Tuesday, June 18, 2024
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100 Days Out: College football names, games, storylines to follow as we count down to the 2024 season

Dating back to 2014, CBS Sports has compiled some of the biggest names, games and stories to commemorate the 100-day countdown to the college football season’s kickoff. It’s the perfect point to take stock of what’s ahead as the conclusion of spring practice aligns with the midway point in the offseason. Before you know it, we’ll be breaking down win totals and making official predictions for the upcoming season. 

We’ve never had the kind of seismic shifts we are facing heading into the 2024 season. The context for every name, game, storyline and burning question is the fact that we are entering uncharted waters for the sport. Conference realignment, College Football Playoff expansion, a deregulated transfer portal and so much more are all coming to a head, with speculation that more realignment and even revenue sharing is on the horizon. Some of these changes have been bubbling for years, while others — like the exodus of 10 Pac-12 schools to three different conferences — seemingly happened overnight ahead of the 2023 season. 

It’s going to be a new era for a sport that doesn’t exactly do “new” very well. So join us while we power ahead into the exciting unknown that is the 2024 college football season. We’re going to keep that theme of “new” going with our first big storyline, which includes both the structural changes and the sudden absence of a couple of college football’s most recognizable figures.      

Big storylines 

1. An unrecognizable conference landscape: There’s no amount of advanced warning that will adequately prepare college football fans for the fact that UCLA and Rutgers are going to play a conference game, or that the ACC now spans all of the coasts. All four power conferences are welcoming at least two new members in 2024, and the impact includes not just new matchups in conference play but also new scheduling models and the elimination of divisions. But the discomfort from a new era is also met with excitement for what these changes are going to bring. 

We get to see USC travel to the Big House to play Michigan in an early season game with Big Ten title implications. When Texas and Georgia square off, it’s not just one of the most anticipated matchups of the year but potentially a preview of the SEC title race. No divisions means one conference loss doesn’t shut the door on a path to the title game, and taking the top two teams in the full conference standings better guarantees a matchup that will carry significant College Football Playoff implications. There are trade-offs, such as how the new scheduling models will lead to less meetings between older traditional conference foes. But from the lens of 2024, it’s hard not to get fired up for what should be four intense conference races with plenty of new contenders added to the mix.      

2. More ways to win, more chances to lose in the CFP: Never has there been more access to winning a championship than what we will have with the 12-team College Football Playoff. With three times the amount of spots and seven overall at-large bids, the number of teams that will start the year realistically in the mix to be playing for it all in December has increased exponentially. But since expanding the bracket creates more games, that means it’s never been more difficult to win a national championship. Even the top four conference champions, all of whom will receive byes to the quarterfinals, will have to win three extra games beyond their 13-game, regular-season slate and the conference title game. In each of those three games, this hypothetical conference champion will be playing other teams who have been competing for championships all season long. 

It was harder to qualify for winning a BCS national title but easier to win because it was just one game after a long layoff. This 12-team format will demand its champion endure a weeks-long postseason to reach the top of the mountain. If you’re a preseason heavyweight expected to go 13-0 or 12-1, then you probably would have preferred the BCS era or even the four-team CFP format. But if you’re one of these programs that’s been knocking on the door and settling for New Year’s Six appearances, this expansion creates new opportunity and new expectations to show up when the money is on the table at the end of the year.   

3. Coaching community missing some mainstays: Nick Saban was not only the top coach in the country for much of his time at Alabama, but he was also a trusted voice and important figure in how the sport was discussed nationally. And while he’ll continue to serve that role as a member of the media, Saban’s retirement was a pass-the-torch moment to the next generation of top coaches. Jim Harbaugh could have stepped into that role after winning his first national championship and third-straight Big Ten title, but he opted for the NFL. Jimbo Fisher was once believed to be in that “next up” role, even if it was more adversarial going head-to-head with Saban, but things went sideways at Texas A&M. 

When we filled out the ballots for our annual CBS Sports coach rankings, it was easy to put Kirby Smart at No. 1 with his two recent national championships, but sorting out a top five, top 10 or even top 30 includes some real uncertainty as to how these coaches stack up against each other. Coaches from the top of the pecking order are gone, and now there’s a free-for-all with plenty of rising stars in the mix to lay claim as one of the top coaches at the conference or national level. Fans will get used to the praise that’s being thrown at Dan Lanning, Kalen DeBoer and Steve Sarkisian, and eventually the new coaching order will be sorted out by the results on the field. But losing Saban and Harbaugh, specifically, has opened the door for new stars to emerge.  

