It was just more than a month ago that Michigan ended its 26-year drought without a national title by defeating Washington 34-13 in the CFP National Championship game.
In the 36 days since then, Alabama coach Nick Saban retired, Wolverines coach Jim Harbaugh finally left for the NFL and Ohio State hired two offensive coordinators, the second one a sitting power conference coach.
Saban’s surprising announcement Jan. 10 precipitated eight coaching moves that led to five FBS schools — Washington, Arizona, South Alabama, Buffalo and San Jose State — hiring new head coaches.
After so much chaos, it’s the perfect time to update the 2024 Way-Too-Early Top 25.
Previous ranking: 1
2023 record: 13-1, 8-0 SEC
Winter update: The Bulldogs came within one victory over Alabama of reaching the playoffs and having a chance to win a third straight national championship. They’ll be right back in the mix this season after coach Kirby Smart reloaded with another No. 1-ranked recruiting class and a few key additions from the transfer portal. Running back Trevor Etienne (Florida), receivers London Humphreys (Vanderbilt), Colbie Young (Miami) and Michael Jackson III (USC) and tight end Benjamin Yurosek (Stanford) could help fill holes on offense. The schedule will be difficult with an opener against Clemson in Atlanta and SEC road games at Kentucky, Alabama, Texas and Ole Miss. Shoring up the secondary, which lost cornerback Kamari Lassiter and safeties Tykee Smith and Javon Bullard, will be a focus in the spring.
Previous ranking: 5
2023 record: 11-2, 8-1 Big Ten
Winter update: How do you respond when your bitter rival beats you for a third straight time and then ends its long drought by winning a national championship? By going all-in on the transfer portal and hiring a former head coach and dynamic playcaller to revamp the offense. Quarterback Will Howard (Kansas State), tailback Quinshon Judkins (Ole Miss) and safety Caleb Downs (Alabama) were coveted players in the transfer portal who ended up in Columbus. Former UCLA coach Chip Kelly will be out to prove that he hasn’t lost his fastball, overseeing better talent as Ohio State’s offensive coordinator. Keeping receiver Emeka Egbuka, tailback TreVeyon Henderson, defensive ends JT Tuimoloau and Jack Sawyer and cornerback Denzel Burke around for another season was equally as important. Coach Ryan Day won’t have any excuses if the Buckeyes aren’t a top CFP contender.
Previous ranking: 3
2023 record: 12-2, 8-1 Pac-12
Winter update: The Ducks’ biggest victory during the offseason was undoubtedly coach Dan Lanning’s commitment to stay and not chase Alabama’s vacancy. Lanning guided the Ducks to a 21-5 record during his first two seasons, and now he’ll lead them into their maiden campaign in the Big Ten. He proved his recruiting chops by signing ESPN’s No. 4-ranked class and landing a handful of top transfers. Former Oklahoma starter Dillon Gabriel should be a plug-and-play replacement for quarterback Bo Nix. Safety Kobe Savage (Kansas State) and cornerback Jabbar Muhammad (Washington) were nice pickups from the portal, especially with three starters leaving the secondary. Oregon plays at Michigan on Nov. 2 and gets Ohio State and Washington in two mega contests at home.
Previous ranking: 2
2023 record: 12-2, 8-1 Big 12
Winter update: The Longhorns proved they’re finally back by reaching the CFP for the first time and nearly taking down Washington in a 37-31 loss in a semifinal at the Allstate Sugar Bowl. Now coach Steve Sarkisian will have to show his program can stay in the sport’s upper echelon against increased competition in the SEC. We’ll probably have to wait another season for the Arch Manning era with quarterback Quinn Ewers coming back. He’ll need to find new targets this spring with receivers Adonai Mitchell and Xavier Worthy and tight end Ja’Tavion Sanders jumping to the NFL. Transfers Isaiah Bond (Alabama) and Matthew Golden (Houston) are plenty capable. The Longhorns play at Michigan on Sept. 7 and host Georgia on Oct. 19. They won’t play Alabama, Auburn, LSU or Ole Miss during the regular season.
