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College football rankings: Joel Klatt's preseason top 25
College Football

College football rankings: Joel Klatt's preseason top 25

Updated Aug. 7, 2023 11:58 p.m. ET

The Georgia Bulldogs are looking to make history heading into the 2023 college football season as Kirby Smart's group has its eyes set on becoming the first program to win three national championships in a row since the AP Poll began back in 1936.

With a bevy of talent returning on both sides of the ball, a loaded transfer class and one of the top-ranked recruiting classes in the nation, expectations are once again sky-high for Georgia heading into this season, which is why FOX Sports college football analyst Joel Klatt has the Bulldogs slotted in the top spot of his preseason top 25 rankings.

Michigan, Ohio State, Alabama and Penn State round out the top-five teams in Klatt’s rankings, which he revealed Monday on his podcast, "The Joel Klatt Show."

Here is a look at Klatt’s complete preseason top 25 rankings heading into the 2023 college football season.


1. Georgia

"The No. 1 team in the preseason this year is Georgia. Back-to-back national champions. This is a team that is losing some pieces, just like everybody is in college football. When I look at Georgia … you could make an argument that it might be ripe to be beaten because it's losing a quarterback and an offensive coordinator. My response to that is: at no point in the last two years when they [the Bulldogs] were winning back-to-back national championships did I think they were a quarterback or offensive-centric team. 

"Kirby Smart has built something that is bigger than a quarterback, even though Stetson Bennett played really well in some big moments. This is just a nod to what they have built at Georgia. That is a roster-based team, and they are still the best roster in college football. They still have 13 or more five-star players on that roster. They still have Brock Bowers, they have talented guys that are coming in and competing for the quarterback job, and that's one of the easiest schedules I've ever seen a defending national champion have, and that's not their fault. They are not going to be threatened at all until November, if they are even threatened. Georgia is about a shoo-in to go to the College Football Playoff."

2. Michigan

"Michigan has a lot going for it this year. Jim Harbaugh is returning what I think is going to be his best team at Michigan. He has got a quarterback (J.J. McCarthy) back. He has got the best running back tandem in the country back. They've got an offensive line that is as good or better than any offensive line in the country. And, by the way, they've won the Joe Moore Award two years in a row, and they got a couple of really good transfers to come in on that offensive line. 

"The defense is solid, maybe even better, with guys like Will Johnson entering into the prime in their college career in his second year over at corner … Mike Sainristil, their nickelback. Jim Harbaugh believes this is a deep roster … 15-20 guys could get drafted from this roster. This is a really good team. They have won the Big Ten twice. That blueprint is sufficient in that conference, and it has worked, and it ain't changing."

Georgia, Michigan & Ohio State headline Joel Klatt's Top 5 preseason teams

Joel Klatt explains why the Georgia Bulldogs took the No. 1 spot and why the Michigan Wolverines and Ohio State Buckeyes follow.

3. Ohio State

"This Ohio State team is excellent. Their only two loses last year are my No. 1 and 2 teams. There is an immense amount of pressure on Ohio State this year, mainly on [coach] Ryan Day. I get it. When you're at Ohio State, you've got to beat Michigan, you've got to win the Big Ten, and you've got to go and compete for and potentially win national championships. … When you look at what Ohio State has done under Ryan Day, they have completely dominated everybody, except for Michigan and in the playoff, so that has to start to change.

"I see a team that is actually a little better than a year ago, except for quarterback — that's the only unproven position. Everywhere else, I can make an argument that they are better. The offensive line can be a discussion, but having seen them in spring ball, I think this offensive line is gonna be pretty darn good. TreVeyon Henderson should be more healthy … they should get more out of the run game. They've got the best wide receiver tandem in the country with Emeka Egbuka, and the best player in the country in Marvin Harrison.  Their defense should be much better than they were a year ago when they couldn't get stops late in the game against Michigan and against Georgia. This is a good football team."

[Related: Does Ryan Day have Ohio State primed to take the next step?]

4. Alabama

"I've heard a lot of people insinuate that this is the year Alabama falls off. I'm not going to fall into that trap. Alabama has recruited at too high of a level. When you look at what they've done over the last five seasons, they've finished first, second, first, second and first. They haven't finished outside the top two in the country in recruiting in any of the last cycles. What I get concerned about with Alabama is … the fact that their quarterback (Jalen Milroe) is a concern, judging by the fact that after spring ball, they had to bring in a transfer — Tyler Buchner — to pair with their new offensive coordinator, Tommy Rees, who had him at Notre Dame,. That tells me that they aren't exactly sure about what Milroe was able to do, whether it was on the field last year against Texas A&M or in spring ball. Now, Buchner is going to be there battling for that spot, and that tells me that they are unsettled at the position. That's a bit of a concern for me. Why? Because Bryce Young was so important to that team.

