10 college football teams poised to bounce back in 2023

Who is going to have a much better 2023 than 2022? There are a number of teams across college football looking to rebound from disappointing 2022 seasons. Here are 10 teams that we think will show some significant year-over-year improvement. They are listed in alphabetical order.

Auburn (5-7 in 2022)

Hugh Freeze was hired to make Auburn competitive right away in the SEC West. And beat Alabama, of course. The former Ole Miss coach has recruited well through the transfer portal and should fix an offense that was in a funk during Bryan Harsin’s time as coach. Freeze can call plays with the best of them in college football and just how well those plays work will depend on the quarterback. Robby Ashford returns after rushing for 710 yards a season ago and is competing with Michigan State transfer Payton Thorne.

The SEC West and annual rivalry games are a gauntlet, but the non-conference schedule includes a trip to Cal and three games that should be blowout wins. Throw in a game at Vanderbilt and games against the Mississippi schools at home and a winning season is the expectation.

– Nick Bromberg

Boston College (3-9)

There wasn’t much that went right for Boston College last fall. The Eagles saw all-ACC offensive lineman Christian Mahogany go down with a season-ending knee injury during the summer. It was a sign of things to come for BC, which saw its offensive line get decimated by injuries. The line struggled mightily in its efforts to protect Phil Jurkovec and open up lanes for a once-heralded rushing game.

Now, with Mahogany back and a few transfers joining a group that got a lot of experience last fall, the line should be much better. As a result, the offense should take great strides even with Jurkovec leaving for Pitt and Zay Flowers off to the NFL. Ryan O’Keefe, a transfer from UCF, is a big pickup at receiver.

BC also added multiple transfers in the secondary. Jeff Hafley, now in his fourth season at BC, is a defensive backs coach by trade. If that group can emerge, the BC defense can be pretty stingy with a solid linebacker corps and an underrated group of pass rushers led by Donovan Ezeiruaku. Don’t be surprised if BC ends up in a bowl game.

– Sam Cooper

Cal (4-8)

Cal hasn’t been to a bowl game since 2019 and has a realistic shot of getting back to the postseason. The offense has long been an issue in Justin Wilcox’s tenure, and Jake Spavital is back as the team’s offensive coordinator after a stint as Texas State’s head coach. The first order of business is figuring out if TCU transfer Sam Jackson or NC State transfer Ben Finley is the starting quarterback. Quality QB play will go a long way.

The offensive line brings back every starter, Jaydn Ott returns at running back and the receiver group is pretty deep. The defense gave up nearly 28 points per game a season ago and should also improve. Cal’s luck in one-score games also has to turn around at some point. Six of the Bears’ eight losses in 2022 were by a possession.

– Nick Bromberg

Colorado State (3-9)

Jay Norvell’s first season in Fort Collins was ugly. The Rams had one of the worst offenses in college football and failed to score more than 19 points in a single game all season.

But there’s a lot of reason for optimism here. Nevada was 3-9 in Norvell’s first season with the Wolf Pack and made a five-game leap in year two. There could be a similar leap forward in Fort Collins. Clay Millen is back at quarterback after completing over 70% of his passes in 10 games, and the team added former North Dakota State RB Kobe Johnson in the transfer portal. Johnson rushed for nearly 2,600 yards in his career at NDSU. Tory Horton was by far CSU’s best receiver in 2022 after following Norvell from Nevada and he’s back too.

Just having an average offense will be a big step forward for the Rams. Getting improved offensive line play will be key. Don’t be surprised if CSU hangs with Colorado in Week 2.

– Nick Bromberg

Florida Atlantic (5-7)

Florida Atlantic had two 11-win seasons in Lane Kiffin’s three-year tenure as Owls head coach but could not replicate that kind of success under Willie Taggart. And though FAU is making the move from Conference USA to the American Athletic Conference, there are reasons to believe the Owls can be pretty good in Year 1 under Tom Herman.

Herman gets a bad rap, but he did a decent job at Texas going 32-18 in a four-year stretch. He also went 22-4 in two seasons at Houston. The guy can coach and he represents an upgrade over Taggart. He also brought in an old friend, Casey Thompson, to play quarterback. Herman recruited Thompson to Texas and Thompson also spent a season as the starter at Nebraska.

On top of adding Thompson, FAU returns its top two running backs, three of its top four receivers and three starters on the offensive line. There’s also plenty of returning production on defense. FAU’s defense wasn’t great last year, but it’s a positive sign in the transfer portal era that Herman has been able to retain so many players.

From a schedule perspective, FAU avoids Memphis and SMU and will play both UTSA and Tulane at home. The Owls are a sneaky contender in the AAC.

– Sam Cooper

Former University of Texas football coach Tom Herman chatted with the media at American Athletic Conference media days on July 25, 2023, in Arlington, Texas. He is the new head coach at Florida Atlantic University. (Mac Engel/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

Former Texas coach Tom Herman is now at Florida Atlantic. (Mac Engel/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

Kentucky (7-6)

After winning 10 games in 2021, Kentucky regressed to a 7-6 record in 2022 despite having star quarterback Will Levis back for his senior season. The biggest issue for UK was the offensive line, but the Wildcats should be better up front this year based on a few of the transfers added that will allow a few guys to slide back to their natural positions in the trenches.

