2023 College Football Playoff predictions, expert picks, most overrated and underrated teams

Following yet another offseason where conference realignment and typical college football controversies dominated the conversation, it’s time to concentrate on what actually matters: the 2023 season. There’s no better way to do that than with a series of prognostications, so CBS Sports is here to do our parts with predictions, expert picks and plenty of opinionated takes with just days until Week 1 kicks off.

Who will be the program that make up the final four-team iteration of the College Football Playoff? Georgia is on a quest to become the first team to three-peat in the wire service era (since 1936), but the Big Ten has three potential contenders in Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State. USC and Washington are the favorites in the season finale of the Pac-12, but no one should be sleeping on Oregon, Utah and perhaps even Oregon State. Alabama and Clemson are both seeking returns to the top of the heap, Florida State seeks to prove its hot close in 2022 was not a fluke, and Texas may have the most talented team in the Big 12 (for whatever that’s worth).

What about once-proud powers Oklahoma and Florida, which are entering Year 2 respectively under Brent Venables and Billy Napier with plenty of questions about whether they can turn the corner? Meanwhile, LSU is hoping it can continue rocking in Year 2 under Brian Kelly, and Texas A&M is attempting to make a pairing of Jimbo Fisher and Bobby Petrino work. Oh yeah, and who could forget Deion Sanders getting started with Colorado? (As if you have not heard enough about that already.)

In addition to projecting the playoff and national champion, we decided to take a look at which teams may just miss the four-team field, which programs are the most overrated and underrated nationally, and which coaches and players stand the best chance at winning year-end honors.

Let’s take a look at our experts’ takes as we settle in for what should be a fun college football season before change rocks the sport in 2024.

Most overrated team

Alabama: This is the fifth time in Nick Saban’s Alabama coaching tenure that he’s fielded a team with new coordinators on both sides of the ball. None of the other four teams won the national championship. The Crimson Tide are also replacing former Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young at quarterback and a defensive superstar in Will Anderson Jr. from a team that failed to win its division. Despite all this, voters at SEC Media Days picked Alabama to win the SEC West. AP Top 25 voters pegged the Crimson Tide at No. 4 nationally, and the Coaches Poll put the Crimson Tide at No. 3 behind only Georgia and Michigan. Alabama is talented enough to win the SEC and make the CFP, but the assumption that it will accomplish those things is rooted in nothing more than blind faith in Saban, who turns 72 this season. — Cobb (Fornelli, Backus)

Texas: The Longhorns have the most talent in the Big 12. It may not be close. But haven’t we been here before? It’s been 14 years since the ‘Horns won the league, five years since they won 10 games. Until Texas does it on the field, I can’t even begin to answer the question: Is Texas back? There always seems to be that game or two Texes loses that it should not. With Arch Manning and the SEC waiting in the wings, winning the Big 12 would be a nice sendoff. Why can’t I get past 9-3 with losses to Bama, TCU and Texas Tech? — Dodd

South Carolina: Both the AP Top 25 and Coaches Poll voters put South Carolina at 27th in preseason balloting, and I think that’s too high for a group that’s closer to the 35-40 range heading into the year. Similarly, the preseason SEC media poll has South Carolina third in the SEC East when I think instead it’s a group that’s going to battle with Florida and Missouri for some of those spots in the bottom half of the division. A bowl team? Definitely looks that way. But the offseason saw some high-end losses to the transfer portal, and I think there are some spots on the roster where depth is a real concern. Shane Beamer worked the portal to address some of those concerns and does have a star in the making with Nyck Harbour, but overall, it’s not enough for top 25 consideration from me. — Patterson

USC: Don’t be fooled by the shiny Heisman that Trojans quarterback Caleb Williams has in his house. Sure, he was great last year and will probably be great again in 2023. But he can’t do it all — and he definitely can’t play defense. My son’s fifth/sixth-grade team tackles better than USC did last year, and that is a trend that has followed coach Lincoln Riley from Oklahoma. Because of that, it will be fair to believe in USC’s defense when we actually see it perform on a somewhat adequate level for at least a few games. The lack of basic defensive fundamentals will come back to haunt the Trojans in a Pac-12 that’s loaded with offensive stars. — Sallee