"They've got to get better at wide receiver, and I don't know if that's going to get all that much better than it was a year ago, and that was a huge weakness for them a year ago — in particular when you look what they've had over the past six or seven seasons. They were right up there with the best wide receivers in the country, along with Ohio State. Last year, it just wasn't the case, and because of that, they fell short in some of those games. Those two areas are where you've got to be looking for Alabama."

5. Penn State

"Penn State is a team that is just banging on the door of that next step of success in college football. Last year, their only two loses were against Michigan and Ohio State. If I'm a Penn State fan, my question is: Are we going to be better at quarterback in order to go out there and play with the big boys? I think that they will be. Drew Allar is an incredibly talented player. I actually think he fits what Penn State can do and will do much better than how Sean Clifford fit in the last couple of years.

"I think that Mike Yurcich, the offensive coordinator, his offense is a little bit different than what Joe Moorehead wanted to run, or Ricky Rahne wanted to run with the Trace McSorley types. They were very RPO-based with McSorley and Saquon Barkley. Now, they've got these two really good running backs with [Kaytron] Allen and [Nicholas] Singleton. They've got a good offensive line and a strong-armed quarterback, so now they can run it and throw it over the top, which is more of what Mike Yurcich is, in particular when you're dating back to his Oklahoma State days. That's interesting to me. I think that it's a better fit. I like their offense a little bit more. On defense, they're really good at every single level. When you look at Chop Robinson up front rushing the quarterback, Abdul Carter, one of the best linebackers in the Big Ten or the country … Kalen King. This is a really good team. The question becomes, can they knock off Michigan or Ohio State."

6. Washington

"This is a team that I really like. Washington is sneaky good. I think Washington could win the Pac-12. I think that Michael Penix, their quarterback, could win the Heisman. That's my dark horse right there. He's got to stay healthy. He has had injury problems in the past. Their wide receiver core is second in the country to Ohio State. [Rome] Odunze is fantastic. They've got a head coach in Kalen DeBoer that knows how to throw the ball. They led the country in passing a year ago. Their defense is pretty darn good. This was a team that was a breath away from being in the Pac-12 title game. I really like Washington. I don't know if they're gonna surprise people with what they did a year ago, but I am a big fan of what Kalen DeBoer is doing, and Michael Penix and that passing game."

7. LSU

"I really like LSU. They have the No. 2 transfer class in the country, primarily on the defensive side, which is where they needed help. They get their quarterback back, it's Brian Kelly's second year, they are good on the offensive line, and it's a team that I think should take that next step. They won the West, played for the SEC Championship Game, and their upside is all in front of them. I think that's gonna be a great battle between them and Alabama for who represents the West in the SEC Championship Game against Georgia. [Jayden] Daniels – he's highly-experienced at quarterback, he's athletic, and he did a great job at running the football. That's gonna be a really good team. I think they beat Florida State in Week 1."

8. USC

"Caleb Williams, I think, is the best quarterback in the country. He's my favorite to win the Heisman Trophy. This guy is a generational talent. I believe he's one of the best college quarterbacks we've seen ever. I can't wait to watch him play. I'm a little bit interested to see how USC navigates offensively without Travis Dye. I know they brought in transfers, but Dye was pretty important to them. But, Williams is the real deal. I like what USC has. They are still going to be good on offense. You know that with Lincoln Riley. The question is always on the defensive side. They were pitiful defensively. They couldn't tackle anybody. They couldn't tackle a high school team late in the season. They should be better on defense with the transfers they got and the recruits they got. They still get the benefit of the doubt at No. 8 with me."

Washington, LSU & USC headline Joel Klatt's Top 10 preseason teams

Joel Klatt explains why he ranked the Washington Huskies at No. 6 and why he thinks Michael Penix Jr. is a Heisman Trophy QB.

