The start of the 2023 college football season is almost here, which means it's time to unveil ESPN's preseason All-America team.
The offense should look familiar. Six players were on our 2022 postseason All-America team, including Heisman Trophy-winning USC quarterback Caleb Williams. The defense features more new faces.
What a player has done to this point in his career certainly matters in picking this team, but there's some projection involved as well based on consultation with college coaches, NFL scouts and colleagues who cover the sport. The goal is to pick who we think will be the best players on the field this season.
Two-time defending national champion Georgia leads the way with five selections.
This season Williams will attempt to do something that has been done only one other time in college football history, and that's win the Heisman Trophy for a second time. Williams broke just about every USC quarterback record last season, including total offense (4,919 yards) and touchdowns accounted for (52). He's a dynamic passer both in the pocket and on the move, and is always a threat to run when a play breaks down. A second Heisman would be nice, but Williams' focus is clearly on getting the Trojans back to the College Football Playoff and winning their first national championship since 2004.
On his way to being a potential Heisman Trophy finalist last season, Corum injured his left knee in the next-to-last regular-season game and was done for the year. Corum can't wait for the 2023 season after passing up a chance to turn pro. He said he's "better than ever" -- his mobility, cutting ability, everything. He rushed for 1,463 yards and 18 touchdowns before the injury a year ago and will again be the centerpiece of the Michigan running game. But he won't be forced to carry too heavy a burden with sidekickDonovan Edwardsalso returning in the Wolverines' backfield.
Judkins was sensational as a freshman in an Ole Miss offense that ranked third nationally in rushing (256.4 yards per game). His 1,567 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns led the SEC, and to put those numbers in perspective, Herschel Walker is the only player in SEC history to rush for more yards as a freshman. Judkins had eight 100-yard rushing games, including a pair of 200-yard performances. He has said he feels like he will have a better overall feel for the game in 2023, which means 3,000 yards in two seasons is not out of the question.
Harrison has everything you could want in a receiver and the production to go with it. As a sophomore, the 6-foot-4, 205-pound Harrison led the FBS with 878 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns against single coverage, according to Pro Football Focus. He had 20 catches of 20 yards or longer and said this summer that Ohio State would have beaten Georgia in the playoff last year had he not been knocked out of the game with a concussion on a play that was initially ruled targeting before being overturned. Perhaps Harrison will get another shot at the Dawgs this season.
TheMichael Penix Jr.-to-Odunze connection is back, which isn't the best news for the rest of the Pac-12. Both players considered turning pro, but they felt like there was unfinished business at UDub. Odunze had a breakout junior season a year ago in leading the Pac-12 in receiving yards (1,145) and became the first player in school history to have four straight 100-yard receiving games. He has the size (6-3, 210 pounds) and speed to give any defensive back fits, and it's not going to be easy to shadow him with equally talented wideoutJalen McMillanon the other side.
Ever since making the trek from California to play for the Dawgs, Bowers has been the quintessential tight end, whether he's catching the ball down the middle of the field and outrunning defenders, knocking a defender on his back side while blocking inside or on the edge and even taking a handoff and sprinting in for a touchdown. There's not much the 6-4, 230-pound Bowers can't do. He has scored 24 touchdowns in his first two seasons (20 receiving and four rushing) and returns for his junior season as one of the most valuable and versatile players in the sport.
The 6-8, 322-pound Alt is a repeat selection after making ESPN's 2022 All-America team as a sophomore. He's everything you look for in a left tackle and certainly has the bloodlines. His father, John Alt, is a Kansas City Chiefs Hall of Famer, and the younger Alt is on track to have a long career in the pros himself. A tight end in high school, Alt didn't allow a sack last season and is equally dominant in the run game. Transfer quarterbackSam Hartmancouldn't ask for a better protector of his blind side.
There won't be any shortage of talented guards in college football this season, but nobody has a more promising upside than the 6-5, 335-pound Booker with his blend of size, strength and agility. He was a Freshman All-American a year ago and will line up at right guard as a sophomore beside former IMG Academy teammateJC Lathamat right tackle. It's a right side of the Alabama offensive line that Latham said would be "dangerous" in 2023.
