2023 College Football: Final CFP Picks

We’ve finally made it! All the games (except bowls) have been played, we know the conference champions, and we’re about ready to find out who made the CFP. Before the committee releases the official results, I wanted to share who I thought should be in and the order in which they should be ranked. I am most certainly not going to align with the CFP committee, and I’ll point out those cases where they arise. Unfortunately, my selections mean nothing in the real world of college football. It’s just fun to discuss, because everyone has their own opinion. Here are my final CFP picks!

1. Washington Huskies

We’re only at #1, and the committee and I are already likely to diverge. With Georgia’s loss, one of the teams below them that made it to 13-0 will get this spot. The committee members have oversold the Big 10 all year, and they’ll certainly slot Michigan in this spot. I have insisted that Michigan has played a weak schedule and proven very little. In contrast, Washington has gone through a murderer’s row of quality opponents and emerged unscathed. A resume including 2 wins over a great Oregon team and 5 top-25 wins overall, the Huskies have beaten quality opponents en route to their undefeated record.

Though Washington has faced some close calls, that’s true of every team who encountered good competition this year. This is an extremely balanced team, too. Led by Heisman candidate Michael Penix Jr at QB, as well as potential first-round WR Rome Odunze, the offense can score with any team it plays. They can both grind out drives and move the ball quickly with explosive plays.

2. Michigan Wolverines

Another 13-0 Power 5 conference champion slots in at #2. That standard is pretty much ironclad when it comes to my personal rankings. Regardless of who a team plays, making it to 13-0 is brutally hard. You have to bring your A-game each and every week without having a single letdown. Doing that against the highest level of competition should come with a guarantee. As you’ll see below (spoiler alert), I don’t forsake an undefeated Power 5 team even if other circumstances give the committee pause. That’s good for Michigan because I definitely have reservations about this team.

Just like last year, I have my doubts about whether Michigan can compete with the true elites. In fact, I might even be more worried this time around. The Wolverines have only played 3 teams that the committee respects: Ohio State, Penn State, and Iowa. I don’t give any of those victories too much clout. All 3 of those teams have the same issue: they are terrible at scoring against decent defenses (or at all in Iowa’s case). They haven’t shown me that they can raise their level of play when the going gets tough. Part of that is simply because they haven’t needed to, but I’m also unsure of their ceiling.

You know by now that I don’t trust QB JJ McCarthy. He has now gone 4 consecutive games without 150 yards passing. That’s fine when your opponents are beneath you, but what happens against a team like Washington, who can put up points in bunches? As good as RBs Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards are, at some point, a team is going to stack the box and force Michigan to win through the air. I have a higher opinion of Michigan’s defense, and HC Jim Harbaugh is back from suspension. Don’t get this twisted: Michigan deserves to be here, but I can’t promise that they won’t go 1-and-done like they did in 2022.

3. Florida State Seminoles

Now comes the hard part. The first two choices are pretty clear-cut, but it’s the exact opposite scenario for #3 and #4. The committee’s job is to determine the four “best teams”, and that’s a bit of a vague definition. Do we pick the teams who look best right now or judge them based on their full resumes? I prefer to use the whole body of work because if we don’t, why else are we playing such long seasons? That perspective leads to me to place Florida State at #3 without hesitation. We have an undefeated (13-0) Power 5 conference champion, and no team with that distinction has ever been left out of the CFP.

The stumbling block that the committee could face is the Seminoles’ loss of QB Jordan Travis to a broken leg a few weeks ago. Backup Tate Rodemaker is an unknown and remains concussed. Freshman 3rd-stringer Brock Glenn couldn’t do anything offensively in the ACC title game. If you had FSU play, say, Alabama or Texas on a neutral field tomorrow, you’d probably pick against the ‘Noles. I’d expect Rodemaker to be back by the end of the month, so the offense should improve. However, if you’re taking a leap of faith on FSU, you’re buying in because of the defense and coaching.

FSU’s defensive showing against Louisville this week was incredible. They’re a clear top-4 defense if that’s their standard. HC Mike Norvell also deserves credit for finding different ways to win in the face of adversity. He uses a strong running game and 2 elite WRs (Keon Coleman and Johnny Wilson) to power the offense while relying on his rock-solid defense. In my personal opinion, the Seminoles deserve to be in this #3 position. Maybe they won’t fare too well against another top opponent, but so what? Their 2023 season makes them worthy of being here. They’ve earned the right to try.

4. Texas Longhorns

“I said when the CFP rankings started that Georgia would remain my #1 until they no longer deserved it.” I wrote this line in last year’s version of this article. All I did here was change the link to this year’s Week 9 Takeaways. With their 29-game win streak snapped and no SEC championship, they no longer deserve that pedestal. Instead, I had to grapple with a different question: do I let a single close loss against a good team in a “bonus” game drop them all the way out of the top 4? Much of my decision came down to who else was available. Ignoring idle Ohio State, that left me Texas and Alabama, the team that beat UGA.

I can’t in good conscience choose the Crimson Tide. Their offense was a train wreck for a good chunk of the season, they needed a once-in-a-generation play to beat Auburn, and they lost against Texas. That last point instantly disqualifies them in this scenario. Between Georgia and Texas, it’s an incredibly tough call. Logically speaking, Texas beat the team that beat Georgia, even if all 3 squads are different than they were early in the season. Both schools are 12-1, but Texas comes with a conference championship. Longhorns QB Quinn Ewers is the best among the three teams’ signal callers, and Texas played the tougher schedule.

Ultimately, I’m forced to say “yes”: the loss to Alabama does drop Georgia out of the top 4. I emphasize that it’s nearly a tossup, and Georgia would have stayed in had Texas lost to Oklahoma State. We won’t have this type of discussion with next year’s revamped CFP format (though #12 will be chaotic). SEC commissioner Greg Sankey can’t fathom a playoff without an SEC team in it. Ordinarily, he’d be right. It took a perfect storm to keep both Georgia and Alabama out of my rankings this year. Any loss by another top-7 team would have averted this outcome. But that’s why we love college football: anything can happen.

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