25. Toledo Rockets (11-1) ▲NR
Last Week: Defeated Central Michigan, 32-17
Up Next: vs. Miami (OH)
The Toledo Rockets make their Top-25 debut in our last ranking of the 2023 regular season. Big Cat led the Rockets to glory during his virtual tenure as head coach, but this team is the best iteration of the Rockets in years. Toledo enters the MAC Championship Game winners of 11-straight games. Toledo dropped its opening game, 30-28, at Illinois. Included in its 11-game streak is a win over Miami (OH) on the road — the same team Toledo will battle for the MAC Championship this weekend.
24. NC State Wolfpack (9-3) ▲NR
Last Week: Defeated North Carolina, 39-20
Up Next: TBD
Hats off to the Wolfpack — one of the hottest teams in the nation to end the season. The team began the year with a 4-3 record, and two of its losses weren’t particularly close. First, the Pack lost to Notre Dame by three touchdowns. A few weeks later, Louisville defeated NC State by three points — once again, the loss occurred at home. Following a narrow win over Marshall, the team lost by 21 to Duke. The Pack haven’t lost since that game and finished the year with an emphatic victory over the rival North Carolina Tar Heels. In the victory, Brennan Armstrong threw for 334 yards and three touchdowns — two of which went to Kevin Concepcion (7/131/2).
23. Kansas Jayhawks (8-4) ▲1
Last Week: Defeated Cincinnati, 49-16
Up Next: TBD
For the first time in 15 years, the Kansas Jayhawks have eight victories in one season. Lance Leipold is a fantastic coach and it is only a matter of time before he is leading a big-time program. The Jayhawks played much of the season without their star quarterback and were only a handful of plays away from winning 10 games. Backup QB Jason Bean returned to the field against Cincinnati, and he was terrific. In addition to throwing for 250 yards and two scores, Bean rushed for 90 yards and two TDs.
22. Utah Utes (8-4) ▲1
Last Week: Defeated Colorado, 23-17
Up Next: TBD
The Utes reign as Pac-12 champions is over after two years. The program entered the season with high but realistic expectations due to the uncertainty surrounding QB Cam Rising. The star suffered a devastating injury in last year’s Rose Bowl and was unable to return to the field in 2023. However, Rising has announced that he will return for one final season in 2024. The Utes will be headed to the Big 12 and should be primed to compete for the conference title immediately.
21. SMU Mustangs (10-2) ▲1
Last Week: Defeated Navy, 59-14
Up Next: @ Tulane
SMU’s American Athletic swansong has been riveting. Due to join the ACC next year, the Mustangs finished the regular season with a 10-2 record and clinched a spot in the American Athletic Championship Game. The Mustangs finished conference play with a perfect 8-0 record — their two losses were to Oklahoma and TCU, respectively — and will now take on Tulane. Offensively, SMU is led by QB Preston Stone (28 TD, 6 INT). The offense averaged 41.3 points this season. Impressively, only three teams scored more than 20 points against the Mustangs.
20. Oklahoma State Cowboys (9-3) ▲1
Last Week: Defeated BYU, 40-34
Up Next: vs. Texas
Nobody expected to see Oklahoma State in the Big 12 Championship following its start to the season. The Cowboys began the year with unimpressive wins over Central Arkansas and Arizona State, respectively, and then dropped their next two games — including a 33-7 loss to South Alabama at home. The Cowboys could have folded, but they rallied to go 7-1 to close out the season. The team knocked off the likes of Oklahoma, Kansas and Kansas State…and then lost to UCF, 45-3. Ultimately, OK State earned its place in the Big 12 Championship due to its head-to-head win over the rival Sooners.
19. Iowa Hawkeyes (10-2) ▲1
Last Week: Defeated Nebraska, 13-10
Up Next: vs. Michigan
Iowa’s regular season ended in the perfect way. You’d be hard-pressed to find more than 100 people who enjoy watching this team play football, but it’s hard to knock a winner. Iowa will represent the Big Ten West in the Championship Game following a 10-win season. Including the win over Nebraska, Iowa won six-of-seven to end the year despite not scoring more than 22 points. The Hawkeyes have a very good defense, but their offense is miserable. Iowa will need multiple defensive touchdowns if it wants to upset Michigan.
18. Tulane Green Wave (11-1) ▲1
Last Week: Defeated UTSA, 29-16
Up Next: vs. SMU
Tulane survived its high-wire act over the final few games of the regular season, and will now take on SMU for the American Athletic crown. Recently, Tulane won four games in a row by one touchdown or less — including three wins by three or less. A 16-point win over FAU was a bit of a relief, and last weekend’s 13-point win over UTSA clinched a title shot. Michael Pratt had a very poor game (9-of-22 for 125 yards and two TD), but running back Makhi Hughes picked up the slack with 166 yards and one score. A win over SMU would likely result in another New Year’s Six appearance.
