College football breakthrough and bounce-back candidates for 2023

Jared Verse is at the core of an FSU squad that heads into 2023 ranked third in returning production with proven star power. David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire

This summer's college football blockbuster movie has been a disaster flick. Major football in the West, as we've come to define it over the past 100 years, will cease to exist in 2024, with the Pac-12 disintegrating and eight of its members preparing to leave for either the Big Ten (Oregon, UCLA, USC, Washington) or Big 12 (Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado, Utah) next summer.

This storyline will loom over everything that happens over this season; that would feel unfortunate under any circumstances, but it could feel particularly bittersweet considering how good football in the West might be in 2023. Five Pac-12 teams are ranked between No. 6 and No. 18 in this week's preseason AFCA Coaches Poll, and teams from both the Pac-12 and Mountain West litter this year's breakthroughs and bounce-backs list.

Each year, I take a look at the teams that enjoyed either huge surges or huge stumbles the year before and attempt to predict which teams will either sustain their gains or rebound with particular vigor. Last year, the former list included Tennessee (which ended up jumping from 7-6 to 11-2), Florida State (from 5-7 to 10-3) and teams that would win both the Big 12 (Kansas State) and Mountain West (Fresno State); meanwhile, the latter list included USC, Washington and North Carolina, which improved from a combined 14-23 to 31-10.

The final preseason SP+ projections are coming next week. But using last year's numbers and general trends, we can begin piecing together the national picture. Which of last year's unexpected breakthroughs might find even further heights? Which of last year's disappointments are most likely to bounce back? Let's take a look. Some are pretty obvious, some not so much. Prepare yourself for a lot of Pacific and Mountain time.


Teams most likely to sustain 2022 gains