9. Clemson

"Clemson has a quarterback that I believed in a year ago and probably should have started more games. DJ Uiagalelei was struggling, and it should have been Cade Klubik that came in. I understand he struggled in that bowl game against Tennessee, but let's be honest, bowl games that aren't in the CFP …  there's not a lot of credence to me in those bowl games. They are so far removed from what bowl games used to be that it's hard for me to evaluate what went on in the Orange Bowl. Having said that, you get Klubnik. He's got his best offensive player in [Will] Shipley back. They should be pretty good on the offensive line. And then the most important piece, and this is the one that I think has flown under the radar – Garrett Riley is their new offensive coordinator. We know what Garrett Riley just did at TCU with Max Duggan, and Kendre Miller, and Quentin Johnson. They are going to be better on offense, and this is what they've desperately needed over the course of the last few seasons. So here, Garrett Riley comes in. The next time a Riley-coached offense has a bad year at quarterback, please let me know, because I've never seen it. Garrett Riley and Lincoln Riley - they understand how to move the ball down the field. I'm in on Clemson. They should be better on defense, they won the ACC a year ago, they've got their best games, or toughest games, at home, a place they rarely ever lose over the last five or six years. I'm in on Clemson."

10. Florida State

"I understand the hype. They had a six-game win streak to end the season. I like their returning quarterback a lot. They have built over the course of the last three years under Mike Norvell. Last year seemed like a breakthrough. I'm in on Florida State. They are in the top 10. They are No. 10 because they play Clemson at Clemson. They haven't beat Clemson … it's been a long time. 

"While they bring back their QB and while they won six in a row a year ago to finish the year, that win streak was against some terrible teams. When you look at what they did when the season was still in the balance, I do remember a bit of a losing streak in the middle of the year. I remember being incredibly fortunate against LSU in Week 1 in Brian Kelly's first game at LSU. They don't get the benefit of that doubt. LSU is gonna beat them. Clemson is gonna beat them. They are gonna be 2-2 to start the year. They may win 10 games. They may go on to have a solid year. I just don't see them winning the ACC, and I don't see them beating those two teams."

11. Utah

"I love Utah, I love [coach] Kyle Whittingham, and I love what they represent.  Their biggest question is Cam Rising and his health. If Cam Rising comes back, and he's healthy – which he should be – this is gonna be an excellent team, just like they've been for the last few years … winning the Pac-12, going to the Rose Bowl. Rising is a hell of a player. I get it that they're replacing some pieces on the outside, but they also get some pieces back from injury, I love their running back. Their defense is going to be as good as it always is. Utah is not going anywhere. They present a hell of a problem for teams like USC, Washington and Oregon … That conference is going to be incredibly difficult. 

"This is a team that is incredibly consistent, year after year, winning big games. They won the conference in back-to--back years. I get that they have to replace Dalton Kincaid, but they do get Brant Kuithe back after that ACL. I used to believe that they've got to win with the run game and defense. You look at the stats, they scored 38.5 per game, which is 11th in the country. They have figured some things out on that side of the ball, and I'm in. Death, taxes and Utah football."

12. Tennessee 

"I like Tennessee. I love what Josh Heupel has done. I'm a big fan of their offense. While it's hard for me to really evaluate bowl games in the CFP era, their bowl game was impressive with guys that are now going to be asked to be the central focal point of what they do offensively – Joe Milton at quarterback. That's at least a start. [Josh] Heupel got the win he desperately needed. The Tennessee win over Alabama was epic. It announced they can play with the big boys. Joe Milton is gonna be quite the story because I saw him when he was a backup at Michigan. The guy has a great arm. In theory, his arm and skill set really fits what they want to do offensively. But boy, the accuracy issue is gonna be interesting. They are replacing their offensive coordinator. I do like Squirrel White as a replacement for Jalin Hyatt. Bru McCoy, those guys … They've got some pieces on the outside. I think the schedule fits for them. Getting Georgia at home fits for them. Twelve is just a good spot. I just don't think they are going to compete for a College Football Playoff. This is not the same type of team or year they had a year ago."

Utah, Tennessee & Oregon headline Joel Klatt's Top 15 preseason teams

Joel Klatt revealed his top 15 teams in his preseason top 25. Joel explains why Tennessee is at No. 12.

13. Oregon

"Bo Nix has 47 starts so far in his career, so he's gonna be experienced. A lot of hype surrounding that … I like that. I like their run game. Dan Lanning and his style of football – I think it fits. I love what they were able to do with that win over North Carolina in the Holiday Bowl. I think it was a good building block for them in the offseason. A couple of concerns for me are replacing that veteran offensive line. That offensive line was so good for them and a big reason why they had such a good year a year ago. Now they're gonna have to replace a bunch of those guys. We'll see if they are able to do it. Nix might be under a lot more pressure, and it might be difficult ro run the ball with the level of execution that they did a year ago. They are replacing their offensive coordinator – Kenny Dillingham – who I'm a huge fan of and is now the head coach at Arizona State. Bucky Irving is a quality player. You're starting to see kind of the problem with he Pac-12. Any of these teams could complete for a playoff spot - mainly Washington of USC – but the problem is the depth of the conference and the way that they schedule."

