College football post-spring Top 25 power rankings

  • Mark Schlabach, ESPN Senior WriterMay 20, 2024, 07:00 AM ET


    • Senior college football writer
    • Author of seven books on college football
    • Graduate of the University of Georgia

There are fewer than 100 days until the start of the 2024 college football season — and just over 200 days until selection day for the first-ever 12-team College Football Playoff.

With spring practice in the rearview mirror and the spring transfer portal window closed, it’s a great time to update the 2024 Top 25. Georgia, Ohio State, Texas and Oregon remain in the top four, but there is plenty of movement behind them.

There are three new additions, including a couple of ACC teams trying to rekindle the magic from seasons past.

Kirby Smart has won two national titles at Georgia. John Adams/Icon Sportswire

Spring update: With a schedule that includes a nonconference opener against Clemson in Atlanta and SEC road games at Kentucky, Alabama, Texas and Ole Miss, a fourth straight unbeaten regular season might be asking a bit much of the Bulldogs. But there’s a reason coach Kirby Smart’s program won back-to-back CFP national titles in 2021 and 2022 and 46 of its past 48 games. Quarterback Carson Beck is primed for a big season, and he’ll be surrounded by plenty of playmakers and what should be one of the sport’s best offensive lines. Replacements will have to be identified on the interior defensive line and in the secondary, but that hasn’t been a problem in the recent past. Mykel Williams, who is going to play more outside linebacker this season, looks ready to break out as a pass-rusher. Georgia is stacked at linebacker and brings back safety Malaki Starks, one of the best players in the FBS.

Spring update: Coach Ryan Day’s teams have won 86.8% of their games since he took over the Ohio State program at the start of the 2019 season. The Buckeyes have defeated every Big Ten opponent in the regular season the past three years except one — Michigan. Unfortunately for Day, Ohio State has lost to the Wolverines three straight times, sullying what has otherwise been a remarkable stretch. After Michigan won a CFP national title under former coach Jim Harbaugh last season, the Buckeyes increased their efforts in the transfer portal, landing five-star safety Caleb Downs (Alabama), tailback Quinshon Judkins (Ole Miss) and quarterback Will Howard (Kansas State). Day also turned over the offensive playcalling to his mentor, former UCLA coach Chip Kelly. The Buckeyes get a soft nonconference schedule (home games against Akron, Western Michigan and Marshall) and play the Wolverines at the Horseshoe on Nov. 30.

Spring update: After guiding the Longhorns to a 12-win campaign and a spot in the CFP in 2023, coach Steve Sarkisian’s challenge is sustaining that success in the SEC. The Longhorns got a break when the SEC schedule-makers rolled out the red carpet with a slate that includes true road games at Vanderbilt, Arkansas and rival Texas A&M. Texas will face an early road test at Michigan, its annual trip to Dallas to play Oklahoma and a home game against Georgia. Offensively, the Longhorns should be as good as anyone in the FBS with quarterback Quinn Ewers and a veteran offensive line returning. Transfers Isaiah Bond (Alabama), Matthew Golden (Houston) and Silas Bolden (Oregon State) and top recruit Ryan Wingo will have to step up after star receivers Xavier Worthy and AD Mitchell departed for the NFL. The Longhorns will have to identify difference-makers on the defensive line and improve a secondary that ranked 113th in the FBS against the pass, allowing 254.4 yards per game.

Spring update: In just two seasons as a head coach, Oregon’s Dan Lanning has established himself as one of the best in the FBS. His teams have a 22-5 record and back-to-back bowl victories. With the Ducks moving to the Big Ten, Lanning’s blueprint for building a physical team on both sides of the ball should help ease the transition. Former Oklahoma quarterback Dillon Gabriel takes over for departed star Bo Nix. Texas A&M transfer Evan Stewart might form a potent one-two punch with Tez Johnson at receiver. Jordan James is back after running for 759 yards with 11 touchdowns in 2023. Safety Kobe Savage (Kansas State) and cornerback Jabbar Muhammad (Washington) were nice additions to a pass defense that led the Pac-12 last season, allowing 215.9 yards per game. Oregon plays a home contest against Ohio State on Oct. 12, but its November schedule will determine if it’s going to be a season to remember — Michigan (road), Maryland (home), Wisconsin (road) and Washington (home).

