5 college football programs under pressure in 2024

2RX93FT Florida coach Billy Napier, right, talks with quarterback Graham Mertz during the first half of the team's NCAA college football game against Charlotte, Saturday, Sept. 23, 2023, in Gainesville, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

• Billy Napier is on the hot seat at Florida: The head coach has put together two losing seasons at the helm, and patience may run low if the Gators are to have another underwhelming campaign.

• Ohio State's “pressure” is different than the rest: Coming off an 11-2 season, the Buckeyes know what it takes to win. Now it's about ending a three-game losing streak to rival Michigan.

• Get a head start on fantasy football: Use PFF's fantasy football mock draft simulator to create real live mock draft simulations to get ready for your live draft!

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The 2024 college football season is a fresh slate for all programs, although many will be battling the same challenges of previous years. From powerhouse Ohio State to an underperforming Florida squad, we are looking at five college football teams facing pressure this season.

Florida Gators

  • 2023 record: 5-7
  • 2024 strength of schedule: 2nd

There might not be a head coach on a hotter seat than Billy Napier.

Whether expectations have been fair or not, Napier’s teams haven't lived up to their preseason hype in his first two years at Florida. The Gators have gone 11-14 in his tenure and finished with a disappointing 0.067 EPA per play in 2023, which ranked 41st in the country.

The 2024 season will present an incredible challenge for the Gators, who may have the hardest schedule in college football, going through the normal SEC gauntlet in addition to facing Miami, UCF and Florida State. Winning six games could be a significant challenge.

Florida has the talent to exceed expectations, though, with quarterback Graham Mertz coming back after a breakout season (77.9 PFF passing grade). Montrell Johnson Jr. and Eugene Wilson III, both of whom earned 80.0-plus PFF overall grades, are two top weapons looking to build on big years, as well.

Defensively, the Gators will need improvements out of cornerstone secondary pieces Jordan Castle and Jason Marshall Jr. Each recorded three pass breakups in 2023, which leads all returning defenders on the roster.

If Napier can develop his players the same way he did at Louisiana, he will undoubtedly bring Florida back to relevance before long.

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Miami (FL) Hurricanes

  • 2023 record: 7-6
  • 2024 strength of schedule: 49th

Miami and Florida are both under pressure in 2024, and they face off to open the season on Aug. 31. Winning that game will be vital to each program in 2024.

The Hurricanes have experienced recent letdowns, including two straight 3-5 conference records, but something about the 2024 team feels different. With the addition of star quarterback Cam Ward, the sky might be the limit for this offense, which also has arguably the best slot receiver in college football in Xavier Restrepo (89.0 PFF receiving grade).

For every big-time throw Ward makes, there may be a turnover-worthy play alongside it. However, if Ward can cut down on those errant throws, he will transform this offense and draw the attention of NFL scouts.

Rueben Bain Jr. was one of college football's most talented true freshman defenders in 2023, leading the team's pass rush off the edge. Bain racked up 45 pressures and nine sacks on 354 pass-rushing snaps. He is the type of freak athlete who is sure to take a massive step in his development as a pass-rusher.

Head coach Mario Cristobal has hopefully learned from his mistakes in 2023 and will make the proper adjustments en route to success in 2024.

Ohio State

  • 2023 record: 11-2
  • 2024 strength of schedule: 18th

It's hard to believe a program of Ohio State’s caliber is facing pressure. Just last year, the team earned a 92.7 PFF overall grade, the seventh-best mark in the FBS. But that’s the standard for the Buckeyes.

Losing to Michigan three years in a row is the real blemish on their resume.

Ryan Day’s seat might start to get warm if Ohio State doesn’t take down the Wolverines in 2024. It feels like a championship-or-bust type of year for the program. This is arguably the most talented roster in the country, perhaps the best team of Day’s tenure. Urban Meyer seems to believe so.

Day has done everything in his power to build an elite squad, securing transfer portal additions Caleb Downs, Quinshon Judkins, Seth McLaughlin and others. Now it’s on the players to perform.

Things could come down to quarterback play, a position where the Buckeyes have a handful of potential starters but none who have separated themselves from the pack. Aside from that, this team might not have a weakness. Anything short of hoisting a national championship trophy will be seen as a disappointment for this program.

Ole Miss

  • 2023 record: 11-2
  • 2024 strength of schedule: 34th

Lane Kiffin has brought the Rebels back into the limelight, but they have yet to get over the hump and make the College Football Playoff.

That could all change this year.

You could argue this Ole Miss team would be good enough to make a four-team playoff this season, let alone a 12-team competition. Jaxson Dart leads the way after earning the fourth-highest PFF grade in 2023 among returning quarterbacks (91.2). Wide receiver Tre Harris, who opted to return, will make life easier for Dart, given his 131.7 passer rating when targeted from last year. Harris already ranks 34th on PFF's 2025 draft board.

Kiffin also got busy in the transfer portal, bringing in two of the most sought-after defensive linemen in the SEC in Walter Nolan and Princely Umanmielen. Each recorded seven sacks a season ago at their respective schools. They will take some of the load off Jared Ivey, who was the Rebels’ best edge rusher in 2023, earning an 86.5 grade on true pass sets.

The Rebels certainly have their work cut out for them with a tough schedule, but the goal this year should be to make the College Football Playoff.

Penn State

  • 2023 record: 10-3
  • 2024 strength of schedule: 7th

Making the College Football Playoff will be an easier task in 2024 with 12 teams participating, which means there are no excuses for James Franklin and Penn State not to qualify in what feels like a make-or-break year for the program.

Quarterback Drew Allar did not progress as hoped last season in an offense that struggled to protect him and generate downfield production. Allar tallied only 12 big-time throws with an 8.0-yard average target depth on 391 attempts. He brings sky-high potential, however.

Ohio State transfer Julian Fleming, who recorded an 11.5-yard average target depth in 2023, should help Allar as his new top target. The Nittany Lions will once again rely on the defense that carried them a season ago, a unit that ranked first in the FBS in pass-rushing grade (91.5) and second in EPA per play against (-0.256). They return stars Abdul Carter and Kevin Winston Jr., who are both top-25 draft prospects on PFF's 2025 draft big board. Winston’s 92.8 PFF tackling grade led all safeties in college football, while his PFF overall grade ranked second (89.2).

We know how good the defense can be, and if Allar can improve, the offense could be what puts Penn State over the top this season. Otherwise, there could be major shake-ups coming.

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