From the early heroics of the Fun Belt to Tennessee‘s resurgence to a 200-1 long shot making the College Football Playoff National Championship, this college football season had it all.
USC reemerged as a threat from the West Coast behind Caleb Williams‘ Heisman-worthy season before falling to upstart Tulane in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl. Penn State proved there are more than two dominant teams in the Big Ten East with an electric performance in the Rose Bowl presented by Prudential and Alabama raised an Allstate Sugar Bowl trophy despite a “down” season for Nick Saban & Co.
Plenty of storylines materialized this season but none were greater than Georgia‘s quest to be the first team to repeat in the CFP era. The Bulldogs, behind a historic run in the national championship game, earned their second straight title with a 65-7 over TCU. They will now be on the hunt for a third straight title, something that hasn’t been done since the Minnesota teams of the mid-1930s.
After a bowl season full of drama, here are the final Power Rankings of the 2022-23 college football season.
This year’s Georgia team accomplished two things last season’s didn’t, winning an SEC title and finishing unbeaten. Both of them ended up winning CFP national championships, and there’s little doubt that the Bulldogs will be favorites to three-peat in 2023. The priorities this spring will be finding a replacement for starting quarterback Stetson Bennett, a Heisman Trophy finalist, who is only the fourth quarterback to win back-to-back titles since 1990. Star defensive tackle Jalen Carter, cornerback Kelee Ringo, safety Christopher Smith and others are leaving as well, but the Bulldogs offered a glimpse of what’s coming next in the fourth quarter of Monday night’s 65-7 rout of TCU. Quarterback Carson Beck played the final 13½ minutes, freshman tailback Branson Robinson scored two touchdowns and freshmen Bear Alexander, Mykel Williams and Jalon Walker combined for three sacks. Georgia isn’t going away; it seems that it’s just getting started under Kirby Smart. — Mark Schlabach
No. 1 Georgia overwhelms No. 4 TCU to go back-to-back
The Bulldogs score on all six first-half possessions in a 65-7 thrashing of the Horned Frogs, earning their second consecutive national championship.
After one of the most storybook seasons in college football history, where do the Horned Frogs go from here? There will be books written about Sonny Dykes’ first season that culminated in a trip to the national championship game. Max Duggan, Heisman runner-up, is headed for the NFL draft, as Quentin Johnston assuredly is as well. Chandler Morris, who was good enough to wrest the QB job from Duggan before getting injured early in the season, says he’ll return, and Dykes has hinted the Frogs might also seek a transfer at the position. There will be many new faces for the Horned Frogs next year, but Dykes & Co. have already established TCU atop the new Big 12 pecking order, landing the best recruiting class in the conference behind the departing Oklahoma and Texas, and snapping up big-time transfers from Alabama, among other places. But Baylor and Oklahoma State looked like the new contenders a year ago. So what will the story be at TCU next year? — Dave Wilson
The Wolverines ended the 2022 season with mixed emotions. They won a second consecutive Big Ten championship and recorded back-to-back wins over Ohio State for the first time since 1999 and 2000. But they also stumbled again on the CFP stage, this time to a TCU team that came in as more than a touchdown underdog. Michigan might be waiting a while for a better chance to reach the national championship game after failing to overcome a flurry of turnovers and other atypical mistakes against the Horned Frogs. The attention shifts to coach Jim Harbaugh’s future, and an NCAA investigation into Harbaugh and alleged violations within the program. But if Harbaugh is indeed back, he will lead a talented squad featuring quarterback J.J. McCarthy and others, including several key transfer additions. — Adam Rittenberg