Spring update: The Fighting Irish have high hopes heading into coach Marcus Freeman’s third season, and understandably so after they landed quarterback transfer Riley Leonard (Duke) and brought back former offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock, the architect of LSU’s high-flying offense the past two seasons. Leonard missed most of the spring camp after undergoing a follow-up surgery on his right ankle injury. He’s expected to be ready for the start of fall practices. He’ll benefit from having transfer receivers Beaux Collins (Clemson) and Kris Mitchell (Florida International).

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The Irish have to replace bookend offensive tackles Joe Alt and Blake Fisher; Charles Jagusah and Tosh Baker were working on the left and right sides, respectively, during the spring. Perhaps the biggest reason for the optimism around the Irish is the defense. Howard Cross III and Rylie Mills lead a salty defensive line, and cornerback Benjamin Morrison and safety Xavier Watts are stars in the secondary. The Irish will play only three true road games at Texas A&M, Purdue and USC this season. They’ll play Georgia Tech at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Navy at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey and Army at Yankee Stadium in New York.

Spring update: With a favorable SEC schedule this season, Rebels coach Lane Kiffin hit the transfer portal hard, bringing in defensive end Princely Umanmielen (Florida), defensive tackle Walter Nolen (Texas A&M), receiver Antwane Wells Jr. (South Carolina) and others to make a potential move up with Alabama and LSU rebuilding. Quarterback Jaxson Dart is coming back to lead what should be another potent scoring offense. Running back depth is a concern after Judkins transferred to Ohio State. LSU transfer Logan Diggs had offseason knee surgery and might not be ready for the start of the season. Henry Parrish Jr., who started his career at Ole Miss and played the past two seasons at Miami, came back to help. Jacory Croskey-Merritt, who ran for 1,190 yards with 17 touchdowns at New Mexico, is another option.

Spring update: It has been 131 days since legendary Alabama coach Nick Saban unexpectedly retired, and they’re still playing college football in Tuscaloosa. Just a friendly reminder that Saban’s replacement, Kalen DeBoer, had a 104-12 record in his previous three stops and directed Washington to a spot in the CFP National Championship last season. Yes, a boatload of players left for the NFL draft or via the transfer portal, but Alabama has enough talent remaining to compete at a high level. The offense looked explosive in the spring with returning quarterback Jalen Milroe and young tailbacks Jamarion Miller and Justice Haynes. The Tide’s offensive line can only get better after allowing 49 sacks in 2023. Getting offensive tackle Kadyn Proctor back from the transfer portal was a coup for DeBoer. Defensive lineman LT Overton (Texas A&M), safety Keon Sabb (Michigan) and two Washington transfers — guard Parker Brailsford and receiver Germie Bernard — should help right away.

Spring update: The Tigers are going to need things to fall right to match last season’s 11-2 campaign, which included a 14-3 victory over Ohio State in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic. Brady Cook is going to be one of the best quarterbacks in the SEC, and Luther Burden III is one of the most explosive receivers in the FBS. Transfers Marcus Carroll (Georgia State) and Nate Noel (Appalachian State) were battling for the No. 1 tailback spot in the spring. Missouri coach Eli Drinkwitz hasn’t ruled out using a tailback by committee to replace Cody Schrader’s production. The Tigers are sticking with a 4-2-5 scheme on defense after coordinator Blake Baker left for LSU. Linebackers Corey Flagg (Miami) and Darris Smith (Georgia) looked like they’d be able to contribute right away. Clemson transfer Toriano Pride was battling Marcus Clarke in the spring for one of the cornerback jobs vacated by NFL-bound players Kris Abrams-Draine and Ennis Rakestraw Jr.