Colorado: Deion Sanders’ Buffaloes have been the talk of college football all summer — and for good reason. Colorado reeled in the No. 1 transfer class nationally and ultimately replaced more than 70 scholarship players in one cycle. The level of talent is unquestionably higher on paper. Unfortunately, all the ink spilled about Colorado this offseason will run dry when the campaign starts. The Buffaloes’ roster is shallow at best, and the path is brutal. Colorado gets TCU and Nebraska in nonconference play, and later, it has to play five of the top six teams in the Pac-12. It’s hard to find more than two games that Colorado could even be favored in this season, and games against Colorado State and Stanford are hardly layups. At the end of the year, we could be looking at the most talked-about 2-10 (or worse) team in history. — Jeyarajah

Oklahoma: The Brent Venables era at Oklahoma started with high hopes, but the first season ended with a thud. The Sooners were 6-7 overall, coming closer to nine losses than their preseason No. 9 ranking. This season, the expectations are quite as high, but the Sooners are 20th in the preseason AP Top 25. I think Oklahoma could be better this year than last, but I am not ready to expect the Sooners to be a top 25 team. Venables still has to show that he can get this team to play up to that level. — Palm

Most underrated team

Washington: The Huskies are neck-and-neck with USC in the Pac-12, and of all the teams outside the top six of the preseason AP Top 26 (not named Florida State), I think the Huskies have the best shot of getting into the CFP. Quarterback Michael Penix Jr. is a Heisman contender and has a pair of All-American caliber wide receivers to spread the ball to in Rome Odunze and Jalen McMillan. Washington’s defense boasts a star in the making in Bralen Trice, and it returns 73% of its production. The Pac-12 is absolutely loaded this season, but it shouldn’t surprise anyone if Washington comes out on top and contends for even more. — Backus (Dodd)

Texas: I cannot believe I’ve reached a point in my life where I’m calling the Texas Longhorns — the program that is overrated every single season — the most underrated team in the country. But it’s true! People are sleeping on the ‘Horns! A healthy Quinn Ewers gives Texas one of the best quarterbacks in the country, and that’s always a major boost. Furthermore, the Big 12 has a lot of good teams, but it doesn’t have a great team. If one emerges in 2023, it will be Texas. Steve Sarkisian does not have this program close to ready to win a national title, but Texas can get to the playoff in 2023. — Fornelli

Illinois: There’s an assumption that, because it’s Illinois — a program that in 2022 finished with a winning record in Big Ten play and eight or more wins for the first time since 2007 — the encore performance will be a regression to the mean. And with multiple NFL Draft picks gone, I understand why that might be the case on the surface. However, it should not take more than a few minutes of depth chart analysis to see why Illinois can maintain its new standard under Bret Bielema. The Illini have one of the best defensive lines in the Big Ten and have upgraded the quarterback position from a year ago. This is a team capable of competing with anyone in the division, not a middling squad destined to sweat out bowl eligibility deep into the season. — Patterson

Oregon: It seems like the college football world forgot that, up until quarterback Bo Nix’ injury, the Ducks were squarely in the Pac-12 title mix. Why would that change this year? It shouldn’t. Nix is back, the running back corps is fantastic, and coach Dan Lanning has built the Ducks like an SEC team on the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. All their defense has to be is adequate, and the Nix-run offense will take it from there. It’s Oregon, not USC, that is the true playoff contender out West. — Sallee

Oregon State: The Beavers were one of the quietest 10-win teams in the country last season, and they have a chance to be even better in 2023. Quarterback DJ Uiagalelei should slide seamlessly into coach Jonathan Smith’s offense and provide impressive upside. Running back Damian Martinez ranks as perhaps the most underrated rusher in the country, while tackles Joshua Gray and Taliese Fuaga combine for perhaps the top combo in the nation. The defense has to replace several key pieces, but defensive coordinator Trent Bray has worked magic since getting the promotion. The Beavers aren’t just a legitimate conference title contender, they’re a dark horse CFP candidate in their final season of the legacy Pac-12. — Jeyarajah

Wisconsin: The Badgers have respectable expectations this season, but they can exceed them. The Badgers may not be recognizable offensively under new coach Luke Fickell, and that’s a good thing. Offensive coordinator Phil Longo figures to open things up for SMU transfer QB Tanner Mordecai and an underused group of receivers. Wisconsin will also have the ability to pound it with RB Braelon Allen. The Badgers are the favorite in the West, as they should be, but I also think they will post a double-digit win total. — Palm

