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College football 2024: UW’s out, Nebraska’s in as Ohio State tops our revised Top 25 rankings

By Jon Wilner Bay Area News Group

What changed in our Top 25 forecast from the original version published in early January?

Well, Washington’s out, and Nebraska’s in.

Alabama dropped, but Texas climbed.

Utah held its ground. As did Florida State and LSU. And Boise State, too.

The details, which account for coaching changes, spring practice performance and transfer portal developments, are below.

We’ll do this again in late August, at the close of training camp.

1. Ohio State: The most impactful offseason move in college football was Chip Kelly’s downshift from UCLA boss to Ohio State offensive coordinator. Few coaches in the sport scheme the running game better than Kelly, and his presence should power the Buckeyes through the Big Ten. All the pieces for a playoff run are in place, thanks to the arrival of quarterback Will Howard (from Kansas State) and safety Caleb Downs (Alabama), plus the return of a first-rate defense. Previous: 2

2. Georgia: We consider the Bulldogs more co-No. 1 than outright No. 2 with the return of quarterback Carson Beck, a fabulous offensive line and a defense that should play to the recent standard in Athens. A third national title in four years is well within reach, especially if the Bulldogs win their opener (against Clemson), thus providing essential cushion for trips to Alabama, Texas and Mississippi. Previous: 1

3. Florida State: You’ll find the Seminoles closer to the top here than in other post-spring forecasts, largely because of our faith in coach Mike Norvell to turn the playoff spurn into season-long emotional propulsion. Also, Norvell should make the most of quarterback DJ Uiagalelei, who knows the ACC terrain well from his up-and-down days at Clemson. Previous: 3

4. Oregon: The Ducks had a first-class offseason in advance of their transition into the Big Ten and stand as the greatest threat to Ohio State’s coronation. Quarterback Dillon Gabriel (from Oklahoma) has received the most fanfare, but Oregon’s roster is loaded across all position groups on both sides of scrimmage. A playoff bid is the minimum acceptable endgame in Eugene. Previous: 7

5. Utah: We expect a relatively healthy season for the Utes given the likelihood of injury frequency reverting to the mean. And good health for coach Kyle Whittingham means big trouble for the rest of the Big 12. The defense should be among the best in the conference while Cam Rising’s return from the knee injury that derailed his 2023 season gives Utah a quarterback who has proven he can win championships. Previous: 5

6. Notre Dame: Much like Ohio State, the Irish brought in a veteran quarterback, Riley Leonard (from Duke), and a first-rate playcaller, Mike Denbrock (from LSU). Combine their immediate impact with a heavy load of mediocre ACC opponents, and Notre Dame should qualify for the expanded CFP – as long as coach Marcus Freeman doesn’t (once again) lose a game he shouldn’t. Previous: 6

7. Texas: The weekly competition is about to get vastly more difficult for the Longhorns (although they don’t play Alabama or LSU). The defensive line must adequately replace the dynamite tandem of T’Vondre Sweat and Byron Murphy, but with quarterback Quinn Ewers in control, Texas is positioned to simply outscore most opponents. Previous: 12

8. Alabama: Our original Top 25 outlook was published the day before Nick Saban announced his retirement. While the Hotline doesn’t foresee significant backsliding under Kalen DeBoer – he was the best replacement available – we envision some level of regression. Also factored into our assessment: visits to Wisconsin, Tennessee, LSU and Oklahoma, plus a home date with the Dawgs. Previous: 4

9. Oklahoma State: The Cowboys look like the current Big 12 team that’s best equipped to deal with the new Big 12 teams, thanks to a winning culture, returning playmakers, including star tailback Ollie Gordon, and a favorable conference schedule that doesn’t include Kansas, Arizona or Iowa State. A return trip to the conference title game is well within reach. Previous: 11

10. Mississippi: The self-proclaimed “Portal King” did his thing, as coach Lane Kiffin fortified his defensive line and kept quarterback Jaxson Dart from departing. Look for the Rebels to carry an undefeated record and top-five ranking into a mid-October showdown at LSU. Previous: 10