Spring update: Quarterback Cam Rising is back to lead Utah’s offense, and the Utes’ hopes of challenging for a conference title are high once again — this time in their first season in the Big 12. Rising missed all of last season with a knee injury; he led the Utes to back-to-back Pac-12 championships and Rose Bowl appearances in 2021-22 before he was hurt. Rising completed 15 of 19 passes for 208 yards with two scores in the spring game. Transfer receiver Dorian Singer (USC) emerged as his favorite target, and Damien Alford (Syracuse) and Taeshaun Lyons (Washington) will upgrade a receiver room that already included Money Parks. Star tight end Brant Kuithe is also back from a knee injury. Three starters will have to be replaced on the offensive line, and the tailback order is still being settled. Eight starters are coming back from a defense that allowed 19.3 points per game last season. Cornerback Cameron Calhoun (Michigan) was a star in the spring. The defense suffered a blow when senior linebacker Levani Damuni, the team’s leading tackler in 2023, suffered a lower-leg injury that will sideline him long-term, according to coach Kyle Whittingham.

Spring update: The Wolverines aren’t going to fall off a cliff after coach Jim Harbaugh left to coach the Los Angeles Chargers following a season in which he guided his alma mater to its first national title in 26 years. Michigan has to replace quarterback J.J. McCarthy, most of its offensive line and several other contributors, but there’s enough talent coming back to be a factor in the Big Ten again. New coach Sherrone Moore must settle on a starting quarterback — Alex Orji is a dual-threat option, while Jack Tuttle is the more experienced and Davis Warren might have the strongest arm. Look for Michigan to rely heavily on tailback Donovan Edwards and tight ends Colston Loveland and Marlin Klein. Left tackle Myles Hinton is the only returning starter up front; Northwestern transfer Josh Priebe was working at left guard in the spring. The defense returns five starters, including star tackles Kenneth Grant and Mason Graham and All-America cornerback Will Johnson. Michigan picked up transfer cornerback Aamir Hall (Albany) to compete for the other cornerback spot. The Wolverines play Texas at home in Week 2, and face a Big Ten gauntlet that includes home games against USC and Oregon and road contests at Washington and Ohio State.

Mike Norvell and Florida State started 13-0 last season. Melina Myers/USA TODAY Sports

Spring update: Seminoles coach Mike Norvell has utilized the transfer portal as well as anyone in the FBS, and he once again turned over FSU’s roster after it finished unbeaten and was left out of the CFP in 2023. Former Oregon State quarterback DJ Uiagalelei seemed to pick up the offense well in the spring. Transfer Malik Benson (Alabama) emerged as one of his favorite targets, and Lawrance Toafili and Roydell Williams (Alabama) led the running game. Norvell believes defensive end Patrick Payton will emerge as one of the top pass-rushers in the FBS, and he’ll have help from transfers Marvin Jones Jr. (Georgia), Tomiwa Durojaiye (West Virginia) and Sione Lolohea (Oregon State). Miami transfer Darrell Jackson Jr. is back to anchor the interior defensive line; the NCAA denied his eligibility waiver last year, causing him to miss the regular season.

Spring update: Somebody has to challenge Ohio State, Michigan and Oregon in the Big Ten, and with Washington rebuilding, I’ll go with Penn State for now. The Nittany Lions have struggled to score against good teams (Michigan and Ohio State), so coach James Franklin hired Kansas offensive coordinator Andy Kotelnicki to boost the passing game, which ranked 80th in the FBS with 215 yards per game. The Nittany Lions are still high on quarterback Drew Allar. While running backs Nicholas Singleton and Kaytron Allen and tight end Tyler Warren are nice players around Allar, the receiver room is thin after KeAndre Lambert-Smith and three others left via the transfer portal. Ohio State transfer Julian Fleming, Harrison Wallace III and slot receiver Kaden Saunders should emerge as go-to targets. Transfers Jalen Kimber (Florida) and A.J. Harris (Georgia) were battling to replace departed cornerbacks Kalen King and Johnny Dixon during the spring.