Clemson: The Tigers have lost their seat with the elites to Michigan, and they may well be surpassed in ACC supremacy by Florida State. (At least that seems to be the perception as the Tigers begin the year behind the Seminoles in the AP Top 25.) But with offensive coordinator Garrett Riley arriving from TCU to reinvigorate the offense, Clemson is addressing its biggest shortcoming in a significant way. The defense should be elite, per usual, and the offense should make major strides under Riley with talented sophomore QB Cade Klubnik. So long as those offensive strides come, Clemson will be feared nationally once again in 2023. — Cobb

College Football Playoff predictions

First two out

2023 national champion

Georgia: There are two things that should not be overlooked or understated when talking about the Georgia Bulldogs. The first is that Kirby Smart has built a dynasty that has overtaken not only Alabama but the sport of college football. The Bulldogs have won consecutive national titles with rosters full of NFL players at every spot. Even Stetson Bennett IV, a former walk-on routinely cited as the “weak link” of the team that won two titles, was drafted by an NFL team. The Dawgs have more talent and depth than any other team in the country, and they play a schedule that provides little to no challenge to them whatsoever! Seriously, look at it! Try to find two losses on it. I dare you. The Dawgs will cruise through the regular season and can book accommodations for the playoff already. And once they get there, well, who are you taking to beat them? — Fornelli (Palm, Cobb, Backus)

Ohio State: There is some “guy after the guy” here where a team with national championship aspirations and a future first round NFL Draft quarterback falls just short and then the next team is able to climb the mountain. Because while CJ Stroud is gone, the best wide receivers, running backs, pass rushers and linebackers are all back from a team that was a missed field goal away from playing for a national championship … and given the way Georgia-TCU went, maybe a missed field goal from winning a national championship. But the chip on the shoulder comes from local angst as well with an intense focus on snapping a two-game skid to Michigan and reclaiming the Big Ten crown. The schedule has challenges — like road trips to Notre Dame and Wisconsin — but that will better prepare the Buckeyes for the regular-season finale and the CFP. Look for OSU to break through for its first national title since the 2014 season. — Patterson (Sallee, Jeyarajah)

Michigan: Don’t be fooled by Jim Harbaugh’s three-game suspension. You or I could coach Michigan in those games and win by 30. This team is Harbaugh’s best at Michigan. If it’s not stated around the program, it should be: national championship or bust. The Wolverines have made back-to-back CFP appearances, but that’s no longer good enough. Last year proved the loser of Ohio State-Michigan can still get to the playoff. The only pushback on the schedule should be from Minnesota on Oct. 7 and Penn State on Nov. 11. No, I’m not leaving out Ohio State, but the Buckeyes will be on the road and possibly a double-digit dog by the end of November. In one-game shot against Georgia in the national championship, I’ll give Harbaugh a better than even shot at upending the Dawgs. — Dodd

Coach of the Year

Kirby Smart, Georgia: Saban remains the greatest of all time, but Smart is the greatest of right now. The Georgia coach is positioned perfectly to make the Dawgs the first program in college football’s modern era to three-peat as national champions. UGA’s schedule is comically light, giving Smart a golden opportunity to accomplish the historic feat before the SEC scraps its divisional format next season, which will make Georgia’s annual path to perfection somewhat more challenging. Ultimately, there is little standing in Georgia’s way. If the program wins a third straight title, there’s no doubt Smart will deserve to be the sport’s coach of the year. — Cobb (Fornelli, Patterson, Palm)

James Franklin, Penn State: In his 10th season at Penn State, Franklin has the security (Year 2 of a 10-year deal), the resume (2016 Big Ten title and first Rose Bowl win in 28 years), the facilities and now … the team. Five-star prospect Drew Allar might be Franklin’s best quarterback. He’s got burners in the backfield and at wideout. Franklin has always been that good-but-not-great coach who is 4-14 combined against Ohio State and Michigan, 3-15 against top-10 teams and 1-10 against top-five opponents. That all changes this year as Penn State wins 11 games, splits with Ohio State and Michigan (don’t ask me which) and gets to the CFP without winning the Big Ten. At-large teams have littered the BCS and CFP field. Ohio State got in last year after being blown out by Michigan. That should make it three Big Ten teams in the playoff. — Dodd

Ryan Day, Ohio State: Day was within one missed field goal in the waning seconds of last season’s Peach Bowl semifinal, and he will finish the drill this season. The Buckeyes are loaded at the offensive skill positions, and the system is set up for either Kyle McCord or Devin Brown to slide right in to the starting QB job with ease. If the defense can hold up its end of the bargain, and I think it will, Day will lead his team to the national title and earn himself plenty of postseason hardware. — Sallee

