverines improved this season from an already stellar one in 2021. This is the best they have been in 25 years. Even with a lot of tough breaks and mishaps and they were within a touchdown of advancing to play in the national title game. It ended in heartbreak and there are certainly things the Wolverine faithful would like to change but there is no doubt the Wolverines were one of the top four teams in the country this season.
4) Ohio State (11-2)
Like their rival to the north, the Buckeyes were close to victory. They were a bad call away from a huge upset. While some of their same demons hounded them, the Buckeyes did things a lot better against Georgia than against that team up north. The offense addressed all the problems they had in the month between games. Sadly, the defense was still atrocious. Like 2021 the Buckeyes, they were a competent game called by their defensive coaches away from hoisting a lot of trophies.
5) Penn State (11-2)
Penn State put the college football world on notice with their Rose Bowl win over Utah. They needed a big win from the Sean Clifford Era and James Franklin needed one too after falling to the Buckeyes and Wolverines and they got it in the Rose Bowl. Their only losses were to two top-four teams. They were much better than given credit for. They showcased a massive amount of talent in the Rose Bowl and head into 2023 with plenty of momentum.
6) Tennessee (11-2)
This year might be referred to by Vols fans as the Tennessee Turn-Around. Hendon Hooker was amazing in leading the Vols and Joe Milton finished off a good season with an Orange Bowl win. Beating Alabama, Florida, and Clemson in the Orange Bowl was a great second year for Josh Heupel. Now Vols fans just need to root for Brent Venables at Oklahoma and let Heupel keep rebuilding Rocky Top.
7) Washington (11-2)
The best team in college football this year to not play in a New Year’s Six Bowl. The Huskies were an elite team with Michael Penix leading the nation in passing yards. In a very competitive year for the Pac-12, they finished as the strongest team in the conference. Penix and the Huskies will challenge Williams and the Trojans for the conference in 2023.
8) (Alabama 11-2)
Most teams would be thrilled to beat their main rivals, win the Sugar Bowl and finish the year 11-2. Not Alabama. Like Ohio State in 2021 (and this year) 11-2 is not good enough for Nick Saban and the Tide. It especially hurts that Tennessee is on the rise after Alabama having dominated them for years and Georgia challenging Bama for the top overall program. Still, Bama fans had a good ending to the season and can thank Bryce Young and Will Anderson for their stellar careers at Alabama.
9) Tulane (12-2)
Another amazing team out of the American Athletic Conference with a great season as the best of the Group of 5. If Willie Fritz and Tulane build on this success they might find themselves invited to a Power 5 Conference like their friends UCF, Cincinnati, and Houston. This a program to keep an eye on after going from 2-10 to 12-2.
10) Troy (12-2)
The Trojans were much closer than most realize to being the best Group of 5 team this year. Tulane earned it but Troy was right behind them. Winning the Sun Belt and getting 12 wins is no small feat. Only five teams out of 131 got 12 wins. Troy was one of them.
11) Clemson (11-3)
While the Tigers had some tough breaks in losing two of their last three games to SEC foes, they did reassert their dominance of the ACC. The championship still runs through Clemson’s Death Valley. That is a step in the right direction as Dabo Swinney tries to get Clemson back to the playoffs.
12) Utah (10-4)
Back-to-back losses can’t diminish back-to-back Pac-12 Championships and Rose Bowl berths. The Utes are a top program in the Pac-12. Cam Rising had a great year and the Utes will be deadly with him one last season in 2023. The Utes shutting down of Heisman winner Caleb Williams to go along with their repeat as conference champs and getting to the Rose Bowl are enough to make a good year for the Utes.
13) USC (11-3)
USC had a very interesting first season with Lincoln Riley and Caleb Williams. Their offense thrived just like they were expected to. Thrived so much that Williams won the Heisman. But after this season USC is much in the same spot as Oklahoma was under Riley. Lethal offenses that need a good defense to be a complete team.
14) UTSA (11-3)
The Roadrunners are still searching for a bowl win but they are certainly on the right track. The Frank Harris Era is looking to go on for an unprecedented seventh year. The Roadrunners had a good year winning the Conference USA Championship in their final season in the conference before moving to the American Athletic Conference in 2023.
