College News & Analysis

College Football: Updated way-too-early top-25 rankings for 2024

2WAD2XX MIAMI GARDENS, FL - DECEMBER 30: Georgia quarterback Carson Beck (15) throws the football on the field as he warms up during the Capital One Orange Bowl college football game between the Georgia Bulldogs and the Florida State Seminoles on December 30, 2023 at the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, FL. (Photo by Doug Murray/Icon Sportswire) (Icon Sportswire via AP Images)

• Georgia leads the way: Led by the best returning quarterback in college football, the Bulldogs are the early favorite to win their third national championship in four years.

• Ohio State is a close second: After dominating the offseason, the Buckeyes are closely behind Georgia in this ranking.

• Draft and trade for yourself: Try PFF's Mock Draft Simulator — trade picks and players and mock for your favorite NFL team.

Estimated reading time: 15 minutes

The offseason is a myth.

Even though zero games have been played since our last way-too-early ranking, that initial list now seems laughably outdated. Players have since declared for the 2024 NFL Draft, coaches have taken jobs elsewhere and the transfer portal has shaken up the entire college football landscape. 

Now that things have quietened down (for now), here is our updated look at the top 25 teams in college football for the 2024 season.

Last updated: 5:00 a.m. EST on Thursday, Feb. 22

1. Georgia Bulldogs (2023 Record: 13-1, Won Orange Bowl)

While the Bulldogs couldn’t three-peat his season, they should be the current favorites to take home the national title in 2024. The biggest reason for that is the return of quarterback Carson Beck, our top-ranked returning quarterback. Beck earned a 90.7 passing grade last season, the fourth-best mark in the country.

Georgia also dipped into the transfer portal to add former Florida running back Trevor Etienne, whose 5.8 yards per carry tied for third among SEC running backs in 2023.

The Bulldogs will lose some key pieces in tight end Brock Bowers, cornerback Kamari Lassiter and offensive tackle Amarius Mims. However, head coach Kirby Smart has proven that this program simply reloads, not rebuilds.

2. Ohio State Buckeyes (2023 Record: 11-2, Lost Cotton Bowl)

Ohio State has won the offseason. No team has come close to doing what the Buckeyes have done so far.

First, the program will bring back many key contributors who could have declared for the 2024 NFL Draft. Wide receiver Emeka Egbuka, running back TreVeyon Henderson, edge defender Jack Sawyer, edge defender JT Tuimoloau, interior defensive lineman Tyleik Williams and cornerback Denzel Burke will all return and make a push for a national title in 2024.

The team also picked up a couple of superstars in the transfer portal in Ole Miss running back Quinshon Judkins and Alabama safety Caleb Downs. Judkins is my No. 2 returning running back, while Downs will be my top returning safety. The addition of former Kansas State quarterback Will Howard will also bolster the squad, with Howard's 78.4 PFF grade good for fifth among Big 12 signal-callers last season.

To round it all out, head coach Ryan Day made one of the biggest hires of the offseason by luring Chip Kelly away from UCLA to serve as the Buckeyes' offensive coordinator.

It’s national Championship or bust for the Buckeyes in 2024.

3. Oregon Ducks (2023 Record: 12-2, Won Fiesta Bowl)

Even with former quarterback Bo Nix moving on to the NFL, Oregon should be one of the top Big Ten contenders next season. And that’s because the Ducks added the top quarterback in the transfer portal, Oklahoma’s Dillon Gabriel.

Gabriel's 91.6 grade a season ago is the highest among returning FBS quarterbacks and only trailed Jayden Daniels, Bo Nix and Michael Penix Jr over the campaign. Oregon also added another top signal-caller in UCLA’s Dante Moore, a former five-star recruit who put up a 6.4% big-time throw rate as a true freshman last season that ranked third among Pac-12 quarterbacks.

Gabriel will be throwing to college football’s best receiving duo in 2023. Tez Johnson and Texas A&M transfer Evan Stewart were the only duo to crack the top-10 of my wide receiver rankings.