11. Michigan: Our murky January forecast for the Wolverines was based on the expectation that Jim Harbaugh would, in fact, leave for the NFL. As a result, we see no reason to substantially downgrade the outlook during Year One of the Sherrone Moore era. Enough talent remains for Michigan to finish just behind Ohio State and Oregon. Previous: 9

12. Clemson: The season that will define coach Dabo Swinney’s future opens with Georgia on a neutral field, includes Florida State in Tallahassee and depends heavily on quarterback Cade Klubnik’s progress. If the Tigers don’t regain relevance, Swinney might have to change his ways and start accepting transfers. Previous: 8

13. LSU: We considered downgrading the Tigers following Denbrock’s departure to Notre Dame but decided – with a leap of faith in the defense – that LSU’s personnel across 22 positions is stout enough to justify this ranking. For now. Previous: 13

14. Nebraska: Our top sleeper pick for 2024 resides in Lincoln, where coach Matt Rhule should thrive in his second season – just as he did in Year Two at both Temple and Baylor. The Huskers have a five-star quarterback in freshman Dylan Raiola and a schedule that doesn’t include Michigan, Penn State or Oregon. Previous: Not ranked

15. Missouri: The Tigers possess the best combination of quarterback (Brady Cook) and receiver (Luther Burden III) in the SEC. That said, we are slightly less optimistic about the defense, and expectations are off-the-charts for a program comfortable lurking in the shadows. Previous: 20

16. Arizona: The Wildcats lost Jedd Fisch and hired Brent Brennan after our January rankings were published. The turnover atop the program had a limited impact on our outlook. Far more consequential was the development that followed: Quarterback Noah Fifita and receiver Tetairoa McMillan didn’t follow Fisch to Seattle. Previous: 14

17. Miami: The Hurricanes raided the ‘Pac-2’ schools for playmakers in quarterback Cam Ward (Washington State) and tailback Damien Martinez (Oregon State) and improved their outlook considerably. In fact, coach Mario Cristobal will have no excuses if Miami doesn’t climb the ACC standings. Previous: Not ranked

18. Penn State: Long entrenched as the third-best team in the Big Ten, the Nittany Lions now must deal with Oregon, Washington and USC, plus potential upswings by Nebraska and Wisconsin. We expect a noticeable backslide in State College – and mounting pressure on coach James Franklin. Previous: 15

19. Kansas: No program (anywhere) is better coached than the Jayhawks, and Lance Leipold has assembled enough talent to contend for the Big 12 title if quarterback Jalon Daniels’ back holds up. Previous: 16

20. 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 Volunteers winning more than eight. Previous: 19

21. Oklahoma: Freshman quarterback Jackson Arnold is a major talent, but we wonder if the Sooners are properly equipped to deal with the weekly grind in the SEC, which is far more arduous than the Big 12. Five years from now, will the Sooners be viewed as an elite program? Previous: 17

22. Kansas State: The Hotline has two Oklahoma teams ranked, so why not two from Kansas, as well? The Wildcats might prove the best of the bunch, especially if quarterback Avery Johnson’s dynamic performance against N.C. State in the Pop-Tarts Bowl is a harbinger, not an outlier. Previous: Not ranked

23. Iowa: The Great Nepotism Charade finally ended in Iowa City with the dismissal of playcaller Brian Ferentz. Meanwhile, the Hawkeyes retained defensive coordinator Phil Parker. The former is addition by subtraction; the latter, addition by constancy. Previous: Not ranked

24. Boise State: Look for the Broncos to pick up where they left off in 2023 under now-permanent head coach Spencer Danielson and control a Mountain West race that features a bevy of new coaches and rebuilding programs. Previous: 24

25. Wisconsin: Luke Fickell’s second season includes a Week Three showdown against Alabama but does not feature Michigan or Ohio State. In other words: Opportunity exists for a jump to the top tier of the Big Ten. Previous: 23

Also considered: Air Force, Louisville, Memphis, Michigan State, N.C. State, SMU, Texas A&M, USC, Virginia Tech, West Virginia