After the deadline for underclassmen to declare for the 2023 NFL Draft passed, we saw multiple stars choosing to move on instead of returning to school. Ohio State quarterback CJ Stroud, Texas running back Bijan Robinson and Georgia's Jalen Carter are just a few of the high-profile players will be playing on Sundays next year.
There are quite a few who chose to pass on that NFL paycheck, however. Unlike previous years, the rise of NIL collectives has incentivized draft-eligible players to stick around college. Additionally, the free year of eligibility that was given to players during the 2020 season has also afforded players an option to up their draft stock by playing another season.
Who are the best college football players that made the decision to return? Let's break them down.
1. Michael Penix Jr, QB, Washington: The nation's leading passer in yards per game will enter the 2023 season near the top of the Heisman Trophy odds after throwing for 4,641 yards and 31 touchdowns for a Huskies team that posted an 11-2 record. He will not only enter the season with a ton of buzz, but will be playing for a team that will be in the thick of the College Football Playoff race.
2. Blake Corum, RB, Michigan: The consensus All-American missed the final two games of the season but still ripped off 1,463 yards and 18 touchdowns. He should be the centerpiece of the two-time Big Ten champion's offense as long as he recovers from a meniscus injury.
3. Bo Nix, QB, Oregon: Nix was in the Heisman Trophy race prior to suffering an ankle injury that hampered him down the stretch. Despite that, he still threw for 3,593 yards, rushed for 510 yards and totaled 44 touchdowns. The Pac-12 will be loaded with star quarterbacks, and Nix will be near the top of every list.
4. Jordan Travis, QB, Florida State: Travis was the biggest reason the Seminoles came on strong late in the season. He threw for 3,214 yards, rushed for 417 yards and totaled 32 touchdowns. He is one of several experienced Seminoles who are coming back, which is a big reason why they'll be considered a contender for the CFP in 2023.
5. Tommy Eichenberg, LB, Ohio State: Eichenberg finished the season with 120 tackles and was a big part of the Buckeyes' defensive turnaround in their run to the CFP. The first-team All-Big Ten performer and Chuck Bednarik Award semifinalist was the leader of a linebacking corps that should be one of the Big Ten's best in 2023.
6. Jared Verse, DL, Florida State: The transfer from Albany transformed himself into a first-round talent after notching 16.5 tackles for loss and nine sacks in 12 games for the Seminoles. He was projected as the No. 11 overall player in the prior to announcing his decision to return to Tallahassee.
7. Bralen Trice, DL, Washington: The Huskies defensive front will be stacked in 2023, and Trice's presence will be a big reason why. He had 13 tackles for loss and 10 sacks in 13 games, which earned him All-Pac-12 honors. His speed off the edge and ability to win one-on-one battles vs. offensive tackles should have him as a possible first-round pick in 2024.
8. Olumuyiwa Fashanu, OL, Penn State: Fashanu would have been a first-round pick had he decided to declare for the draft, but he chose to return to a Penn State team that will be loaded with experience on both sides of the ball. He'll be charged with protecting the blind side of quarterback Drew Allar and open holes for the talented group of Nittany Lions running backs.
9. Sam Hartman, QB, Notre Dame: Hartman had options to return to Wake Forest, head to the NFL or transfer within college football in 2023, and he found a great home at Notre Dame. The centerpiece of the slow mesh offense with the Demon Deacons has thrown for 12,967 yards and 110 touchdowns during his five-year college career, and there's no doubt that he is considered a Heisman contender heading into the 2023 season.
10. Jer'Zhan Newton, DL, Illinois: Newton was one of the top reasons why Illinois returned to prominence during the 2022 season. He had 60 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks and 11 quarterback hurries last season. The 6-foot-2, 295-pounder was a second-team All-American from multiple outlets, .
11. Tyler Davis, DL, Clemson: Davis is one of the most experienced defensive linemen in the country, and he chose to return to the Tigers for his "super senior" season. He has 26.5 tackles for loss and 15.5 sacks during his tenure with Clemson despite fighting through multiple injuries. He will anchor a veteran defensive line that should be one of the nation's best.
12. Cameron Rising, QB, Utah: Rising surprised a lot of people when he chose to run it back after consecutive Pac-12 championships. He threw for 3,034 yards, rushed for 465 yards and accounted for 32 touchdowns last season. He suffered a lower-body injury in the Rose Bowl, which could have played a role in his decision to return to Salt Lake City.
13. Dillon Gabriel, QB, Oklahoma: Gabriel was named the Big 12's Newcomer of the Year after throwing for 3,168 yards, rushing for 315 yards and accounting for 31 touchdowns in 2022. The Sooners desperately need stability after a disappointing 6-7 season, and Gabriel's presence should go a long way toward bring them back into Big 12 contention.
14. Keith Randolph Jr, DL, Illinois: The other half of the "Law Firm" defensive line (along with Newton), Randolph returns after notching 53 tackles last season -- 13 of which were for a loss. The 6-foot-5, 305-pounder was an All-Big Ten performer from Pro Football Focus and should keep the Fighting Illini in the division title hunt in 2023.
15. Spencer Rattler, QB, South Carolina: Rattler's 2022 stats show plenty of inconsistency, which was the case when he was at Oklahoma. However, he threw 10 touchdowns over his last three games, which included a 63-38 win over a Tennessee team that was in contention to make the CFP. He developed quite a connection with Antwane Wells Jr. over the course of the season, and he could sneak back into Heisman contention if he leads the Gamecocks into SEC East contention.
16. Johnny Wilson, WR, Florida State: Wilson capped off a great season with an incredible eight-catch, 202-yard performance in the Cheez-It Bowl win over Oklahoma. The 6-foot-7 star led the Seminoles with 897 yards and five touchdowns and is a matchup nightmare for essentially every defensive back in the country.
17. KJ Jefferson, QB, Arkansas: Speaking of matchup nightmares, there isn't a quarterback in the country quite like Jefferson. He had 2,648 yards passing and 24 touchdowns last year and added 640 yards on the ground. The 6-foot-3, 242-pounder is a force running between the tackles, which makes the Razorbacks rushing attack with Raheim Sanders even more dangerous. If you're looking for a dark-horse Heisman candidate, Jefferson could fit the bill.
18. Trey Benson, RB, Florida State: Benson rushed for 990 yards and nine touchdowns last year, and he will be the other half of the dangerous one-two punch on the ground along with Travis. At 6-foot-1, 215 pounds, Benson has the size to take the punishment between the tackles and speed to be a home run threat.
19. Jayden Daniels, QB, LSU: The dual-threat catalyst for the SEC West champions struggled with injuries down the stretch, but he evolved into a star nonetheless. He had 2,913 yards passing, 885 yards rushing and totaled 29 touchdowns after transferring from Arizona State. He'll get another year in the system with plenty of experienced pieces around him in 2023.
20. Rome Odunze, WR, Washington: Odunze is one of two 1,000-yard receivers who chose to return to the Huskies, along with Jalen McMillan, and he should rise to national prominence alongside Penix. The All-Pac-12 performer had 75 catches for 1,145 yards and seven touchdowns last year as one of the best deep threats in the country. He's a big reason why the Huskies offense is so dangerous.