Breaking news, rankings, predictions and analysis all in one place.

College Football Way-Too-Early Top 25 for 2024

Quinn Ewers, Texas

1. Georgia Bulldogs

Kirby Smart's Bulldogs may not have been able to pull off the three-peat, but Georgia remains an absolute machine who should be entrenched as a National Title frontrunner every single year. There will be notable names moving on as there always is in Athens, namely tight end Brock Bowers, but the Bulldogs received quite a treat when quarterback Carson Beck announced he would be back for the 2024 campaign. Beck was impressive as a first-year starter this past fall and should enter next season as a Heisman favorite, although the supporting cast around him will still have to materialize. With that being said, it's likely names like Ladd McConkey, Dillon Bell, and Arian Smith will be back in action on the perimeter, with Oscar Delp a prime breakout candidate at tight end. On the defensive side of things, the usual collection of NFL Draft selections will depart, but elite defensive back Malaki Starks gives the Bulldogs a fine starting point. The key, however, will be whether Georgia's front seven can return to its 2021 and 2022 ways after a bit of a "down" 2023. There's no shortage of talent, but several pieces will need to emerge if Kirby and company are to take home their third National Title in four years next fall.

2. Ohio State Buckeyes

For as frustrating as three straight losses to arch-rival Michigan have been, Ohio State should take solace in the fact they've played the last two National Champions awfully tight and remain on the cusp of something special. Is 2024 the team that can finally get Ryan Day over the top in Columbus? There seems like a window here, particularly if the transfers Day and staff have brought in acclimate quickly, namely Will Howard and Quinshon Judkins. Howard comes over from Kansas State and brings ample experience and the ability to create with his legs. He's no C.J. Stroud, but seems to be an upgrade over the departed Kyle McCord, and has loads of talent to work with throughout the Buckeye offense. Meanwhile, Judkins will hope to spark an Ohio State ground game that has lacked bite over the last two seasons. He'll pair up with tailback TreVeyon Henderson, who made the surprising decision to hold off on the pros for one more season. On defense, the Buckeyes will return several key pieces, including corner Denzel Burke and defensive linemen Tyleik Williams, both of whom could have been first day NFL Draft selections. Just as important, coordinator Jim Knowles looks set to run it back for the third time with this defense after stellar showings in his first two seasons at the helm - 2024 could be the year this group cements itself as one of the best in the country.

3. Alabama Crimson Tide

I had Alabama perched at No. 1 in the initial draft of these rankings before Nick Saban's bombshell retirement earlier in the week, creating loads of intrigue in Tuscaloosa as the Tide prepare for 2024. Now Kalen DeBoer takes over, and will have the unenviable task of replacing the greatest college football coach of all-time. Fortunately, he is blessed with a loaded roster on both sides of the ball. That includes stability at the quarterback position and what should be an improved offensive line, two of the most notable weaknesses for Alabama throughout the 2023 campaign. The defense is going to be in for a rebuild, with names like Dallas Turner, Kool-Aid McKinstry, and Terrion Arnold all set to move on. But, this is Alabama and there's no shortage of talent waiting in the wings, including one of the best young defenders in all of the land, Caleb Downs. Downs' 107 tackles were the most by a Tide freshman in decades and the encore could be even more exciting, as he'll play an outsized role on this new-look team in 2024.

4. Texas Longhorns

A new era in the SEC begins for the Texas Longhorns, but Steve Sarkisian has built up the program to the point that the move up in competition shouldn't be a problem. On both lines of scrimmage and at the skill positions, the Longhorns now resemble an elite SEC team, a testament to the work this staff has not only done on the recruiting trail, but in the player development department. The depth throughout the roster should be huge, as plenty of notable pieces move on, and the core remains one of the best in college football. Quarterback Quinn Ewers could be going pro, but my money is that the gunslinger will be back for one more run in Austin, and he has a rising star joining him in the backfield in C.J. Baxter. Defensively, there will be reloading to do up front, but linebacker Anthony Hill gives the front seven a proven commodity to work with, and the secondary could actually improve this next season. The schedule may be tougher top-to-bottom, but Sark and company showed that they deserve to be in the conversation of college football's elite last fall - now it's time to double down and prove it in 2024.