The Ducks also feature one of the nation’s best offensive tackles in Ajani Cornelius and picked up one of the best cornerbacks in the country in Washington’s Jabbar Muhammad.

4. Texas Longhorns (2023 Record: 12-2, Lost CFP Semifinal)

Texas welcomes back Quinn Ewers, a top-five returning quarterback. Ewers led the Longhorns to a Big 12 title and College Football Playoff berth this past season after losing the gunslinger mentality (and the mullet) that hindered his development in 2022. He cut his turnover-worthy play rate by more than half (1.7% in 2023 compared to 3.6% in 2022) and upgraded his PFF passing grade to an 85.6 mark after earning just a 70.9 PFF passing grade as a redshirt freshman.

He’ll be surrounded by a new set of skill-position players in 2024, as Texas lost nearly all its top weapons to the NFL Draft. The Longhorns did bring in some pass-catchers through the transfer portal to make up for the loss in former Alabama receiver Isaiah Bond, Oregon State receiver Silas Bolden, Houston receiver Matthew Golden and Alabama tight end Amari Niblack.

If Texas is going to make the leap next season, it’ll be because of its redshirt junior signal-caller.

5. Alabama Crimson Tide (2023 Record: 12-2, Lost CFP Semifinal)

No program has had a more tumultuous offseason than Alabama. Nick Saban, the greatest coach in college football history, shocked the sports world by announcing his retirement from the sport. Replacing him will be Kalen DeBoer, who led Washington to the national championship game this past season.

The Crimson Tide then lost 28 players to the transfer portal, many of whom were key pieces for the program. But what should keep Crimson Tide fans optimistic is the partnership between DeBoer and quarterback Jalen Milroe, a top-three returning quarterback in college football.

If DeBoer can take advantage of Milroe’s freakish tools and help him reach his ceiling — just as he did with Michael Penix Jr. — a Heisman Trophy and SEC championship could be in the cards.

6. Ole Miss Rebels (2023 Record: 11-2, Won Peach Bowl)

The Rebels’ 2024 hype took a major blow as star running back Quinton Judkins transferred to Ohio State. However, Ole Miss should still be considered a legitimate national championship contender next season.

Even without Judkins, the Rebels bring back a ton of firepower on offense in quarterback Jaxson Dart, wide receiver Tre Harris and tight end Caden Prieskorn. All are among the best returning players at their respective positions.

Head coach Lane Kiffin also completely rebuilt his defense by attacking the transfer portal better than anyone else. The Rebels brought in nine defenders who all saw significant playing time for their respective Power Five schools this past season, headlined by Florida edge defender Princely Umanmielen and Texas A&M interior defensive lineman Walter Nolen.

7. Michigan Wolverines (2023 Record: 15-0, Won National Championship)

It may seem strange to have the defending national champion this low in a ranking for the following season. However, that’s just a product of the attrition Michigan’s program underwent this offseason.

Head coach Jim Harbaugh made his long-awaited return to the NFL, accepting the Los Angeles Chargers job. He takes defensive coordinator Jesse Minter, one of the brightest young stars in the sport, with him.

Offensive coordinator Sherrone Moore takes over as the permanent head coach after going 4-0 as the interim this past season, a stretch that included victories over Ohio State and Penn State.

Michigan will also have a new quarterback in 2024 after losing J.J. McCarthy to the NFL. The competition will come down to seventh-year player Jack Tuttle, junior Jayden Denegal, redshirt sophomore Alex Orji or incoming freshman Jadyn Davis.

Despite so much turnover, the Wolverines still return some stars like tight end Colston Loveland, interior defensive lineman Mason Graham and cornerback Will Johnson. All three are the top returning players at their respective positions.

