Darron Cummings/Associated Press
The offseason is upon us. The time has arrived.
It’s a jarring, startling moment for us all. Well, except maybe for Georgia fans. They’re likely to lean into this one for a while and celebrate through spring after beating Alabama in the national championship.
For the rest of us, however, amid a football hangover, the questions surrounding next season have already begun. And as we ease into the game-less abyss, we can also look ahead to next fall.
Yes, there are plenty of questions to be answered. Players will declare for the draft. Others might return to their teams. And the coaching carousel might not be done with us just yet.
But as we stand here today, we can also process what greatness awaits.
Specifically, we can ask one simple question.
Which team should be ranked No. 1 heading into next year?
To answer that question, B/R readers came to the rescue with answers. Here are the teams they suggested for the top spot, with commentary attached.
John McCoy/Associated Press
Suggestion: [gif of Brutus Buckeye dancing]
As one who enjoys GIFs, I am more than happy to celebrate a suggestion without text
Ohio State is indeed a fine selection for No. 1, which says a lot considering how much talent it’s losing. Wideouts Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave are off to the NFL, as are members of both the offensive and defensive line.
As we saw against Utah in the Rose Bowl, there is wealth of offensive talent still in place. QB C.J. Stroud returns after a monster season, and he will be not be alone. Running back TreVeyon Henderson, who was wonderful this year, is also back, as is wideout Jaxon Smith-Njigba, who caught roughly 954 balls for 12,678 yards in the Rose Bowl. I believe he just caught another football.
Throw in talented young defensive players and the arrival of new defensive coordinator Jim Knowles—he was spectacular for Oklahoma State in 2021—and there is a lot to like.
Assuming Ryan Day doesn’t leave for the NFL, the Buckeyes are likely to be a consensus top-three team.
They’re not my No. 1, although they are not far behind.
Let’s Get (Somewhat) Weird
John McCoy/Associated Press
Speaking of the Rose Bowl, here’s Utah.
Now, let’s get a few things out of the way before we dive any deeper. Utah is not the No. 1 team in the country heading into next year. There’s no need to bury the lede.
With that being said, the Utes have a chance to be really, really good.
A quality defense is saying farewell to some key pieces, especially up front. It will, however, welcome linebacker Mohamoud Diabate from Florida, who was a tackling machine.
On offense is where this team has a chance to really thrive. Quarterback Cameron Rising was great this season, and he has a chance to be even better next fall. He and running back Tavion Thomas, who ran for 21 touchdowns this season, will be one of the better offensive combos in all of football.
We saw against Ohio State that this team can compete—even when Rising left the game because of an injury. And in my eyes, the Utes enter the offseason as a rather prohibitive favorite to win the Pac-12.
As for the No. 1 team, well, I’m not quite there. No one will be quite there. But a strong case could be made for the Utes to begin the season inside the top five.
Is it Finally Time?
L.G. Patterson/Associated Press
Suggestion: Texas A&M
Entering this season, I was bullish on Texas A&M. I expected the Aggies to compete for an SEC Championship.
Jimbo Fisher’s team found a way to conquer Alabama, which was superb. It also stumbled into losses that it shouldn’t have. Granted, losing starting quarterback Haynes King early on to injury didn’t help.
That is a necessary backdrop for a team that will welcome in the No. 1 recruiting class this offseason. And it’s not like Texas A&M hasn’t been bringing in excellent classes over the past few years. (It has.)
Given what the defense is likely to lose up front, that is good news. The Aggies will lose a smattering of key defensive lineman, headlined by DeMarvin Leal. But there is depth there, and more help is coming.
On offense, Texas A&M will have options at quarterback. King could return, and former LSU QB Max Johnson, who has shown some flashes, is transferring in. They will be joined by 5-star QB Conner Weigman, who could compete for the job as well.
If we were building the possible No. 1 for 2023, Texas A&M would likely be a strong contender. As is, the Aggies are likely to have a place in many top fives, and understandably so.
The Great ‘Bama Revenge Tour
Paul Sancya/Associated Press
Suggestion: Gotta go BAMA. They return practically everyone
Not all of this is necessarily true, @bccnya. And we have plenty to learn when it comes to early departures on the Alabama front.
We know running back Brian Robinson Jr. is gone. And Evan Neal, perhaps the top offensive lineman in the draft and a huge contributor for the team, is likely to join him.
The futures of both Jameson Williams and John Metchie III, the two wideouts dealing with injuries suffered in the postseason, are certainly worth monitoring. But both could declare. For many, that is likely the expectation.
Still, Heisman-winning quarterback Bryce Young and linebacker Will Anderson Jr. are both back. These might be the best two players in college football, and Anderson might be one of the defensive players we’ve seen over the past five years. Their presences alone are enormous.
As is the yearly ritual, the Crimson Tide will welcome one of the best recruiting classes in all of football. But the additions I’m most excited about come from the transfer portal.
Cornerback Eli Ricks transferred from LSU, and he might be the most gifted defensive back in the SEC. Running back Jahmyr Gibbs, who had a really solid season at Georgia Tech, was also an enormous land for the Tide.
There are questions to be answered and key positions to be filled, but this is my pick. During a rebuilding year—a term Nick Saban would never use—Alabama came within a quarter of winning a national title.
Next season’s team is likely to be better.
This is my No. 1.
The Champ is Here
Darron Cummings/Associated Press
Suggestion: The defending champs should always start No. 1 even if they lose a bunch of talent and can’t hold it long, so Georgia should start the season No. 1
This is not a game of football at recess. The champion doesn’t stay on the field. This is college football, and things tend to move fast.
No, the No. 1 team from this season shouldn’t automatically be plugged into that spot for next year. That being said, Georgia has a very compelling case to be considered the preseason favorite.
The losses are likely to be substantial, especially on defense. Defensive tackle Jordan Davis, linebacker Nakobe Dean and defensive lineman Travon Walker are all likely NFL bound. And they won’t be alone.
Given how superb this group was for Georgia, finding replacements, even with so much talent on the roster, will not be instant.
Offensively, running back James Cook has already declared. Top wideout George Pickens, who missed most of the season with a knee injury, is one to watch. Many of the other pieces on this side of the ball, however, are likely back.
That includes QB Stetson Bennett, one would think. Although Bennett didn’t seem to rule out a transfer following the title game. Even if he left, the position would be in good hands with former 5-star recruits JT Daniels and Brock Vandagriff on the roster. (At least for now.)
The losses on defense are enormous. There is no way to sugarcoat it.
But with years of incredible recruiting, another top class on the way and many pieces still in place, Georgia is primed to compete for another title. But it might take time, and the Bulldogs won’t start the season where they left off.
They’ll be awfully close, though.