January 29, 2023

Ranking the 20 best players in this year’s College Football Playoffs

College Football Playoffs

TCU cornerback Tre'Vius Hodges-Tomlinson covers a Colorado wide receiver on a passing play during the second quarter Friday September 2, 2022 at Folsom Field. (Lynn Harrington/stayaliveinpower5)

They’ve all had remarkable seasons and made it to postseason glory.

These players are looking forward to having their best game on the biggest stage. Legacies will be on the line as each of them grind for towards a chance at winning the Natty. Too many studs on both sides of the ball to mention, but these 20 individuals have stood out on the gridiron and mean the most to their respective team.

20. Jack Podlesny, K, Georgia: The Georgia native continues to do a magnificent job of carrying the torch for Rodrigo Blankenship. Every season Podlesny has increased his percentage and number of made field goals. He hasn’t missed a PAT this fall. Not only has Podlesny connected on 26 of his 32 field goal attempts, but he has yet to miss inside the 40-yard line this season. Podlesny made four field goals apiece against Samford and Missouri. Not to mention he connected on all three of his kicks against Kent State, Kentucky and Georgia Tech. His longest field goal of the year was a 50-yarder. The six-foot-one, 180-pounder capped off the season with first-team, All-SEC honors.

19. Dee Winters, LB, TCU: The Texas native leads the Horned Frogs in tackles for loss and sacks this season. There’s no denying Winters is a natural at bringing down ball carriers behind the line of scrimmage. He put the quarterback to the turf twice in victories over Oklahoma and Texas Tech. Not to mention Winters recorded a sack against Colorado, Oklahoma State and Kansas State. The six-foot-one, 230-pounder racked up a season-high, eight total stops in the Big 12 Championship Game. Winters had at least two tackles for loss in three different conference tilts. The former three-star prospect also earned first-team, All-Big 12 honors for his heroics on the gridiron this fall.

18. Jake Moody, K, Michigan: The Michigan native had another stellar campaign this fall for the Big Ten Champs. Not only is Moody a two-time, Big Ten Kicker of the Year, but he’s also very clutch. He’s tied for first in the FBS in field goals per game. Not to mention Moody hasn’t missed a PAT this season. The six-foot-one, 210-pounder made a jaw-dropping, five field goals in the victory over Michigan State. Moody also connected on all four field goal attempts against Illinois and Penn State. The University of Phoenix Stadium is a domed venue, which should give Moody an advantage. It helps that he’s money inside the 50-yard line, having made 24 of his last 26 attempts from that range.

17. J.T. Tuimoloau, DE, Ohio State: The former five-star prospect has lived up to his billing and then some. Tuimoloau is a defender who excels against the run and in pass coverage. He’s No. 2 on the team in tackles for loss, tied for second in sacks and has a defensive touchdown. The Washington native put the quarterback to the turf twice at Penn State and added another sack against Maryland. Tuimoloau tallied two tackles for loss against Michigan, and one in each of the first three games. There’s no denying he’s disruptive as they come and arguably the Buckeyes’ best player on the defensive line. Not to mention Tuimoloau earned first-team, All-Big Ten honors for his stellar play this fall.

16. Quentin Johnston, WR, TCU: He leads the Horned Frogs in receptions and is third in the Big 12 in receiving yards. Johnston has the speed and athleticism to stretch the field on defenses. Which is why he averages over 17 yards per catch. Johnston had a career day against Oklahoma, with 14 catches for 206 yards and a touchdown. The Texas native followed up that performance with eight receptions for 180 yards and a score against Oklahoma State. The six-foot-four, 215-pounder also hauled in a touchdown pass against Kansas State, West Virginia and Texas. Johnston had 139 receiving yards in the Big 12 Championship Game. Not to mention he earned first-team, All-Big 12 honors.

15. J.J. McCarthy, QB, Michigan: The former five-star prospect has delivered on the hype. McCarthy proved he was a viable option when Jim Harbaugh played musical chairs with him and Cade McNamara through the first few games. After McNamara got sidelined with an injury McCarthy elevated his game, and helped the Wolverines orchestrate an undefeated regular season for the first time since 1997. He’s second in the Big Ten and 20th in the FBS in passing efficiency. McCarthy also has dangerous mobility. The Illinois native threw for three touchdowns apiece against Hawaii, Indiana, Ohio State and Purdue. Not to mention McCarthy earned second-team, All-Big Ten honors.