Elsewhere on the offense, Kentucky brought in quarterback Devin Leary from NC State. Leary was injured for much of the 2022 season, so it’s easy to forget that he was one of the best QBs in the country in 2021. Leary has a lot of talent around him as Kentucky returns its top three receivers and added Vanderbilt transfer Ray Davis at running back. On top of that, Liam Coen returns as offensive coordinator following a brief stint in the NFL.

Defensively, UK has a stellar front seven led by Deone Walker in the middle, JJ Weaver off the edge and Trevin Wallace at linebacker. There are some questions in the secondary, but it’s a position of expertise for head coach Mark Stoops.

Georgia is too good for Kentucky to realistically compete for an SEC East title, but this is a team that can win nine or 10 games.

– Sam Cooper

Louisiana (6-7)

Louisiana went a combined 34-5 in its final four seasons under Billy Napier. Last offseason, Napier left for Florida and Michael Desormeaux was promoted to head coach. With so many veteran players moving on, it would have been a rebuilding year for the Ragin’ Cajuns even if Napier stuck around but it was still surprising to see UL barely make a bowl game.

Louisiana should be better in 2023 even though it won’t be the favorite in the Sun Belt West (both South Alabama and Troy look poised for strong seasons). Louisiana had some tough luck last year, going 0-4 in one-score games. This year, UL has one of the easiest schedules in the Sun Belt. The Cajuns avoid App State, Coastal Carolina and James Madison — the projected top three teams in the Sun Belt East in the conference’s preseason poll.

There are some notable personnel losses, so it may be another year before Louisiana is back in contention for a Sun Belt title. At the same time, this looks like a team that can win eight or nine games.

– Sam Cooper

Miami (5-7)

Miami’s first season under Mario Cristobal was a disaster but now the Hurricanes are flying under the radar and could have a nice bounce back season.

Last season, both of Cristobal’s coordinator hires failed spectacularly and all of the promise Miami showed in 2021, particularly from quarterback Tyler Van Dyke, was nowhere to be found. Defensively, Miami gave up too many big plays and showed a lack of effort at times but there are reasons to believe things will be better in 2023.

Van Dyke should be a much better fit in Shannon Dawson’s offense and there is a much-improved offensive line and solid group of skill position players to work with. On the other side, new defensive coordinator Lance Guidry has studs like Leonard Taylor and Akheem Mesidor up front, one of the best safety duos in the country and an underrated pickup at linebacker in Washington State transfer Francisco Mauigoa.

Miami isn’t of the caliber of Clemson or Florida State in the ACC, but it won’t be a surprise to see the Hurricanes finish in the top four in the conference and play in a good bowl game.

– Sam Cooper

BLACKSBURG, VA - OCTOBER 15: Quarterback Tyler Van Dyke #9 of the Miami Hurricanes throws a pass against the Virginia Tech Hokies at Lane Stadium on October 15, 2022 in Blacksburg, Virginia. (Photo by Ryan Hunt/Getty Images)

Miami and Tyler Van Dyke should be much better in 2023. (Photo by Ryan Hunt/Getty Images)

Oklahoma (6-7)

The Sooners should be in the mix for the Big 12 title in their final year in the conference. There’s too much talent on the roster for a repeat of the 2022 disappointment.

Oklahoma still scored nearly 33 points per game a season ago and averaged 6.2 yards per play; there wasn’t a massive drop-off after Lincoln Riley’s departure. The biggest surprise about the Sooners in 2022 was the defense. It gave up 30 points per game and basically allowed the same yards per play it did in 2021.

The defense should get a lot better in Brent Venables’ second season as head coach and transfers like LB Dasan McCullough and DL Trace Ford will make an immediate impact. With Dillon Gabriel back at QB and transfers like WR Brenan Thompson and OL Walter Rouse, the offense will be good again too.

OU may not be competing for a playoff spot, but it also won’t have back-to-back losing seasons for the first time since 1997 and 1998 — especially with this easy of a schedule.

– Nick Bromberg

Texas A&M (5-7)

Things have to get better in College Station in 2023, right? If they don’t, the drama will be off the charts. Bobby Petrino’s addition as offensive coordinator should mean a major step forward for an Aggie offense that’s been inconsistent at best over the last few seasons. But will he be the exclusive play caller or will Jimbo Fisher still make some decisions?

Conner Weigman showed promise in 2022 and didn’t throw a single interception. The offense loses Devon Achane but WR Ainias Smith is back after a season-ending injury and WR Evan Stewart could be one of the best in the SEC. The defense returns six starters among the front seven and that should help a run defense that was gashed over and over again a season ago. A non-conference visit to Miami is tough and A&M also draws a road trip to Tennessee. But there’s no excuse for this Aggie team to not post a winning season.

– Nick Bromberg