Previous ranking: 10
2023 record: 10-3
Winter update: The Fighting Irish weren’t bad in coach Marcus Freeman’s first two seasons, winning 19 games. But it’s time for them to turn the corner, and Freeman has laid the groundwork by adding former Duke quarterback Riley Leonard and bringing back offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock, who directed LSU’s high-flying offense in 2023. Leonard underwent ankle surgery to repair an injury suffered last season. He is expected to be ready for spring practice in March. The Irish also added receivers Kris Mitchell (Florida International) and Beaux Collins (Clemson) to shore up an underwhelming receiver corps. Finding replacements for bookend tackles Joe Alt and Blake Fisher will be a priority in spring practice.
Previous ranking: 7
2023 record: 11-2, 6-2 SEC
Winter update: After guiding the Rebels to the first 11-win campaign in the 118-year history of the program, coach Lane Kiffin is gearing up for what could be an even bigger season in 2024. Unexpectedly losing Judkins to Ohio State hurt, but Kiffin grabbed plenty of talent out of the transfer portal, especially on defense. Defensive tackle Walter Nolen (Texas A&M), defensive end Princely Umanmielen (Florida) and linebacker Chris Paul Jr. (Arkansas) should help right away. Adding former Washington starters Julius Buelow and Nate Kalepo should improve the offensive line. The Rebels will play their two toughest opponents, Oklahoma and Georgia, at home.
Previous ranking: 8
2023 record: 11-2, 6-2 SEC
Winter update: The Tigers will have to replace some key players if they’re going to match last season’s surprising success. Life without tailback Cody Schrader won’t be easy, and cornerbacks Kris Abrams-Draine and Ennis Rakestraw Jr. and linebacker Ty’ron Hopper were highly productive. Defensive coordinator Blake Baker left for LSU; coach Eli Drinkwitz replaced him with South Alabama’s Corey Batoon. Tailback Marcus Carroll ran for 1,350 yards with 13 touchdowns at Georgia State last season. Cornerback Toriano Pride Jr. (Clemson), linebacker Darris Smith (Georgia) and defensive lineman Chris McClellan (Florida) were key portal pickups on defense.
Previous ranking: 12
2023 record: 10-3, 7-2 Big Ten
Winter update: The Nittany Lions couldn’t leap past Michigan and Ohio State in the Big Ten East last season, and things will only get more difficult with Oregon, UCLA, USC and Washington joining the league. Coach James Franklin hired Kansas offensive coordinator Andy Kotelnicki to provide a spark in the passing game, which ranked 80th in the FBS with 215 yards per contest. Quarterback Drew Allar has to open things up, and he has some nice players around him in running backs Nicholas Singleton and Kaytron Allen and tight end Tyler Warren. Former Indiana coach Tom Allen takes over what should be a very good defense after former coordinator Manny Diaz left to become Duke’s head coach. Adding transfers Jalen Kimber (Florida) and A.J. Harris (Georgia) was important after lockdown cornerbacks Kalen King and Johnny Dixon left for the NFL.
Previous ranking: 4
2023 record: 12-2, 8-0 SEC West
Winter update: Replacing Nick Saban, undoubtedly the greatest coach in the sport’s modern era, was never going to be easy. Alabama’s transition under former Washington coach Kalen DeBoer has already been rocky, with Downs and highly regarded quarterback Julian Sayin transferring to Ohio State, Bond and tight end Amari Niblack jumping to Texas, offensive tackle Kadyn Proctor returning home to Iowa and several players leaving for the NFL. Then, making matters worse, offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb and offensive line coach Scott Huff took jobs with the Seattle Seahawks last week. Saban’s dynasty wasn’t built with Tinkertoys, so the Crimson Tide will be fine in the long run. The Tide added three Washington transfers in quarterback Austin Mack, receiver Germie Bernard and offensive lineman Parker Brailsford. Defensive lineman LT Overton (Texas A&M) and cornerback Domani Jackson (USC) were nice pickups on defense. DeBoer knows how to build a championship program, but Alabama fans might have to be patient.