14. Christopher Smith, CB, Georgia: The Atlanta native is fourth on the Bulldogs in tackles and tied for first on the team in interceptions. Smith is a ballhawk, who excels in both pass coverage and against the run. He tallied six tackles and picked off a pass in the opener against Oregon. Smith generated five stops and an interception against Kent State. The former four-star prospect racked up seven tackles and a sack against Florida. Smith also had seven stops against Kentucky. The 5-foot-11, 195-pounder was last seen recording his third interception of the season in the SEC Championship Game. Smith also earned first-team, All-SEC honors and will be vital against Ohio State’s aerial attack.

13. Mike Morris, DE, Michigan: The Wolverines have one of the nation’s best defenses, and he leads the unit in tackles for loss and sacks. Morris wreaks havoc off the edge, is relentless in his pursuit, and has a non-stop motor. The former four-star prospect put the quarterback eat grass twice at Iowa. Morris also recorded a sack against Hawaii, Maryland, Michigan State, Indiana, and Rutgers. He had three solo stops, including two for loss and forced a fumble against Colorado State. Morris was so dominant in the trenches that earned first-team, All-Big Ten honors. He’ll likely require two blockers to keep him from disrupting the timing of TCU’s offense. No doubt Morris sets the tone up front.

12. Emeka Egbuka, WR, Ohio State: The true sophomore is having a spectacular campaign in 2022. Egbuka alongside Marvin Harrison, form arguably the best wide receiver tandem in the country. Egbuka is third in the Big Ten and 18th in the FBS in receiving yards. He’s also third in the league in touchdown receptions. The former five-star prospect had nine catches for 90 yards and a touchdown in the opener against Notre Dame. He went eclipsed 100 yards receiving over the next three games against Arkansas State, Toledo and Wisconsin. Egbuka had a career-high, 143 receiving yards in the victory at Michigan State. The Washington native also earned second-team, All-Big Ten honors.

11. Olusegun Oluwatimi, C, Michigan: The former Virginia Cavalier proved to be the most significant addition to Jim Harbaugh’s roster during the offseason. Oluwatimi put together a magnificent year, becoming Michigan’s first-ever Outland Trophy winner as the nation’s best interior lineman. Not only was he was named the Big Ten’s Offensive Lineman of the Year, but Oluwatimi also won the Rimington Trophy, as the country’s top center. He’s the main reason why the Wolverines have the top rushing attack in the conference, and fifth-best in the FBS, averaging 243 yards per game. He’ll be vital in opening up holes for Donovan Edwards and keeping J.J. McCarthy upright against TCU.

10. Kendre Miller, RB, TCU: The former three-star prospect is second in the Big 12 and seventh in the FBS with 17 rushing touchdowns this fall. Miller is fourth in the league and 18th in the country with 1,342 rushing yards. Miller had 142 yards on the ground and a score against SMU. He also went over 100 yards rushing in six of the Horned Frogs’ first seven conference games. The six-foot, 220-pounder packs a lot of power behind his frame, but has the speed to outrun defenders. Not to mention Miller has rushed for at least one touchdown in every game this season, including two in four conference tilts. The Texas native was a Doak Award semifinalist and earned first-team, All-Big 12 honors.

9. Tommy Eichenberg, LB, Ohio State: The former four-star prospect leads the Buckeyes and ranks third in the Big Ten with 112 stops this season. Eichenberg is a tackling machine, who’s a natural at holding down the middle of the defense. Not to mention he leads the league and is third in the FBS in solo tackles per game. He’s an executioner of ball carriers. After all, the Cleveland native has 12 tackles for loss, an interception and a defensive touchdown. Eichenberg racked up a season-high, 15 stops at Penn State. He generated 14 tackles against Wisconsin, and 13 apiece against Maryland and Northwestern. Eichenberg tallied two sacks against Notre Dame and earned first-team, All-Big Ten.

8. Stetson, Bennett, QB, Georgia: The former walk on became a Heisman Finalist this fall. Bennett led the Bulldogs to an undefeated regular season, a SEC Title and they’re the No. 1 seed in the Playoffs. He’s third in the SEC and 23rd in the FBS in passing efficiency. Bennett has thrown for 3,425 yards, which ranks third in the league and 13th in the country. Bennett threw for at least 300 yards against Oregon, Samford, Missouri and Florida. The 5-foot-11, 190-pounder had a season-high, four touchdown tosses in the SEC Championship Game. Bennett’s veteran leadership is irreplaceable, and he doesn’t make many mistakes. Not to mention he earned second-team, All-SEC honors.

7. Marvin Harrison Jr., WR, Ohio State: It’s basically like father, like son with the way he has dominated as a true sophomore this fall. Harrison is almost impossible to cover one-one-one. He’s tied for first in the Big Ten and eighth in the FBS with 12 touchdown catches. The Philadelphia native is also eighth in the nation wth 1,157 receiving yards. For Harrison’s heroics, he was named the Big Ten’s Receiver of the Year. Not to mention he was a Biletnikoff Award finalist. Harrison went over 100 yards receiving against Arkansas State, Toledo, Michigan State, Penn State, Indiana and Michigan. There’s no doubt he’s going to require double coverage from the Georgia’s secondary.

6. Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson, CB, TCU: Athleticism runs in the Tomlinson family, considering he’s the nephew of TCU  legendary rusher LaDainian Tomlinson. The former three-star prospect was magnificent during the regular season, considering he took home the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation’s best defensive back. Quarterbacks try to avoid throwing Hodges-Tomlinson’s direction because he’s a true ballhawk. He has the skills to blanket the opposition’s top receiver, including speed, instincts, a nice vertical and physicality. The Texas native had a season-high, six solo tackles in the road victory at Kansas. Hodges-Tomlinson also picked off a pass against Kansas State, Texas Tech and Kansas.

5. Brock Bowers, TE, Georgia: He proved his stellar freshman season wasn’t a fluke, with a phenomenal sophomore campaign. Bowers is a matchup nightmare, who leads the nation in yards after catch, and he’s the John Mackey Award winner as the nation’s top tight end. The former four-star prospect led the Bulldogs in receptions, receiving yards and touchdown catches. Bowers rushed for 77 yards and two scores against Kent State. The California native caught a touchdown in three of Georgia’s last four games. Bowers had a season-high, 154 receiving yards against Florida. The six-foot-four, 230-pounder generated 121 receiving yards and two touchdowns against South Carolina.

4. C.J. Stroud, QB, Ohio State: The California native leads the entire FBS in passing efficiency. Stroud is tied for first in the nation with 37 touchdown passes. His 3,340 passing yards ranks second in the Big Ten. Stroud threw for a season-high, six touchdown tosses against Michigan State. The former four-star prospect recorded five games of 300-plus passing yards. Not to mention he had five touchdown passes apiece against Toledo and Indiana. Stroud was also named the Big Ten’s Quarterback of the Year for a second-straight season. The six-foot-three, 218-pounder was also a Heisman Finalist and has a plethora of weapons in his arsenal. Stroud will get a shot at redemption against Georgia.

3. Mazi Smith, DT, Michigan: Although he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor gun possession charge, Smith won’t be sentenced until after the season. So he’s definitely going to play against TCU, and that means bad news for the big boys up front for the Horned Frogs. That’s because Smith is a load, with the strength and physicality to disrupt an entire game plan of an offense. Smith is so dominant in the trenches that he’s going to require at least two blockers on every play. The six-foot-three, 337-pounder is a space-eating monster, who racked up 45 tackles, including 2.5 for loss from the interior. He recorded a season-high, five solo stops against Maryland, plus two apiece against Indiana and Illinois.

2. Max Duggan, QB, TCU: All of his experience, production and leadership has come full circle this fall. Although Duggan wasn’t the starter to begin the season, he eventually took the reigns and never looked back. The Iowa native took the Big 12 by storm, and displayed a heart of a warrior. Duggan was named the league’s Offensive Player of the Year. He led the league in yards through the air, passing efficiency and touchdown tosses. Duggan threw for 390 yards and five touchdowns against Tarleton, which were both season-highs. The former four-star prospect has led TCU to multiple comeback victories. Duggan won the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award and was the Heisman runner-up.

1. Jalen Carter, DT, Georgia: He’s going to be the best player on the field in the Peach Bowl. Although what Carter excels at doesn’t stand out on stat sheets, he’s still one of the most feared defenders in the country. Not to mention he’s already projected as a top-five pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. After all, Carter is an animal along the interior, anchors Georgia’s defensive line and eats ball carriers for breakfast. Carter has tallied 29 total stops, forced two fumbles and is tied for second on the team in tackles for loss. The six-foot-three, 300-pounder put the quarterback to the turf against Tennessee and Mississippi State. Carter capped off his 2022 campaign with first-team, All-SEC honors.

Honorable Mention

Paris Johnson, OT, Ohio State: The Cincinnati native anchors the big boys up front for the Buckeyes and has started 23-straight games dating back to last season. Johnson is going to be vital with keeping C.J. Stroud upright against a tenacious Georgia defense.

Donovan Edwards, RB, Michigan: He has exceeded expectations since filling in for the injured Blake Corum. It’s hard to argue against that when Edwards has rushed for 401 yards and three touchdowns over the past two games.

Zach Harrison, DE, Ohio State: The former five-star prospect proved he’s a beast off the edge, with 30 tackles, including 6.5 for loss. Harrison generated two sacks against Maryland, and added another against Iowa. He also forced three fumbles and picked off a pass.