17. Notre Dame Fighting Irish (9-3) ⭤ 17
Last Week: Defeated Stanford, 56-23
Up Next: TBD
Notre Dame may not be thrilled finishing the regular season with three losses, but at least it can enjoy dominant victories over both USC and Stanford. The Irish closed out the season with a 33-point thrashing of the rival Cardinal. On a night in which Sam Hartman only attempted 14 passes (140 yards, two TD), Audric Estime was utterly unstoppable. The tailback gashed Stanford’s defense for 238 yards and four touchdowns on 25 carries. Notre Dame trailed, 13-7, entering the second quarter, but outscored Stanford 42-3 over the next 30 minutes.
16. Oregon State Beavers (8-4) ▼1
Last Week: Lost to Oregon, 31-7
Up Next: TBD
Don’t let Saturday’s loss to Oregon fool you — the Beavers are a very good football team. Oregon State began the year 8-2, with both of its losses coming on the road and by three points. A two-point loss to undefeated Washington preceded the loss to Oregon. So, three of OSU’s losses came against teams currently in the top-15 (Arizona, Washington, Oregon) — with the latter two both being in the top-5. Of course, the biggest news to come out of Corvallis this weekend was the departure of head coach Jonathan Smith. The longtime Beav opted to take over at Michigan State.
15. Oklahoma Sooners (10-2) ▲1
Last Week: Defeated TCU, 69-45
Up Next: TBD
The Sooners won’t be departing the Big 12 in the manner they had hoped. Oklahoma improved in Year 2 under Brent Venables, but it failed to reach the Big 12 Championship Game due to its loss to Oklahoma State. OU won three-straight games following back-to-back losses to Kansas and OK State, respectively, and capped off the regular season with an offensive explosion against TCU. En route to scoring 69 points, Dillon Gabriel threw for 400 yards and tailback Gavin Sawchuk rushed for 130 yards and three TDs.
14. Louisville Cardinals (10-2) ▼5
Last Week: Lost to Kentucky, 38-31
Up Next: vs. Florida State
Well, that was disappointing. With a spot in the ACC Championship Game locked up and a very small chance of pushing for a spot in the College Football Playoff remaining, the Cardinals didn’t have a ton to play for against Kentucky — other than, you know, beating their biggest rival. Louisville held a 17-7 lead halfway through the third quarter, but its defense was torched the rest of the game. Kentucky’s Barion Brown returned a kickoff 100 yards to cut Louisville’s lead to three, and Kentucky scored on four of its final five possessions. Helping Kentucky’s cause, the Cardinals turned the ball over on three of their final five possessions.
13. Arizona Wildcats (9-3) ▲1
Last Week: Defeated Arizona State, 59-23
Up Next: TBD
Jedd Fisch’s Arizona Wildcats won their ninth game of the year on Saturday — giving the program its second nine-win season since 1998. The Wildcats went 1-11 in Fisch’s first season (2021). It has been a truly remarkable turnaround for the program, and the team should only get better in the coming years. Arizona won six in a row to end the year, and its three losses came by seven points or less — 31-24 (OT) @ Mississippi State, 31-24 vs. Washington, 43-41 (3OT) @ USC.
12. LSU Tigers (9-3) ▲1
Last Week: Defeated Texas A&M, 42-30
Up Next: TBD
LSU wrapped up its regular season with a 42-30 win over Texas A&M. All three of LSU’s losses came against teams currently ranked in the top-12 — Florida State, Ole Miss, Alabama. Of course, the star of the season was quarterback Jayden Daniels. The former Arizona State Sun Devil took his game to a new level with the Tigers, and he will certainly be a Heisman finalist. Overall, Daniels finished the season with 3,812 passing yards, 1,134 rushing yards, and 50 total touchdowns. It is a shame Daniels didn’t have a better defense behind him to help his cause.
11. Ole Miss Rebels (10-2) ▲1
Last Week: Defeated Mississippi State, 17-7
Up Next: TBD
Ole Miss is close to competing with the SEC’s best, but not close enough. The Rebels finished conference play with a 6-2 mark, but their two losses came against the two-best teams — Alabama and Georgia. Ole Miss’ offense was shut down by the Crimson Tide, and the team was dominated in all phases by Georgia. Lane Kiffin has certainly boosted the program during his tenure, but there is still work to be done if he hopes to knock off the elite teams.
10. Penn State Nittany Lions (10-2) ▲1
Last Week: Defeated Michigan State, 42-0
Up Next: TBD
Penn State and Ole Miss are in a similar spot — good, but not good enough. The Nittany Lions wrapped up their regular season with an easy win over Michigan State. The program has had no trouble beating up on the mid-to-lower level teams in the Big Ten, but it is not quite on the same level as Michigan or Ohio State. Penn State’s offense struggled against both the Wolverines and Buckeyes — scoring 15 and 12 points, respectively — and scored 27 points or more in its 10 wins.
9. Missouri Tigers (10-2)▲1
Last Week: Defeated Arkansas, 48-14
Up Next: TBD
Missouri had some very successful seasons under Gary Pinkel — twice finishing in the top-5 — but it had just two winning seasons since 2017. So, Mizzou fans must be thrilled with the team this year. The Tigers won 10 games for the first time since 2014 and knocked off the likes of Kansas State, Tennessee and Florida. Additionally, the Tigers were competitive in losses to LSU and Georgia. Missouri’s win over Arkansas last Saturday should result in a New Year’s Six berth.