There have been tough Buckeyes losses over the years, but perhaps none as painful, given the stakes, as the 42-41 setback in the CFP semifinal against Georgia. Ohio State outplayed the defending national champions, twice had 14-point leads, received a heroic performance from C.J. Stroud and still lost. A win would have made the Buckeyes favorites to win their first national title since 2014. Instead, Ohio State’s national title drought extends alongside its shorter Big Ten title drought (two years). Coach Ryan Day must replace Stroud and other key contributors, and ultimately get a defense on track that hasn’t been right for most of his tenure. Day is 45-6 at Ohio State but will face palpable pressure entering the 2023 season. — Rittenberg
It wasn’t the season anyone planned after starting out No. 1 in the polls and boasting two of the top five players in college football in quarterback Bryce Young and linebacker Will Anderson Jr. The offense took a step back at receiver and the defense gave up too many big plays. Ultimately, Alabama’s championship hopes were dashed on the road — on a walk-off field goal at Tennessee and a walk-off 2-point conversion at LSU. But give the Crimson Tide credit for not folding up shop after that. No one opted out, and they ran the table by going 4-0, including a convincing 25-point win over Kansas State in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. — Alex Scarborough
It might be premature to say that Tennessee is all the way back, but the Vols made their biggest jump in two decades. They won 11 games for the first time since 2001, including a 31-14 win over Clemson in the Capital One Orange Bowl to cap the season. Josh Heupel’s offense was once again electric (leading the country with an average of 46.1 points per game), and quarterback Hendon Hooker had a sensational senior season until he tore an ACL in the 63-38 loss at South Carolina. The blowout loss to the Gamecocks was inexplicable and cost the Vols a spot in the College Football Playoff. Even so, nobody would have predicted 11 wins in Heupel’s second season, the big one a 52-49 thriller over Alabama that snapped a 15-game losing streak to the Tide. — Chris Low
The Nittany Lions put on a show in the Rose Bowl presented by Prudential in a 35-21 win over Utah. Penn State won 11 games with its only two losses coming to Michigan and Ohio State, both of which made the College Football Playoff. In quarterback Sean Clifford‘s final game, he threw for 279 yards and two touchdowns in the win. True freshman running back Nick Singleton ran for 120 yards and two touchdowns, which put him just 16 yards away from breaking Saquon Barkley‘s freshman rushing record at Penn State. Fellow freshman Kaytron Allen also ran for a touchdown and showed why the future is bright for the Nittany Lions. — Tom VanHaaren
Coach Kalen DeBoer’s climb from wildly successful NAIA coach to the Power 5 level went about as well as possible. He inherited a 4-win team on the brink of collapse just two years after Chris Petersen’s departure and led the team to an 11-2 record — and a Utah upset of USC in the Pac-12 title game away from a berth in the Rose Bowl. Under DeBoer and offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb, quarterback Michael Penix Jr. — an Indiana transfer — was one of the most prolific passers in college football and will return next season when the Huskies will begin the season in the playoff conversation. — Kyle Bonagura
Tulane’s first 12-win season since 1998 ended in thrilling fashion with its 46-45 Cotton Bowl victory over USC. The Green Wave tallied 16 points in the game’s final 4:07 to help engineer a successful debut in the New Year’s Six. Tyjae Spears‘ season-high 205 rushing yards and four touchdowns allowed Tulane to stay within striking distance of the Trojans all day long. Spears (1,581 yards, 19 TDs) concluded his junior year with eight straight 100-yard games. — Blake Baumgartner
Tulane pulls off stunning comeback to secure Cotton Bowl win over USC
Tulane overcomes a 15-point deficit in the fourth quarter to grab its first Cotton Bowl win in program history.