Previous ranking: 13
2023 record: 8-5, 5-4 Pac-12
Winter update: The Utes lost four games or more in each of the past three seasons, as they were undone by injuries and lost four of their last six games in 2023. With quarterback Cameron Rising returning from a knee injury that caused him to miss all of last season, the Utes could be much better in their first season in the Big 12. Tight end Brant Kuithe is also coming back from a knee injury, along with tailback Micah Bernard. The Utes started four sophomores and a freshman on the offensive line last season, so that unit should grow up. After losing three starters in the secondary, Utah added safety Alaka’i Gilman (Stanford) and cornerbacks Cameron Calhoun (Michigan) and Kenan Johnson (Georgia Tech).
Previous ranking: 9
2023 record: 10-3, 7-2 Pac-12
Winter update: The Wildcats’ momentum from last season’s 10-win campaign hit the skids when Washington plucked coach Jedd Fisch to replace DeBoer. San Jose State’s Brent Brennan takes over after guiding the Spartans to a 26-19 record and three bowl appearances in the past four seasons. He did a good job getting quarterback Noah Fifita and receiver Tetairoa McMillan to stay in Tucson. There was quite a bit of turnover on Arizona’s roster after Fisch left; six players, including top rusher Jonah Coleman, cornerback Ephesians Prysock and defensive end Russell Davis II, followed him to Seattle. A trio of Spartans — offensive tackle Ryan Stewart, edge rusher Tre Smith and tailback Quali Conley — are following Brennan to Arizona. Conley ran for 842 yards with nine scores in 2023; Smith had 6.5 sacks and 67 tackles.
Previous ranking: 14
2023 record: 10-3, 6-2 SEC
Winter update: There’s no question the Tigers are going to miss Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Jayden Daniels and their pair of 1,000-yard receivers, Malik Nabers and Brian Thomas. Denbrock returning to Notre Dame doesn’t help, either. But at least the Tigers have an apparent quarterback in waiting in Garrett Nussmeier, who was MVP of the ReliaQuest Bowl after passing for 395 yards with three scores in a 35-31 victory over Wisconsin. Transfers CJ Daniels (Liberty) and Zavion Thomas (Mississippi State) are proven receivers. Brian Kelly took big steps toward fixing a woeful defense by cleaning house on his staff. Plucking Baker from Missouri was a good move. The Tigers added three players from the portal — cornerback Jyaire Brown (Ohio State) and safeties Austin Ausberry (Auburn) and Jardin Gilbert (Texas A&M) — to help a surprisingly porous secondary.
Previous ranking: 6
2023 record: 15-0, 9-0 Big Ten
Winter update: The only first-year coach filling bigger shoes this season than new Michigan coach Sherrone Moore is DeBoer at Alabama. Not only did the Wolverines lose Harbaugh to the NFL, but they’ll also have to replace quarterback J.J. McCarthy, tailback Blake Corum and most of their veteran offensive line. Harbaugh took much of his coaching staff with him to the Chargers, including defensive coordinator Jesse Minter, defensive backs coach Steve Clinkscale and strength and conditioning coordinator Ben Herbert. Moore hired former New York Giants defensive coordinator Wink Martindale to replace Minter, which might make things easier since Minter was running a version of Martindale’s system. The Wolverines will play one of the most arduous schedules in the FBS this season with home games against Texas, USC and Oregon and road games at Washington and Ohio State.
Previous ranking: 15
2023 record: 10-3, 7-2 Big 12
Winter update: After jumping from 6-7 to 10-3 in coach Brent Venables’ second season, the Sooners will have to navigate their first season in the SEC without Gabriel, who had 6,828 passing yards and 73 total touchdowns in two seasons in Norman. Freshman Jackson Arnold, a former five-star recruit, is the heir apparent. He threw for 361 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions in a 38-24 loss to Arizona in the Valero Alamo Bowl. Four of five starting offensive linemen will have to be replaced, along with Drake Stoops, the leading receiver. The Sooners added offensive linemen Geirean Hatchett (Washington), Michael Tarquin (USC), Febechi Nwaiwu (North Texas) and Spencer Brown (Michigan State). Deion Burks, who caught 47 balls at Purdue last season, was another key pickup.