5. Michigan Wolverines

After nearly a decade in charge at his alma mater, Jim Harbaugh climbed the mountaintop and secured Michigan their first National Title since sharing the honor in 1997. It's a special moment for Wolverine fans who have endured plenty of ups-and-downs going all the way back to the end of the Lloyd Carr era, but a celebration that also comes with some trepidation. Harbaugh has been pretty open regarding his interest in returning to the NFL and once again, it's likely the Wolverines will endure another offseason of will he or won't he in Ann Arbor. Despite that, the prognosis for 2024 still appears promising, especially if quarterback J.J. McCarthy returns, which feels likely. He'll have to make do without trusty sidekick Blake Corum in the backfield, but other faces appear ready to step up and lead the offense, such as versatile wide out Semaj Morgan. On the other side of the ball, there's going to be plenty of names off to the NFL, but there's not a school in the country that reloads as well on this side of the ball as Michigan. They do an excellent job not just reeling in elite talent, but bringing in players that fit their culture and scheme, which should ensure there's little to no drop-off this upcoming fall. It's hard to say definitively one way or the other whether the Wolverines can repeat in 2024 with Harbaugh's future so in doubt but at the very least, they should be firmly in the mix.

6. Ole Miss Rebels

Lane Kiffin and Ole Miss have been winners of the early offseason, making splash after splash in the transfer portal after an 11-win 2023 campaign. Does this mean they're ready to make a jump and seriously contend for a National Title? Losing Quinshon Judkins, who made a rather surprising decision to enter the portal and eventually move on to Ohio State, certainly hurts, but QB Jaxson Dart should ensure the offense keeps on humming. Yet, it's the defensive side of the ball I'm the most interested in, as Kiffin and staff have been reeling in elite defenders from the portal just about daily. That includes Texas A&M transplant Walter Nolen, who I believe has a chance to be the most dominant defensive linemen in all of America this next fall. It will be fascinating to see how well the defense, and team in general, meshes after so many came in through the portal. On paper, the Rebels have enough talent to make the College Football Playoff, especially in the expanded 12-team field, but ensuring all the pieces fit together will decide their fate in the upcoming year.

7. Penn State Nittany Lions

Penn State has been stuck as third wheel to Michigan and Ohio State in the Big Ten East for years but as the league prepares to expand, they're hoping it's the catalyst they need to jump up and win a conference title. That's not to say it will be easy, with the addition of four strong programs from the West Coast, but the Nittany Lions are well-built to take advantage of this new era of Big Ten football. The roster is loaded with young talent still coming into its own, which includes quarterback Drew Allar, set to begin his second season as starter in 2024. Allar was productive in Year One running the offense, but left something to be desired, particularly in big games and moments. Fortunately, he has a two-headed monster at tailback to help him out in Kaytron Allen and Nicholas Singleton, and potentially a new top target in Ohio State transfer Julian Fleming. The defense will be in transition mode after coordinator Manny Diaz took the Duke head coaching job, but were blessed with several surprising returnees to their defensive line, plus a rising star in linebacker Abdul Carter.

8. Clemson Tigers

2021 and 2022 saw Clemson slip in national standing, but 2023 was the wake up call Dabo Swinney and the Tigers needed, or so they hope. This team was far better than a nine-win team, and a .500 showing in a weak ACC is inexcusable. Perhaps that should add extra motivation for a program that remains as talented as ever, but one still working on getting all the parts to fit together. That includes quarterback Cade Klubnik, who had his fair share of rocky moments in his first season as starter, but did enough to believe there could be a chance for major improvement in 2024. He will have the advantage of having his play-caller back for a full offseason, assuming OC Garrett Riley stays put, but also more responsibility on his shoulders now that tailback Will Shipley is set to move on. The defense also moves several program staples, but has loads of young talent on the defensive line, and the linebacker corps could be the best in the ACC in 2024, as Barrett Carter returns for a fifth year and five-star freshman Sammy Brown brings an injection of energy. Just as important as the product on the field for Clemson is the landscape of the ACC - Florida State seems in store for a rebuilding campaign, and no other program has shown they can consistently hang with the Tigers in this league. Needless to say, that bodes well for Clemson's chances to have a redemptive campaign and return to the Playoff next fall.

9. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

2024 feels like it's going to be a huge year for Marcus Freeman to show he is the long-term answer in South Bend. Freeman has had two good teams at Notre Dame and is now 19-8 total, but Year Three is likely to tell us whether he can bring them to an elite level on the national stage. Freeman brought in a transfer quarterback from the ACC for the second straight year in Duke's Riley Leonard, one of the game's most electrifying players when fully healthy. Freeman also went out and made one of the splashier coordinator hires of the coaching carousel by luring Mike Denbrock away from LSU after he helped Jayden Daniels bring a Heisman to Baton Rouge. Those two additions put the offense in a good place, but the X-factor remains out wide - can someone finally emerge at receiver to help the Irish go toe-to-toe with the true giants of the sport? The good news is that the defense looks like it will be one of the best in the country, with veteran pieces like safety Xavier Watts and linebacker Jack Kiser set to return.

