The curtain fell on the four-team College Football Playoff in Houston on Monday night, and it more than delivered in its last season with two nail-biting semifinals that weren't decided until the final play and enough controversy to make even Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh raise an eyebrow.
The 2024 season will arrive with a seismic shift that includes even more conference realignment and a bigger (and supposedly better) 12-team CFP format. That will surely make everyone in Florida happy, right?
As we bid adieu to college football's familiar landscape and embark on an even more uncertain future, let's take a sneak peek at the inaugural edition of the 2024 Way-Too-Early Top 25:
2023 record: 13-1, 8-0 SEC
2024 outlook: After narrowly missing out on the College Football Playoff for the third straight season, the Bulldogs reloaded with another No. 1-ranked recruiting class and blasted Florida State 63-3 in the Capital One Orange Bowl. Georgia has won 30 of its past 31 games and 46 of 48. The winning might not slow down with starting quarterback Carson Beck opting to return for his senior season. His experience will be invaluable during a 2024 schedule that kicks off with a high-stakes opener against Clemson in Atlanta. Georgia's demanding slate includes SEC road games at Kentucky, Alabama, Texas and Ole Miss. Replacing Bowers and McConkey presents a challenge, but the Bulldogs have stockpiled tight ends and receivers. Adding Etienne, who ran for 1,472 yards with 14 touchdowns at Florida the past two seasons combined, was important with Edwards and Kendall Milton departing. Developing depth in the interior defensive line and in the secondary will be a priority in the spring.
2023 record: 12-2, 8-1 Big 12
2024 outlook: The Longhorns are back. Texas turned the corner under coach Steve Sarkisian in 2023, winning the Big 12 in its last season in the league and reaching the CFP for the first time. The Longhorns could return as many as four starting offensive linemen, reinforcing the team's strength up front. The task of identifying capable replacements for key players like Sweat and Murphy on the defensive line takes center stage in the spring. Quarterback Quinn Ewers has a decision to make regarding the NFL draft. If he returns, Ewers will have to find new go-to targets with Mitchell, Worthy and Sanders all expected leaving for the NFL. The Longhorns play at Michigan on Sept. 7 and face Oklahoma in Dallas and Georgia at home in consecutive weeks in October, before closing the regular season at Texas A&M on Nov. 30. Welcome to the SEC.
3. Oregon Ducks
2023 record: 12-2, 8-1 Pac-12
2024 outlook: Oregon's Dan Lanning has done a commendable job in his first two seasons as a head coach, guiding the Ducks to a 21-5 record and signing ESPN's No. 3-ranked recruiting class in 2024. But three of Oregon's five losses under Lanning came against rival Washington, and with both programs transitioning to the Big Ten, Lanning and his staff have to figure out how to get over that particular hump. Adding Gabriel, who threw for 3,660 yards with 30 touchdowns and six interceptions at Oklahoma in 2023, was big after losing Nix. UCLA transfer Moore, the No. 2 pocket passer in the 2023 ESPN 300, might be Oregon's quarterback of the future. Savage, who had 115 tackles and six interceptions at Kansas State the past two seasons, will help offset the loss of three starters in the secondary. Oregon plays at Michigan on Nov. 2 and gets Ohio State and Washington at home.
2023 record: 12-2, 8-0 SEC West
2024 outlook: Just when it seemed the Alabama dynasty might be fading, Nick Saban pulled off one of his better coaching jobs and guided the Crimson Tide to another SEC championship and CFP appearance. Quarterback Jalen Milroe, benched in the third game of the season, became one of the better dual-threat passers by season's end. He needs to continue to develop as a decision-maker. The offensive line, to which guards Tyler Booker and Jaeden Roberts and left tackle Kadyn Proctor are expected to return, remains a liability at times. There's a lot of firepower expected to depart on defense, especially Turner, Braswell and Eboigbe. The transfer portal additions of Overton (Texas A&M) and Jackson (USC) might help fill some of those holes. Alabama plays road games at Wisconsin, Tennessee, LSU and Oklahoma in 2024. A Sept. 28 home game against Georgia will loom large.
2023 record: 11-2, 8-1 Big Ten
2024 outlook: Ryan Day has done solid work as Ohio State's coach since taking over for Urban Meyer in 2019. The Buckeyes are 53-8 the past five seasons, winning two Big Ten titles and reaching the CFP three times. But after a third consecutive defeat to rival Michigan, followed by a listless 14-3 loss to Missouri in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic, the pressure is building. McCord transferred to Syracuse, and Day went into the portal to land former Kansas State starting quarterback Howard, who threw for 48 touchdowns and 5,786 yards over four seasons with the Wildcats. Noland, from Fairburn, Georgia, was the No. 2 pocket passer in the 2024 ESPN 300. Improving the offensive line is also a priority. Ohio State's schedule in 2024 includes home games against Iowa and Michigan and road contests at Oregon and Penn State.