8. Notre Dame Fighting Irish (2023 Record: 10-3, Won Sun Bowl)

After finishing fifth in the nation in defensive EPA per play, Notre Dame should once again field one of the top defenses in the country next season. Linebacker Jack Kiser and interior defensive lineman Howard Cross III will return and were each among the three highest-graded players at their respective positions this season. Safety Xavier Watts is back, too, after winning the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, given to the best defender in the country. He led the nation with seven interceptions this year. Benjamin Morrison will enter his junior year as one of the best returning cornerbacks in college football.

The Fighting Irish will have a completely different offense in 2024, but there is some optimism with the hire of LSU offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock and the arrival of Duke quarterback Riley Leonard.

9. Missouri Tigers (2023 Record: 11-2, Won Cotton Bowl)

Missouri was one of the biggest surprises of the 2023 season, winning its first New Year’s Six bowl in 10 years. It was also the first winning year for the Tigers since the 2018 season.

A major reason for Mizzou’s resurgence was its offense, which finished as the Power Five’s 14th-best in EPA per play after placing 56th in that metric just last year. The Tigers have many key contributors returning to that offense, like offensive coordinator Kirby Moore, quarterback Brady Cook, wide receiver Luther Burden III and center Connor Tollison. Burden and Tollison, in particular, were among the six highest-graded Power Five players at their respective positions this year.

10. Penn State Nittany Lions (2023 Record: 10-3, Lost Peach Bowl)

Unlike the three Big Ten teams above them on this list, the Nittany Lions won’t need to replace their starting quarterback. While Drew Allar often drew the ire of the PSU faithful, he was far from the biggest problem with Penn State’s offense this year. The sophomore’s 87.1 grade was a top-20 mark among FBS quarterbacks, while the Nittany Lions finished outside the top-55 teams in both receiving (81st) and pass-blocking (60th) grades this year.

Help is on the way in both aspects, as Penn State picked up a couple of former five-star recruits in the transfer portal: wide receiver Julian Fleming (Ohio State) and offensive tackle Nolan Rucci (Wisconsin). The Nittany Lions also have a new offensive coordinator in Kansas’ Andy Kotelnicki to help Allar fully unlock his potential.

11. Utah Utes (2023 Record: 8-5, Lost Las Vegas Bowl)

Utah was able to go 8-5 in 2023 without its two best offensive players in quarterback Cameron Rising and tight end Brant Kuithe. Rising’s 86.1 grade across the 2021 and 2022 seasons was a top-20 mark among Power Five quarterbacks, while Kuithe’s 305 yards after the catch in 2021 were fifth among Power Five tight ends.

With both returning in 2024 and head coach Kyle Whittingham consistently producing elite defenses, the Utes should be one of the top contenders in the new-look Big 12 next year.

12. Clemson Tigers (2023 Record: 9-4, Won Gator Bowl)

Clemson’s defense carried them in 2023, tying for second in the nation in overall grade and placing third in expected points allowed per play. That side of the ball should remain elite next year. Four true freshmen on the Tigers’ defense earned 75-plus grades this year on at least 300 snaps: interior defensive lineman Peter Woods, safety Khalil Barnes, cornerback Avieon Terrell and edge defender T.J. Parker. Barrett Carter also announced his return for his senior season despite being projected as one of the top linebacker prospects in the 2024 NFL Draft.

The question is whether the offense can keep up. Despite the hype on that side of the ball with the partnership of Broyles Award-winning offensive coordinator Garrett Riley and five-star quarterback Cade Klubnik, Clemson still tied for 89th in the FBS in offensive grade. They’ll need to make serious strides in Year 2 to win the ACC and secure a spot in the 12-team playoff.

13. Louisville Cardinals (2023 Record: 10-4, Lost Holiday Bowl)

Year one of the Jeff Brohm era couldn’t have gone much better. Louisville enjoyed its first 10-win season in a decade while playing in its first-ever ACC Championship Game.

Expectations should be similarly high next year. Ashton Gillotte is back after being one of only three Power Five edge defenders with 80-plus pass-rushing and run-defense grades. The Cardinals were also one of the top teams in the transfer portal, adding top players like wide receiver Caullin Lacy and cornerback Corey Thornton, amongst others.