Previous ranking: 16
2023 record: 13-1, 8-0 ACC
Winter update: It’s difficult to know how good the Seminoles will be next season after they lost most of the stars who guided them to an ACC title and unbeaten regular season in 2023. Coach Mike Norvell has once again done a masterful job reloading his roster through the transfer portal, adding a whopping 15 new players, including five from Alabama alone. Quarterback DJ Uiagalelei will take the reins of the offense after throwing for 8,319 yards and 57 touchdowns at Clemson and Oregon State. Linebacker Marvin Jones Jr. (Georgia) was a nice addition on defense. Tomiwa Durojaiye (West Virginia) and Grady Kelly (Colorado State) are new faces on the defensive line, and Indiana transfer Jaylin Lucas is a versatile player and explosive kick returner.
Previous ranking: 17
2023 record: 9-4, 4-4 SEC
Winter update: It figures to be another interesting season on Rocky Top, as the Volunteers are fighting the NCAA over alleged rules violations involving five-star quarterback Nico Iamaleava. He completed 12 of 19 passes for 151 yards with one touchdown and added three more scores rushing in the Cheez-It Citrus Bowl. Iamaleava will have plenty of playmakers available on offense, including Squirrel White, Bru McCoy and Chris Brazzell II, who was Tulane’s leading pass-catcher in 2023. The offensive line should be solid with center Cooper Mays and tackle John Campbell Jr. coming back. The Vols added LSU’s Zalance Heard, one of the top offensive tackles available in the portal. Shoring up the secondary will be a priority in the spring after six defensive backs entered the transfer portal.
Previous ranking: 18
2023 record: 10-4, 7-2 Big 12
Winter update: With Oklahoma and Texas moving on to the SEC, Oklahoma State has a chance to stake its claim to the newly shaped Big 12. There’s reason for optimism with the return of tailback Ollie Gordon II, FBS’ leading rusher with 1,732 yards in 2023. Also back 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. OSU picked up veteran UTEP cornerback Kobe Hylton and Obi Ezeigbo, a pass-rusher from Division II Gannon University in Erie, Pennsylvania. The Pokes play Big 12 road games at Baylor, BYU, Colorado, Kansas State and TCU in 2024.
Previous ranking: 20
2023 record: 9-4, 6-2 ACC
Winter update: The Wolfpack should be much more explosive on offense after adding former Coastal Carolina quarterback Grayson McCall and some nice playmakers around him. McCall passed for more than 10,000 yards with 106 total touchdowns with the Chanticleers. The Wolfpack also added Jordan Waters, who was Duke’s leading rusher with 819 yards and 12 scores in 2023. Eight new receivers are coming in, including Noah Rogers (Ohio State) and Wesley Grimes (Wake Forest). Tight end Justin Joly was very productive at UConn. Safety Donovan Kaufman (Auburn) and cornerbacks Tamarcus Cooley (Maryland) and Devon Marshall (Villanova) might help fill some holes in the secondary.
Previous ranking: 19
2023 record: 9-4, 4-4 ACC
Winter update: If you believe quarterback Cade Klubnik is going to continue to grow in offensive coordinator Garrett Riley’s system, the Tigers might be poised to catch Florida State and take another ACC title. If you believe coach Dabo Swinney hasn’t done enough to reload his roster after losing star tailback Will Shipley and a handful of defensive stars to the NFL draft, then it might be another subpar season by Clemson standards. Hiring former Ole Miss coach Matt Luke to coach the offensive line should help, but the Tigers might still be shorthanded in terms of talent up front. The Tigers are also going to have to develop some big-play weapons at receiver. Getting Cole Turner and Antonio Williams back from injuries might help.
Previous ranking: 21
2023 record: 9-4, 6-3 Big 12
Winter update: The Wildcats are going to have a new look on offense after Howard transferred to Ohio State and offensive coordinator Klein departed for the same position at Texas A&M. Kansas State coach Chris Klieman replaced Klein with co-coordinators Conor Riley, his offensive line coach and Matt Wells, the former Utah State and Texas Tech head coach. Avery Johnson is a dual-threat quarterback with a ton of talent. The Wildcats will have to rebuild upfront after losing Cooper Beebe and three others who combined to make 144 career starts. Tight end Ben Sinnott is another big loss. Kansas State added receiver Dante Cephas, who was very good at Kent State but didn’t do as much at Penn State.
