Skip to content

College football preseason Power Rankings: Realistic best case and worst case for each top 25 team

The first college football Power Rankings are here and who else but the two-time defending national champion Georgia Bulldogs reign supreme.

Michigan and Ohio State are battling it out for second with the Wolverines narrowly edging the Buckeyes for the No. 2 spot.

The rest of the top 10 is filled with fellow blue bloods like Alabama, LSU and USC while Florida State and Texas are hoping for a return to former glory in 2023.

With the Power Rankings out, our writers break down the best and worst case scenario for each top 25 team this season.

A collection of 57 college football experts at ESPN voted on the preseason top 25 Power Rankings.

Best case: A third straight national championship. Georgia would become the first FBS program in the modern era to win three straight national titles. Minnesota was the last team to do it in 1934, 1935 and 1936. Yes, Georgia’s nonconference schedule is especially soft after the SEC ordered the Bulldogs to cancel a home-and-home series against Oklahoma, which is joining the conference next year. The Bulldogs replaced the Sooners with Ball State. They’ll also play FCS opponent UT Martin, UAB and struggling Georgia Tech. The Bulldogs play South Carolina, Kentucky, Missouri and Ole Miss at home. They’ll play only three true SEC road games — at Auburn, Vanderbilt and Tennessee — and will face Florida in Jacksonville, Florida. Georgia will be heavy favorites in every game it plays. If Carson Beck steps in and plays well at quarterback, the offense should be explosive. The defense has to replace a number of key contributors again, but four of the top five tacklers are back in Smael Mondon Jr., Jamon Dumas-Johnson, Malaki Starks and Javon Bullard.

Worst case: Two losses? For the schedule reasons stated above, it’s difficult to imagine the Bulldogs losing twice in the regular season. If we’re talking lowest floor, then Beck would have to struggle in his first season as a starter and Georgia’s running game would have to be less productive. Beck will benefit from having what might be the deepest receiver corps in school history after the Bulldogs added Missouri transfer Dominic Lovett and Mississippi State transfer Rara Thomas. All-America tight end Brock Bowers and receiver Ladd McConkey are back as well. Maybe Georgia slips up against Ole Miss at home and then falls at Tennessee on Nov. 18. Probably not. Losing at Tennessee and then falling to Alabama or LSU in the SEC championship is probably a more plausible scenario. If Georgia finishes unbeaten in the regular season and falls in the SEC championship game, will it get the benefit of doubt from the CFP selection committee? Or will its nonconference schedule keep it out of another playoff? — Mark Schlabach

​​Best case: College Football Playoff championship. After winning the Big Ten title and making it to the playoff the past two years, Michigan’s goal is to make it to the final game and win a national championship. The team is returning key starters from last season, including quarterback J.J. McCarthy and talented running back duo Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards, and filled some holes through the transfer portal in the offseason. The schedule is back-loaded, with the team starting the season with East Carolina, UNLV, Bowling Green and Rutgers, then facing Penn State, Maryland and Ohio State to finish out the season. That stretch will determine how far this team goes, but the pieces are there for the Wolverines to reach their goal.

Worst case: 10-2 with losses to Penn State and Ohio State. Maryland has an argument here to make it 9-3, but the way this team is set up, this should be its floor. The Wolverines can’t look past Penn State, though, as that team will be better than last season. Quarterback Drew Allar has all the tools to be an excellent passer for Penn State, and the offense returns running backs Nicholas Singleton and Kaytron Allen, who combined for 1,928 yards and 22 touchdowns last season. The Buckeyes are on a mission to end their losing streak to Michigan and have spent the entire offseason focusing on the last two games of their season. Those two losses would be devastating to Michigan’s season. — Tom VanHaaren

Paul Finebaum discusses why the NCAA-Jim Harbaugh situation has escalated and what it could mean for Michigan football.

Best case: National championship. The top goal in Columbus never changes, but Ohio State is way overdue for a title, especially considering its historic quarterback run under coach Ryan Day. Despite the Michigan meltdown, Ohio State outplayed eventual national champion Georgia before a calamitous fourth quarter. The Buckeyes clearly must improve on defense and limit the breakdowns that surfaced in the Michigan and Georgia losses. But a second year under coordinator Jim Knowles and a potentially elite front seven fuels hope for the unit. Knowles needs his most talented players — ends J.T. Tuimoloau and Jack Sawyer, tackle Michael Hall Jr., linebacker Tommy Eichenberg, safeties Lathan Ransom and Sonny Styles — to be great on a consistent basis. There are questions on offense, particularly at quarterback and tackle, but Day’s overall track record with the unit inspires plenty of confidence. Ohio State’s road schedule isn’t easy, especially a Nov. 25 visit to Michigan Stadium, but the Buckeyes haven’t dropped three straight to the Wolverines since 1997.

Worst case: Ohio State has never lost more than two games in a season under Day and has only dropped three or more games in a season three times since 2001. The Buckeyes will need to be road warriors this fall, as they visit Michigan, Notre Dame and Wisconsin, as well as Indiana, Purdue and Rutgers. They also host Penn State and an ascending Maryland team with a strong offense. A four-loss season is highly unlikely but possible for the Buckeyes. It would stem from continued regression on defense and the abrupt end to a stretch of superb quarterback play. The questions at the offensive tackle spots would need to be amplified, as would health and production issues at running back. The defensive line has been ordinary lately and, in theory, could continue down the path despite so much talent and experience. Anything shy of the CFP would be disappointing for Ohio State, and 9-3 or 8-4 would trigger significant changes. — Adam Rittenberg

Best case: National championship. The roster, top to bottom, is championship-caliber. Finishing in the top three of the recruiting rankings virtually every season for the past decade will do that. But at key positions, Alabama needs things to break exactly right. Whether it’s Tyler Buchner, Jalen Milroe or Ty Simpson, someone needs to separate himself at quarterback. And while the QB doesn’t necessarily have to be another Bryce Young, he does need to take care of the football and compliment what should be a solid running game with Jase McClellan, Roydell Williams, Jam Miller and the No. 1- (Richard Young) and No. 2-ranked backs (Justice Haynes) in the 2023 class. What’s more, the Tide needs to develop at receiver, and quickly, after taking a big step back last year in terms of creating separation and drops. Do that, and the offense will be solid enough to navigate a tricky SEC schedule. Remember, Alabama’s two losses last season came on the road and on the final play. And this season, both of those games — LSU and Tennessee — are at home.