10. Oregon Ducks

Life in the Big Ten begins for Oregon, and they will do so with a new face under center after Bo Nix exhausted his collegiate eligibility. Fortunately, the Ducks went out and landed not only a QB that can help them win immediately in former UCF and Oklahoma transfer Dillon Gabriel, but the type of long-term prospect they need to win in their new home in former five-star Dante Moore. Gabriel, who looks to be locked into the starting job for 2024, has the type of arm to lift the entire offense, which will be needed as they replace key names like Mar'Keise Irving and Troy Franklin. The defense looks to be in very good shape, as they'll return the vast majority of a unit that was strong throughout 2023, with the Washington losses being notable exceptions. Adding Kansas State transfer Kobe Savage gives this team a hard-hitting, enforcer type that they've been lacking at times in recent years.

11. Missouri Tigers

Missouri's surprising 11-2, Cotton Bowl season was no fluke from Eli Drinkwitz and company - this program has a chance to cement themselves in the upper echelon of the SEC in 2024. Quarterback Brady Cook and wide receiver Luther Burden III could be the nation's top QB-WR combo next fall, and Theo Wease's return came as a welcome surprise in the last week. Those returnees will ensure the aerial attack is on its "A" game in 2024, particularly as the Tigers lose tailback Cody Schrader after a monster year. On the other side of the ball, coordinator Blake Baker parlayed Missouri's success into the same gig at LSU, but the unit's performance shouldn't drop off a cliff. Drinkwitz and staff have done a great job filling holes in the transfer portal, and they also welcome one of the nation's top freshman in defensive end Williams Nwaneri, who will play from Day One. There's plenty of reason to believe the momentum will keep on rolling here and the expanded Playoff provides ample opportunity - if the SEC was still in its division structure, I'd argue the Tigers have a legitimate shot to challenge Georgia for SEC East supremacy.

12. Washington Huskies

The Huskies may have been unable to finish the job and complete the perfect 15-0 season, and Kalen DeBoer's decision to take the Alabama job is a major gut punch.  Yet, something tells me thatWashington isn't done just yet as they move on to the Big Ten. There will be a new QB now that Michael Penix departs, which looked to be Mississippi State transfer Will Rogers before DeBoer's decision, forcing him to reenter the portal. Whoever does end up starting will need others to emerge at the skill positions, and replacements along the O-Line, which took home the Joe Moore Award this past fall. Defensively, this group epitomized a bend not break mantra, and they could once again in 2024. They'll lose a major name up front in Bralen Trice, a likely first-rounder this spring, but should return plenty of experience throughout the back seven.

13. Florida State Seminoles

Needless to say, it was a disappointing conclusion to an otherwise special season in Tallahassee, which will likely provide an extra sense of motivation around the Florida State football program into 2024. Unfortunately, the losses on both sides of the ball are likely to be severe, although Mike Norvell and staff have done enough to keep this team on track towards a second straight ACC Title. D.J. Uiagalelei is set to take over at quarterback for the departed Jordan Travis after a one year pit stop at Oregon State. Uiagalelei is unlikely to ever fully live up to his five-star billing, but the one-time Clemson QB has proven to be a steady signal-caller who shouldn't have issues keeping the rest of this offense rolling. With that being said, others are going to have to emerge, with top playmakers like Keon Coleman and Johnny Wilson off to the NFL. The defense will be hit hard by attrition up front, but the staff has done excellent work so far in the portal and on the back-end, Shyheim Brown has a chance to cement himself as one of the best in America after playing a team-high 677 snaps in 2023. 

14. Tennessee Volunteers

Volunteer fans got a sneak peek of the future in Tennessee's 35-0 dismantling of Iowa in the Cheez-It Bowl, and 2024 is likely to bring more fireworks to Knoxville. Head coach Josh Heupel has the personnel to develop one of the nation's most explosive offenses, assuming young quarterback Nico Iamaleava can grow up quickly after starting the bowl game. It's early, but Iamaleava is the most talented Tennessee quarterback since Peyton Manning, and he has two of the best wide outs in the SEC joining him in Squirrel White and Bru McCoy, who should be healthy next fall after missing a big chunk of 2023. The offense is going to have to live up to the hype, because the defense is likely to be a work in progress once again, with key transfers at all three levels. Defensive coordinator Tim Banks was considered a candidate for several head coaching vacancies over the offseason, including inside the state at Middle Tennessee, but this fall he'll have to prove his worth with so much turnover.