14. Texas

"I love their roster. Their defense is much better than you would expect. They return 10 starters on the offensive side. You have to replace Bijan Robinson, but this is an offense that should move the ball. They have really good wide receivers. I think Quinn Ewers is a heck of a player … Should they win the Big 12? Yeah, they really should. The biggest question is how they play in tight games. The close-game issues have been a problem. They are 4-10 in one-score games under Steve Sarkisian. They were 14-13 in those same games under Tom Herman. All five loses last year were by seven points or less, including Alabama. This team, if they can just get over that hump … win the close games. Don't play down the level of competition."

15. Oregon State

"Oregon State was boxing with one hand tied behind their back a year ago, and did it incredibly well. The big wins down the stretch … they were so one-dimensional on the offensive side, and I think that can be fixed. Now, did DJ Uiagalelei struggle at Clemson? Yes. Do I believe he should be better at Oregon State? Yes. Why? Because the offense at Clemson was way too simplistic and there weren't a lot of answers given to the quarterback. Now, under Jonathan Smith, this is a guy that has to be creative because his personnel suggests that he needs to be creative. He's gonna have a run game. I believe Uiagalelei plays really well. In fact, I think that he is going to be one of the bright stories in college football, judging based what happened at Clemson, and then he's gonna go on and find a lot of success under Jonathan Smith, who is a former quarterback, who really understands play-calling, who's gonna give him that run game as a help. He's gonna have tight ends to throw to.  I like Oregon State. I like their toughness. Their top-three running backs are back, including Damien Martinez, who was the Freshman of the Year in the Pac-12. Four of their five starters are back on the offensive line. Their defense finished No. 1 in the Pac-12 last year for Trent Bray, their defense coordinator. I'm in. I like what Oregon State is bringing."

16. Oklahoma 

"They were 0-5 in one-score games. I think that turns around. When you look at the two games they lost by significant margins, their QB, Dillon Gabriel, was not in those games. If he can stay healthy, they should be better. Their defense under Brent Venables should be better. They have recruited much better. Everything about this says … this is another wait-and-see. They are the biggest competition for Texas. This is a sleeper team for me. All those one-score losses, that can easily turn around. They can easily be a 10-win team and play for the Big 12 Championship."

17. Kansas State

"Nobody wants to talk about Kansas State, but this is the defending Big 12 champ with an excellent offensive line, and a quarterback that got a lot of time last year, back for them in Will Howard. Will Howard was 4-0 in games for Kansas State last year when he had to fill in for Adrian Martinez. They have to replace Deuce Vaughn, and he's maybe one of my favorite players ever in college football history. This is a group that's going to maintain its toughness. They're gonna be good on defense. I like Will Howard. Kansas State is going to be a really tough out in the Big 12." 

18. Notre Dame

"Notre Dame … I could easily put them higher. I love their offensive line. I think Sam Hartman is gonna be better for them. I just question them losing their offensive coordinator in Tommy Rees, and they lose Michael Meyer, who was just a huge part of their offense. With Marcus Freeman, I'll be honest, he is a wait-and-see for me in terms of whether this is gonna work at Notre Dame. Their offensive line is gonna keep them in games, and I think that's gonna be a hard matchup against Ohio State, similar why Ohio State doesn't match up great against Michigan. If I was Notre Dame, I would line up with that offensive line and go right at Ohio State in that matchup in September. Hartman is a big addition for them at the quarterback position."

Oklahoma, Kansas State & TCU headline Joel Klatt's top 20 preseason teams

Joel Klatt revealed his top 20 teams in his preseason top 25.

19. TCU 

"TCU is going to take a step back. There are only two steps forward for TCU. They either have to win the Big 12 or have to win the national championship and still make a playoff appearance in order for me to say they stayed even or took a step forward. Are they gonna take a step back? Likely, yes. This is a team that I still think is an eight, nine, maybe 10-win team. Chandler Morris is gonna be the quarterback. The bigger loss is Garrett Riley, the offensive coordinator.  But if you take a look at what TCU was in those big moments … all those close games … go back and watch them because I have. You will see Quentin Johnson making huge plays, Kendre Miller making huge runs, and Max Duggan willing his team down the field to some victories in close games. Those three guys aren't on the team anymore. Their playcaller is no longer there. That is a lot to overcome. So, I think 19 is generous. That's benefit of the doubt. They open with what I think is going to be a tougher game than what odds makers are giving it with Colorado, who is gonna be much better, and their lack of depth is not going to hurt them in the opening week like it would in the end of September or October, or even into November."

