Our early Top 25 college football rankings for the 2024 season: Georgia is No. 1, with Ohio State in close pursuit

Our early Top 25 college football rankings for the 2024 season: Georgia is No. 1, with Ohio State in close pursuit

Presenting the Hotline 17th annual Top 25 rankings for the upcoming college football season — a season that will have four power conferences, not five, and 12 playoff teams, not four.

But as was the case in 2023, transfer portal moves will have a massive impact on rosters across the sport.

The portal is currently closed to new entrants but will re-open in the spring. The forecast below will be adjusted at that time.

1. Georgia: Nothing has changed fundamentally with the Bulldogs — they simply were on the wrong end of a few plays in one game (the SEC championship) and were boxed out of the playoff as a result. More than enough talent remains in Athens for a third national championship in four years.

2. Ohio State: The balance of power in the Big Ten shifts again, aided by quarterback Will Howard’s arrival in Columbus (from Kansas State), the return of a first-rate defense and, above all, a significant departure elsewhere in the conference.

3. Florida State: No school will enter 2024 with more motivation than the Seminoles, who were spurned by the CFP selection committee and obliterated by Georgia in the Orange Bowl. And coach Mike Norvell will have a veteran quarterback to lead the vengeance tour: DJ Uiagalelei, formerly of Oregon State … and Clemson.

4. Alabama: As usual, the Crimson Tide is experiencing heavy postseason attrition (to the NFL). But the team we watched rip through the second half of the season and take down Georgia in the SEC championship will return enough pieces to remain on the sport’s highest tier. And if Jalen Milroe becomes an expert pocket passer, watch out.

5. Utah: The Hotline believes deeply that, with injuries as with turnovers, teams revert to the mean after experiencing a season that qualifies as extreme. After an injury-ravaged 2023, the Utes should have a healthier season and claim the Big 12 title. The roster and coaching staff are well positioned to dominate.

6. Notre Dame: Marcus Freeman’s second season atop the Irish program was incrementally better than the first. Look for a substantial jump in performance in Year 3 as quarterback Riley Leonard arrives from Duke. A heavy load of mediocre ACC opponents will help boost the win total.

7. Oregon: The Ducks have already answered the most pressing question about their transition to the Big Ten, landing quarterback Dillon Gabriel (from Oklahoma) weeks ago. The rest of the roster is plenty talented and should navigate the demands of the new league better than those in Seattle and Los Angeles.

8. Clemson: The season that will define coach Dabo Swinney’s future opens with Georgia on a neutral field and includes Florida State in Tallahassee. Otherwise, we don’t see many steep challenges and fully expect the Tigers to regain lost relevance.

9. Michigan: Our outlook for the Wolverines is based on the expectation of a key departure — not quarterback J.J. McCarthy but coach Jim Harbaugh, who will have several NFL offers to consider and a Super Bowl to chase. And if Harbaugh returns to Ann Arbor, we’ll reconsider Michigan’s position.

10. Mississippi: Quarterback Jaxson Dart returns after throwing 23 touchdowns and leading the Rebels to 11 wins. Whether they can match (or exceed) that victory total depends on the defense, which has added a bevy of transfers under Lane Kiffin, the self-proclaimed “Portal King.”

11. Oklahoma State: Meet the current Big 12 team that’s best equipped to deal with the new Big 12 teams and win the expanded 16-team conference. Why? Because the Cowboys have a winning culture and returning playmakers, including star tailback Ollie Gordon.

12. Texas: The weekly competition is about to get much, much more difficult for the Longhorns. Are they ready? We aren’t convinced of a return to the playoff — not even the expanded version. The defense was less than elite in 2023, and there’s a decided lack of clarity at quarterback: Quinn Ewers or Arch Manning?

13. LSU: Coach Brian Kelly has been the subject of rumors that he might leave for a vacancy at Michigan (if it materializes). Our projection here assumes Kelly returns to Baton Rouge and fields another team that’s very good but not quite stellar.

14. Arizona: Ah, the price of success: The Wildcats have already lost defensive coordinator Johnny Nansen (to Texas) and could get hit with more attrition after their 10-win season. Specifics aside, conference affiliation isn’t the only thing changing for Arizona. So, too, are the expectations.

15. Penn State: Long entrenched as the third-best team in the Big Ten, the Nittany Lions now must deal with Oregon, Washington and USC, as well. Look for a slight but noticeable backslide in State College that increases the heat on coach James Franklin.

16. Kansas: Somebody has to win the new Big 12. Somebody has to finish fourth, too — and we think that team will be Kansas, which doesn’t have the depth to stand alongside Utah, Oklahoma State and Arizona.

17. Oklahoma: The Alamo Bowl loss (to Arizona) provided a preview of what to expect from the Sooners next season and, well, we were underwhelmed. Freshman quarterback Jackson Arnold is a major talent, but OU did not look like a team ready to compete in its loaded new conference.

18. Washington: We didn’t forget about the Huskies; we just aren’t convinced they will come close to replicating the 2023 success after making the jump into the Big Ten. To be clear, Washington is not TCU — it won’t fade from relevance completely after a dream season. But a team that won so many close games is losing a substantial amount of talent and leadership. Regression is unavoidable.

19. Tennessee: Anyone who watched freshman quarterback Nico Iamaleava lead the Volunteers to a Citrus Bowl wipeout of Iowa might be wondering why they occupy such a low position in our forecast. We have three answers: Oklahoma, Alabama and Georgia. Tough to see the Vols winning more than eight.

20. Missouri: Speaking of the SEC’s supporting cast, the Tigers are tracking for another quality season with quarterback Brady Cook set to return. But is there enough quality depth to handle what just might be the greatest concentration of talent any conference has ever produced?

21. USC: Whether Miller Moss wins the starting job or Lincoln Riley turns to a transfer quarterback, the Trojans will score plenty of points. Can they stop anyone? The arrival of new defensive coordinator D’Anton Lynn from UCLA was a big step in that direction.

Related Articles

College Sports |

Bowl season winners and losers: It’s all about the Big Ten (and SEC)

College Sports |

My final AP Top 25 ballot: Michigan on top, followed by Alabama

College Sports |

Pac-12 MBB power ratings: Oregon, ASU jump after weekend sweeps

College Sports |

Pac-12 WBB roundup: Arizona topples Utah as four ranked teams roll

College Sports |

Pac-12 MBB rewind: Oregon, ASU sweep as UCLA’s losses mount

22. Boise State: Given all the changes and instability throughout the Mountain West, we expect the Broncos to pick up where they left off in late 2023 under then-interim, now-permanent coach Spencer Danielson and control the conference race.

23. West Virginia: The Mountaineers were under the radar in 2023 despite winning nine games and the Mayo Bowl. (How could anyone overlook the Mayo Bowl?) Look for more of the same success now that Neal Brown has found his blueprint.

24. Wisconsin: The first season of the Luke Fickell era was a tad underwhelming (seven wins). We expect the second to reflect improvement. And if it doesn’t, there surely will be grumbling about the third.

25. Louisville: In January 2018, heralded quarterback recruit Tyler Shough enrolled at Oregon. One pandemic, three schools and six seasons later, Shough will play his final college season — but his first for the Cardinals. Can coach Jeff Brohm work his magic once again?

*** Send suggestions, comments and tips (confidentiality guaranteed) to [email protected] or call 408-920-5716

*** Follow me on Twitter: @WilnerHotline

*** Pac-12 Hotline is not endorsed or sponsored by the Pac-12 Conference, and the views expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the views of the Conference.