15) Kansas State (10-4)
Talk about a program on the rise. If you were purple in the Big 12 you’re building something special. Splitting their games with TCU at 1-1 and making it to the Sugar Bowl as Big 12 Champions is a big deal in Little Manhattan.
16) Fresno State (10-4)
The Bulldogs started 1-4 and then tore off an impressive nine-game winning streak that included a Mountain West Championship and L.A. Bowl victory. A great finish for Jeff Tedford and Jake Haener.
17) Florida State (10-3)
One of the surprise teams of 2022 and one of the most solid. Mike Norvell and Jordan Travis had the ‘Noles get to double-digit wins and be the best team in Florida with victories over Miami and the Gators and wins over big-name programs like LSU and Oklahoma.
18) LSU (10-4)
LSU had a good season in year one of Brian Kelly. They got to 10 wins and beat number seven Ole Miss and number six Alabama in back-to-back weeks. They won the SEC West and won the Citrus Bowl on their way to 10-4.
19) Oregon State (10-3)
The Beavers had their best season since their coach was their quarterback in the year 2000. They closed their 10-win season with their biggest wins first over their rival the Oregon Ducks who they knocked out of the Pac-12 Championship and then the Florida Gators in the Las Vegas Bowl. Jonathan Smith has improved the Beavers’ record nearly every season going from 2-10 his first year to this team’s 10-3 record.
20) Oregon (10-3)
The Ducks had one of the most up-and-down seasons of anyone in college football. They started the year being blasted by the defending champions. They then won eight in a row before falling in a nail-biter to Washington. Bounced back with a win over eventual Pac-12 champion Utah, fell to Oregon State, and bounced back again with a Holiday Bowl win over North Carolina in a season of fantastic play by quarterback Bo Nix.
21) Boise State (10-4)
The Broncos too had an up-and-down year. They lost early to UTEP but then won eight straight conference games before finishing as runner-up in the Mountain West. They won their bowl game to conclude a 10-4 season that included wins over 10-win Fresno State, and 10-win Air Force.
22) Air Force (10-3)
In their 16th year under head coach Troy Calhoun, the Falcons achieved a lot. They had back-to-back double-digit win seasons and had their fifth overall 10 or more wins in a season. They beat Army and Navy to win the Commander-In-Chief’s Trophy and beat instate rivals Colorado and Colorado State before beating Baylor out of the Big 12 in the Armed Forces Bowl.
23) Ohio (10-3)
Going from being picked to finish fourth in the division to being the MAC East Champions with 10 wins was a great turnaround for the Bobcats. Tim Albin took his team from 3-9 in his first season to 10-4 in his second, capping it off with an overtime win over Wyoming in the Arizona Bowl.
24) South Alabama (10-3)
The Jaguars had a big turnaround this season as well. From 5-7 in 2021 to 10-3 in 2022. Head coach Kane Wommack had the Jaguars tied for the West Division title in the Sun Belt in just his second year. They took UCLA down to the final seconds, and battled 12-2 Sun Belt Champions Troy in a one-possession game. They are a program on the rise in the Sun Belt
25) Toledo (9-5)
Official Top 25
Here’s the official AP Top 25 of 2022. It’s whacky. I can’t for the life of me figure out why voters put Alabama (#5) above Tennessee(#6) when they have the same record of 11-2 and Tennessee beat them in the head-to-head matchup on the field. Anyone who still thinks Bama should be ahead of Tennessee shouldn’t be allowed to vote in rankings. The same is true of Oregon(#17) and Oregon State(#19) when the Beavers beat the Ducks and have the same record of 10-3.
Unless there is a two-game or more disparity in records, I’ll never have a team who lost to another team ranked above the team they lost to. It’s one thing when we have to put out our opinions based on the best information available but when an issue has been settled on the field, it seems ridiculous to theorize.
Early Top 25 for 2023
This Top 25 will be subject to change. Things like transfers, early draft entries, and coaching changes will definitely change this as it all unfolds. Some basic assumptions being made here are that C.J. Stroud is entering the draft early and that Jim Harbaugh is going back to the NFL.
