Which non-quarterback group will define each top-25 team’s season?
When it comes to football, the quarterback is obviously the star position.
Seasons can be created or interrupted by one bad pass or missed sound in the most important game, so it makes sense that the position is constantly in the spotlight. But at the end of the day, a quarterback is just one player, and the positional groups that surround him will be critical to getting into the college football playoffs for teams in the top 25.
With that said, and spring training is just around the corner, it’s time to take a look at the groupings of positions that will be key in the 2023 season for each ranked team in our Too Early College Football Top 25 Teams rankings.
1. Georgia Bulldogs: Outside Linebacker
Replacing starting quarterback Stetson Bennett will obviously be Georgia’s primary focus for spring training, but who will also need to be identified as outside linebacker. The Bulldogs got a head start last season after star Nolan Smith suffered a season-ending chest injury in late October. Smith and senior Robert Beal Jr. went to the NFL Draft, while M.J. Sherman moved to Nebraska. Chaz Chambliss and Jalon Walker, who were hired as inside linebacker, increased their outside roles after Smith was injured. Marvin Jones Jr. also played the position like a true freshman, but he will miss spring training with a shoulder injury. The Bulldogs have many former Sportzshala 300 recruits to work with, including Darris Smith and CJ Madden, as well as freshmen Damon Wilson, Samuel M’Pemba and Gabrielle Harris, who were all early signers. “When we were at our best, we had a lot of speed and athleticism in that [outside linebackers] We’re trying to get back to that,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “We hope these guys can do that and also provide some defensive help when it comes to 4-3 and two-man games. .” — Mark Schlabach
2. Ohio State Buckeyes: Defensive Line
Any Ohio defense force could fit in here, but the Buckeyes desperately need their line of defense to become a destructive force again. The group has been missing a real superstar since Chase Young in 2019, and last year they didn’t achieve enough success at important moments. There’s always talent at Ohio State, including a third-year J.T. Tuimolaw who set a record in a team win at Penn State, but not many other impressive performances in 2022. The class of 2021 has just 27 tackles and 7.5 sacks in their first two college seasons. Tylake Williams is a gifted inside lineman who had five sacks in 2021 but only one last season. Veteran line coach Larry Johnson has enough to form a consistently productive group that could greatly help improve the overall division in a second season under coordinator and mentor Jim Knowles. — Adam Rittenberg
3 Michigan Wolverines: Pass Rush
Pass rush includes a few positions, but mostly defensive wing and outside linebacker, which are two groups to watch out for in Michigan. Although the Wolverine’s defense shone for the second season in a row, the team had no outstanding pass rusher other than Mike Morris, whose 7.5 sacks and 11 tackles to lose led both categories. Morris is due for the NFL Draft, and Eyabi Oki, who was runner-up on the four-sack team, has moved to Charlotte. The overall depth of the Michigan line should be good, especially with the return of Chris Jenkins in a tackle. But second-year coordinator Jesse Minter needs faster, more explosive options on the edge. Derrick Moore, Sportzshala’s 20th overall in 2022, got two sacks like a true freshman and should be ready for a bigger role. Outside linebacker Jaylen Harrell could also be a bigger factor in the passing race. Michigan is also hoping that Braden McGregor, Sportzshala’s No. 32 overall in 2020, will finally be a major contributor. — Rittenberg
4 Florida Seminoles: Offensive Line
It’s hard to pick a team that’s had more offensive success over the past three years than Florida State, which has turned the division from weakness to strength ahead of what should be a huge 2023 season. The Seminoles should indeed replace left-back Dillan Gibbons, the undisputed leader of this group, but they are also bringing back experience and adding three transfers to keep the group deep and competitive. Florida State has become one of the best rushing teams in the country (averaging 214.1 yards per game) and also greatly improved their pass defense. But for the state of Florida to live up to its expectations, especially on offense, the line of attack must continue to move up the trajectory. — Andrea Adelson
5. Alabama Crimson Tide: Wide Receiver