There might not be a team heading into the offseason hotter than the Seminoles. Florida State won 10 games for the first time since 2016 and clearly looks to be on the rise under coach Mike Norvell. Quarterback Jordan Travis capped a terrific season with a remarkable performance in the Cheez-It Bowl against Oklahoma, throwing for 418 yards, running for another 50 and scoring two touchdowns. Travis is set to return for 2023 along with several other key contributors, including running back Trey Benson and defensive tackle Fabien Lovett. The expectations are sure to soar for this group. — Andrea Adelson
It was another successful season with a bittersweet ending for the Utes as they won a second straight Pac-12 title but were beaten in the Rose Bowl by a Big Ten opponent. Still, the Utes remain the most consistent team in the conference, even if they’re not the shiniest or the ones with the most talent. There’s plenty of continued optimism for Kyle Whittingham’s team on the horizon, starting with getting some of their best players back for another year. Both quarterback Cam Rising and tight end Brant Kuithe announced Monday that they would return to Salt Lake City for another season. Moreover, Whittingham’s track record is starting to pay off on the recruiting trail: The Utes are set to have a top-25 class in 2023, the best in program history. — Paolo Uggetti
There were plenty of highs and lows during Brian Kelly’s first season as coach of the Tigers. A Week 1 loss in New Orleans to Florida State could have been a terrible sign of things to come. And a 27-point loss at home to Tennessee could have been the beginning of a rough second half of the season. Instead, LSU reeled off five straight wins, including an overtime win over Alabama. The team picked in the preseason to finish fifth in the SEC West wound up winning the division. And while losses to Texas A&M to end the regular season and Georgia in the SEC championship game weren’t what anyone in Baton Rouge hoped for, Kelly’s Tigers recovered nicely with a resounding 63-7 win over Purdue in the Cheez-It Citrus Bowl. — Scarborough
The highs were high for the Trojans — their first under Lincoln Riley — but the lows will likely linger more. Despite a remarkable turnaround from last year’s 4-8 team to a one-loss regular season that had USC a step from the College Football Playoff, most of the attention will go to USC’s three losses — two against Utah, including one in the Pac-12 title game that kept them out of the playoff, and the Cotton Bowl finale against Tulane where they blew a 14-point fourth quarter lead to the Green Wave. It was a disastrous end to a near-dream season that will leave plenty of scrutiny on defensive coordinator Alex Grinch and the defense, which was a problem all season long. There’s no doubt that Heisman winner Caleb Williams will put the Trojans in a position to succeed next season. The question is: will the defense? — Uggetti
TCU might have reached the national title game, but they couldn’t take the Big 12 title. Those spoils went to Chris Klieman’s 10-4 Wildcats, who survived quarterback injuries to beat three top-10-at-the-time teams and claim their first conference crown since 2012. They couldn’t quite stick the landing on the season overall, losing big to Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, but KSU averaged over 30 points per game for the first time since 2017 — running back Deuce Vaughn remained one of the nation’s great dual threats, posting 1,936 combined rushing and receiving yards with 12 touchdowns. The Wildcats also allowed under 22 points per game for the third time in four years under Klieman, whose culture has officially begun to take root in Manhattan. — Bill Connelly
The Tigers finished the season with a disappointing 31-14 loss to Tennessee in the Orange Bowl. Freshman quarterback Cade Klubnik still has some learning and growing to do as he moves forward as the starter, but there are other problems that must be solved in the offseason, including the offensive line, defensive backfield and how to utilize running back Will Shipley more effectively. Despite the loss, Clemson did win 11 games for the eighth time in the past 11 years and can call itself ACC champion once again. — Adelson
First-year coach Dan Lanning’s arrival in Eugene kicked off with a humbling debut, a 49-3 loss to Georgia, but the Ducks ran off eight straight wins after that to climb as high as No. 6 in the AP poll. Their explosive offense with Auburn transfer Bo Nix under center was among the best in college football — the Ducks ranked No. 10 nationally in scoring (38.8 points per game) — and they completed the season with a memorable win against North Carolina in the Holiday Bowl. — Bonagura
Jonathan Smith remains one of the most underappreciated coaches in the country. Before Smith was hired prior to the 2018 season, the Beavers had won just seven games over the previous three seasons and had finished with double-digit win totals in just two seasons all-time. This season, Oregon State finished 10-3, fielded the best scoring defense in the Pac-12 and will end up ranked in the AP Top 25 for the first time in a decade. — Bonagura
Non-CFP bowls take on different meanings in the age of opt-outs, but Notre Dame really needed to end its first season under coach Marcus Freeman on a strong note. After squandering a 28-7 lead against Oklahoma State in last year’s Fiesta Bowl, Freeman’s first game, the Irish were the ones needing to rally against South Carolina and erased a 24-10 deficit to win the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl. Freeman’s first season featured a bit of everything, from rough home losses to Marshall and Stanford to a dominant win against Clemson. Notre Dame’s stellar recruiting class took some hits before signing day but currently sits as ESPN’s No. 6 class. The Irish received a major boost from the portal in quarterback Sam Hartman, the ACC’s all-time touchdown passes leader. Notre Dame still has areas to address, namely who will catch passes from Hartman, but he should raise expectations for 2023 under Freeman. — Rittenberg
Sadness gripped the end of Mississippi State’s season. The Bulldogs lost coach Mike Leach, who died suddenly on Dec. 12 after complications related to a heart condition. They still had the wherewithal to go win their bowl game, a come-from-behind 19-10 victory over Illinois in the ReliaQuest Bowl, capping their first nine-win season since 2017. It was an emotional scene in Tampa, Florida, as players waved a “MIKE” flag on the field after the game in memory of their late coach. Defensive coordinator Zach Arnett was promoted to head coach in the weeks leading up to the game. The Bulldogs were one of five teams in the SEC to win nine or more games this season and will return quarterback Will Rogers in 2023. He holds Mississippi State career records with 10,428 passing yards and 81 touchdown passes and led the SEC this season with 3,974 passing yards and 35 touchdown passes. — Low
MS State rallies to win ReliaQuest Bowl, honors Leach
While doing it for Mike Leach, Marcus Banks returns a fumble 60 yards for a TD on the final play as No. 22 MS State rallies to beat Illinois, 19-10.