2023 record: 15-0, 9-0 Big Ten
Expected key losses: QB J.J. McCarthy, RB Blake Corum, RB Donovan Edwards, OT LaDarius Henderson, G Trevor Keegan, G Zak Zinter, C Drake Nugent, WR Roman Wilson, LB Michael Barrett, CB Mike Sainristil
2024 outlook: After returning to the CFP for the third straight year, there will be a lot of uncertainty surrounding the Michigan program heading into the offseason. Will coach Jim Harbaugh sign a contract extension at his alma mater or jump back to the NFL? The Wolverines have already received a notice of allegations from the NCAA regarding alleged recruiting violations and there's a separate NCAA investigation into the program's alleged sign stealing. Harbaugh might face another suspension in 2024 if he returns. On the field, the Wolverines are going to lose a boatload of talent, especially if McCarthy and Edwards leave for the NFL draft. The offensive line will have to be rebuilt and key pieces will also have to be replaced on defense. The Wolverines play one of the most difficult schedules in the FBS next season with home games against Texas, USC and Oregon and road games at Washington and Ohio State.
2023 record: 11-2, 6-2 SEC
Expected key additions: DT Walter Nolen, DE Princely Umanmielen, WR Antwane Wells Jr., DE Tyler Baron, G Gerquan Scott, S Key Lawrence, LB Chris Paul Jr., CB Tahveon Nicholson, S Louis Moore, WR Deion Smith
2024 outlook: After taking Ole Miss to the first 11-win campaign in the 118-year history of the program, Lane Kiffin's team might be poised to run it back in 2024, especially with quarterback Jaxson Dart deciding to return for another season. Unexpectedly losing Judkins to the transfer portal hurts, and a couple of receivers also have decisions to make on whether or not they'll enter the NFL draft, but the Rebels should be explosive again on offense either way. There will be some key losses on defense: Johnson (5½ sacks) announced he's leaving, along with three starters in the secondary. But Kiffin, the self-proclaimed "Portal King," has added a dozen transfers (and counting). Umanmielen had seven sacks at Florida in 2023; Nolen was the No. 1 prospect in the 2022 ESPN 300 when he signed with Texas A&M. The Rebels will play their two toughest opponents, Oklahoma and Georgia, at home in 2024.
Brady Cook throws a 42-yard touchdown pass to Luther Burden.
2023 record: 11-2, 6-2 SEC
2024 outlook: After the Tigers went 6-7 in 2022, coach Eli Drinkwitz seemed to be on the hot seat entering 2023. Not anymore. Missouri's patience was rewarded with an 11-win season and a victory over Ohio State in the Cotton Bowl. With quarterback Brady Cook and receiver Luther Burden III returning, the Tigers figure to be a legitimate CFP contender in 2024. They'll have to replace some key starters on defense -- Harper was a Butkus Award finalist and Abrams-Draine and Rakestraw were two of the best cornerbacks in the SEC. The Tigers will also lose Schrader, the leading rusher in the FBS with 125.2 yards per game. Carroll ran for 1,350 yards with 13 touchdowns at Georgia State last year. Pride (Clemson), Smith (Georgia) and McClellan (Florida) were key pickups through the portal as well. Nwaneri was the No. 1 defensive end prospect in the country, according to ESPN recruiting. Losing defensive coordinator Blake Baker to LSU hurts.
2023 record: 10-3, 7-2 Pac-12
2024 outlook: It has been quite a turnaround for the Wildcats under coach Jedd Fisch. After going 1-11 in 2021, Arizona won 10 games by defeating Oklahoma 38-24 in the Valero Alamo Bowl. The Wildcats will take a seven-game winning streak into 2024, when they jump from the Pac-12 to the Big 12. They'll be among the favorites in their first season in their new league. The bulk of Arizona's starters this past season were underclassmen, so there's plenty of talent returning. Noah Fifita was one of the top freshman quarterbacks in the FBS, and one of his favorite targets, receiver Tetairoa McMillan, is also coming back. Four starters could also return on the offensive line, although left tackle Morgan will be missed. Upshaw had 8.5 sacks in 2023 and left a big hole on the edge. Arizona's 2024 schedule is manageable with Big 12 road games at BYU, Utah, TCU and UCF.