After sifting through how the college football world will look next year, it makes me happy to know that in 2024 we’ll have a 12-team playoff because there will be a lot of good teams ready to go. In fact, 2023 will have more complete teams, and better teams than this wonderful season of 2022 did.
These Top 25 will change even before the month is out. Questions regarding coaching changes, early draft entries, transfers, and recruiting will all have an incredible impact on the Top 25, and will do so even before we reach Spring Ball. Keep an eye out for updates and follow my rankings!
I kept Georgia near the top of my rankings all year despite some ugly wins because of what I call the ‘Champions Advantage.’ That’s giving the benefit of the doubt to the guys who are defending their crown. In 2023 Georgia will be defending two in a row and despite missing out on great players like Jalen Carter they’ll look to do in 2023 what they did in 2022 and that is quickly and massively reload.
2) Ohio State
If Ohio State can get their defense straightened out and get out of their own way in general they’ll be in the playoff once again. They return their top three wide receivers, their top tight end, and their top four running backs who their (likely new) quarterback will be able to rely on. This will be a program-defining season for them. Succeed and they stay near the top. Repeat 2021 and 2022 and they’ll slide down while their rival to the north continues to ascend.
Alabama is Alabama is Alabama. The Tide don’t have too many years where they aren’t involved in the national championship discussion in December and January, this season was one of those and I expect that to light a napalm-like fire under them in 2023. No one bounces back like Nick Saban. He’s never gone three seasons without a national title at Alabama and he hasn’t won one in the past two going into this 2023 season so the college football world needs to be on alert again.
If Jim Harbaugh returns, I’d put the Wolverines up in the top two. This is the best shape this program has been in, in 25 years. With McCarthy and Corum the Wolverines will likely have the best quarterback-running back combination in the nation going into the 2023 season. Even if Harbaugh leaves the incoming coach will have a tank to drive through opponents with. The only detriment of a coaching change would be from the natural instability that can accompany those changes, but this team will be stacked to weather it like the 2019 Buckeyes or like TCU did this past season.
I’d have the Trojans and the returning Heisman winner higher up if it weren’t for their defensive struggles against Tulane (and Lincoln Riley’s teams historically) and the fact that they lost twice to the best defense they faced last year. Still, Lincoln Riley and Caleb Williams will be set to make a run at the playoffs and at being the second to win two Heisman trophies.
Josh Heupel is one of the best young coaches in the country and is building something special at Tennessee. Even with Hendon Hooker and Jalin Hyatt gone the Vols showed in the Orange Bowl that Joe Milton and Squirrel White are ready to take over for those two Tennessee legends. The two challenges the Vols will face this season are that most teams will be gunning for them and they’ll need Oklahoma to improve to keep Heupel from going home to the Sooners in Norman.
The Huskies return the nation’s leader in passing yards in Michael Penix. Like Tennessee, they had a massive year in returning to prominence and did so in a very competitive year for the Pac-12 Championship. They look to be the team to challenge SC for the spot as the top dog.
I put the Utes this high because of the return of Cam Rising. Rising has improved every season for Utah and he’s taken them to back-to-back Rose Bowls and conference crowns. If he continues to raise the play of the Utah offense and their defense keeps on being the monster that Kyle Whittingham has made then the Utes could make it three Pac-12 Championships and maybe even three Rose Bowls in a row.
They lose their best running back, receiver, and their warrior quarterback Max Duggan but the good news is Sonny Dykes is still leading the charge and they’re still playing in the most wide-open conference in college football. A conference that’s welcoming three new members and out to bloody two old ones on their way out the door. Despite the beating they took from Georgia, their 13-2 season won’t be a fluke. The Horned Frogs are building something that’s on its way up.
10) Penn State
The Nittany Lions could be ranked higher if there was more certainty around Drew Allar who will replace Sean Clifford. The Penn State defense should be just as deadly and Nicholas Singleton is the best running back they’ve had since a couple of NFLers name Saquon Barkley and Miles Sanders. In 2023 they’ll beat at least one of the top two in the conference in Ohio State and Michigan, I just hope it’s not my Buckeyes.