15. USC Trojans

After a frustrating campaign that saw the Trojans slip to 8-5 and with rumors swirling about Lincoln Riley's future, USC's offseason so far has been decidedly ... normal. Now, that could change, but Riley appears to be staying put, and made the necessary change on the defensive side of the ball by firing Alex Grinch and bringing on D'Anton Lynn from crosstown rival UCLA. Lynn will have to overhaul a unit that couldn't stop anyone in 2023 and could be in store for a rude awakening as they enter Big Ten play, although there is no shortage of talent on that side of the ball. Offensively, no coach gets more from his playmakers than Riley, although there has been some question in the early offseason on who would get the first crack at replacing Caleb Williams at quarterback. It appears like it will be Miller Moss, who has been with the program for several seasons and threw for six touchdowns in the Holiday Bowl win, but USC also brought on UNLV transfer Jayden Maiava late in the process. Maiava broke the 3,000-yard threshold playing in a fun Rebel offense this past season and was initially pledged to Georgia before a sudden flip. He's likely to push Moss into the spring and deep into fall camp, which could add a layer of intrigue to this program as they begin a new day in a new league.

16. Utah Utes

Considering the circumstances, Utah should feel proud of the fact they were able to muster together an eight-win campaign. Quarterback Cam Rising and tight end Brant Kuithe missed the entire year and tailback Micah Bernard just about, robbing the Utes of three of their most important pieces offensively. The trio is all back and hopefully healthy for 2024, but the offense is still in for an adjustment after the transfer of leading rusher Ja'Quinden Jackson. Kyle Whittingham-coached teams always play elite defense and I suspect that will be the case again this year, although there are some big names moving on, notably safeties Cole Bishop and Sione Vaki. Fortunately, there's enough returning up front to ensure the Utes remain as stout and physical as ever, which should give them a leg up on the competition in the new-look Big 12.

17. Arizona Wildcats

Arizona was one of the biggest surprises in the country in 2023, as Jedd Fisch's team won ten games in just his third season at the helm. Even so, it feels like the Wildcats and Fisch aren't getting the type of national attention they deserve, pretty remarkable considering they won one single game less than two years ago. That could change with an impressive encore in 2024, and the roster has all the makings to do just that. Quarterback Noah Fifita played a key role in Arizona's turnaround and has the opportunity to build on it in 2024, particularly with top target Tetairoa McMillan set to return. Tailback Jonah Coleman is likely to join them, giving the Wildcats plenty of weapons at the skill positions, all operating behind an offensive line set to bring back just about everyone. The defense is set to experience some turnover and roster shakeup but finished this past season strong, which is likely to provide the necessary momentum they need to thrive in their move to the Big 12. 

18. Oklahoma Sooners

Yet another team set to begin life in a new conference, Oklahoma will be eager to show what they can do in the SEC after ruling the Big 12 for most of the 2010s and early 2020s. Head coach Brent Venables oversaw healthy improvements on both sides of the ball as the Sooners went 10-3, but the coaching staff still experienced shakeup over the offseason, with OC Jeff Lebby taking the Mississippi State and Venables parting with DC Ted Roof. Oklahoma is still going to score, with Jackson Arnold set to take over for Dillon Gabriel under center, but it's the defense that is always the X-factor in Norman. It's clear Venables felt that Roof wasn't the right fit to lead the Sooner defense into this new era, but the good news is that the personnel appears in fairly good shape. Oklahoma plugged holes through the portal up front and have plenty of contributors returning in the back-seven, including linebacker Danny Stutsman, who made the surprising decision to run it back for one final go with the Sooners. Still, it will be an adjustment as OU begins an SEC schedule, loaded with a November that includes road trips to Missouri and LSU, plus a home game with Alabama, but it's Venables has enough here to keep them in the conference title mix.

19. LSU Tigers

Despite a pair of ten-win seasons to open up his tenure and a Heisman performance from Jayden Daniels, Brian Kelly didn't miss around this offseason. He fired defensive coordinator Matt House and several key assistants, and is looking at a potentially splashy offensive coordinator hire after Mike Denbrock took the same job at Notre Dame. Whoever does take over at OC may not have Jayden Daniels or superstar wide out Malik Nabers, but Garrett Nussmeier has looked impressive in relief duties and appears ready to slide into a starting role. New faces will have to emerge out wide, but Nussmeier will have the benefit of working behind one of the SEC's best offensive lines, which helped supercharge Daniels' Heisman season. Blake Baker comes over from Missouri to run the defense and will look to breath new life into a group that felt lifeless throughout most of 2023. Can he get Harold Perkins back on track after a surprisingly quiet sophomore season? Rebuilding the secondary will also be a key priority after the Tigers missed on several transfers in the defensive backfield this past offseason.