14. Arizona Wildcats (2023 Record: 10-3, Won Alamo Bowl)

Arizona might’ve had an even more surprising season than Missouri. The Wildcats finished with a 10-3 record after five straight losing years. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, head coach Jedd Fisch left Tucson to take the Washington job. San Jose State coach Brent Brennan will replace Fisch at Arizona and has two stars on offense to rely on.

Noah Fifita is back to lead it and finished with a 78.1% adjusted completion rate this year, fourth among Pac-12 quarterbacks. Fifita’s top receiver since eighth grade, Tetairoa McMillan, is also back. His 1,396 receiving yards this year led all returning Power Five receivers.

15. Florida State Seminoles (2023 Record: 13-1, Lost Orange Bowl)

Like Washington, Florida State is losing most of the top talent that led the Seminoles to a 13-0 record before being controversially snubbed from the College Football Playoff. One of those losses was quarterback Jordan Travis, whose season-ending leg injury was the reason that FSU was left out of the playoff in the first place.

Florida State was able to make a splash in the portal to replace him, with Oregon State’s DJ Uiagalelei rejoining the ACC after once serving as Clemson’s starter. His 6.5% big-time throw rate trailed only Michael Penix Jr. among Pac-12 quarterbacks.

16. Tennessee Volunteers (2023 Record: 9-4, Won Citrus Bowl)

Tennessee fans enjoyed a glimpse into the future in its 35-0 blowout win over No. 20 Iowa in the Citrus Bowl. True freshman Nico Iamaleava made his debut in the contest and showed every bit of the talent that made him a top-10 recruit. He finished with an 85.0 passing grade against one of the nation’s best defenses.

On the other side of the ball, the Volunteers feature a potential top-five pick in the 2025 NFL Draft in edge defender James Pearce Jr. The sophomore’s 21.3% pressure rate trailed only Laiatu Latu among Power Five edges, while his 21.9% pass-rush win rate was fifth in the nation.

17. Oklahoma Sooners (2023 Record: 10-3, Lost Alamo Bowl)

Oklahoma’s offense suffered a couple of massive losses when offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby left to become Mississippi State’s head coach and quarterback Dillon Gabriel transferred to Oregon.

Jackson Arnold will replace the latter and had an up-and-down performance against Arizona in the Alamo Bowl, finishing three big-time throws and five turnover-worthy plays. Still, he was just a true freshman in his first career start who will enter 2024 with a lot of hype as a former top-10 recruit.

18. LSU Tigers (2023 Record: 10-3, Won ReliaQuest Bowl)

Speaking of losing offensive talent, that’s precisely what’s happening to LSU. The Tigers must replace Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Jayden Daniels and a couple of projected first-round receivers in Malik Nabers and Brian Thomas Jr. Garrett Nussmeier will be Brian Kelly’s new signal-caller and has earned a 77.8 career grade on 430 snaps. He’ll have an elite offensive line protecting him, led by the best offensive tackle in the country in Will Campbell.

The defense needs to be better after finishing among the 20 worst units in EPA allowed per play, but the hire of Missouri’s Brandon Baker as defensive coordinator, coupled with the return of linebacker Harold Perkins Jr., should be cause for some optimism.

19. USC Trojans (2023 Record: 8-5, Won Holiday Bowl)

USC was the most disappointing team in college football. With the reigning Heisman winner, Caleb Williams, returning to lead them, the Trojans entered the season ranked sixth and having College Football Playoff expectations. Instead, USC’s putrid defense (118th in EPA per play) caused them to fall to just 8-5 and without a number next to its name.

Lincoln Riley addressed those defensive issues by hiring UCLA’s D’Anton Lynn as defensive coordinator. In his first year there, the Bruins improved from 111th in expected points allowed per play to eighth. As for Williams’ replacement, Miller Moss is slated to take over. He earned an 89.3 passing grade in the Holiday Bowl win over Louisville.