Worst case: Three regular-season losses. The offense has a lot of what-ifs. Almost too many, in fact. Everyone will focus on the quarterback, but the lackluster play at receiver is almost as glaring an issue. Bryce Young was just so good that he covered up for it. Unless Ja’Corey Brooks or Isaiah Bond or someone else steps up in a big way, Alabama will struggle to score in crunch time. And if that happens, go ahead and chalk up back-to-back losses to LSU and Tennessee. From there, it’s hard to see Alabama winning both against Texas and on the road at Texas A&M. — Alex Scarborough

Best case: College Football Playoff semifinal. Nobody saw LSU getting to the SEC championship game a year ago, especially after getting pummeled by Tennessee 40-13 at home the second week of October. But the Tigers picked themselves up off the turf, kept getting better, and Brian Kelly squeezed everything and then some out of his first LSU team. His second team will be even deeper. Kelly knows more about this team, and most importantly, the Tigers have a seasoned quarterback, Jayden Daniels, who has proven on big stages he can beat teams both passing and running. If LSU can manage to get through the month of September unscathed, that Nov. 4 game at Alabama could end up being a play-in game for the playoff.

Worst case: 8-5 with losses to Florida State, Ole Miss, Alabama, Texas A&M and the bowl opponent. The Tigers finished 10-4 last season, and that was with losses in two of their final three games. Winning just eight games as an encore to what LSU did a year ago would be a disappointment on the Bayou. But there aren’t a lot of easy outs on LSU’s schedule, and the September slate is filled with potholes. Getting Alabama in Tuscaloosa this season automatically makes it a more difficult schedule, and four of the first six games are away from Tiger Stadium. LSU’s talent level is such that there shouldn’t be a significant drop-off, but making it back to the SEC championship game will prove difficult. — Chris Low

Best case: Every player and coach at USC this season knows what they have on paper. A Heisman-winning quarterback in his final season. An explosive offense that could be deeper and better than last year. A defensive unit that has heard plenty about how much it needed to improve. A slew of talented transfers at key positions who all saw the potential in Lincoln Riley’s team when they decided to leave Arizona, Georgia, and Oklahoma State for Southern California. And perhaps most importantly, the motivation of coming up just short of a playoff spot. There’s no doubt USC has the talent and ability to not just make the playoff but compete for a title. Plenty of things have to go right, but that’s what the Trojans’ ceiling looks like in Riley’s second year on the job. The task at hand is tough given Caleb Williams will be expected to replicate a historic season, while the team as a whole has a high bar to clear given the leap they made last year and the tougher schedule they face this season. Improvement isn’t always linear, but USC has the players to prove it can be.

Worst case: It’s not easy turning around a 4-8 season into a 10-3 year. What may be harder is improving upon that in the following year. That’s what Riley and USC have to deal with this season, on top of a schedule that includes Notre Dame and Oregon on the road as well as Utah, Washington and UCLA over the last six weeks of the season. The Trojans could be and likely are a better team this season, but the turnover margin that kept their defense afloat last year could regress, as could the offense despite having a Heisman-winning quarterback under center. Injuries could always get in the way as well. But all of that being said, it’s hard to see a floor lower than competing for the Pac-12 title for this team. The Trojans are too talented on offense, especially, to not be in every game they play. — Paolo Uggetti

Best case: Florida State is at a point now where it is in position to compete for championships, so it is not hard to envision a high ceiling in 2023 as a College Football Playoff appearance. The Seminoles will have an opportunity to prove themselves in the regular season (two SEC nonconference games, including the opener against LSU) and potentially in the ACC championship game. Getting there without divisions certainly made the path easier given the way Clemson had previously dominated the Atlantic Division over the past seven seasons. The Seminoles will have one of the best, most dynamic offenses in the country with virtually all its production back — including quarterback Jordan Travis, running back Trey Benson and receiver Johnny Wilson — plus a potential top-15 NFL pick in defensive end Jared Verse. The mindset, mentality and confidence has changed in this group. They are aiming for a championship.

Worst case: Florida State just might be ahead of schedule under coach Mike Norvell, entering his fourth year in the program, considering where it was when he inherited it. Until Florida State goes back to dominating its ACC opponents, there may still be some doubts about whether it can run through its schedule without a hiccup along the way. Florida State gets LSU and Clemson in September, has tough road games against Wake Forest (the Deacs have won three straight in the series) and Pitt (in November, not fun for Florida teams!) plus rivals Miami (expected to be better) and Florida (the Seminoles barely held on last year). Given the talent returning, it is hard to envision the team winning fewer than nine games. — Andrea Adelson

Crack a cold one.
Enjoy happy hour
with top sports headlines.

News Opt-in
(Optional) By checking this box you are opting in to receive news notifications from Sports on Tap. Text HELP for help, STOP to end. Message & data rates may apply. Message frequency varies. Privacy Policy & Terms:
This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.