With the 2023 college football season fast approaching, Yahoo Sports is rolling out our annual Top 25. We revealed Nos. 11 through 25 in three parts and are now counting down from No. 10 to No. 1 in the days leading up to the official start of the season on Aug. 26.
No. 6 LSU
2022 record: 10-4 (6-2 SEC)
National title odds: +1200
Over/under: 9.5 wins
Brian Kelly came to LSU to win a national title. His team won the SEC West in 2022. Can it take another step forward in 2023?
Last season, LSU toppled Alabama on a gutsy two-point conversion in overtime to knock the Crimson Tide out of contention for the College Football Playoff and grab first in the division. While the Tigers were mauled by Georgia in the SEC title game, there’s plenty of promise on this LSU roster through holdovers and players who arrived via the transfer portal.
The schedule is brutal, but if the Tigers can navigate it adeptly they’ll be in the mix for a playoff berth.
Who can support Jayden Daniels in the run game?
Former Arizona State QB Jayden Daniels was fantastic in his first season with the Tigers. Daniels completed nearly 69% of his passes for over 2,900 yards and 17 TDs to just three interceptions. He also led the Tigers with 885 rushing yards and scored 11 TDs on the ground.
Those stats mean Daniels enters 2023 as one of the favorites for the Heisman Trophy. But asking him to carry the offense like he did a season ago seems like a huge ask if LSU is going to make a run at the playoff.
Finding a running back or two to help take the pressure off Daniels in the run game will be a big plus. Daniels had 186 rushing attempts in 2022 and was the only Tiger to have more than 100 carries. Josh Williams was the team’s second-leading rusher with 97 carries and 532 yards in 11 games. He’s back for 2023.
Also returning are Noah Cain (409 yards, 10 TDs), John Emery Jr. (375 yards, 6 TDs) and Armoni Goodwin (267 yards, 5 TDs). And don't forget about Notre Dame transfer Logan Diggs, who rushed for 820 yards and four TDs for the Irish last fall.
It may not matter if one of the these guys emerges as a dependable lead back or if it's more of a running back-by-committee approach. The Tigers just need more from that position. Having one of the SEC's best offensive lines and a deep group of receivers should help that cause.
Teams should also be better prepared for Daniels’ scrambling ability in 2023. He did a great job of getting what he could on the ground when there wasn’t anyone open. He’s still going to be an incredibly effective player in those situations, but there’s a chance that 2022 was his rushing ceiling.
Restocking the secondary via the transfer portal
Kelly and his staff had a clear motive to find defensive backs in the transfer portal, especially cornerbacks. The Tigers added former Texas A&M CB Denver Harris, CB Zy Alexander from Southeastern Louisiana, CB Duce Chestnut from Syracuse and CB JK Johnson from Ohio State.
That’s a lot of good players to add at one position, but depth is always a great thing to have. Johnson is out indefinitely after he suffered a fractured left leg this week. As of now, Chestnut and Alexander have been the starters in practice next to returning safety starters Greg Brooks and Major Burns.
A solid secondary will mean that pass rushers like Harold Perkins and Mekhi Wingo will have more time to get to the quarterback. Perkins had 13 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks as a freshman last season and absolutely took over against Arkansas with three sacks and two forced fumbles.
Wingo, a transfer from Missouri, was one of the best defensive tackles in the SEC in his first season with the Tigers and had 46 tackles and three sacks. LSU will also get Maason Smith back on the interior of the defensive line after he missed almost all of 2022 with a knee injury.
Biggest game: Sept. 3 vs. Florida State
It feels like a cop-out to pick the annual November rivalry game against Alabama in this spot with such a huge game in Week 1. LSU lost on a missed extra point to the Seminoles a season ago when both teams entered the season without massive expectations. This season, both will be top-10 teams when they meet in Week 1 and the loser will likely have to go undefeated the rest of the way to make the College Football Playoff.
Impact player: WR Malik Nabers
Nabers is the next great LSU wide receiver and could be a first-round pick in the 2024 NFL Draft. After 28 catches for 417 yards and four TDs in 2021, Nabers had 72 grabs for 1,017 yards in 2022. After only catching three TDs a season ago, Nabers should find the end zone a lot more and lead a potent LSU receiver group in 2023.
Pick: Over 9.5 wins
The FSU game likely swings this for the Tigers. A win gives LSU the chance to go 6-2 in the SEC. A loss means 7-1 is needed. With Missouri on the road and Florida at home as LSU’s SEC East opponents, we’re willing to take the risk the Tigers get to at least 10-2.