We’re back with some predictions for the 2023 season as previously done in 2021, 2017, and 2016 although we have decided to provide 15 this year instead of
25 26. The first five predictions covering the Group of 5 conferences for the 2023 season can be found here. This post will feature the opening five predictions focused on the Power 5 Conferences (Pac-12, Big 12, and ACC) with the final five predictions covering the ACC, Big Ten, and SEC.
Predictions 10 Through 6
Prediction 10 – Pac-12
The Pac-12 Will Not Make the College Football Playoff… Again – Okay, this isn’t the biggest limb to go out on but the Pac-12 has some quality teams this year, which is precisely why they won’t reach the playoffs. We’ll start with USC, which has the Heisman winner – Caleb Williams – returning along with 16 other starters from 2022. There’s no doubt the offense will be potent and possibly even better than last year. But the Trojans have a brutal back half of the schedule starting on October 14 at Notre Dame. That’s followed up with Utah at home, a road trip to California, Washington at home, Oregon on the road, and UCLA at home. None of those games will be easy and even the game at Cal is a potential stumbling block because it’s sandwiched between Utah and Washington at home.
Utah is another team that has a chance to claim a Pac-12 title with 16 starters back but their schedule isn’t much better. They have Florida (home) and Baylor (away) in the non-conference to start the season. They play UCLA at home and Oregon State on a Friday night on the road before a bye week. They also have USC (road), Oregon (home), and Washington (road) in a four-week span. The Utes could also play spoiler as they did in 2022 when they beat USC twice.
Then there’s Oregon with 16 starters back but they’re going into season 2 with Dan Lanning as head coach. Improves are expected from a team that went 10-3 in 2022. They have a non-conference road game at Texas Tech in week two but their second-half schedule is tough as well. They have Washington (road), Utah (road), USC (home), and Oregon State (home) in the last seven games. Also in that stretch are games against Washington State, California, and Arizona State.
Washington is yet another team that has a legitimate chance to win the Pac-12. Kalen DeBoer went 11-2 in year one and now has 15 starters back including the electric Michael Penix at quarterback. They have a tough non-conference schedule with Boise State at home in week one and a road game at Michigan State in week three. Like nearly every other team with a Pac-12 title chance, the second half of the schedule is tough. They have Oregon at home, USC on the road, Utah at home, and a road game at Oregon State. Plus there’s the Apple Cup against Washington State although the Huskies have dominated that series for the last 15 years.
The Pac-12 should be exciting to watch and have four legitimate conference title contenders. USC should win the Pac-12 with all that talent returning plus an improvement on defense expected. However, there are so many landmines for Pac-12 teams to navigate it seems inevitable the conference end up on the outside looking in. Then again, this could be the year a rash of upsets allows a two-loss team to reach the CFB Playoff and a one-loss Pac-12 team might be enough.
Prediction 9 – Pac-12
At Least 4 Teams Will Average 40 Points Per Game – We think there are going to be a lot of points scored in the Pac-12 this year. Last year only the USC Trojans managed to score more than 40 points per game. They put up 41.4 points in Lincoln Riley’s first year and now return the main piece to the offense in Caleb Williams. While the top running back (Travis Dye) and receiver (Jordan Addison) both depart, the replacements will easily pick up where those two left off.
Washington (39.7 points per game), UCLA (39.2), Oregon (38.8), and Utah (38.6) were all very close to eclipsing the 40-point mark in 2022 but came up short. Washington (7), Oregon (8), and Utah (7) return their starting quarterback and a majority of the offensive production. UCLA is unlikely to return to the same levels after losing the top quarterback, top running back, and top two receivers from a year ago. Even Arizona, which averaged 30.8 points per game and returns 8 starters on offense, including nearly every skill player from 2022, could come close to the 40 points per-game mark.
While this may seem like a strange prediction there’s one additional influence that might hurt this in the long run: a rule change. New for 2023, the clock will no longer stop after a first down except for the final two minutes of each half. This is intended to speed up the game, which means fewer offensive plays, thus leading to less scoring – in theory. We hope the Pac-12 defies the theory and produces higher-scoring games.
Prediction 8 – Big 12
Any 2 of BYU, Central Florida, Cincinnati, or Houston Will Finish in the Bottom 2 – The Big 12 welcomes four new teams in 2023 with BYU, Central Florida, Cincinnati, and Houston.
Cincinnati has only 9 returning starters with 3 on offense and 6 on defense. The offense lost the starting quarterback, top running back, and 9 of the top 10 receivers from 2022. Oh, and Luke Fickell left Cincinnati to take over the head coaching role at Wisconsin. It’s going to be a tough rebuild for the Bearcats, especially on offense, but the defense also lost some key pieces (the top four tacklers from 2022 depart). In addition, they have BYU, Houston, UCF, and West Virginia appear on the schedule.