20. Liberty Flames

Liberty's inclusion into a New Year's Six bowl game as the nation's Group of Five representative was certainly controversial, and a blowout loss to Oregon in the Fiesta Bowl seemed to prove many of the detractors correct. But, that shouldn't completely erase what was all in all a very successful first season in the Conference USA, which saw the Flames win a conference title and go 13-0. The early returns from the offseason have been promising, too - head coach Jamey Chadwell remains a hot commodity in the coaching carousel but decided to stay put, while quarterback Kaidon Salter is set to return after a brief moment testing his options in the portal. The defense will undergo a bit of a rebuilding stage, but the Liberty staff has been working hard in the portal, and the secondary returns ample experience, most notably at the cornerback spots. Add in a schedule that is once again buttery soft, it's not crazy to think Liberty could be in the mix for a spot in the expanded Playoff, especially with six conference champions locking down automatic berths.

21. Kansas Jayhawks

Kansas continued on their upwards trajectory in 2023, winning nine games - which becomes even more impressive when you consider that star QB Jalon Daniels missed most of the year with a back injury. Daniels is back and should be back close to 100 percent, giving the Jayhawks one of the most exciting players in the Big 12. He'll be joined by a host of proven playmakers, including tailback Devin Neal, and wide outs Lawrence Arnold and Quentin Skinner. They give new offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes a whole lot to play with as he takes over the reigns of the offense from Andy Kotelnicki, who toook the same role at Penn State. The big news on the defense is the departure of fearsome edge rusher Austin Booker after he tallied eight sacks for the Jayhawks in 2023. Fortunately, the secondary gives this unit a good starting point, as proven corners Cobee Bryant and Mello Dotson have both announced they'll be back in Lawrence next fall.

22. Louisville Cardinals

Jeff Brohm returned to his alma mater and promptly brought them to the ACC Championship Game, and his encore campaign could be even better. New faces will take center stage offensively with Jack Plummer and Jawhar Jordan set to leave, but Brohm's work in the portal should pay immediate dividends. Expect former Oregon and Texas Tech transfer Tyler Shough to get the first crack at the starting quarterback job, while Peny Boone arrives from Toledo to bolster the running back room. The defense should return a lot and is in line for significant improvement after an up-and-down 2023 season. Defensive end Ashton Gillotte is one of the most underrated defenders anywhere in the country after tallying 11 sacks last fall.

23. Oklahoma State Cowboys

For all the changes the Big 12 has seen and is yet to see, Mike Gundy remains a constant. The Oklahoma State head man is set to begin his 20th season in charge in Stillwater in 2024, and he'll do so with the help of his star tailback, Ollie Gordon. Gordon led all FBS rushers with 1,732 yards this past season and should be considered a preseason Heisman candidate entering next year. Fortunately, Gordon is not the only key Cowboy set to return, as QB Alan Bowman was granted another season of eligibility, and all five offensive linemen are expected to return. The defense loses a couple key names from a unit that was just about average across the board in 2023, but they'll be bolstered by the return of tackling machine Nickolas Martin at linebacker, who had 140 stops this past fall.

24. Tulane Green Wave

It felt like only a matter of time before Willie Fritz was going to move on from Tulane and he decided this offseason was the one to make the jump, taking the Houston job. However, the program rebounded nicely by snagging Troy head man Jon Sumrall, a rising name in the profession who should keep the momentum going here. Sumrall got an early win when he convinced Oregon transfer Ty Thompson to head on south, giving the Green Wave a gifted signal-caller who was considered a five-star prospect by some coming out of the high school ranks. Thompson will lead the offense, while the defense is expected to be in a good spot thanks to the likely return of linebacker Jesus Machado and several others throughout the front seven. Add in the fact that SMU's departure makes the Green Wave a clear favorite in the new-look American Athletic, expect Sumrall to hit the ground running and have this team in the mix for the expanded College Football Playoff field.

25. NC State Wolfpack

Dave Doeren's NC State program just keeps on consistently winning, and they're set up to succeed once again in 2024. With Brennan Armstrong graduating and M.J. Morris transferring, it's Grayson McCall time, as the former Coastal Carolina transfer makes the jump to the ACC. McCall is a unique quarterback but an extremely accomplished one, and he'll have plenty to work with. That includes wide out Kevin Concepcion, who was a revelation as a freshman by hauling in 71 passes for 839 yards. The defense will miss two program staples in Payton Wilson and Jaylon Scott, but appears to still be in fairly good shape. The defensive line returns loads of experience and while the secondary loses several key pieces, there is help coming in through the portal.

No comments:

Theme images by LUGO. Powered by Blogger.