The 2023 College Football Season: Coaching Changes, Top 10 Players To Watch & Quick Fire Predictions
"Change is the new norm" is a phrase that has been repeated ad infinitum when referring to the state of our global economy and society since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. It also neatly sums up the state of college football in the last two to three years.
One absolute certainty in the "new norm" of a college football close season is another ride on the coaching merry-go-round. There will be new players to watch alongside those returning for another season to put themselves squarely in the view of NFL scouts and thousands of screaming fans in packed-out stadiums. I can't wait.
2022 Coaching Changes - how did they get on?
Last year's featured coaching headline movers and shakers achieved mixed results. The much heralded arrival of Lincoln Riley at USC took the Trojans to the brink of a College Football Playoff place. Expectations are high in L.A. again this season, especially with the extraordinary Caleb Williams under center. In Baton Rouge, Brian Kelly, initially ridiculed for his awkward attempt at a Louisiana accent in his initial press conference and stomach-churningly embarrassing recruitment videos, led LSU back into the national conversation and a place in the SEC championship where they lost to Georgia. Kelly has a year in the SEC under his belt and his team has the talent to go a step further.
Dan Lanning, after a chastening opening day loss to his former employer, Georgia, steadied the ship at Oregon and turned the Ducks into a high-octane team behind a reborn Bo Nix at quarterback. They will be in the mix again for the Pac-12 title before bolting for the Big 10 in 2024.
Billy Napier and Brent Venables both joined fallen giants at Florida and Oklahoma respectively. Napier will once again have to lift the Gators after another chastening opening game loss to No.14 Utah on Thursday night.
Key coaching changes, who's new at the helm?
Deion Sanders - Jackson State to Colorado
Matt Rhule - Carolina Panthers (NFL) to Nebraska
Luke Fickell - Cincinnati to Wisconsin
Hugh Freeze - Liberty to Auburn
Kenny Dillingham - Oregon to Arizona State
Jeff Bhrom - Purdue to Louisville
Scott Satterfield - Louisville to Cincinnati
Tim Beck - New Mexico State to Coastal Carolina
Tom Herman - ex-Texas to Florida Atlantic
Jamey Chadwell - Coastal Carolina to Liberty
David Braun - North Dakota State to Northwestern
Troy Taylor - Sacramento State to Stanford.
Top 10 players to watch
Caleb Williams - QB, University of Southern California
The USC quarterback is the consensus choice to be the No.1 overall draft pick in next April's NFL Draft and could be the first player to win back-to-back Heisman trophies since Archie Griffin in 1975. Caleb Williams passed for 4,537 yards, 42 touchdowns and just 8 interceptions in 2022. He could be even better in 2023. Under the tutelage of renowned quarterback whisperer Lincoln Riley and newly hired ex Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury, USC's signal caller could be frightening in 2023. His 76-yard touchdown pass to Tahj Washington against San Jose State last weekend after he'd dropped a snap was an indication of his potential this season.
Brock Bowers - TE, Georgia
Brock Bowers burst on to the college football scene as a true freshman in 2021, playing like a man amongst boys, racking up 13 touchdowns and 882 receiving yards. He added 942 yards and 10 touchdowns in his sophomore year. In two years at Georgia, he has won two national championships, catching critical touchdowns in the 2022 and 2023 final wins over Alabama and TCU respectively. At 6'4" and 240lbs, Bowers has developed into a versatile playmaker at tight end, with an innate ability to add yards after the catch. If Georgia is to announce themselves as college football's next dynasty with a three-peat, he will be a critical factor.
Marvin Harrison - WR, Ohio State
Ohio State is renowned for producing great receivers. Chris Olave (Saints), Garrett Wilson (Jets), Terry McLaurin (Commanders) and Jaxson Smith-Njigba (Seahawks) have all graduated from Columbus to the NFL. The best of the bunch could be Marvin Harrison. Son of the great Colts receiver and namesake, Marvin. The junior blossomed in 2022, recording 1,263 yards and 14 touchdown passes. At 6'4" and 205lbs, he will cause opposing defensive backs nightmares and is regarded as the best receiver in college football.
He will be reunited on the field this season with new Buckeyes starting quarterback Kyle McCord. the two played together at St. Joseph's Preparatory School in Philadelphia.