20. Kansas Jayhawks (2023 Record: 9-4, Won Guaranteed Rate Bowl)

While Kansas lost offensive coordinator Andy Kotelnicki to Penn State, the Jayhawks still have plenty to be excited about on that side of the ball. It starts with quarterback Jalon Daniels, who will be back after playing just three games this season. In those three games, he earned an 88.4 passing grade that ranked 10th among Power Five signal-callers with at least 200 snaps. Devin Neal is also back at running back after rushing for 1,280 yards, the fourth-most in the Big 12. Kansas also returns most of a receiving corps that finished second to only Washington in receiving grade (89.2).

21. Kansas State Wildcats (2023 Record: 9-4, Won Pop-Tarts Bowl)

The Wildcats lost their four most valuable players according to PFF’s wins above average metric: tight end Ben Sinnott, guard Cooper Beebe, quarterback Will Howard and wide receiver Phillip Brooks.

The fifth, DJ Giddens, is back after forcing the third-most missed tackles (69) among Big 12 running backs this season. He’ll partner with new quarterback Avery Johnson to form one of the best rushing duos in the conference next season. Johnson, a former top-10 quarterback recruit, had the seventh-most rushing yards among Big 12 quarterbacks as a true freshman despite playing only 204 snaps.

22. Oklahoma State Cowboys (2023 Record: 10-4, Won Texas Bowl)

While Oklahoma State was often a one-man show in 2023, that was enough to carry the Cowboys to the Big 12 Championship Game. The good news for OSU is that superstar running back Ollie Gordon II will be back to carry the Pokes once again. The Doak Walker Award winner led the nation in rushing yards (1,732) despite only receiving 17 total carries in the first three games. Elsewhere on offense, Oklahoma State will return starting quarterback Alan Bowman and top receiver Brennan Presley to lift some of the pressure off Gordon’s shoulders.

23. Iowa Hawkeyes (2023 Record: 10-4, Lost Citrus Bowl)

Even after losing superstar cornerback Cooper DeJean to the NFL, Iowa should still field one of the best defenses in college football. The Hawkeyes return some stars at the second and third levels of that defense in linebackers Jay Higgins and Nick Jackson, safeties Xavier Nwankpa and Quinn Schulte and cornerback Sebastian Castro.

Even if those key pieces weren’t returning, it’s a safe bet that defensive coordinator Phil Parker would still have this unit playing at a high level. The reigning Broyles Award winner (best assistant coach in college football) hasn’t had a defense that finished outside the top 10 in expected points allowed per play since 2019.

It’s the polar opposite on the other side of the ball. In terms of EPA per play, Iowa has had the worst offense in the country over the last three years — by a large amount. There’s reason for some optimism on that side of the ball as the Hawkeyes hired a new offensive coordinator in former Western Michigan head coach Tim Lester. They also bring back starting quarterback Cade McNamara and tight end Luke Lachey, who missed most of the 2023 season with an injury. Even with a questionable offense, Iowa still finished 28-13 over the last three years and finished inside of the top 25 twice.

24. SMU Mustangs (2023 Record: 11-3, Lost Fenway Bowl)

SMU should have high expectations as it makes the move from the American Athletic Conference to the ACC. The Mustangs finished as the eighth-highest-graded team in the country this season and return many key players to that squad, namely quarterback Preston Stone. He led all Group of Five signal-callers in passing grade (90.5) and big-time throws (30) this past season.

25. Liberty Flames (2023 Record: 13-1, Lost Fiesta Bowl)

Since the best Group of Five champion is now guaranteed a playoff berth, it makes sense to point out the favorite for that spot next season.

Schools like Boise State or Memphis could’ve been placed here, but Liberty holds that distinction right now. The Flames are coming off a 13-1 season under first-year coach Jamey Chadwell and returns quarterback Kaidon Salter and running back Quinton Cooley. Salter’s 90.2 grade this year trailed only Preston Stone among Group of Five quarterbacks. Cooley’s 93.2 rushing grade in 2023 was tied for sixth among FBS running backs.

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