Houston is in a similar spot to Cincinnati. They have 12 returning starters but the top quarterback, running back, and two receivers are not among them. On defense, 8 of the top 9 tacklers from 2022 are gone, which is not great for a first season in a Power 5 conference. On the schedule, they have West Virginia, Cincinnati, and UCF as winnable games.
Stop us if you’ve heard this one before – BYU also lost the key skill players on offense. The top quarterback, top three rushers, and top receiver are not returning. Defensively, the losses aren’t as bad as 5 of the top 6 tacklers are back for 2023. BYU will take on Cincinnati, West Virginia, and Iowa State but doesn’t have Houston or UCF on the schedule.
UCF is the newcomer best positioned to make noise in 2023. They have John Rhys Plumlee back and he simply led the team in passing and rushing last year. While the #2 running back is gone, the third leading rusher from 2022 returns and he had only 3 yards fewer than the #2 guy. The top receiver is also back along with 7 starters on defense. UCF has Kansas, West Virginia, Cincinnati, and Houston on the schedule so it’s not difficult to see them have a solid first season.
Three non-newcomer teams could also compete for the bottom two spots in the standings: Iowa State, Kansas, and West Virginia. Of those, West Virginia is a worry because it lost the starting quarterback, top rusher, and the top 4 receivers from 2022. The Mountaineers are always a tough out, especially at home, but the defense will need to lead the way as the offense gets settled.
Prediction 7 – Big 12
Texas Tech Will Reach 8 Wins – The Red Raiders haven’t won 8 games in back-to-back seasons since the 2012 and 2013 seasons when Tommy Tuberville and Kliff Kingsbury were head coaches. In fact, that was the last time Texas Tech had put together back-to-back winning seasons until 2021 and 2022. Last year was a good first year for Joey McGuire as he guided the team to an 8-5 record with wins over Houston and Texas, which were both ranked at the time. They played a close game at TCU in a 34-24 loss but ended the season on a four-game win streak including a 51-48 victory over Oklahoma and a 42-25 win over Ole Miss in the Texas Bowl.
The offense returns all 11 starters but the big key is at quarterback. The Red Raiders had injury after injury to the QBs, which led to three different starters. Either Tyler Shough or Behren Morton should help an offense that returns the top five receivers and top rusher Tahj Brooks. It’s pretty amazing this unit put up 34.2 points and 461 yards per game across three different QBs. Assuming there isn’t a rash of injuries, those numbers should be reached again this season.
On defense, six starters are back from a group that allowed 29.2 points and 426 yards per game. Five of the top 6 tacklers are gone, which is a concern. The defensive line returns three of the four starters from last year and they’ll have to bring the pressure to help the inexperienced linebacking group. The secondary should be solid with three starters back.
Reaching 8 wins won’t be easy for TTU. They open with Wyoming in a rare road trip to a non-Power 5 and then play Oregon and Tarleton State at home. Conference play begins with a game at West Virginia followed by Baylor (away), Kansas State (home), and BYU (away). After a bye week, the Red Raiders finish up against TCU (home on Thursday night), Kansas (away), UCF (home), and Texas (away on Black Friday). There are no easy outs here but a 2-1 non-conference record seems likely. A 4-1 stretch until the bye week is possible as well but 5-0 isn’t impossible especially with Kansas State coming to Lubbock. The Red Raiders could end the season 2-2 to reach 8-4 but they may need another upset if they have a loss elsewhere on the schedule. Finally, there’s always the bowl game that might help them reach 8 wins.
Prediction 6 – ACC
Virginia’s Defense Will Hold Opponents to 20 Points Per Game or Fewer – This is an interesting one. Virginia went 3-7 last year in an unfortunate, shortened season. The offense was bad averaging only 17 points and 344 yards per game. In 2023, Brennan Armstrong will not return as he transferred to NC State. Amstrong was the top rusher for the team in addition to being the quarterback. The top three receivers are also not returning meaning there is plenty of work on offense.
The strength of the team will be the defense, which actually performed really well for a 3-7 squad. They gave up 24 points and 358 yards per game in 2022 and now have 8 starters returning. The biggest loss was felt at the linebacking corp with Nick Jackson (104 tackles and 5 sacks) transferring to Iowa but the entire defensive line returns to soften the blow. The secondary is also a concern with two starters departing but the added Tayvonn Kyle from Iowa State who has some experience and the talented Clemson transfer Malcolm Greene.
The rule change with a running clock after first down conversions except for the final two minutes of the half should help them but the schedule should too. They play Boston College, William & Mary, Georgia Tech, and Virginia Tech. BC, GT, and VT all averaged less than 20 points per game on offense in 2022 and a stingy Virginia defense could help the season average with a few big performances.
Be sure to check back on Saturday, August 19 for the final set of predictions!