4. The rockstar Buckeyes: Speaking of our coach rankings, right behind Kirby Smart was Ohio State’s Ryan Day, who checked in one spot ahead of two-time national championship-winning coach Dabo Swinney. Day, who has three CFP appearances and five top-10 finishes in five seasons as the Buckeyes coach, is entering 2024 with more pressure than has ever been put on a coach who has won 56 of his first 64 games. The pressure is coming in the wake of three straight losses to Michigan, yes, but also from an offseason that saw Ohio State stack its depth chart with roster retention of potential pros and much-coveted additions from the transfer portal. 

A half-dozen players who were draft-eligible elected to return, and combined with star-studded portal additions like Caleb Downs from Alabama and Quinshon Judkins from Ole Miss, Ohio State has built a team that could challenge Georgia for the NFL Draft record in 2025. There are players who will be wearing scarlet and gray on Saturdays that absolutely could have been playing on Sundays this fall, and that talent advantage is why Ohio State is the only non-Georgia option for No. 1 team in the land heading into the year. It’s as close to a super team as we see in college football, complete with not just a rockstar roster but a high-profile staff that was bolstered by Chip Kelly leaving his post as UCLA’s head coach to serve as offensive coordinator. Given the effort to assemble this group and the expectations of winning it all, Ohio State is one of the most interesting teams in the country heading into 2024.  

5. Stars yet to be discovered: The end result might have just been a pair of eight-win seasons, but heading into last season, there was no question about Caleb Williams and Drake Maye as some of the biggest stars in college football. The presence of sixth-year seniors like Michael Penix Jr. and Bo Nix gave the upper tier of quarterbacks a feeling of familiarity, and Marvin Harrison Jr. brought his own buzz on the back of his play and pedigree. But as we turn the page from 2023 to 2024, the collection of stars with name recognition to an average fan is noticeably smaller than it was a year ago. 

Colorado’s Travis Hunter and Shedeur Sanders likely lead the list carrying their own following that’s been built over the years. Certainly, Carson Beck and Quinn Ewers have a spot in that conversation for their play on the field and presence as starting quarterbacks for title contenders. But beyond that is a lot of real estate the “college football star” neighborhood ready to be occupied by a transfer or new starter ready to ascend to the next level. Or, maybe it’s like last season with a player like Jayden Daniels making the move from good to great thanks to offseason improvement. Either way, there is not anything close to a long list of established stars, leaving a lot of space for lesser-known players to see a major boost in their status.    

6. The fluidity of modern roster construction: Though the transfer portal era has technically been going more than a half-decade, we are very much in a new and fluid period with unlimited transfers and portal windows. Coaches across the country — well, most coaches — have adapted their approach to roster construction, splitting their resources and efforts between both high school recruiting and the transfer portal. Unlimited transfers means anyone and everyone is available, and if the current rules are still in place, we will see the impacts of the transfer market on decisions made by both players and coaches at the end of a season. 

For players, the ease of transferring has created a tricky proposition when it comes to postseason play, and coaches are also mindful of how playing time can have an impact on roster retention. Reports of late-season tampering are so prevalent if even half of the allegations are true, it still paints a chaotic picture for both players and coaches at a time when the focus should be on closing out the year strong. When decision-makers are trying to solidify the structure of college football’s new future, bringing some calm to the chaos of roster construction should be a goal.   

Bold predictions 

7. Year 1 of the Big Ten will be toughest on USC: I don’t think USC will have the least amount of Big Ten wins of the four West Coast additions, but I do think the move comes at a time when the roster is in flux and the program’s expectations are for a bounce-back after last year’s 7-5 regular season. The oddsmakers win total suggests it will be another 7-5 or 8-4 type of season for the Trojans, and that’s not what USC wants as its first impression in the Big Ten. Lincoln Riley, too, will be feeling pressure from the start; he not only loses a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback but chose to re-configure his defensive staff after subpar results on that side of the ball. USC’s move to the Big Ten has been in the works for years, and if the Trojans are hovering close to .500 in conference play, it will be a disappointment.    

8. Liberty will be the first Cinderella of the 12-team format: The highest-ranked Group of Five champion will likely be hosting a home game against the fifth-highest ranked conference champion in the first round of the College Football Playoff. It’s a game that may have the appearance of those Fiesta Bowl or Cotton Bowl matchups in year’s past, but I suspect that the stakes of actually playing for it all in the CFP will raise the chances for a Tulane-like upset. With Kaidon Salter back at quarterback, Liberty is set to be the runaway favorite to win Conference USA. If the Flames have another 11- or 12-win season, it will be difficult to think they can’t climb up into the top spot among Group of Five champions. You give Jamey Chadwell a couple weeks to prepare an offensive game plan with the title on the line, and I think Liberty can emerge as the first bracket buster of the format. 