Van Pran was perhaps the most important recruit Georgia secured this offseason when he decided to return to school after starting every game at center for the Bulldogs during their two national championship seasons. He was at the top of the NFL's list of center prospects a year ago and will anchor an offensive line that will feature some new faces in 2023. Now in his fourth season in the program, Van Pran is also one of the strongest leaders on Georgia's team, and his experience will be especially beneficial with the Dawgs breaking in a new quarterback.
How's this for a stat: Beebe hasn't allowed a sack in his last 803 pass-blocking plays dating back to the 2020 season, according to Pro Football Focus. A fifth-year senior, Beebe has started 35 career games, 14 at left guard a year ago. He's also played left tackle and right tackle during his Kansas State career and earned Big 12 offensive lineman of the year honors last season for the conference champions. Wherever Beebe lines up on the offensive line, he's proven to be a difference-maker.
Had he declared for the NFL draft a year ago, Fashanu would have likely been a first-round selection. So it was a coup for Penn State to get him back at his left tackle position. At 6-6 and 319 pounds, Fashanu is a polished pass protector and has excellent footwork for a player his size. This will be only Fashanu's second season as a starter, and those in and around the Penn State program are confident he will be even more dominant as a junior -- and that's after allowing no sacks in 281 pass-blocking snaps last season.
Egbuka, a junior receiver, was a finalist for the Paul Hornung Award last season as the most versatile player in college football. He caught 74 passes for 1,151 yards and 10 touchdowns and added a pair of rushing touchdowns. The Buckeyes also have used him to return punts and kickoffs. At receiver, they've used him in the slot, on the outside, and he's also taken handoffs out of the backfield. "If there's an issue, 'Where's Emeka? He'll help us fix it,'" Ohio State offensive coordinator Brian Hartline said.
Florida State is entering this season with the most buzz the program has had in a long time, and the Seminoles' defense will be led by the 6-4, 260-pound Verse, who burst onto the scene a year ago after starting his career in the FCS ranks at Albany. Verse finished with 16.5 tackles for loss, including nine sacks, a year ago. With this being his second year in the system, and especially if he can stay healthy after battling a few injuries last season, Verse has a chance to put up even bigger numbers in 2023.
Anybody sleeping on Illinois' defense or Newton is not paying attention. Newton has gone from a three-star recruit in high school to one of college football's best interior defensive linemen. The 6-2, 295-pound Newton passed up the NFL to return for his fourth season, and Illinois' D should again be salty after leading the country a year ago in scoring defense (12.8 points per game). Not only is Newton a menace inside, but fellow defensive lineman Keith Randolph is also a future pro. The "Law Firm," as coach Bret Bielema calls them, combined for 27 tackles for loss last season.
Williams is coming off foot surgery that caused him to miss most of spring practice, but the Georgia staff is expecting more of what they saw out of him last season as a true freshman. The 6-5, 265-pound Williams tied Jalen Carter with a team-leading 31 quarterback hurries and played especially well in the CFP, getting a sack while matched up against Ohio State first-round draft pick Paris Johnson in the national semifinal. Williams flashed greatness in tying for the national lead among true freshmen with six sacks last season, and expect those flashes to become more of a fixture in 2023.
With Will Anderson Jr. moving on to the NFL, Turner assumes the role as Alabama's marquee pass-rusher. Last season was his first as a full-time starter, and Turner's speed jumps out whether he's rushing the quarterback or chasing down a ball carrier. His numbers weren't eye-popping as a sophomore (eight tackles for loss, four sacks), but he had 8.5 sacks as a freshman. New defensive coordinator Kevin Steele wants to create more negative plays on defense, and the 6-4, 242-pound Turner will play a key role in that.
Take your pick with Perkins. He can play linebacker or edge rusher, and wherever he lines up, he's an impact defender. Perkins was still learning to play the game a year ago as a true freshman in the SEC and relied mostly on sheer athleticism to lead the team in tackles for loss (13), sacks (7.5), quarterback hurries (14) and forced fumbles (4). Look for Perkins to be more seasoned, more consistent and even more disruptive this season, which is bad news for opposing offenses.
