Breaking down the top 100 CFB players: What the rankings missed

USC ended the regular season with a 7-5 record. Jordon Kelly/Icon Sportswire

With the 2023 college football season almost in the rearview mirror, we ranked the top 100 players for the year. But as with any ranking, there is plenty to debate.

Our reporters break down what they think our list missed, from players ranked too high or too low to which players we need to be keeping better tabs on.

Who should have been in the top 10?

Adam Rittenberg: NC State linebacker Payton Wilson. The top 10 includes only one defensive player -- Alabama edge/outside linebacker Dallas Turner -- as well as three wide receivers and a tight end. Although the top of the wideout group is excellent, Wilson was arguably the nation's most decorated defender. He won the Dick Butkus Award as the nation's top linebacker and the Chuck Bednarik Award as the national defensive player of the year. Wilson led the ACC in both total tackles and tackles for loss, and he was a consistent factor in pass coverage for NC State. Texas' T'Vondre Sweat is another award-winning defender who should have been in the top 10.

Mark Schlabach: Much like in the NFL, running backs didn't get much respect in the player rankings. Oklahoma State's Ollie Gordon II led the FBS with 1,732 rushing yards on 285 carries and was second with 21 rushing scores. The Cowboys' season was spiraling until coach Mike Gundy decided to ride the sophomore's shoulders. Gordon ran for more than 100 yards in nine of the Pokes' last 11 games. He had 282 yards with four scores in a 48-34 victory against West Virginia. He had 271 yards with two scores in a 45-13 rout of Cincinnati the next week. Give the man some respect.

Tom VanHaaren: It seems like not a lot of people know how good UCLA edge Laiatu Latu is and what he has done the past few seasons. He was first among all FBS defenders in quarterback pressures with 56 and second in defensive pressure percentage, getting pressure on the quarterback on 20.1% of his pass rushes. He was No. 4 in sacks with 13 and created havoc being versatile in UCLA's defense. He is likely going to be one of the top defensive prospects in the upcoming NFL draft and should be in the top 10 here.

Paolo Uggetti: Latu is the right call and I wholeheartedly agree with Tom that he was one of the 10 best players in college football this season. Numbers aside, it was clear, while watching UCLA, that even though its entire defensive unit was stout, it was Latu's ability to wreak havoc up front that set up that success. If I were to make a way-outside case for anyone else, I'd throw Troy Franklin's name in the mix. His numbers are ridiculous -- 1,383 yards on 81 catches plus 14 touchdowns -- and he was arguably just as important as Bo Nix to Oregon's offense.

Who's ranked too high?

Rittenberg: At the risk of Schlabach never speaking to me again, Georgia Bulldogs tight end Brock Bowers. He's certainly one of the nation's best players, which will be reflected in the 2024 NFL draft. But to have him at No. 5, ahead of so many national award winners on both sides of the ball, in a season in which he missed time because of injury, seems to be a bit of a stretch. I'd feel more comfortable with Bowers around Nos. 10-12. Alabama's Kool-Aid McKinstry also seems a bit high at 24.

Kyle Bonagura: Caleb Williams is fantastic, and it will be completely justified when he is the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft, but if this is a ranking of the top players in college football this season, No. 10 is too high for him. He ranked 12th in QBR -- arguably the best stat to measure a QB's overall performance -- 11th in passing yards and ninth in passing touchdowns on an unranked USC Trojans team that went 7-5. By no objective measure did his production warrant inclusion in the top 10.

David Hale: Well, if we're to believe the committee, Jordan Travis was an utterly irreplaceable player who was so far and away responsible for Florida State's 13-0 record that the rest of the team was unworthy of a playoff berth without him. So, perhaps he should've been in our top 10. But let's take another shot at the committee, too: Jared Verse coming in at No. 29 feels like we might be overlooking that FSU defense as much as the committee did. Indeed, in the Seminoles' final two games without Travis, Verse dominated as much as any player in college football did at any point this season: 58 pass rushes, 13 pressures, 4.5 sacks, 18 tackles (11 at/behind the line), three QB hurries and one forced fumble, while opponents averaged just 2.7 yards per play (1.7 on the ground) when Verse was on the field.

Who's underrated?

Rittenberg: James Madison edge rusher Jalen Green (No. 73) missed the team's final three games after sustaining a significant knee injury, and he still ranked among the nation's leaders in both sacks (15.5) and tackles for loss (21). He earned first-team AP All-America honors and was a first- and second-team All-America selection from other outlets. We didn't punish Georgia's Bowers for missing time because of injury. There's no way 72 players performed better than Green did before his injury. UTSA's Trey Moore is another Group of 5 defensive standout ranked too low (No. 98).

Schlabach: Old Dominion linebacker Jason Henderson is another player from a Group of 5 program that probably isn't ranked high enough. He led the FBS in tackles (170) and tackles per game (14.2). Henderson also had 19.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, five quarterback hurries and one forced fumble. He is the first Monarchs player to be honored on an All-America team. He is the first FBS player since Boston College's Luke Kuechly in 2010-11 to lead the country in tackles in consecutive seasons; Henderson had 186 stops in 2022.

Chris Low: Texas Tech running back Tahj Brooks put up huge numbers this season. He was third among Power 5 players with an average of 118.3 rushing yards per game despite being the target of opposing defenses every week. The Red Raiders ranked just 65th in passing offense. The 5-foot-10, 230-pound Brooks was a tackle-breaking machine and led all FBS players with 96 missed tackles forced, according to Pro Football Focus. The best news for Texas Tech fans is that Brooks announced he will return to school for the 2024 season.