2023 record: 10-3
2024 outlook: The Fighting Irish won 19 games in coach Marcus Freeman's first two seasons, and big changes are coming on offense in 2024. Offensive coordinator Gerad Parker left to become Troy's coach. Freeman replaced him with LSU's Mike Denbrock, whose Tigers unit led the FBS in scoring and yards per game in 2023. Leonard, who accounted for 43 touchdowns the past three seasons at Duke, was added to replace Hartman. The Irish landed Mitchell (Florida International) and Collins (Clemson) to shore up what was an underwhelming receiver corps. Mitchell led Conference USA in receiving yards last season, while Collins had 510 receiving yards and three touchdowns with the Tigers. Finding replacements for both starting offensive tackles and Estime (1,341 rushing yards with 18 touchdowns) will be priorities in the spring. The good news: Several defensive starters, including tackles Howard Cross III and Rylie Mills, linebacker Jack Kiser and safety Xavier Watts, announced they're coming back.
2023 record: 14-1, 9-0 Pac-12
2024 outlook: There's no question the Huskies are going to take a step back after a magical season in 2023, but there's no way Washington's program is going to fall off a cliff under coach Kalen DeBoer, who seemingly does nothing but win. Losing Penix and perhaps his top three receivers will leave a Lake Washington-sized hole on offense. The Huskies added Rogers, who is Mississippi State's all-time leading passer with 12,315 yards and 94 touchdowns. Hunter had 143 receptions for 2,056 yards with 13 touchdowns the past three seasons at California. Green, a transfer from Arizona State, had 11.5 tackles for loss and six sacks in 2023. His pass-rushing skills will be needed with Trice probably departing. The Huskies play road games at Iowa, Penn State and Oregon and face Michigan, USC and UCLA at home during their maiden Big Ten campaign.
2023 record: 10-3, 7-2 Big Ten
2024 outlook: It seemed the Nittany Lions missed a chance in 2023 to challenge Michigan and Ohio State in the Big Ten East with one of the better defenses in the FBS. But Penn State's passing game wasn't good enough -- it ranked 80th in the FBS with 215 passing yards per contest. Coach James Franklin brought in former Kansas offensive coordinator Andy Kotelnicki to jump-start his attack. There are some nice pieces coming back in quarterback Drew Allar, running backs Nicholas Singleton and Kaytron Allen and tight end Tyler Warren. Both starting offensive tackles will have to be replaced, and the receiver room needs a serious upgrade. Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz left to become Duke's head coach and was replaced with former Indiana coach Tom Allen. The Nittany Lions will miss their two departing lockdown cornerbacks, but there's enough talent returning for Allen to be successful in his first season.
13. Utah Utes
2023 record: 8-5, 5-4 Pac-12
2024 outlook: Injuries derailed the Utes this past season, as quarterback Cameron Rising and tight end Brant Kuithe missed the entire campaign while recovering from knee injuries and tailback Micah Bernard missed all but two games with an injury. The Utes struggled with consistency on offense and lost four of their last six games, including a 14-7 defeat against Northwestern in the SRS Distribution Las Vegas Bowl. There's hope that Kuithe and Bernard might return with Rising in 2024, when Utah jumps to the Big 12. Four sophomores and one freshman started on the offensive line in the bowl game. Jackson, the team's leading rusher with 797 yards, entered the transfer portal, as did backup quarterbacks Barnes and Johnson. Three starters will have to be replaced in the secondary.
14. LSU Tigers
2023 record: 10-3, 6-2 SEC
2024 outlook: The Tigers won 10 games in each of Brian Kelly's first two seasons in Baton Rouge. They didn't take advantage of having Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Jayden Daniels this past season, as the defense allowed at least 42 points in three losses. Now, Daniels is off to the NFL draft. He accounted for 95% of LSU's passing yards and 44.3% of its rushing yards before its bowl game. Daniels was responsible for 50 total touchdowns. The good news for Kelly is that heir apparent Garrett Nussmeier, who waited three years for the starting job, seems more than ready to take over. He was MVP of the ReliaQuest Bowl after passing for 395 yards with three scores in a 35-31 victory over Wisconsin. He won't have Nabers and Thomas, who are potential first-round picks. Shoring up LSU's defense will be a focus in the spring. Kelly cleaned house by moving on from coordinator/linebackers coach Matt House, safeties coach Kerry Cooks, cornerbacks coach Robert Steeples and defensive line coach Jimmy Lindsey. Hiring Baker from SEC opponent Missouri was a boss move.
