I come in peace. Promise.
But as we inch closer to the start of fall camp and the 2023 regular season, now is a great time to project which programs could take a slight step backwards record-wise this season.
Importantly, this doesn’t mean a team is actually worse than they were in 2022. For some that is the case. But regression can also happen because a program simply plays a much more difficult schedule. Progress isn’t always linear, so just because a team exceeded expectations last season, doesn’t mean it will simply improve upon its win-total again the next year.
There are plenty of candidates to choose from across the entire Power 5, but I’ve identified five programs (one from each conference) that look positioned for a regression season in 2023.
ACC — Duke
The Blue Devils went 9-4 in Mike Elko’s first season in Durham, as the former Texas A&M DC delivered the program one of their best seasons in their 134-year history.
They return virtually the same roster, headlined by veteran quarterback Riley Leonard. The defense, which showed dramatic improvement under Elko last season, brings back eight starters and grabbed a pair of impact transfers, too. Three of their losses last season were by a combined eight points.
And yet Duke is the quintessential team for this piece: It may be just as good, or better, in Year 2 under Elko, but the results simply may not show up on the scoreboard thanks to a much more difficult schedule. Last year, Duke didn’t play Clemson, Florida State or NC State — all three on the slate this fall. Notre Dame comes to Durham at the end of September. They have road games at Louisville and North Carolina.
I don’t believe last year was a fluke for Duke, but I also don’t see the Blue Devils as some ACC dark horse in 2023.
Big Ten — Minnesota
PJ Fleck has gone 11-2, 9-4 and 9-4 in his last three full regular seasons, but the Gophers are getting a sneak peek at what their reality will be once divisions fold next fall.
Minnesota is breaking in a new OC, a new QB and replacing star tailback Mo Ibrahim all while facing ESPN’s No. 2 strength of schedule. For the first time in Fleck’s seven-year tenure, the Gophers draw both Michigan and Ohio State. Their opener against Nebraska is tricky and they have a non-conference road game at North Carolina.
While there’s optimism that young quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis is the future at the position for Fleck, there might be some growing pains with so many other moving parts offensively. They should still be salty defensively (No. 3 Big Ten scoring defense), but they’re going to have to claw just to make a bowl game this fall — and that’s a notable regression for a program that’s become accustomed to flirting with double-digit wins lately.
Big 12 — TCU
The Horned Frogs had a magical, historical, aberrational one-in-a-generation 2022 season. As much as Sonny Dykes doesn’t want TCU labeled as a one-hit wonder, repeating such an outlier season isn’t just unlikely — but perhaps impossible.
TCU did well to reload via the transfer portal, but the Horned Frogs still rank last in the Big 12 in returning production. Even with the additions, they still lost (arguably) five of their top six players off last year’s national title runner-up, including quarterback Max Duggan, wideout Quentin Johnston and cornerback Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson.
The Horned Frogs won 13 games in 2022, and their preseason win total sits at nearly half that at 7. They have a backloaded schedule (at Kansas State, at Texas Tech, vs. Texas, at Oklahoma), so even getting to eight or nine wins would be an accomplishment in Year 2 for Dykes & Co.
Pac-12 — Oregon State
This might be Jonathan Smith’s best — and most talented — team at Oregon State. They’re loaded at OL and RB. They have a promising young quarterback in Aiden Chiles and a capable veteran in DJ Uiagalelei. The Beavers are thin in the secondary, but their front seven is among the more physical, tough units in the Pac-12.
So why are they a regression candidate? Because the Beavers won 10 games — including rallying to upset Oregon with a 21-point fourth-quarter comeback. It was just the program’s third 10-win season in history!
The schedule is manageable (easy non-conference slate, no USC), but the Pac-12 projects to be very competitive in 2023, so drawing Utah, UCLA and Washington at home is nice but those are all potential losses still, too.
An 8-4 regular-season would not be indicative of a program that’s taken some step backward, but instead, simply the reality of how difficult it is to maintain success at Oregon State.
SEC — South Carolina
The Gamecocks went 8-4 in the regular season in 2022, capping a rollercoaster season by getting washed in The Swamp against a bad Florida team only to rebound and pull off back-to-back historic upsets over Tennessee and Clemson.
While South Carolina was hit fairly hard by the transfer portal this offseason, Shane Beamer’s program still has plenty of momentum entering Year 3.
But 2023 could be a bumpy ride — even if the coaching staff and roster continue to improve.
Dowell Loggains could be an upgrade at OC. Quarterback Spencer Rattler might play much more consistently. Maybe South Carolina will figure out how to stop the run a little better (No. 116 nationally in 2022). All those things could happen and the Gamecocks will still have to just claw their way to a bowl game.
They have 10 Power 5 teams on their schedule — including three Top 25 teams in the first month of the season (North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee). None at home.
They play at Texas A&M and have Clemson in the finale, too. Beamer has exceeded expectations in both seasons in Columbia, but for a program that has eyes on becoming a legitimate contender in the SEC, that doesn’t look like a reality in 2023.