Way-Too-Early 2023-24 College Football Playoff Crashers
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The 2023 college football season may be just over eight months away, but it's never too early to start thinking ahead. Last season, we saw the TCU Horned Frogs make history by getting to the College Football Playoff as a team with 200-1 odds to win the national title at the start of the season.
Although TCU got blown out by Georgia in the national title game, it's still fair to classify the Horned Frogs as a playoff crasher. A crasher is a team that may not be expected to make it into the playoff at the start of the season, but it makes it in anyway. Teams that haven't ever made it to the playoff—or haven't in quite a while—can constitute as a playoff crasher, as well as teams that haven't won their conferences recently.
Let's take an early look at who could be a playoff crasher during the 2023 season.
Tulane Green Wave
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Willie Fritz Ron Jenkins/Getty Images
I mean, how great of a season did Tulane have in 2022? The Green Wave won the AAC for the first time in school history, beating UCF 45-28 in the conference championship game. In fact, Tulane was 8-1 through the first 10 weeks of the season and checked in at No. 19 in the first CFP rankings. It marked the first time in school history the Green Wave cracked the CFP Top 25.
But Tulane didn't finish there.
In the Cotton Bowl, Tulane was matched up against USC, a team that would have been in the playoff if it hadn't lost to Utah in the Pac-12 title game. But Tulane did more than just show up for the game. The Green Wave pulled off one of the bowl season's most shocking upsets over USC, winning 46-45. The Green Wave wiped out a 15-point deficit in the last four minutes of the game, scoring two touchdowns and a safety.
Now, Tulane heads into 2023 with a ton of momentum. Starting quarterback Michael Pratt, who threw for 3,009 yards and 27 touchdowns with just five interceptions last season, will be back next season. Pratt was second on the team in rushing, finishing the year with 478 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground.
The Green Wave will have to replace a lot of talent heading to the NFL draft—some of the bigger names departing include running back Tyjae Spears, leading receivers Shae Wyatt and Duece Watts, and defensive backs Larry Brooks, Lummie Young IV and Macon Clark.
But defensive end Darius Hodges and cornerback Lance Robinson will be returning, and running back Shaadie Clayton-Johnson, who had 333 yards and two touchdowns as a redshirt freshman last season, should be able to carry the load on the ground. Receivers Jha'Quan Jackson and Lawrence Keys III, who combined for 850 receiving yards with five touchdowns last season, will be reliable targets for Pratt.
Then there's Tulane's 2023 schedule to look at. Although it isn't 100 percent set yet, the Green Wave will play Ole Miss at home on Sept. 9. An upset over Lane Kiffin's Rebel team would certainly vault Tulane into the playoff conversation early in the season.
Two years ago, Cincinnati had to be perfect to make it into the playoff as the first Group of Five team to crack the final four. Tulane might have to do just that to have a shot in 2023. We'll see if the Green Wave can shock the college football world once again next season.
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Michael Penix Jr. Tim Warner/Getty Images
USC, Utah and Oregon are the likely favorites to win the Pac-12 in 2023. But Washington has plenty of hype heading into the 2023 season. The Huskies finished 11-2 last season, capped off with a 27-20 win over Texas in the Alamo Bowl. The 11-win season marked the best finish in Seattle since Chris Petersen's 10-4 season in 2018. It was a great season for first-year head coach Kalen DeBoer.
The biggest reason the Huskies could make it into the playoff for the first time since the 2016 season? The return of quarterback Michael Penix Jr.
Penix finished 2022 as the nation's No. 2 leader in passing yards, with 4,641 on the season, to go with 31 touchdowns and just eight interceptions. Although the signal-caller was eligible to declare for the NFL draft, Penix opted to return to Washington for next season.
The Huskies QB will also get back both of his leading receivers from last season. Rome Odunze, who finished last season with 1,145 yards receiving and seven touchdowns, is returning, as well as Jalen McMillan, who had 1,098 yards and a team-leading nine touchdowns.
Washington's leading rusher, Wayne Taulapapa, is headed to the NFL, but backup Cameron Davis, who finished with 522 yards and 13 touchdowns last season, should be able to carry the load on the ground. Adding Arizona State transfer Daniyel Ngata should help, too. On defense, the Huskies will be led by returning edge-rushers Bralen Trice and Zion Tupuola-Fetui. The two combined for 13.5 sacks last season, and Trice was voted first-team All-Pac-12 last season.