Bryce Young wasn’t the reason the Alabama offense fought for points last season. Sometimes the line of attack let him down. Sometimes a running game would disappear in action. And very often the recipients did not live up to expectations. With Young gone and a new quarterback poised to take over, it’s the receivers who need to show the most growth. They cannot but create a division, as they did last year. There’s a reason Jameer Gibbs, running back, led the way in catches. And they can’t refuse 25 passes, the second most in the SEC. Jermaine Burton, Ja’Corey Brooks, Isaiah Bond, Kendrick Lowe and Kobe Prentice are back. But JoJo Earl and Tyler Harrell are gone. Someone has to get up. Possibly it will be tight end CJ Dippre, who has moved from Maryland and could play a prominent role in the offense of new coordinator Tommy Rees. — Alex Scarborough
6. Penn State Nittany Lions: Offensive Players
If we can’t pick quarterbacks, I’ll pick players with offensive skills, especially runners and receivers. Penn State lost just two games last season, one to Michigan and one to Ohio State. The game against the Buckeyes was decided by seven points, while the Nittany Lions scored just 17 points against Michigan. Quarterback Sean Clifford left, as did leading wide receivers Parker Washington and Mitchell Tinsley. That’s a lot of work to replace at the wide receiver, rolling in the new quarterback in Drew Allar. The state has added Kent State Transfer Dante Cephas and Florida State Transfer Malik McClain to assist the host corporation. The coaches are bringing back Keandre Lambert-Smith, who was third on the team in receiving yards last season, and their outstanding freshmen running back Nicholas Singleton and Kytron Allen. If this group can make it big with a new quarterback, Penn State can look forward to another great season and try for a place in the Big Ten title games. — Tom Van Haaren
7. Trojans USC: defensive line
After a season in which Heisman won, everyone knows what Caleb Williams is capable of. Similarly, last year it became clear what the USC defense could not do. While there are improvements for the Trojans in almost every positional group on this side of the ball, it seems like the front line will be critical to determining their success. After losing All-American quarterback Tuli Tuipulota to the NFL, USC dived deep into the portal to shore up the entire defensive front. Lincoln Riley and defensive coordinator Alex Grinch added Kyon Barrs of Arizona, as well as Anthony Lucas of Texas A&M and Jack Sullivan of Purdue. They were all highly coveted on the portal and should bring enough talent to give USC a good shot at turning this positional group from last year’s one-star unit into a potential force that would form the backbone of a defense that was terrible in stopping both runners. and a pass. — Paolo Uggetti
8. LSU Tigers: wide receiver
The return of Jayden Daniels for another season as a quarterback was a huge deal for LSU. But getting him to help in the waiting room is another matter. Caishon Butte originally planned to return for another year, but then the first-round talent with late-round production changed his mind and left for the NFL. And then self-confident Jack Beck decided to move to TCU. That leaves a narrow reception room with breakout star Malik Nabers looking for a partner or two. One option could be Aaron Anderson, a former wide receiver from Alabama and a top 100 prospect. The same could be done by Brian Thomas Jr. or Kyren Lacey. Whoever it is, in 2023 the Tigers have to start the passing game, and it will take more than one outstanding receiver to do so. — scarborough
9. Oregon Ducks: running back
Bo Nix’s ability to get results with his feet was arguably the key to the Ducks’ offense in 2022. But running back Bucky Irving and Noah Whittington made a solid outfield duo, rushing for 1,837 yards combined. Both of them will return next season, giving the Ducks an intimidating game on the ground. If Jordan James continues to develop as expected, then next season the Ducks should be even better on offense despite the loss of offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham from Arizona State. — Kyle Bonagura
10 Tennessee Volunteers: Minor
Last season, the Vols were second in the SEC in quick defense and only 3.28 yards behind per carry. The flip side was that they were second to last in the SEC in pass defense and conceded 300 or more passing yards in four of their SEC contests. They have been especially vulnerable for turning down big plays in passing play, meaning the responsibility will lie with defensive backs to ensure they are more consistent in coverage in 2023 and fight better on the open field. Of the six defensemen who played the most snaps last season, all but defenseman Trevon Flowers will return. Across the board, Tennessee needs to improve in pass defense, including getting better at throwing the passer. BYU Translation Gabe Judy-Lally is to provide immediate assistance at the quarterback position. Three real freshmen who are already enrolled and about to go into spring training could also play quarterback – Christian Conyer, Ricky Gibson III and Jordan Matthews. — Chris Low
11. Washington Husky:…