9. Clemson will reclaim its spot atop the ACC: Maybe a stretch for “bold,” and certainly not spicy since the Tigers are co-favorites to win the ACC along with Florida State, but this prediction comes with additional expectation that Clemson will reassert its dominance against lesser teams in the conference. While Pitt or Syracuse would weaponize itself every now and then for an upset or upset scare, Clemson largely ran through a good portion of its ACC schedule during its six-year reign as league champion. I think we get back to those kind of wins from Clemson thanks to an improved passing game that should benefit from a healthy wide receiver room and the arrival of instant impact young players like Bryant Wesco Jr.  

10. James Franklin has his breakthrough, Penn State wins a playoff game: The Nittany Lions are the most obvious candidate as a program to benefit from all the conference and playoff expansion heading into 2024. Franklin has five double-digit win seasons and five top-15 finishes in the last eight years, but Penn State has never been higher than No. 7 in the final AP Top 25 poll and never made the College Football Playoff in his tenure. The Nittany Lions have been in the New Year’s Six five times (3-2), so when those games are folded into the playoff picture, that makes Penn State a team that should absolutely be in the CFP mix. Plus, with divisions being removed from the Big Ten, the Nittany Lions no longer face a narrow pathway to a conference title that requires going through both Ohio State and Michigan. I think Penn State not only makes its first CFP appearance but notches a win in a breakthrough season for Franklin. 

Burning questions 

11. Will Oregon or Texas come closer to winning a conference title in their new league? While we’re predicting a potentially lackluster debut for USC in the Big Ten, the exact opposite could be the case for Oregon. The Ducks look loaded up to jump right in and compete for the conference title immediately. Texas has the chance to do the same thing in the SEC, and the Longhorns arguably have a head start with a conference title and playoff appearance already under their belt following last season’s breakthrough. I’d power rank both teams as the No. 2 team in their respective conference (Oregon behind Ohio State, Texas behind Georgia), so which preseason top-five squad comes closer to winning their new league in Year 1 — something no team has done in a power conference in the modern era?

12. Are we sleeping on Notre Dame? One of the annual activities in the wake of an NFL Draft is to immediately turn the page to the next year’s outlook. When we did that, it became clear that the Fighting Irish have a handful of surefire NFL prospects on the depth chart for 2024. The secondary should be excellent with Benjamin Morrison and Xavier Watts leading the way, defensive lineman Howard Cross is coming off an All-American season and Mitchell Evans is set for a bounce-back year after suffering a season-ending injury in October 2023. Throw in the addition of a proven playmaker like Riley Leonard at quarterback and a wide receiver room that can finally boast about its depth, and you’ve got a squad that should have playoff expectations. 

13. What happens to Alabama’s vibe shift when the Crimson Tide take a loss? Kalen DeBoer has made it clear that he’s not Nick Saban, and the various changes to the program were well documented during the spring. From music at practice to media availability for assistant coaches after years of a “one-voice” philosophy having coordinators under a gag order for much of the season. Things seem a little more laid back, which can be a good thing, especially to better match DeBoer’s personality. But when the new vibe results aren’t in line with those from the old vibe, there will be questions from Alabama fans about the proper methods to run the Crimson Tide program. I think Alabama will be contending for an SEC title in 2024, but the path to do so includes several more losable games than folks in Tuscaloosa are used to seeing. How will that vibe shift be treated when or if losses come, and how might those results paint the perception of Alabama’s first year of the post-Saban era?

14. Does Ohio State even need title-winning QB play to win a title? At the risk of going too hard on Ohio State content here — even though, again, they are the most interesting team in the country — I look forward to the hand-wringing over the Buckeyes quarterback situation in the fall. Will Howard gives you a steady hand after two successful seasons as Kansas State’s starter, you’ve got backups like Devin Brown still hungry for a chance to prove what they can do in an Ohio State uniform and there have even been rave reviews about the ceiling for true freshman Julian Sayin. But, what I think is that the talent level around the quarterback is so great that the play at the position might just need to be serviceable. The run of Deshaun Watson, Jalen Hurts/Tua Tagovailoa, Trevor Lawrence and Joe Burrow gave an impression that you needed upper-tier talent at quarterback to win it all. But Ohio State is in that 2015 Alabama mold where even a Jake Coker can get the job done. So, while Buckeyes fans may debate the quarterback situation all through the year, the only real demand is not to crash the convertible. Since the room is loaded with talent, it seems highly unlikely that not one of those quarterbacks is capable of keeping the car on the road. 

15. Will Florida State and the ACC settle their lawsuit before the season? I’m really trying to keep this countdown as “on the field” as possible, but this subject is worth exploring because mid-August as a deadline seems to be a reason we might be discussing this again in the weeks leading up to the season. That deadline is when Florida State needs to notify the ACC of its intentions to leave if it plans to play in another conference — or as an independent — for the 2025 season. Such an announcement being made before the deadline would totally change the tenor of everything about Florida State’s 2024 campaign in the ACC; the reigning conference champions would be attempting to keep things business-as-usual on the field while off the field managing a complicated legal and fiscal maneuver that directly impacts the on-field product. 