15. Oklahoma Sooners
2023 record: 10-3, 7-2 Big 12
Expected key additions: DT David Stone, RB Taylor Tatum, TE Davon Mitchell, OT Spencer Brown, CB Dezjhon Malone, WR Deion Burks, RB Samuel Franklin, TE Bauer Sharp, G Febechi Nwaiwu, DE Caiden Woullard
2024 outlook: The Sooners made good progress in coach Brent Venables' second season, improving from 6-7 to 10-3 and knocking off Texas 34-30 in the Red River Rivalry. Losing Gabriel, a two-year starter who threw for 6,828 passing yards and 73 total touchdowns in Norman, was a big blow. Freshman Jackson Arnold, a former five-star recruit, is next in line. He has all the tools but needs to cut down on mistakes. Four of five starting offensive linemen will have to be replaced, along with Stoops, the leading receiver. The Sooners added Brown, a two-year starter at Michigan State, and Nwaiwu, a starter at North Texas, to help fill holes up front. Malone was an honorable mention All-Mountain West selection at San Diego State and might shore up a pass defense that needs help. Venables parted ways with defensive coordinator Ted Roof and replaced him with Jacksonville State's Zac Alley.
2023 record: 13-1, 8-0 ACC
2024 outlook: The Seminoles will have to do some self-examination after their 60-point loss in the Orange Bowl, the worst defeat in program history. The Seminoles were missing 30 players who were injured, opted out or entered the transfer portal. The sting of going undefeated and being left out of the CFP will probably linger for a while. Coach Mike Norvell and his staff have to pick up the pieces with many of their best players moving on. Uiagalelei will have the unenviable job of replacing Travis. DJU started 40 career games at Clemson and Oregon State and had a 30-10 record with 8,319 passing yards and 57 touchdowns. The Seminoles picked up a big addition on defense in Jones, a former Georgia linebacker whose father was an All-American at FSU. There are going to be many new faces on both sides of the ball in 2024.
2023 record: 9-4, 4-4 SEC
2024 outlook: Volunteers fans got a sneak peek into the future in a 35-0 rout of Iowa in the Cheez-It Citrus Bowl. With Milton opting out of the bowl game, freshman Nico Iamaleava got the start. He completed 12 of 19 passes for 151 yards with one touchdown and three more scores rushing. The Los Angeles native was the No. 4 pocket passer in the 2023 ESPN 300. There are solid receivers returning in Squirrel White, Bru McCoy and Brazzell, who was Tulane's leading pass-catcher in 2023. It will also help that center Cooper Mays and tackles John Campbell Jr. and Gerald Mincey are coming back. Shoring up the secondary will be a priority in the spring after six defensive backs entered the transfer portal.
Ollie Gordon breaks off 25-yard rush
2023 record: 10-4, 7-2 Big 12
2024 outlook: The Cowboys got the last laugh on rival Oklahoma in the Sooners' final season in the Big 12. The Pokes won the last Bedlam game for the foreseeable future, reached the Big 12 championship game and defeated Texas A&M 31-23 in the TaxAct Texas Bowl. With Oklahoma and Texas moving on, Oklahoma State could challenge Arizona and Utah for supremacy in the revamped league. Tailback Ollie Gordon II, FBS' leading rusher with 1,732 yards in 2023, is coming back. So are all five starting offensive linemen, leading receiver Brennan Presley and quarterback Alan Bowman, who was given an NCAA waiver to play a seventh season. The Pokes play Big 12 road games at Baylor, BYU, Colorado, Kansas State and TCU in 2024.
19. Clemson Tigers
2023 record: 9-4, 4-4 ACC
2024 outlook: The current state of Clemson football can be perceived as both a glass half-full and half-empty. The Tigers won nine games in 2023 for the 13th season in a row, and they'll probably finish in the top 25 of the final AP poll for the 13th consecutive season as well. That being said, they were 4-4 at the end of October and out of the CFP race for the third straight season. If the Tigers are going to return to the sport's upper echelon in 2024, quarterback Cade Klubnik must continue to improve, and coach Dabo Swinney needs to find some weapons. Shipley entered the NFL draft, and Collins, the team's second-leading receiver, transferred to Notre Dame. Hiring former Ole Miss coach Matt Luke to coach the offensive line should help an inconsistent unit. The Tigers lost a handful of players to the transfer portal but haven't added any yet.
