1. Georgia Bulldogs (15-0)
Is Georgia’s dynasty just beginning? A win Monday night marked the Bulldogs’ second-consecutive national championship in their third appearance in the final since the 2018 season under Kirby Smart. Bennett join an elite fraternity in college football history with two titles. He’s led a team that replaced a school-record number of NFL Draft picks and didn’t miss a beat during the 2022 season and now ends his career as the most decorated quarterback in program history.
2. TCU Horned Frogs (13-2)
TCU’s storybook season under first-year coach Sonny Dykes was one for the ages as the Horned Frogs got through the regular season unscathed before losing in overtime in the Big 12 title game and upending second-ranked — and previously-unbeaten Michigan — in the national semifinal. This team was stellar in late-game situations throughout the season and Heisman finalist Max Duggan recorded one of the most memorable campaigns in school history.
3. Michigan Wolverines (13-1)
Was Michigan’s season a failure considering how it ended? It’s hard to call another Big Ten championship and win over Ohio State anything less than impressive, but the Wolverines did expect to get to the national title game this time around after falling short in the same scenario last year against Georgia. However, they weren’t 7.5-point favorites against the Bulldogs like they were against TCU. Michigan got away from what it does best and now faces distractions involving Jim Harbaugh’s NFL flirtations. Blake Corum’s return is huge for the program’s title hopes once more.
4. Ohio State Buckeyes (11-2)
Ohio State lost consecutive games to end the season, but the setback against Georgia in the playoff was a bit tougher to swallow given the stakes. Another loss to Michigan seemed to anger the Buckeyes, who played with precision for 3.5 quarters in the Peach Bowl before the Bulldogs’ spirited comeback. C.J. Stroud was great in defeat with a mesmerizing performance through the air. Ohio State has a quarterback controversy on its hands for 2023, but does welcome back the nation’s top wideout and the defense should be stout.
5. Alabama Crimson Tide (11-2)
Nick Saban posted another season with 11 or more wins in 2022, but unfortunately for the Crimson Tide, they fell considerably short of expectations as the SEC West’s second-place finisher. Losses to Tennessee and LSU in the final seconds cost Alabama a shot at the playoff, but credit to this team’s makeup for the bowl performance against Kansas State. Bryce Young ended his career with five touchdowns and that win over the Wildcats should be enough to clinch another top 5 finish in the AP.
6. Tennessee Volunteers (11-2)
Will Tennessee finish No. 5 or will voters overlook the head-to-head win over Alabama in favor of the Crimson Tide in that spot? It’s hard to say. The Vols ended lengthy losing streaks against Florida and Alabama this season to highlight a stellar campaign under Josh Heupel that was defined by the nation’s most high-powered offense and quarterback Hendon Hooker. Biletnikoff winner Jalin Hyatt saved his best for big games and was unguardable on the outside. Tennessee is back as a national threat and 2022 proved it.
7. Penn State Nittany Lions (11-2)
With two freshmen ballcarriers who nearly toppled the 2,000-yard mark this season, Penn State’s glory days of power football returned in 2022. The Nittany Lions capped a notable year with a win over Utah in the Rose Bowl and head into 2023 as one of the media’s most popular playoff threats. Five-star freshman Drew Allar saw plenty of game action in his first year and will assume the QB1 role next fall. This is his team now and with returning talent up front and on defense, Penn State is one of the Big Ten’s most loaded squads.
8. Washington Huskies (11-2)
Will 2023 be “Year of the Quarterback” in the Pac-12? In some ways, that should’ve been this season’s moniker based on the production at the position, including a Heisman winner. Washington’s Michael Penix Jr. was one of the best and he helped the Huskies win seven-straight games to end the campaign thanks to his development under first-year coach Kalen DeBoer. By season’s end, this was the Pac-12’s best team, not conference champion Utah or 11-game winner USC.
9. Florida State Seminoles (10-3)
Did anyone believe Florida State would win 10 games this season outside of Mike Norvell and the players inside of that locker room? Three-straight losses in the middle of the campaign threatened the Seminoles’ overall worth after an early win over LSU brought the program back to the national spotlight, but this group responded in a big way. Florida State ended the 2022 season on the ACC’s longest winning streak and will likely be the preseason favorite to win the conference next fall with Jordan Travis, Jared Verse and others returning.
10. USC Trojans (11-3)
The loss to Tulane in the Cotton Bowl stings, as does failing to show in a playoff do-or-die game against Utah in the Pac-12 final, but Lincoln Riley surpassed expectations in Year 1 at USC by most accounts. He was able to flip the Trojans’ roster through the transfer portal and made the most of what he had to work with, helping develop Caleb Williams into a Heisman winner at quarterback. Williams’ return as a junior in 2023 means USC should be the preseason Pac-12 frontrunner unless Washington gets much of the love.