The talented front-seven players that have come through Georgia on Kirby Smart's watch are too many to count. The 6-1, 245-pound Dumas-Johnson smothers the run and is also adept at getting to the passer from his inside linebacker position. As a true sophomore last season, he led Georgia's national championship defense with nine tackles for loss and was third in quarterback hurries (24). Dumas-Johnson was a finalist for the Butkus Award as the best linebacker in the country a year ago and will be right in that mix again in 2023.
Defensive coordinators love linebackers who can do a little bit of everything, and that's why Clemson coordinator Wesley Goodwin is so high on Carter. The 6-1, 225-pound junior played a team-high 832 snaps last season, primarily because he rushes the passer, covers the pass and plays the run all at a high level. Easily one of college football's most well-rounded linebackers, Carter teams with Jeremiah Trotter to give Clemson two of its best linebackers in the Dabo Swinney era.
McKinstry has been starting since the second game of his true freshman season and enters his junior year as the most accomplished cornerback in the nation. Already, some mock drafts have him going as a top-10 pick in the 2024 NFL draft. The 6-1, 195-pound McKinstry has the lockdown skills to limit teams' best receivers, and with his experience, he's the kind of cornerback we've seen on some of Nick Saban's best defenses. McKinstry doubles as one of college football's most dangerous punt returners.
One of the reasons Penn State keeps coming up in the national championship conversation this offseason is that this should be James Franklin's best defense. There's a ton of talent on that side of the ball -- linebacker Abdul Carter and defensive ends Chop Robinson and Dani Dennis-Sutton to name a few. But having a cornerback the caliber of King on the back end creates all sorts of options for a defense. The 5-11, 191-pound junior was third nationally last season in passes defended (21) and pass breakups (18) and also had three interceptions.
Paired with former five-star recruit James Williams, Kinchens gives the Hurricanes one of the more talented safety tandems in the country. Miami limped to a 5-7 finish in Mario Cristobal's first season as coach, but Kinchens was a star. He tied for first among Power 5 players with six interceptions, returning one of those 99 yards for a touchdown, and also led the team with 59 tackles. Kinchens has good size (205 pounds) and instincts and will be one of the more complete defensive backs in college football this season.
As good as Starks was as a true freshman, he should be even better as a sophomore with a year's worth of experience and having an even better feel for Georgia's system and the speed of the college game. The 6-1, 205-pound Starks led all Georgia defenders on its national championship team last season with 847 snaps played and finished third on the team with 68 total tackles while starting in all 15 games. Starks and Javon Bullard will give the Bulldogs one of the best safety duos in the country, as Bullard is moving from the nickel/star position to safety. Their combined versatility will be invaluable to a Georgia defense that has had 13 players drafted over the last two years.
It's hard to beat perfection, but that's what Karty was a year ago for the Cardinal in going 18-for-18 on field goal attempts, with a long of 61 yards that set a record for a Pac-12 game. As he enters his senior season and third as Stanford's starting place-kicker, Karty's accuracy will be a plus for a Cardinal offense searching for all the points it can muster after finishing 109th nationally in scoring last season. Karty also has great range. He made all three of his attempts from beyond 50 yards in 2022 and had 13 makes of 40 yards or longer.
Entering his fourth season as South Carolina's punter, Kroeger has averaged 44.2 yards per punt during his career, emerging a year ago as an MVP candidate for the Gamecocks and one of the most flexible special teams players in the country. He averaged 46.1 yards per punt and had 29 punts downed inside the 20-yard line (three inside the 5 in a 31-30 win over rival Clemson). But Kroeger is more than just a punter. He's thrown three career touchdowns as a trick play passer and also holds on place kicks.
Any time Griffin has the ball in his hands, the fun begins -- unless you're trying to tackle him. He led the nation in kickoff return average last season as a junior (32.3 yards on 19 returns) and has taken a kickoff back for a touchdown in each of the last two seasons. The 5-10, 180-pound Griffin had kickoff returns of 30 yards or longer in eight of the Bulldogs' 13 games last season, and as a receiver, caught 40 passes for 502 yards and four touchdowns.