2023 record: 9-4, 6-2 ACC
2024 outlook: The Wolfpack navigated their way through a quarterback mess throughout the 2023 season, but still had a chance to win 10 games. NC State coach Dave Doeren may have found an answer to his quarterback problem next season by bringing in former Coastal Carolina starter McCall, who passed for more than 10,000 yards with 106 total touchdowns with the Chanticleers. The Wolfpack also signed Waters, who was Duke's leading rusher with 819 yards and 12 scores in 2023. Correll was a three-year starting center at Notre Dame. The Wolfpack will have to find replacements for Wilson and Scott, who combined to make 213 tackles last season. There are also holes to fill in the secondary.
2023 record: 9-4, 6-3 Big 12
2024 outlook: The Wildcats came painfully close to putting together another magical run under coach Chris Klieman. They lost four games by a total of 21 points, including a 30-27 loss at Missouri and 33-30 defeat in overtime at Texas. Now, Kansas State will have to move forward without Howard, who left for Ohio State, and former offensive coordinator Collin Klein, who left for Texas A&M. Klieman promoted offensive line coach Conor Riley to co-offensive coordinator and hired former Texas Tech coach Matt Wells to work with him. The offense seems to be in good hands with quarterback Avery Johnson, who threw for two touchdowns and ran for another one in a 28-19 victory over NC State in the Pop-Tarts Bowl. Four starting offensive linemen will have to be replaced, including Beebe, an All-American.
2023 record: 10-4, 7-1 ACC
2024 outlook: Kiffin might be the "king of the transfer portal," but Louisville's Jeff Brohm isn't doing too bad in landing impact transfers, either. The Cardinals will add at least 17 transfers, including several on offense who might jump-start their inconsistent passing game. Shough turns 25 in September and will be playing his seventh season of college football. He is 13-7 as a starter at Oregon and Texas Tech. Brooks (Alabama) and Lacy (South Alabama) were big additions at receiver, as were Redman and Koziol at tight end. Boone was the MAC Offensive Player of the Year in 2023, rushing for 1,400 yards and 15 touchdowns. Much of the defense is expected to return intact, led by ends Ashton Gillotte (11 sacks) and Mason Reiger (five sacks). Griffith, an FCS All-America defensive tackle at Harvard, had 11 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks in 2023.
Jalon Daniels connects with Jared Casey for Jayhawks TD in OT
23. Kansas Jayhawks
2023 record: 9-4, 5-4 Big 12
2024 outlook: Lance Leipold has done tremendous work at Kansas, leading the Jayhawks to consecutive bowl games and their first postseason victory since 2008, a 49-36 win against UNLV in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl. Now, Kansas could be on the verge of even bigger things in 2024 -- if quarterback Jalon Daniels can recover from a back injury. The Jayhawks will have to do some work in the trenches, with three starting offensive linemen departing, along with Booker, the top pass-rusher. However, leading rusher Devin Neal, top receivers Lawrence Arnold, Quentin Skinner and Luke Grimm are all returning. Former BYU and Baylor offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes was hired to replace Kotelnicki.
24. SMU Mustangs
2023 record: 11-3, 8-0 AAC
2024 outlook: The Mustangs had quite a swan song in the American Athletic Conference, winning a conference title and putting together their best season since Eric Dickerson and Craig James were part of the "Pony Express" backfield in 1982. Now, the Mustangs will try to transition that success to the ACC. Starting quarterback Preston Stone, who broke his left leg and didn't play in the AAC championship game or bowl game, is coming back. So are running back Jaylan Knighton and potentially four starting offensive linemen. Getting defensive end Elijah Roberts (9.5 sacks in 2023) to return was also another coup for coach Rhett Lashlee. The Mustangs will need to find two new starting cornerbacks in the spring and shore up the interior defensive line.
25. Iowa Hawkeyes
2023 record: 10-4, 7-2 Big Ten
2024 outlook: Hear me out: Iowa averaged 15.4 points per game in 2023, which ranked 132nd out of 133 FBS teams (only Kent State was worse) in scoring offense. The Hawkeyes somehow managed to win 10 games and capture a Big Ten West title. Sure, they were shut out in their final two games, falling to Michigan 26-0 in the Big Ten championship game and to Tennessee 35-0 in the Cheez-It Citrus Bowl. It was the first time Iowa had been shut out in consecutive games since 1966. Don't forget Iowa played its final nine games without starting quarterback Cade McNamara, who tore an ACL on Sept. 30. So, if coach Kirk Ferentz can hire the right offensive coordinator to replace his son, Brian, things have to get better, right? A handful of six-year seniors, including cornerback Jermari Harris and linebacker Jay Higgins, have already announced they're coming back. The bad news: Taylor is departing after setting an NCAA record for punting yards in a season with 4,479.