Spring update: Dave Doeren has quietly guided the Wolfpack to 34 wins the past four seasons, including a 9-4 mark last year, despite having a mess in the quarterback room. That position shouldn’t be a problem with former Coastal Carolina star Grayson McCall taking over the offense. He threw for at least 2,400 yards with at least 24 touchdowns and fewer than three interceptions in each of three straight seasons from 2020 to 2022. McCall battled a head injury last season. He’ll be surrounded by plenty of talent at NC State, including transfer receivers Noah Rogers (Ohio State) and Wesley Grimes (Wake Forest) and returning star KC Concepcion, the ACC Rookie of the Year in 2023. Tight end Justin Joly (UConn) and tailback Jordan Waters (Duke) were big additions as well. NC State faces September tests against Tennessee in Charlotte and Clemson on the road, but it doesn’t play Florida State, Louisville, Virginia Tech or Miami — four of the best teams in the ACC — during the regular season.

Spring update: The Tigers are going to have a new look on offense, as Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Jayden Daniels and star receivers Malik Nabers and Brian Thomas Jr. have left for the NFL. Quarterback Garrett Nussmeier picked up from where he left off in the bowl game, completing 7 of 7 passes for 187 yards with two touchdowns in the spring game. With quarterbacks coach Joe Sloan calling plays, Nussmeier looked more than comfortable. Transfer receivers Zavion Thomas (Mississippi State) and CJ Daniels (Liberty) showed they’re ready to produce this season. LSU coach Brian Kelly brought in former Missouri defensive coordinator Blake Baker to turn around a unit that ranked 81st in scoring defense (28 points) and 118th in pass defense (255.9 yards) in 2023. The Tigers are still searching for help on the defensive line after Mekhi Wingo and Maason Smith left for the NFL. Defensive end Gabriel Reliford, an early enrollee, was a bright spot in the spring. The Tigers picked up transfer defensive tackle Jay’viar Suggs (Grand Valley State) last week for depth. The secondary continued to have breakdowns in the spring game.

Tennessee hopes to revive its offense with quarterback Nico Iamaleava. Bryan Lynn/Icon Sportswire

Spring update: The Volunteers’ high-flying passing attack slowed down a bit in 2023, going from No. 1 in the FBS in scoring (46.1 points) in 2022 to 35th (31.8) last season. With highly regarded passer Nico Iamaleava taking over, things should be headed back in the right direction. Transfer receiver Chris Brazzell (Tulane) and freshman Mike Matthews might take some of the attention off Squirrel White and Bru McCoy, who is coming back from a fractured right ankle that caused him to miss most of 2023. LSU transfer Lance Heard was working as the No. 1 left tackle in the spring and should solidify a unit with three returning starters. The Vols’ defensive line, led by James Pearce, should be its strength, and it will have to be good with a rebuilt secondary. Tennessee plays an early nonconference test against NC State and road games at Oklahoma and Georgia with Alabama at home. If Iamaleava is as good as advertised, the Vols might be back in the playoff hunt.

Spring update: As my colleague David Hale pointed out, there were four FBS teams that didn’t take a transfer from the portal this offseason: Air Force, Army, Navy and Clemson. Transferring into one of the service academies requires the intervention of a member of the U.S. Congress. For whatever reason, transferring to Clemson seems to be even more difficult these days. After the Tigers dropped four games for the first time since 2011 and finished 52nd in the FBS in scoring offense (29.8 points per game), it seemed like a good time to bring in experienced help. It didn’t happen. There’s no question Clemson’s defense is going to be one of the best in the FBS with linemen Peter Woods and T.J. Parker leading the way. Clemson coach Dabo Swinney is betting that quarterback Cade Klubnik is going to be much better in his second season under offensive coordinator Garrett Riley. Freshman receiver Bryant Wesco looked great in the spring, and four-star T.J. Moore joins the team later this month.