11) Florida State
The big advantage for the Seminoles is that they are returning so much talent from a team that looked to finally right the ship for a prestigious program that had had some rough times. They beat LSU, Florida, Miami, and Oklahoma and have some first-round draft pick talent returning to see what they can do in 2023 under Mike Norvell.
The fighting Swinneys have made their decision as to their quarterback of the future in Cade Klubnik and they reclaimed their ACC throne. Remember, the Tigers have had 12 consecutive seasons of 10 or more wins and they’ve had it for a reason.
Bo Nix’s return and continued improvement and dominance should have the Ducks in competition for their conference title once again. Dan Lanning did a great job in his first year getting the Ducks to 10-3. Even with the heavy competition in the Pac-12, the Ducks should be very excited about what they can do in 2023.
The Bayou Bengals had a season where they exceeded national expectations in year one of the Brian Kelly Era. The biggest reason for that was Arizona State transfer, Jayden Daniels. Daniels did it all for LSU. He passed and ran the ball very well. And in the second year under Brian Kelly and with Daniels playing the role of Hendon Hooker the Tigers could have as good a season this year as the Vols did last year.
15) Notre Dame
Sam Hartman is a huge addition for Notre Dame. They’re a team that I wish I could put higher because I think they have a very high ceiling with him leading the way. Marcus Freeman proved to me that he is a good coach and he too has an extremely high ceiling. I look for that duo to finally get Notre Dame over that New Year’s Six Bowl hurdle they’ve faced for the past 20-plus years.
16) Oregon State
The Beavers return lots of talent and landed a big-name transfer at quarterback in D.J. Uiagalelei. If he can improve his decision-making and cut back on his turnovers the Beavers will be a complete team that will be hard to stop.
Tulane had such a great season in 2022 that if it’s built upon, they too could get a call to jump to a bigger conference. If Willie Fritz keeps them going, (and he will in 2023) look for the Big 12 or ACC to come calling and try to get a great team on the rise in the talent-rich state of Louisiana and try and get more great players away from the SEC.
18) North Carolina
The Tar Heels freshman sensation Drake Maye will have them poised for great things in his sophomore year in 2023 if they can build around him. He’s already likely the best quarterback UNC has ever had and he’s got two more years to showcase what he can do. If Mack Brown can continue to elevate his guys the ACC will have to watch out for this ‘basketball school.’
The Badgers get one of the top coaches in the game. Luke Fickell built Cincinnati up and many thought he would stay there forever unless the Ohio State job opened up. But Fick wanted to get back to his native Big Ten. He may do it quickly or it may take time but I expect him to elevate an already good Wisconsin program the same way he did Cincinnati and to be there for a while. Unless in a direct matchup, Badger fans will need to root for Ryan Day the way Vols fans root for Brent Venables.
20) Kansas State
The Wildcats will look to build on their Big 12 Championship and Sugar Bowl berth year. It won’t be easy without Deuce Vaughn but I look for Kansas State to improve and for the Little Apple to become a big place for the Big 12 contenders.
Chip Kelly is finally getting UCLA to where he was brought in to get them. They beat a great defense in the Utah Utes last year, and gave rival USC a run for their money. This year they’ll need to beat the Trojans and show that seasons like 2022 are the new normal for the Bruins.
22) South Carolina
Shane Beamer is turning South Carolina into something good. Beating Tennessee and Clemson in the same season in which both teams won 11 games is a great achievement for Beamer and quarterback Spencer Rattler. If in 2023 they consistently play as they did in those two games they’ll be a threat to everyone they face.
K.J. Jefferson’s return for Arkansas is huge. If he plays his best all year, Arkansas can do in 2023 what LSU did in 2022 and surprise a lot of people and compete for the mighty division that is the SEC West.
Some people are going to hate this, but Deion Sanders going to Colorado turns that program into a top 25 team just from a talent standpoint. And Coach Prime can do more than just recruit too. The waves he’s already making for the Buffs will lead to at least a winning record in 2023 for a team that only won one game in 2022.
The defending Sun Belt champs will not be a team that can be ignored in 2023. Jon Sumrall went 12-2 in his first season and has proven that he’s a good coach. The Trojans were led by their defense, as Sumrall is a defensive coach, but their rushing attack came on strong at the end of 2022 and will be strong going into 2023.