Washington's 2023 schedule includes some decent out-of-conference opponents, too. In the first three weeks, the Huskies will play Boise State and Tulsa at home before traveling to East Lansing to play Michigan State. Last year, the Huskies won 39-28 against MSU in Week 3, when Sparty was ranked 11th at the time.
If Washington wants to make a playoff run, losing two straight to UCLA and Arizona State like it did last season can't happen. Washington's 2023 schedule sets up pretty nicely, with home games against Oregon, Arizona State, Utah and Washington State.
Florida State Seminoles
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Mike Norvell David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
Florida State made it to the playoff in the system's very first year in 2014, when Jimbo Fisher and Jameis Winston were both still in Tallahassee. Since then, the ACC has been represented in the playoff mostly by Clemson, and Notre Dame earned a bid when the Fighting Irish played in the ACC for the 2020 season. But heading into 2023, this looks like the Noles' best chance at getting back into the playoff for the first time in nine seasons.
FSU went 10-3 last season, capped off with a Cheez-It Bowl victory over Oklahoma. Although the Noles lost conference games to Clemson, Wake Forest and NC State, it was still FSU's best finish since the Noles' 10-3 finish in 2016, so this is a big jump for head coach Mike Norvell entering his fourth season.
A big reason Florida State is expected to do big things this season is the return of quarterback Jordan Travis. The junior QB had the best season of his FSU career in 2022, finishing with 3,214 yards and 24 touchdowns with five interceptions. He added 417 yards and seven scores on the ground.
Travis will return a ton of weapons around him, too. Leading rusher Trey Benson, who finished last season with 990 yards and nine touchdowns, will be back, as well as leading receiver Johnny Wilson and wideout Mycah Pittman.
On defense, linebackers Tatum Bethune and Kalen DeLoach, who combined for 147 total tackles and six sacks last season, will be back, as well as defensive back Akeem Dent. Norvell made headlines by hiring Miami Dolphins assistant and FSU alumnus Patrick Surtain as the new defensive coordinator, so this unit will be expected to do big things.
Florida State's 2023 schedule isn't 100 percent set just yet, but the Noles will open with LSU again next year in Orlando, Florida. Last season, Florida State beat LSU 24-23 in New Orleans after the Tigers' would-be-game-tying extra point was blocked.
The biggest hurdle standing in FSU's way appears to be Clemson, which the Noles haven't beaten since 2014. The Noles will go on the road to play Boston College, Clemson, Wake Forest and Pitt, but the rest of their ACC games against Miami, Syracuse, Duke and Virginia Tech will be at home. Even if FSU finishes the regular season with just one loss to Clemson, there could still be a case for a Noles' bid.
FSU getting into the playoff would, without a doubt, be classified as a crasher after missing out on it for the last eight seasons.
Kansas State Wildcats
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Will HowardRon Jenkins/Getty Images
The Wildcats shocked the college football world last season by handing TCU its first loss in the Big 12 title game, winning 31-28 in overtime. But since Kansas State had already lost three games to Tulane, TCU and Texas earlier in the season, there was no way for the Wildcats to earn a playoff bid.
Kansas State has never won a national championship in football. Could 2023 be the season the Wildcats take the next step and make a playoff run?
They will have to replace some playmakers on offense to do so. The biggest losses on offense from last season include running back Deuce Vaughn and leading receiver Malik Knowles. K-State's initial starting quarterback from 2022, Adrian Martinez, has no eligibility left.
But the Wildcats should be in good hands with signal-caller Will Howard, who played most of the season while Martinez dealt with injuries. On the season, Howard finished with 1,633 yards passing along with 15 touchdowns and just four interceptions. Wide receiver Phillip Brooks, who had 587 receiver yards and four touchdowns last season, returning will also be big for the Wildcats. Former Florida State running back Treshaun Ward also transferred to Kansas State. All five of Kansas State's offensive linemen are returning next season as well.
On defense, K-State is in good shape with the linebacking corps.
The Wildcats will return all three starters from last year, including leading tackler Austin Moore, Khalid Duke and Daniel Green. The Wildcats will have to replace senior cornerbacks Julius Brents and Ekow Boye-Doe, as well as Big 12 defensive player of the year Felix Anudike-Uzomah. But getting Mississippi State transfer Jevon Banks will help along the defensive line, as well as 4-star 2023 defensive end Jordan Allen.
