College football Top 25: What can TCU do in 2023 after a magical run to the College Football Playoff?

There's been so much craziness in the world of realignment, it has been easy to forget how close we are to the 2023 college football season.

As part of our preview of this season, we will be rolling out the Yahoo Sports Top 25 in the lead-up to the seven FBS games being played in Week 0.

Here is Nos. 20 through 16. (Come back for Nos. 15-11 drop on Friday, and then when we count down from No. 10 to No. 1 in the days leading up to the season openers on Aug. 26.)

Previously: Nos. 25 through 21

20. Kentucky

  • 2022 record: 7-6 (3-5 SEC)

  • National title odds: +25000

  • Over/under: 7 wins

Kentucky won 10 games in 2021 but regressed to 7-6 last fall despite having star quarterback Will Levis back for his senior season.

The Wildcats struggled mightily on the offensive line, but a big improvement with that unit could portend a strong bounce back for UK in 2023. If that line improves as we anticipate, the addition of NC State transfer Devin Leary at quarterback should yield strong results on offense with an extremely talented receiving corps and strong backfield at his side. Additionally, offensive coordinator Liam Coen is back in Lexington after a quick NFL stint. He’s a major upgrade.

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 eight or nine games.

19. Oklahoma

  • 2022 record: 6-7 (3-6 Big 12)

  • National title odds: +6000

  • Over/under: 9.5 wins

The success of Oklahoma’s season will depend on its defense.

That’s a sentence familiar for many Sooners fans during Lincoln Riley’s tenure and remains just as true entering the second year of Brent Venables’ time in charge. The former Clemson defensive coordinator’s first year did not produce a defensive turnaround in Norman. In fact, Oklahoma’s defense was worse. The Sooners gave up more points per game and allowed basically the same yards per play that it did in 2021. Combine that with an offense that took a slight step back overall — and was shut out against Texas — and it’s easy to see why OU went 6-7 last year.

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To improve the defense, Venables and his staff hit the transfer portal and signed LB Dasan McCullough (Indiana) and DL Trace Ford (Oklahoma State) among others. The offense also got a couple of key transfers in former Michigan WR Andrel Anthony and former Stanford left tackle Walter Rouse, while QB Dillon Gabriel is back for another season. It should be a solid unit again.

It’s hard to see the OU defense not improving, if only because it can’t get much worse. And if the defense improves, so should Oklahoma’s luck in one-score games. The Sooners lost four games by three points each and another by a TD. This year's schedule is significantly easier, too, so OU should experience a nice turnaround in 2023.

Oklahoma head coach Brent Venables answers a question during an NCAA college football new conference, Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2023, in Norman, Okla. (AP Photo/Alonzo Adams)
Oklahoma head coach Brent Venables answers a question during an NCAA college football new conference, Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2023, in Norman, Okla. (AP Photo/Alonzo Adams)

18. Iowa

  • 2022 record: 8-5 (5-4 Big Ten)

  • National title odds: +20000

  • Over/under: 8.5 wins

Iowa’s offense was so bad last season that it understandably overshadows just how good the Hawkeyes were on defense and special teams. The defense is loaded again and All-American punter Tory Taylor returns, and Kirk Ferentz and his staff dipped into the transfer portal to improve the personnel on offense.

Most notably, Iowa added Cade McNamara at quarterback from Michigan. McNamara was the Wolverines’ starter in 2021 when they won the Big Ten and went to the College Football Playoff, so he’s got big-game experience and represents an immense upgrade at the position. Iowa also added ex-Ohio State receiver Kaleb Brown, ex-Michigan tight end Erick All and a few potential starters up front.

And even though the defense lost Lukas Van Ness, Jack Campbell and Riley Moss to the NFL, the unit should still be among the best in the Big Ten. The defensive line has plenty of depth, Virginia transfer Nick Jackson was a major addition at linebacker and defensive back Cooper DeJean is an all-conference caliber player.

Wisconsin has gotten a lot of hype this offseason, but we're giving Iowa the edge in the Big Ten West.

17. TCU

  • 2022 record: 13-2 (9-0 Big 12)

  • National title odds: +20000

  • Over/under: 7.5 wins

TCU enters the 2023 season facing a problem that perennial national title contenders navigate most every year.

After an eight-win improvement from 2021 to 2022, TCU has a lot to replenish on the offensive side of the ball. QB Chandler Morris is set to take over for Max Duggan, Emani Bailey is in at running back after the departures of Kendre Miller and Emari Demercado and the Horned Frogs added JoJo Earle (Alabama) and JP Richardson (Oklahoma State) to replenish the receiving corps after the losses of Quentin Johnston, Derrius Davis and Taye Barber. Offensive coordinator Garrett Riley is also gone after he was hired at Clemson.

Dylan Horton and Dee Winters are gone from the defense, but LBs Johnny Hodges and Jamoi Hodge return while the secondary returns three starters. The rush defense needs to get better after allowing nearly 160 yards a game and we’ll see if the defense’s ability to force turnovers can continue. Opponents had multiple turnovers in seven of TCU’s 15 games.

Even if that turnover luck regresses, there’s plenty of talent still remaining in Fort Worth for the Horned Frogs to again be a serious contender for the Big 12 title. But don’t be surprised if TCU takes a step back.

TCU quarterback Chandler Morris (2) warms up before an NCAA college football game Friday, Sept. 2, 2022, in Boulder, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
TCU quarterback Chandler Morris (2) warms up before an NCAA college football game Friday, Sept. 2, 2022, in Boulder, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

16. Kansas State

  • 2022 record: 10-4 (7-2 Big 12)

  • National title odds: +15000

  • Over/under: 8 wins

Kansas State beat TCU in an overtime thriller to win its first outright Big 12 title since 2003. Can the Wildcats reach similar heights in 2023? It won’t be easy as they won’t have do-it-all running back Deuce Vaughn and first-rounder Felix Anudike-Uzomah rushing the passer.

On the other hand, K-State returns Will Howard at quarterback, Phillip Brooks in the slot, Ben Sinnott at tight end and added electric Florida State transfer Treshaun Ward to team up in the backfield with D.J. Giddens. Oh, and all five offensive line starters return, including All-American guard Cooper Beebe. Keep an eye on Iowa transfer Keagan Johnson at wideout, too.

Defensively, the linebacker group is excellent and Khalid Duke and Brendan Mott should step in as the main pass rushers. However, replacing Eli Huggins in the interior won’t be easy and there will likely be some inexperienced players in key roles in the secondary. There are concerns at a few position groups, but this should be one of the Big 12’s best teams once again.