Jonathan Smith, Oregon State: College football is often a year late to recognize worthy coaches, and Smith will be no different. The former Beavers QB led the program to its first 10-win season since 2006, but he has his sights set even higher in 2023 with a highly talented squad. I believe Smith — a former Chris Petersen offensive coordinator — will immediately transform Uiagalelei into one of the nation’s top passers through his mentorship. Oregon State has not won an outright conference championship since 1956. If the Beavers find a way to the Pac-12 title game, Smith will finally get his flowers. — Jeyarajah

Mike Norvell, Florida State: I have Florida State making the Playoff, and it tracks that, if that happens, Norvell will be a shoe-in for coach of the year. Around 12 months ago, fans were calling for Norvell’s job after two-straight losing seasons. Then he ripped off 10 wins and led the Seminoles to their first ranked finish since 2016. So, what’s back off that team? Just a whopping 87% of its production, which leads FBS programs. Norvell did a great job plugging any holes left over with the No. 6 class in 247Sports’ team transfer rankings. FSU’s schedule is front-loaded with Clemson and LSU in the first four weeks, and it needs to at least split those games to keep its playoff hopes alive. But if the Noles can survive, they’re in the driver’s seat for a major postseason bid for the rest of the year. — Backus

Heisman Trophy winner

Marvin Harrison Jr., WR, Ohio State: De’Vonta Smith ran so Harrison could fly, and I think the preseason focus on Williams’ attempt to repeat as Heisman winner will ultimately lead to a wide-open race coming down the stretch. If the specter of Archie Griffin’s legacy spooks voters into looking elsewhere for the “most outstanding player in college football,” it’s going to be hard to find a player who stands out among his peers more than the Ohio State wideOUT. The gap between Harrison and the rest of the top pass catchers is large, and what’s even more significant is the gap between Harrison and most cornerbacks he’ll face this season. Ohio State’s pursuit of a championship will provide plenty of high-profile opportunities, and in those biggest moments, the Buckeyes will be smart to turn to the player who has the biggest advantage over the competition. All of that shapes up for Harrison to emerge from a crowded field when voters are looking for a non-Williams option for the Heisman. — Patterson (Jeyarajah, Cobb, Backus)

Caleb Williams, QB, USC: There hasn’t been a repeat Heisman winner since Griffin, but if anybody can do it, it’s Williams. In the past we’ve seen Heisman voters hold winners to a ridiculous standard. “Oh, you’ve only thrown for 45 touchdowns this season? You threw 47 last year. You’re washed up.” Well, while Williams may not match his statistics from last year — he could also surpass them — he has a trump card to play. Williams won it last year even though USC failed to win the Pac-12. What happens if Williams has another spectacular season and leads the Trojans to a Pac-12 title and first playoff berth? Why, that’ll probably earn some votes! — Fornelli (Palm)

Michael Penix, Jr., QB, Washington: Like its former league (Pac-12), Washington and Penix are easy to overlook. It doesn’t dominate the league and the headlines like USC, and it’s had some embarrassing moments in recent years (Jimmy Lake, anyone?). But Kalen DeBoer has quickly resurrected the Huskies. Penix, the talented Indiana transfer, was the firestarter behind an 11-win season. He guided the nation’s No. 2 offense while leading the Power Five in passing (4,641 yards). He has two 1,000-yard receivers returning: Odunze and McMillan. Penix is the choice also because of Heisman trends. Voters seem to move on from the previous year’s winner no matter what. You don’t have to be told there is only one repeat winner (Griffin). Look for Penix to throw for 5,000 yards and beat a USC team that already looks shaky defensively. That would make it possible for Washington to become the league’s first playoff team since 2016. — Dodd

Jordan Travis, QB, Florida State: Three things have to happen in order to win the Heisman — video game stats, contribution to the team and overall success on the national level. As you’ve seen in my prior takes, I believe that Florida State will make the CFP. If it does, it will bein large part due to the success that Travis has through the air and on the ground. He’s got a loaded wide receiving corps led by Johnny Wilson, a running back that can take some pressure off in Trey Benson and an experienced offensive line that will give him plenty of time to shine. He will check off all three boxes and hoist the trophy in New York in mid-December. — Sallee

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