Spring update: With Oklahoma and Texas moving to the SEC, Utah and Kansas State look like the teams to beat in the revamped Big 12. Coach Chris Klieman’s past three teams won at least eight games, and with Avery Johnson taking the reins at quarterback, the Wildcats’ ceiling might be higher than that. Tailback DJ Giddens is back after running for 1,226 yards in 2023; he’ll get some relief from transfer Dylan Edwards, who was Colorado’s leading rusher last season. Replacing three starters on the offensive line, including All-America center Cooper Beebe, was a priority in the spring. North Dakota transfer Easton Kilty was working at left tackle. The Wildcats added middle linebacker Alec Marenco, New Mexico’s leading tackler, and junior college nose tackle Malcolm Alcorn-Crowder recently to shore up the middle of the defense. The Wildcats don’t play the Utes during the regular season and get Oklahoma State and Kansas at home. Road trips to BYU, West Virginia and Iowa State might be tricky.

Spring update: The Sooners improved by four victories in coach Brent Venables’ second season, and programs typically make an even bigger jump in Year 3. The only problem: It’s also Year 1 in the SEC, and the schedule is downright scary. The offense will have a new look after Gabriel left for Oregon, and former North Texas coach Seth Littrell took over the playcalling. Quarterback Jackson Arnold had a good spring and looks like a future star. Purdue transfer Deion Burks had five catches for 174 yards with two scores in the spring game. Transfers Michael Tarquin (USC) and Febechi Nwaiwu (North Texas) were working with the No. 1 offensive line, which must replace all five starters. OU added SMU center Branson Hickman in the spring portal opening. The Sooners could be good again, but they’re going to face one of the most difficult schedules in the FBS with road games at Auburn, Ole Miss, Missouri and LSU and home contests against Tennessee, Texas (in Dallas) and Alabama.

Spring update: The Pokes are bringing 20 starters back, most of any team in the Big 12. The Cowboys should be able to score this season with quarterback Alan Bowman returning for his seventh season of college football — yes, you read that right — and FBS rushing leader Ollie Gordon II coming back as well. They signed Indiana’s leading rusher, Trent Howland, to help lessen the load on Gordon. The entire offensive line returns intact, and there’s a solid group of receivers with Brennan Presley, Rashod Owens and De’Zhaun Stribling. If OSU is going to compete for a Big 12 title, it’s going to have to do a better job of slowing opponents down. Defensive coordinator Bryan Nardo implemented four-man fronts in the spring to try to improve the pass rush and take pressure off the secondary. The Cowboys have two great linebackers in Nick Martin and Collin Oliver, but their pass defense ranked 126th (275 yards) in the FBS in 2023.

Spring update: The Wildcats had to do some reloading after last season’s 10-win campaign, after which coach Jedd Fisch jumped to Washington to replace DeBoer. The Wildcats hired San Jose State’s Brent Brennan, one of the more underrated head coaches in the FBS. Quarterback Noah Fifita and receiver Tetairoa McMillan decided to stay at Arizona, giving the offense a solid nucleus. McMillan, who had 1,402 receiving yards with 10 touchdowns in 2023, was hurt during the spring and had a procedure on his left leg, according to Brennan, but is expected to be ready for the start of preseason camp.

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Brennan and his staff have worked tirelessly to upgrade the roster; receiver Kevin Green Jr. and running back Jordan Washington transferred to Washington earlier this month. A dozen Arizona players have followed Fisch to Seattle. The Wildcats have brought in more than a dozen players from the portal, including receiver Reymello Murphy (Old Dominion) and tight end Sam Olson (San Jose State). Cornerback Tacario Davis decided to stay, giving the Wildcats another veteran in the secondary.

Spring update: It has been quite a while since the Hokies were a legitimate contender in the ACC race, but that might change in coach Brent Pry’s third season. ESPN colleague Bill Connelly ranks the Hokies No. 1 in his returning production percentages — No. 1 on offense (95%) and No. 12 on defense (77%) — and Pry and his staff have done a good job of using the transfer portal to plug holes. The Hokies averaged 43 points over their final four games of 2022, a stretch in which they went 3-1. Quarterback Kyron Drones passed for 22 touchdowns and three interceptions and ran for 818 yards with five scores. He’s one of 11 starters coming back on offense. Pry shored up the defensive line by bringing in four transfers: Duke’s Aeneas Peebles, Oklahoma’s Kelvin Gilliam Jr., Alabama’s Khurtiss Perry and Western Community College’s Kemari Copeland. Virginia Tech’s nonconference schedule is more than manageable (Vanderbilt, Marshall, Old Dominion and Rutgers) and it doesn’t play Florida State, Louisville or NC State during the regular season.