Aside from TCU’s Sonny Dykes, it’s hard to make a case that anyone had a better first year in charge than Troy’s Jon Sumrall. After winning five games for three consecutive years, the Trojans exploded to 12-2, walloped Coastal Carolina for the Sun Belt title — their first outright conference title since 2009 — and then outlasted Conference USA champ UTSA in the Cure Bowl. Sumrall’s defensive chops shined through immediately: Troy allowed just 4.7 yards per play and 17.1 points per game in 2022, both eighth in the FBS. Linebacker Carlton Martial set the all-time career tackles record, defensive end T.J. Jackson racked up 15.5 tackles for loss and it was just a delightful season from top to bottom. — Connelly
The Dorian Thompson-Robinson era at UCLA ended with the Bruins’ best season under Chip Kelly. A 6-1 start and 9-4 record are a stark contrast to how the first few years of the Kelly era in Westwood went. The challenge now will be for Kelly & Co. to find another quarterback to lead the offense. Kent State transfer Collin Schlee has signed up for the job, but there is also plenty of excitement about incoming freshman Dante Moore, who flipped from Oregon to UCLA and looks every bit the part of a superstar so far. — Uggetti
In his second season at South Carolina, Shane Beamer continued the momentum he built in Year 1 with late-season wins over a pair of top-10 teams — Tennessee and Clemson. The 31-30 road win at Clemson snapped a seven-game losing streak in the rivalry for the Gamecocks, who won eight regular-season games for only the second time in the last nine years. There were some lopsided losses along the way (48-0 to Georgia and 38-6 to Florida), but South Carolina was able to win seven of its last nine games to end the regular season before falling 45-38 to Notre Dame in the Gator Bowl. The Gamecocks did lose several players to the transfer portal and are still waiting to see if quarterback Spencer Rattler returns in 2023. Rattler played his best football toward the end of the season. — Low
The Panthers ended the season on a five-game winning streak after an exhilarating 37-35 victory over UCLA in the Sun Bowl to get to nine victories. Pitt has now won 20 games over the past two seasons. Only Georgia, Michigan, Alabama, Ohio State and Clemson have won more games over that timeframe. Making what happened against UCLA even more impressive, Pitt played without five starters who opted out, including quarterback Kedon Slovis, running back Israel Abanikanda and defensive end Deslin Alexandre. Perhaps given the way Pitt ended the season, it is time to consider the Panthers a preseason top-25 team for 2023. — Adelson
The Gophers capped a nine-win season in a 28-20 win over Syracuse in the Bad Boy Mowers Pinstripe Bowl. Quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis started the game for Minnesota but was injured and relieved by Tanner Morgan. Running back Mo Ibrahim put the offense on his back, though, rushing for 71 yards and a touchdown. He became Minnesota’s all-time rushing leader with the performance after running for 4,668 yards throughout his career. — VanHaaren
Fresno State’s fourth straight bowl victory came courtesy of accumulating 501 total yards in a lopsided 29-6 victory over Washington State in the Jimmy Kimmel LA Bowl. A pair of seniors, quarterback Jake Haener (24-of-36 passing for 280 yards, two TDs) and running back Jordan Mims (career-high 209 rushing yards and two scores), led the way. The Bulldogs won the Mountain West title for the fourth time since 2012 after winning at least 10 games for the fifth time since 2013. — Baumgartner