Kansas State's 2023 schedule isn't set yet, but the Wildcats will likely be predicted to finish behind conference favorites such as Texas and TCU. K-State had no problems surprising a lot of people with what it did last season. We'll see if the Wildcats can do it again in 2023 and crash the playoff.
Oregon State Beavers
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Jonathan SmithAli Gradischer/Getty Images
Oregon State is coming off a remarkably successful year, finishing 10-3 and capping it off with a dominant 30-3 win over Florida in the Las Vegas Bowl. The finish marked just the third time in school history that the Beavers finished with 10 wins. Since Oregon State had three losses in the regular season to USC, Utah and Washington, playoff hopes were off the table.
Oregon State has never won or played for a national championship, so the Beavers making the playoff would certainly be considered a crash. Oregon State's roster looks like it's in great shape heading into 2023. Oregon State head coach Jonathan Smith landed a big-time transfer from the portal, pulling in former Clemson quarterback DJ Uiagalelei.
Obviously Uiagalelei struggled to find consistent success over two seasons at Clemson. In 2021, he finished with nine touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He put up the best numbers of his career last season, finishing with 2,521 yards passing, 22 touchdowns and seven interceptions, in addition to 545 yards rushing and seven scores. Still, he was benched for true freshman Cade Klubnik early in the Tigers' 39-10 win over UNC in the ACC title game. Perhaps a new system can turn the signal-caller's career around.
The Beavers will get four starters back along the offensive line, as well as sophomore running back Damien Martinez, who had 982 yards and seven touchdowns last season as a true freshman. On defense, Oregon State lost leading tackler Omar Speights to LSU, but the Beavers return starters such as defensive backs Kitan Oladapo and Ryan Cooper Jr., linebacker John McCartan, and defensive lineman James Rawls. The Beavers also got a talented linebacker from the portal in linebacker Mason Tufaga from Utah.
The Beavers' 2023 conference schedule doesn't look too daunting.
Oregon State's season opens with out-of-conference games against San Jose State, UC Davis and San Diego State. Oregon State gets home games against Utah, UCLA, Stanford and Washington in the Pac-12. The Beavers' road trips include ones to Washington State, Cal, Arizona, Colorado and Oregon. Obviously the trip to Oregon will be tough, but this looks like a pretty manageable schedule for the Beavers.
We'll see if Oregon State has what it takes to crash the playoff. Smith led the Beavers to a 10-win season after going 2-10 in his first season in 2018. Crashing the playoff just might be the next step for Oregon State.
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Luke FickellChris Coduto/Getty Images
First-year head coaches have made it to the playoff just two times since the system began in 2014. Lincoln Riley did it with Oklahoma back in 2017, and TCU's Sonny Dykes did it just last season. Wisconsin's Luke Fickell will have a chance to go to the playoff for the second time in his coaching career, as the former Cincinnati head coach is the new head man for the Badgers.
The Fickell era in Madison looks like it's off to a flying start so far. He hired UNC offensive coordinator Phil Longo, who just coached outstanding redshirt freshman Drake Maye last season.
The Badgers also landed QB Tanner Mordecai from SMU. During Mordecai's two-year tenure as the Mustangs' starter, Mordecai threw for 7,152 yards with 72 touchdowns and only 22 interceptions. He also set a SMU record with 13 games of 300 or more passing yards, throwing for another school-record 39 touchdowns in 2021. Wisconsin will also return 1,000-yard rusher Braelon Allen at running back and most of its starters at receiver, including Chimere Dike, Skyler Bell and Keontez Lewis. Fickell also landed two talented receivers from the portal, including CJ Williams from USC and Oklahoma State's Bryson Green.
Defensively, Fickell landed some big-time transfers as well. The biggest gets include defensive back Jason Maitre from Boston College and Temple DE Darian Varner. Leading tackler Maema Njongmeta will be back at linebacker, as will Jordan Turner and C.J. Goetz.
Wisconsin's 2023 schedule includes the home opener against Buffalo and a road game to Washington State in Week 2 before a home contest with Georgia Southern in Week 3. The Badgers get Rutgers, Iowa, Ohio State, Northwestern and Nebraska at home for their Big Ten slate. The road games include ones at Purdue, Illinois, Indiana and Minnesota.
Wisconsin crashing the playoff would mean beating both Ohio State in the regular season and beating either the Buckeyes or Michigan in the Big Ten title game, assuming it wins the West. It seems like a long shot, but Fickell is in a good spot to have a shot at crashing the playoff next season.