20. Ole Miss

"I like Ole Miss. Ole Miss started 7-0 last year and then lost five of six when their schedule got tougher. Ole Miss is gonna get the benefit of the doubt because of Quinshon Judkins, who led the SEC in rushing. I love him at running back. And I believe Lane Kiffin, regardless of what happens in their quarterback battle, he's gonna have a guy that will play well because I believe in him on the offensive side. He is killing it in the portal. Remember, Pete Golding, the defensive coordinator for Alabama, is gonna show up at Ole Miss. So, we'll see what happens there."

21. North Carolina

"I know that they lost a lot of pieces, but they've got a great quarterback. This is the Drake Maye ranking. He's gonna have to pull them along. As far as he goes, they will go. I knew I liked him on film, and then I watched him live in the Holiday Bowl. This guy is phenomenal. I believe he is the second-best quarterback in college football. He should be the No. 2 pick in the NFL Draft. The dude is amazing. He's kind of a mini-Josh Allen. We've got a mini-Patrick Mahomes in Caleb Williams, and we've got a mini-Josh Allen in Drake Maye, and that's why North Carolina is gonna sit right here at No. 21."

UNC, Iowa & UCLA round out Joel Klatt's top 25 preseason teams

Joel Klatt ranked North Carolina at No. 21 and is excited to see what Drake Maye brings to the field.

22. Iowa 

"Iowa … the No. 1 total defense in the country, dead last total offense in the country a year ago. That's impossible to do. How do you do that? You can't try and do that, and they were able to do it. Iowa should have a really good team, and I actually think they are going to represent the Big Ten West in the Big Ten Championship Game. Their defense, you know is gonna be good. Offensively, they should be better. 

"The Brian Ferentz 25-points-per-game thing, that’s gonna be a media storyline. As long as they don't focus on it, they should be alright. They are better at quarterback with Cade McNamara transferring in. They get Erick All to come in and help out at tight end where they lost a quality player. Kaleb Johnson is a really good running back. He averaged over 5 yards per carry as a true freshman. The O-line returns all five from a group that was really young and finally started to get it going late last season. This is going to be a traditional Iowa nine-win team who represents the West in the Big Ten Championship Game. 

"Do the right thing Iowa. Take the dumb clause out of there because it's only going to be a distraction for your team and for your players. It's a distraction for Cade McNamara. It's a distraction for Kaleb Johnson. For them to be held to some arbitrary standard of points per game to save their coaches' job? Come on. Let's take that clause out and let's evaluate Brian Ferentz like any other offensive coordinator would get evaluated at the end of the year, or mid-year. I trust hopefully, that's what will happen before the end of the year."

23. Wisconsin 

"A lot of people believe in Wisconsin. They certainly could be better than this. The personnel is fascinating. Phil Longo, their new offensive coordinator, and Luke Fickell, their new head coach. This is my one concern for Wisconsin. I could see them having a great year … When you change the foundational identity of a program that has been the identity of the program, regardless of the head coach, over the course of decades … it's a really difficult thing to do. It's a bit of what [Luke] Fickell is trying to do at Wisconsin – changing he scheme of the defense from the vaunted 3-4 under Jim Leonhard to now a 3-3-5 stack. Bringing Phil Longo in … is it gonna be more RPO and less run-game centric? That's just a cautionary tale. Other people have tried that, but when it's institutional in terms of the foundational aspects of the way they play football …  It's hard to change going forward."

24. Texas Tech 

"Joey McGuire has done a hell of a job at Texas Tech. They beat Oklahoma and Texas last year and got eight wins. They have Tyler Shough back. Over the last couple of years, when Shough has been in the lineup, they are like 8-1. Health for them is going to be huge at the quarterback position. They went 4-0 in one-score games last season. They were 6-1 at home and 1-4 on the road. There is margin for them to take the next step, so they potentially could take the next step."

25. UCLA 

"When I was around Chip [Kelly] this offseason, there was a quiet confidence, and Chip doesn't blow smoke. I think Dante Moore will likely be the quarterback at some point. Whether it's early or not, I'm not sure, but at some point. There is precedent with this. He did it with Dorian Thompson-Robinson early in his career. He went through some growing pains early in his career to get where they were a year ago. It's a good roster … It's a much better roster than what they had three years ago, and I think they are going to be pretty good on the offensive side, and he likes the running back transfers, so we'll see how that plays out."

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