The 25 most important players in 2023's College Football Playoff race

Caleb Williams is the best player in college football. He won the Heisman in 2022 by throwing for 4,537 yards and an eye-popping 42-to-5 TD-to-INT ratio. He puts off more Mahomesian vibes than anyone in college football has since Patrick Mahomes himself. You hold your breath when he starts looking to improvise. He's incredible.

He's also a known entity. We know what we have in Williams, and we know he's the major reason the USC Trojans are the betting favorites to win the Pac-12 title race.

There are birds in hand, and there are unfinished products. We know what the former has to offer, but breakthroughs for the latter play a definitive role in the national title race this year. We headed into 2019 without knowing everything we needed to know about Joe Burrow, right? Mac Jones in 2020? Stetson Bennett in 2021?

My annual Most Important Players list is about those unknowns. Here are 25 players who could define the season with either moments or long spells of greatness. Some play for contenders, while others play for the teams that might prevent contenders from reaching their goals. All of them will have a chance to make their mark on 2023.

Pure transcendence potential

25. QB Michael Penix Jr., Washington
It's possible we've seen the best of Penix. The senior threw for 4,197 yards and 29 touchdowns over parts of four injury-plagued seasons at Indiana, then transferred to Washington to rejoin former IU offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer and topped his Hoosier career in one fell swoop. His 4,641-yard, 31-touchdown performance completely reversed the Huskies' fortunes and earned him eighth place in the Heisman voting.

That's quite the denouement, but Penix elected to return for a sixth year and write one more act. What if, with a loaded receiving corps and a bit more help from his defense, Penix one-ups himself? Washington might only be an underdog a couple of times in 2023, after all. Five thousand yards, a spot in the Pac-12 and a CFP run all might be on the table.