11. Kansas State Wildcats (10-4)
Chris Klieman and the Wildcats didn’t fret when Will Howard replaced Nebraska transfer Adrian Martinez at quarterback this season due to injury. Howard quickly assumed a leadership role and the rest was history. Kansas State won the Big 12 by beating then-unbeaten and playoff-bound TCU in overtime during a classic finish at AT&T Stadium. Kansas State overcame three regular-season losses to do so before bowing out against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. This was a banner year for the program.
12. Clemson Tigers (11-3)
We’re expecting Clemson to fall out of the top 10 in the final AP Poll after its bowl loss to Tennessee despite winning the ACC this season. Clemson faded down the stretch with losses to Notre Dame and South Carolina in the non-conference that tanked the Tigers’ shot at getting to the final four. With D.J. Uiagalelei leaving the program after the ACC title game win over North Carolina and entering the transfer portal, freshman Cade Klubnik got his first taste of QB1 life in the postseason. And with NFL Draft losses along the defensive front, Clemson has some questions there for next fall.
13. Tulane Green Wave (12-2)
From two wins to 12 wins — what an incredible season it was for the Tulane Green Wave. Coach Willie Fritz and this veteran-laden team punctuated a terrific campaign with a win over USC in the Cotton Bowl, turning back a 15-point deficit in the final four minutes of action. Michael Pratt and this offense clicked when it mattered most in a spotlight opportunity after winning the American Athletic Conference. The only reason we have the Green Wave behind USC in this final poll projection is that we do not expect the Trojans to fall past No. 10 despite the setback.
14. Utah Utes (10-4)
Utah has won consecutive Pac-12 titles, but back-to-back losses to Big Ten competition in the Rose Bowl gives the Utes a bit of unfinished business heading into next season. For a team that loss at Florida in the season opener, give Kyle Whittingham’s group a ton of credit for finding themselves down the stretch to upend USC in the league championship. The Trojans, after all, were heading to the playoff had they won. With Monday’s news of Cam Rising’s return for his senior season at quarterback, the Utes are in great hands at the position in 2023.
15. LSU Tigers (10-4)
Arguably the toughest Power Five team to slot in the final AP Poll after a 10-win season under first-year coach Brian Kelly, the Tigers took out their frustrations on Purdue in the bowl game with a 56-point drubbing of the Boilermakers. LSU came into the Citrus Bowl with back-to-back losses to Texas A&M and Georgia, a black eye to an otherwise terrific season for Kelly and his staff. The Tigers beat Alabama and Florida this season and overcame a loss to Florida State in Week 1 that could’ve tanked the campaign before it began.
16. Oregon State Beavers (10-3)
Jonathan Smith and the Beavers are one of the unlikeliest top-20 finishers this season after failing to appear in the preseason rankings in the Pac-12. Instead, Oregon State is one of five teams from the West Coast we’re expecting to be inside the final rankings Tuesday, a testament to how well that side of the country played throughout the 2022 campaign. The Beavers saved their best for when it mattered late, ending the year on a four-game winning steak including a 27-point beatdown of Florida in the bowl matchup.
17. Oregon Ducks (10-3)
Dan Lanning’s first season at Oregon was a 10-win campaign, which passes the eye test at most programs. However, the Ducks were red-hot following a season-opening loss to Georgia and expected to reach the Pac-12 title game prior to unraveling down the stretch. The good news for Oregon? Bo Nix has decided to return for another season in 2023 and the Ducks are flexing their muscles in the transfer portal and 2023 recruiting cycle. This will be a talented group.
18. Notre Dame Fighting Irish (9-4)
Notre Dame started Marcus Freeman’s first season 3-3 overall before catching fire during the second half and finishing with a nine-win campaign following a comeback victory over nationally-ranked South Carolina in the Gator Bowl on Dec. 30. Give Freeman credit for this team’s level of resiliency after falling out of the top 10 early on following losses to Ohio State and Marshall. The recent acquisition of Wake Forest quarterback Sam Hartman means the Fighting Irish are set in 2023 at the most important position on the field.
19. Mississippi State Bulldogs (9-4)
Zach Arnett and the Bulldogs won the Outback Bowl and dedicated the game to late coach Mike Leach, who passed away in December following complications from a heart condition. With quarterback Will Rogers back to anchor the offense in 2023 and Arnett taking over as the program’s new leader, Mississippi State hopes to continue what Leach started in Starkville as a darkhorse candidate to win the SEC West and dethrone Alabama or LSU at the top of the division.
20. Troy Trojans (12-2)
21. UCLA Bruins (9-4)
22. South Carolina Gamecocks (8-5)
23. Texas Longhorns (8-5)
24. Duke Blue Devils (9-4)
25. Maryland Terrapins (8-5)
Spencer Rattler and the Gamecocks posted wins over consecutive top-10 opponents (Tennessee and Clemson) in November for the first time in program history to crack the top 20 prior to bowl season. With a shell of its team in the Gator Bowl, South Carolina’s 45-38 loss to Notre Dame should still keep Shane Beamer’s crew in the final rankings. … Troy ended the year on an 11-game winning streak after taking out UTSA in the Cure Bowl before Christmas. Expect the Trojans to rise in Tuesday’s final poll.