Previous ranking: 22
2023 record: 10-4, 7-1 ACC
Winter update: There are a boatload of transfers headed to the ‘Ville to try to improve an offense that faltered badly down the stretch in 2023. Former Texas Tech and Oregon quarterback Tyler Shough will be playing his seventh season. Receivers Ja’Corey Brooks (Alabama) and Caullin Lacy (South Alabama) and tight ends Mark Redman (San Diego State) and Jaleel Skinner (Miami) are among 24 incoming transfers. Toledo running back Peny Boone was the MAC Offensive Player of the Year after running for 1,400 yards with 15 touchdowns on 194 carries last season. Flipping former edge rusher Tyler Baron — who had six sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss at Tennessee in 2023 — from Ole Miss was a big victory. Harvard transfer Thor Griffith was one of the most coveted interior defensive linemen in the portal.
Previous ranking: 23
2023 record: 9-4, 5-4 Big 12
Winter update: The Jayhawks would probably be ranked higher if quarterback Jalon Daniels wasn’t coming off a back injury that sidelined him for most of the 2023 season. When healthy, Daniels is among the most explosive players in the FBS. So is tailback Devin Neal, who ran for 1,280 yards with 16 touchdowns in 2023. The Jayhawks will also bring back their top three receivers; three starting offensive linemen will have to be replaced. The Jayhawks picked up Tiffin University’s Shane Bumgardner, who won the Rimington Award as the top center in Division II, and guard Darrell Simmons, who started 38 games at Iowa State. Former Baylor offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes takes over playcalling duties.
Previous ranking: Not ranked
2023 record: 7-6, 3-5 SEC
Winter update: The Wildcats dropped five games or more in four of the past five seasons. It’s time for Mark Stoops to turn things around, especially after he flirted with leaving for Texas A&M. The Wildcats are banking on former Georgia backup quarterback Brock Vandagriff to help them revive the offense. Vandagriff was one of the most highly recruited dual-threat quarterbacks in the country, but couldn’t get much playing time with the Bulldogs. Kentucky also added receiver Ja’Mori Maclin, who caught 57 passes for 1,004 yards at North Texas last season. Stoops is focused on Boise State offensive coordinator Bush Hamdan to replace Liam Coen, who left for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Cornerback Kristian Story (Alabama) and linebacker Jamon Dumas-Johnson (Georgia) were key additions on defense.
Previous ranking: Not ranked
2023 record: 7-6, 3-5 ACC
Winter update: Against better judgment, I’ll take a flier on the Hurricanes, who had a two-win improvement in coach Mario Cristobal’s second season at his alma mater. Last season, the Hurricanes — including the coaching staff — continued to make too many mistakes, but there’s no question they’ve been piling up talent. Miami hopes former Washington State quarterback Cameron Ward is a big upgrade. He threw for 6,966 yards with 61 total touchdowns in two seasons with the Cougars. Safety Mishael Powell (Washington) and defensive linemen Elijah Alston (Marshall) and Marley Cook (Middle Tennessee) were nice pickups on defense. The Hurricanes signed the No. 6 recruiting class, according to ESPN Recruiting, and loaded up at linebacker and on the defensive line.
Previous ranking: Not ranked
2023 record: 7-6, 4-4 SEC
Winter update: A little discipline and structure might go a long way at Texas A&M, which lost its footing under former coach Jimbo Fisher. New Aggies coach Mike Elko knows the program well after working as Fisher’s defensive coordinator from 2019 to 2021. Elko inherited a talented roster and added several key players through the portal. Quarterback Conner Weigman gets new life and might flourish under new coordinator Collin Klein. The Aggies will have to identify a No. 1 receiver during the spring. Purdue transfer Nic Scourton led the Big Ten with 10 sacks last season, and Alabama cornerback Dezz Ricks is among eight defensive back additions through the portal. Versatile freshman Terry Bussey will start his college career in the secondary.
Dropped out: Washington (No. 11), SMU (No. 24), Iowa (No. 25)
Just missed: USC, Washington, SMU, Iowa, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Boise State, Air Force, Liberty