VanHaaren: Virginia went 3-9 this season and probably didn't get a ton of attention nationally, so it would've been very easy to miss receiver Malik Washington. He transferred to Virginia from Northwestern and was second in the country among all receivers in receiving yards per game, behind Malik Nabers with 118.8 yards. He had nine receiving touchdowns, 1,426 total yards and just four drops. If Washington is in a different offense, he probably gets more attention.

Hale: There are a bunch of guys in the bottom half of our list whom I'd have higher, but let me make the case for Oklahoma's Danny Stutsman. He played in 12 games, had 104 tackles (16 for a loss), two forced fumbles and a pick-six. Moreover, he was the heart, soul and personality of the Sooners' D, a Brent Venables archetype that, frankly, Oklahoma had too few of. Besides, if you're being compared to Brian Bosworth, you're a top-50 player with a bright future either in the NFL or running a small sheriff's department in a Dr. Pepper-obsessed town outside Tulsa.

Which unranked players should have made the list?

Dave Wilson: If you break an 85-year-old NCAA record, you deserve to shine. And nobody was a brighter star for this year's Iowa Hawkeyes than punter Tory Taylor, a senior from Melbourne, Australia, whose foot touched leather 86 times this year -- most in the country -- for an all-time record 4,479 yards, breaking a mark set by a college football Hall of Famer John Pingel in 1938. Taylor, the Ray Guy Award winner, had a career average of 46.2 yards per kick, the most in Big Ten history.

Rittenberg: Not to throw my voting colleagues under the bus, but my guess is they didn't watch or track Troy Trojans running back Kimani Vidal as much as I did in 2023. Vidal ranks second nationally in rushing yards with 1,661 and third in yards per game (118.6) for a Troy team that repeated as Sun Belt champion. He had three games of 233 or more rushing yards. His success is nothing new, as he earned All-Sun Belt honors (second team or honorable mention) in each of his first three seasons and also reached 1,000 rushing yards last year. Not including Vidal in the top 100 is a major oversight on our part. We also really whiffed by not including Arizona Wildcats prolific wide receiver Tetairoa McMillan (1,402 yards, 90 receptions, 10 touchdowns).

Hale: It's a crime Boston College offensive lineman Christian Mahogany didn't make the cut. He's a potential first-round pick, and his numbers were off-the-charts good: one pressure allowed and just seven blown blocks on 788 offensive snaps. But here's a more telling stat: Last year, with Mahogany injured for the season, BC allowed pressure on 41% of dropbacks (127th nationally) and managed just 1.09 yards per rush before contact (131st). With Mahogany back healthy for 2023, BC averaged pressure on 29% of dropbacks (25th) and 2.37 yards before contact per rush (36th).

Uggetti: I understand that this a season-wide endeavor and Washington wide receiver Jalen McMillan missed over half of the season, but it's impossible to watch McMillan play and not be convinced that he is one of the top 100 players in college football. In six games this season, McMillan averaged 13.5 yards per catch, had four touchdowns and four catches of 35 yards or more. But beyond the numbers, McMillan's speed and agility have been on full display during the Huskies' title run. Once he catches the ball and gets downfield, he is nearly impossible to catch.

Who's making a big leap for 2024?

Rittenberg: Texas quarterback Quinn Ewers (No. 90) would be my pick if he elects to return in 2024. Ewers became the first Longhorns QB to guide the team to the College Football Playoff, and he repeatedly showed his brilliance in the fourth quarter. A third season under coach Steve Sarkisian should put him in the Heisman Trophy mix as one of the nation's top signal-callers. Texas Tech running back Tahj Brooks (No. 62) also should rise into the top 50 and maybe closer to the top 25. Brooks had 1,541 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns this season and should have been a bit higher in our rankings. He'll get his due in 2024.

VanHaaren: I agree with Adam that if Ewers returns, he has an opportunity to move up. His transformation has been noticeable already from the past few seasons to 2023. To choose someone else, though, I'm going to pick a different Texas player. UTSA edge Trey Moore is transferring to Texas and has a chance to shine on the national stage in the SEC in 2024. Moore had 14 sacks this season (third most among all FBS players), 40 quarterback pressures and 16.5 tackles for loss. He will join a veteran Texas defense that has already improved year over year, and he won't have a ton of pressure to be a star. I wouldn't be surprised if he becomes a regular name mentioned as one of the top defenders in 2024.

Bonagura: After Cal running back Jaydn Ott ran for 1,305 yards and 12 touchdowns, there was a case for including him on the list this year. Next year, he'll be among the best running backs in the ACC, and it shouldn't be a surprise if he is a top-50 player. He averaged 131.8 yards rushing over the last five games of the regular season and helped Cal win its last three to reach bowl eligibility.

Hale: This is clearly an overreaction to one game -- but boy what a game quarterback Miller Moss had in USC's bowl win over Louisville. Moss threw for 372 yards and six touchdowns in his first career start, announcing to the world -- and, more importantly, Lincoln Riley -- that he's the QB of the future for the Trojans. Does this mean Riley won't go digging around in the portal? Perhaps not, but odds are there's not a better prospect on the market than Riley already has at home. Moss was a four-star recruit ranked in the top 100 by ESPN, and now he gets his shot at the star-making Riley offensive game plan? Go ahead and book Moss a spot in the top 50 for next year.

Uggetti: He may have ended up landing all the way at No. 30 this season, but Arizona quarterback Noah Fifita feels like a stock that's only going to keep paying dividends. Fifita came on the scene four games into this season after starter Jayden de Laura got hurt and he never looked back. The freshman not only led the Wildcats to seven straight wins to finish the season (including a win over Oklahoma in the Alamo Bowl) but threw for 2,869 yards and 25 touchdowns in what was essentially three-quarters of a season. The sky is the limit for Fifita and Arizona as they head to the Big 12 next year, and it wouldn't surprise to see the Wildcats in contention for the conference title while Fifita vies for a top-15 spot on this list.