Joe Alt - OT, Notre Dame
At 6'8" and 322lbs, Joe Alt is a mountain of a man. Much as quarterback Sam Hartman has been heralded as the player who could lead Notre Dame to national contention this year, his top offensive lineman, Alt, will play a huge part in allowing him the time and space to do it. Alt has started 22 consecutive games for the Fighting Irish, continuing with Notre Dame's opening game thrashing of Navy in Dublin last weekend. Watch out for Alt in April's NFL Draft. Linemen are highly valued and he, alongside Penn State's Olu Fashanu, could be off the board in the first ten picks.
Kool-Aid McKinstry - CB, Alabama
The man with one of the coolest names in college football, Kool-Aid McKinstry, is the latest off the production line of great Alabama defensive backs. It's no surprise that head coach Nick Saban specialises in developing this particular position. McKinstry follows the nimble footsteps of Patrick Surtain II and Minkah Fitzpatrick, both now excelling in the NFL. McKinstry broke up 18 pass plays last season, snagging one interception and made his name on special teams too, recording 322 punt return yards. His defensive leadership will be critical if Alabama is to return to the College Football Playoff.
Blake Corum - RB, Michigan
You wonder whether Michigan might have made it to the national championship game if Blake Corum hadn't suffered a season-ending knee injury in the Wolverines' Week 11 game against Illinois. Michigan came up agonisingly short against TCU in the semi-final without their talisman at running back. Corum ran for 1,463 yards and 18 rushing touchdowns, five against UConn in September, and formed a lethal backfield partnership with Donovan Edwards. The pair return this year. Corum, a bruising runner with a throwback style and blistering turn of pace, could be a real contender for the Heisman Trophy this year and if he stays fit, don't bet against Michigan making the national championship game either.
Drake Maye - QB, North Carolina
While the hype about Caleb Williams as college football's best quarterback may be real, Drake Maye will run him close this year. Maye hit the headlines in 2022 with a series of impressive performances for North Carolina, throwing five touchdown passes in his first career start against Florida A&M. He added another five against Notre Dame. Maye broke the Tar Heels' record with 4,321 passing yards for the season, adding 39 passing touchdowns. He turned down various offers to transfer in the off season, but will suit up again in Chapel Hill. One to watch.
Harold Perkins - LB, Louisiana State
Dominating almost immediately as a freshman, Harold Perkins Jr could be the best linebacker in college football. He announced himself with an impressive performance in LSU's 32-31 overtime win over Alabama and recorded three sacks in a 13-10 win over Arkansas in December, ending the season with 7.5 sacks, 72 tackles and an interception (against Auburn). Perkins returns to Baton Rouge with quarterback Jayden Daniels as No.5 LSU kicks off the season with a pivotal opening game against Florida State.
Quinshon Judkins - RB, Ole Miss
Quinshon Judkins had an extraordinary debut season at Ole Miss, rushing for 1,567 yards and 16 touchdowns. Against mainly SEC opposition, no less. The freshman sensation was not respectful of powerhouse opponents, rushing for over a hundred yards in eight of the thirteen games he played, averaging 5.7 yards per carry. He ran for over 200 yards against Texas A&M and Arkansas, and ran in 135 and 111 yards against Alabama and LSU respectively, scoring twice against each. Look out for No.4 to light up the SEC again this season, can he elevate Ole Miss to contend for the conference title?
Quinn Ewers - QB, Texas
I had the privilege of watching Texas-Alabama in Austin last year and seeing Quinn Ewers play. Even from the lofty heights of Darrell K. Royal Memorial Stadium, you could see he is a special talent. One of the most highly-touted high school recruits in recent years, Ewers has settled at Texas.
He appears reborn after injury interrupted a promising campaign last year which was erratic at times but showed flashes of brilliance. 75% passing accuracy against Alabama, four touchdown passes in the 49-0 demolition of Oklahoma and 369 yards against Washington in the Alamo Bowl highlighted the potential he has. Gone is the bleached mullet that was his trademark look, replaced by a more serious, conservative haircut signifying a commitment, perhaps, to fulfil his considerable talent.
The season is under way, so here are my quick-fire Power 5 and Playoff predictions for the 2023 season...
ACC - Florida State
Big Ten - Michigan
Big 12 - Texas
SEC - Georgia
Pac-12 - Washington
College Football Playoff:
Georgia will beat Michigan in a close final. Alabama and Washington are the losing semi-finalists.
Safe bet but Caleb Williams will be the first back-to-back winner in 48 years, and the No.1 pick in the April 2024 NFL Draft.