8. Florida State Seminoles (12-0) ⭤ 8
Last Week: Defeated Florida, 24-15
Up Next: vs. Louisville
The Seminoles finished off an undefeated regular season with a tough win over Florida. Making his first start since Jordan Travis’ season-ending injury, Tate Rodemaker completed less than 50-percent of his pass attempts (12-of-25) for 134 yards. Trey Benson carried the load offensively, scoring three touchdowns and rushing for 95 yards. The Seminoles rallied from a 12-0 deficit as their defense turned up the heat in the second half. A battle against Louisville in the ACC Championship Game is certainly going to be tough. If the Noles win, will they reach the College Football Playoff?
7. Alabama Crimson Tide (11-1) ⭤ 7
Last Week: Defeated Auburn, 27-24
Up Next: vs. Georgia
Alabama’s hopes of reaching the College Football Playoff were 31 yards away from being dashed. Facing a 4th & Goal from Auburn’s 31-yard line, Jalen Milroe’s prayer was answered when his pass found the hands of Isaiah Bond for the game-winning score. To say the Tide got lucky would be an understatement. Alabama should have lost to an Auburn team that was throttled the week before, at home, by New Mexico State (31-10). A win over Georgia in the SEC Championship Game would result in chaos for the CFP Selection Committee.
6. Texas Longhorns (11-1) ⭤ 6
Last Week: Defeated Texas Tech, 57-7
Up Next: vs. Oklahoma State
In most years, Texas would be feeling pretty good about its College Football Playoff chances. The Longhorns will enter the Big 12 Championship Game with an 11-1 record, and they own one of the year’s best wins — a road victory over Alabama. However, there is a very real chance that Texas will be left out of the CFP even if it knocks off Oklahoma State. Georgia is in with a win, so too are Michigan and the winner of Washington/Oregon. An Alabama win over Georgia would complicate matters even further. But, assuming Texas and Georgia win, let’s say the final spot comes down to Texas and a 13-0 Florida State team. Would the committee exclude Texas or the Jordan Travis-less Seminoles?
5. Ohio State Buckeyes (11-1) ▼1
Last Week: Lost to Michigan, 30-24
Up Next: TBD
The Buckeyes reached the College Football Playoff in 2022 despite losing to Michigan, but they will not repeat that feat this season. Ohio State was far more competitive in ‘The Game’ this year, but it still lost for the third year in a row. Ryan Day is 38-3 in Big Ten play as head coach of the Buckeyes — and fans are still fuming because he is 0-3 against the Wolverines.
4. Oregon Ducks (11-1) ▲1
Last Week: Defeated Oregon State, 31-7
Up Next: vs. Washington
The Ducks are on a mission to reach the College Football Playoff in their last year as a member of the Pac-12. Oregon has arguably been the nation’s best team since its heartbreaking loss in Seattle to the Huskies. Bo Nix leads the way for an elite offense, and the defense is capable of shutting down above-average offenses. Oregon will certainly claim one of the CFP spots with a win over Washington in the Pac-12 Championship Game.
3. Washington Huskies (12-0) ⭤ 3
Last Week: Defeated Washington State, 24-21
Up Next: vs. Oregon
While Oregon continues to garner more praise with each passing week, the Huskies are seemingly doubted more and more. Washington finished the regular season with a perfect 12-0 record, and it owns victories over Oregon, Arizona, Oregon State, and Utah. The Huskies haven’t been dominant since their win over Oregon, but they remain undefeated for a reason. A victory in the Pac-12 Championship Game assures a spot in the CFP. What would happen if Oregon wins on a last-second field goal? Could a case be made that both Pac-12 teams belong in the CFP?
2. Georgia Bulldogs (12-0) ⭤ 2
Last Week: Defeated Georgia Tech, 31-23
Up Next: vs. Alabama
Perhaps looking ahead to this weekend’s showdown with Alabama, the Georgia Bulldogs struggled to put away Georgia Tech in their final regular season tilt. The Bulldogs trailed, 10-7, after 15 minutes, but outscored Tech 24-3 over the next two quarters to take a commanding lead into the fourth. However, Tech closed to within eight points in the fourth to make it a game once again. For Georgia, Kendall Milton led the way with 156 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. Georgia will have an opportunity to three-peat with a win over Alabama in the SEC Championship Game.
1. Michigan Wolverines (12-0) ⭤ 1
Last Week: Defeated Ohio State, 30-24
Up Next: vs. Iowa
Michigan won ‘The Game’ for the third year in a row, and in the process clinched another shot at winning the Big Ten championship. The Wolverines are heavy favorites against Iowa and appear to be destined for a third trip to the College Football Playoff in a row. Jim Harbaugh will be back on the sidelines against Iowa. Is this the year Michigan wins it all?