The 2023 college football season is the last year where the College Football Playoff will only feature four teams. In 2024, along with conference realignment, the playoff will expand, allowing 12 teams to have a shot at the national title. But this year – the final season with a four-team playoff structure – there has not been a tighter race for the college football playoff.
At the halfway point of the year, we have seen expectations being met at the top from Georgia and Michigan. Everything under the top two spots is where the real fun begins. There has been an abundance of highly competitive teams, with the margin between each team never being smaller in the top 15.
But despite the parity, the No. 1 Georgia Bulldogs and No. 2 Michigan Wolverines are in a league of their own.
Georgia’s main offensive attack has been through the air to junior tight end Brock Bowers, who is having his best season. On the year Bowers already has 567 yards and four touchdowns and averages nearly 14 yards a catch. The Bulldogs’s dynamic offense is also not afraid to put the ball on the ground, as they have six players averaging over four yards per carry.
Some believe that Georgia should be dethroned as the supreme leader due to recent cracks showing in their games, mainly against a middling Auburn team. Coming in as 14-point favorites on Sept. 30, they were on upset alert and squeaked out a 27-20 win. Georgia turned the ball over twice and was not able to keep the ball away from the Tigers, thus losing the time of possession.
Meanwhile, Michigan is led by junior quarterback J.J. McCarthy, who silently has the best QBR in all of college football. The one-two punch of McCarthy and running back Blake Corum is as hard as ever to stop with them combining for 26 touchdowns.
Head coach Jim Harbaugh and the Wolverines traveled to play a road game against Minnesota on Oct. 7th, where they traveled 75 players and played 74 of them. The depth and versatility of Michigan, paired with a powerful defense that has given up no more than 10 points in a game, prompts a case to be ranked number one.
Ohio State head coach Ryan Day feels as if his team’s players are underdogs, saying in an post-game interview with NBC Sports, “Ohio against the world.” The Buckeyes carry that mindset into every game. Ranked No. 3, their best weapon is the potential number-one pick in the 2024 NFL draft: junior wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr.
A primetime matchup with Notre Dame on Sept. 23 has been the highlight win of the season – but not for all the right reasons. The Irish were up 14-10 over Ohio State with less than two minutes left and had a chance to march down the field and put the game away, but came up empty-handed. Punting the ball back to the Buckeyes, Ohio State quickly moved from their 35-yard line down to the Irish one. With three seconds left on the clock, running back Chip Trayanum walked it off with a game-winning touchdown. A victory on the road against Notre Dame is clearly a quality win, but a coaching collapse by the Irish only having 10 men on the field during the game-winning play leaves some questions.
Florida State is looking to capitalize on a highly successful season after finishing 2022 on a seven-game winning streak. Heisman candidate, senior quarterback Jordan Travis, and head coach Mike Norvell are leading the Seminoles to Florida supremacy and started off 2023 with a bang by taking down LSU 45-24 in their season opener, led by Travis’s four touchdowns. Wide receiver Keon Coleman is a big target at 6 '4 and was on his quarterback's radar, hauling in nine catches, 122 yards and three touchdowns in their marquee victory.
Historically speaking, Washington has always had above-average to great football teams, earning anywhere from eight to 12 victories per season. After an electric 11-2 campaign with an Alamo Bowl win over Texas last season, the Huskies have never had so much hype surrounding them and just might top that with a playoff appearance.
Sitting at No. 5 in the polls with a 7-0 record, quarterback Michael Penix Jr. has been doing what seemed impossible. The former Indiana Hoosier has had multiple season-ending injuries, two of them to his right ACL and a sternoclavicular joint injury in his time in Bloomington. This prompted Penix to search for a change of scenery and has pulled off a mountain climb of a journey and is now a Heisman candidate.
The highest-ranked one-loss team is the Texas Longhorns, who hold one of the biggest upsets of the year, handing Alabama its first loss in the second game of the year: 34-24. Their one loss came in the Red River Rivalry Game against Oklahoma, falling short in an instant classic, 34-30.
Penn State continues to be a Big Ten threat and has a legitimate shot at making the playoffs – contingent on stringing more wins together. Adding to their positive seven forced turnover mark would only bolster their resume.
Other hot teams include North Carolina with Heisman candidate sophomore quarterback Drake Maye leading the Tar Heels to as high as No. 10 before getting handed their first loss by Virginia.
Meanwhile, Alabama has tanked in the polls for a majority of the season, staying outside the top 10, but has worked their way to No. 9 after taking down No. 17 Tennessee. Ultimately, Saban and the Crimson Tide have been falling short of their early-season expectation of being the second-best team behind Georgia.
Oregon State has steadily been climbing the ranks, landing at No. 11 after starting the year at No. 18. But if any team is a surprise, it’s No. 12 Ole Miss, bringing in six wins.
No. 13 Utah’s defense is the anchor of the team, allowing less than two touchdowns per contest. Although the defense holds the team together, the Utes seem to have USC’s number beating them for the fourth time in a row, this time in a 34-32 highly competitive offensive showcase. This is the third loss to Utah in the Lincoln Riley and Caleb Williams era in Southern California.
Notre Dame hosts a potent offense with senior quarterback Sam Hartman and junior running back Audric Estime. The Irish have already played multiple meaningful games against Ohio State, Louisville and USC.
In head coach Dan Lanning’s second year with Oregon, the Ducks are now an offensive powerhouse averaging 48.5 points per contest. Under center is Bo Nix, who is completing 79% of his passes and has only turned it over once through six games. Their single loss was via Washington, where they failed to make a 43-yard field goal attempt to send it to overtime.
College football’s unpredictability is on full display this year, and that’s what makes the sport as great as it is.