Spring update: For the first time since 2009, the Jayhawks went into spring practice coming off a bowl victory, after defeating UNLV 49-36 in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl. There’s even more reason for optimism with star quarterback Jalon Daniels returning from a back injury that caused him to miss most of the 2023 season. He was healthy in the spring and looked good throwing the ball. He’ll have plenty of help around him in tailback Devin Neal and the top three receivers from last season. New offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes was looking for three new starting offensive linemen — Logan Brown was working at left tackle and Michael Ford Jr. and Shane Bumgardner were battling at center. Bumgardner won the Division II Rimington Trophy at Tiffin University last season. One of the priorities on defense was finding a pass-rusher. Michigan State edge rusher Bai Jobe joined the Jayhawks on May 7.

Spring update: Who got a louder roar in Iowa City this past spring? Former college women’s basketball star Caitlin Clark when she led Iowa to the national championship game? Or football coach Kirk Ferentz when he announced the Hawkeyes were taking new offensive coordinator Tim Lester’s playbook and “going with it”? Under Brian Ferentz, the former offensive coordinator and coach’s son, the Hawkeyes ranked 132nd in the FBS in scoring (15.4 points) and 130th in passing (118.6 yards) last season. Somehow, they finished 10-4 and played Michigan for a Big Ten title. Imagine what they’ll do if they average 21 points? Quarterback Cade McNamara was limited in the spring after tearing the ACL in his left knee in early October. The receiver room is thin, and Ferentz said the offensive line needs to do a better job blocking. But at least they know coordinator Phil Parker’s defense is going to be salty with eight starters back.

Spring update: There’s no question that Mario Cristobal has been stockpiling talent — both through traditional high school recruiting and via the transfer portal. After going 12-13 in his first two seasons, Cristobal needs to turn that talent into some victories. The Hurricanes have one 10-win campaign in the past two decades, and they’ve faced lofty expectations and fallen flat more times than most. But with transfer quarterback Cam Ward (Washington State) and tailback Damien Martinez (Oregon State) joining the Canes, there’s reason for optimism. The offensive line should be good, and Miami added Houston’s Sam Brown to a solid receiver corps. Cristobal bolstered the defensive line by adding four transfers (and counting): C.J. Clark (NC State), Marley Cook (Middle Tennessee), Elijah Alston (Marshall) and Simeon Barrow (Michigan State). Defensive end Rueben Bain Jr. was the ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year with 7½ sacks in 2023, and Akheem Mesidor is back after playing only three games last season because of injuries to both of his feet.

Spring update: The Trojans didn’t exactly cash in on 2022 Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams’ two seasons, and now they’ll have to make their way in the Big Ten without him. Quarterback Miller Moss takes over under center, and there’s little concern about Lincoln Riley being able to turn him into a top passer. Moss will play behind a revamped offensive line; Mississippi State transfer Jo’Quavious Marks is expected to be the top tailback. Riley hired UCLA defensive coordinator D’Anton Lynn to rebuild a unit that ranked 121st in the FBS in scoring defense (34.4 points) and 119th in total defense (432.8 yards) last season. There are going to be plenty of new faces on that side of the ball, including safeties Akili Arnold (Oregon State) and Kamari Ramsey (UCLA), cornerbacks John Humphrey (UCLA) and DeCarlos Nicholson (Mississippi State), defensive lineman Nate Clifton (Vanderbilt), linebacker Easton Mascarenas-Arnold (Oregon State) and others. The Trojans play nonconference games against LSU and Notre Dame and Big Ten road contests against Michigan and Washington, so it won’t be easy to improve their record.

New teams in: Virginia Tech, Iowa, USC
Dropped out: Louisville, Kentucky, Texas A&M

Just missed: Wisconsin, West Virginia, Texas A&M, Louisville, Kentucky, Washington, Boise State, Air Force, Liberty

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