New faces, new places 

We thought we saw a dynamic coaching carousel when Lincoln Riley left Oklahoma for USC and Brian Kelly left Notre Dame for LSU, but that was just a warm-up for the colossal coaching changes that would come a few years later. Not only did we have two icons leave the sport with Nick Saban’s retirement and Jim Harbaugh’s exit to the NFL, but we had multiple power-conference coaches leaving their post for coordinator jobs elsewhere and multiple Group of Five head coaches leave to be coordinators at power conferences. The result is more than 30 jobs changing hands and wildly new sets of expectations at several of the sport’s most recognizable programs. 

16. Alabama: Kalen DeBoer 
17. Arizona: Brent Brennan 
18. Boise State: Spencer Danielson 
19. Boston College: Bill O’Brien 
20. Buffalo: Pete Lembo 
21. Duke: Manny Diaz 
22. Georgia State: Dell McGee 
23. Houston: Willie Fritz 
24. Indiana: Curt Cignetti 
25. James Madison: Bob Chesney 
26. Michigan: Sherrone Moore
27. Michigan State: Jonathan Smith 
28. Middle Tennessee: Derek Mason 
29. Mississippi State: Jeff Lebby 
30. Nevada: Jeff Choate 
31. New Mexico: Bronco Mendenhall 
32. New Mexico State: Tony Sanchez 
33. Northwestern: David Braun  
34. Oregon State: Trent Bray 
35. San Diego State: Sean Lewis 
36. San Jose State: Ken Niumatalolo 
37. South Alabama: Major Applewhite 
38. Syracuse: Fran Brown 
39. Texas A&M: Mike Elko 
40. Troy: Gerad Parker 
41. Tulane: Jon Sumrall 
42. UCLA: DeShaun Foster
43. ULM: Bryant Vincent  
44. UTEP: Scotty Walden 
45. Washington: Jedd Fisch 
46. Wyoming: Jay Sawvell 

National championship contenders 

Tier 1 

We’re going to lean on the national title odds at FanDuel Sportsbook to set some tiers to the national title race, starting with the teams at the top. The first group is smaller, only including teams with odds of 20-1 or better. We’ve listed them below with a note on their chances to cash in as national champs at the end of the season. 

47. Georgia (3-1): With the historic three-peat taken off the table via Alabama’s SEC Championship Game win, Georgia can now refocus on simply being the best team with more NFL-bound players than anyone in the country. The Bulldogs might get bested in the SEC title race again, but this roster will be a favorite in the bracket. 

48. Ohio State (9/2): One of the overlooked aspects to Ohio State’s 2023 season was how the defense raised its level significantly. Now that defense has arguably its four best players back after Denzel Burke, JT Tuimoloau, Jack Sawyer and Tyleik Williams all bypassed the draft and the unit added one of the best players (any position) in the country with Caleb Downs. Good luck scoring on the new era Silver Bullets. 

49. Texas (15/2): Steve Sarkisian has recruited at a high level out of high school, but he’s also supplemented the roster with instant-impact skill talent to help Quinn Ewers maintain a dynamic passing attack heading into 2024. Isaiah Bond, Matthew Golden, Silas Bolden and tight end Amari Niblack join an offense that was already well-positioned with a good offensive line, Ewers and emerging talent like Johntay Cook and CJ Baxter. If the new pieces click, Texas will be a top-four team again this fall.  

50. Oregon (17/2): The Ducks have been on the precipice of taking the next step to being elite, with just a couple of one-score losses (three of them to Washington) separating the program from championships. The hope in Eugene is that a busy and successful offseason and the hunger to bounce back powers an impactful first season in the Big Ten. 

51. Alabama (13-1): I understand why the oddsmakers are going to keep Alabama, which is still loaded with talent, up near the top of the odds board, but I think the Crimson Tide have some questions to answer before committing to them at this price to win three or four games in the playoff. Alabama will still have several advantages over most of its schedule, but its those potential playoff games where I wonder if the margins — which have been shrinking over the last four years — make it tough to see a Year 1 title run for DeBoer. 

52. LSU (15-1): If LSU’s defense exceeds expectations and the coaching changes work out for the best, then I can see the Tigers going on a run. Garrett Nussmeier is a gifted passer, the wide receiver room is still loaded and LSU has one of the best offensive lines in the country. But if the defense hasn’t been fixed and merely meets expectations, then we’re probably going to see a repeat of the 2023 season with a handful of shootouts against the SEC’s best teams.  

53. Ole Miss (15-1): The Rebels are certainly all-in on 2024 given their portal activity, likely noting a schedule that has broken favorably to make a run. No longer does Ole Miss have to go through Alabama and LSU to make the playoff or even the SEC title game, so if Ole Miss can stack wins against less-talented teams and pull off an upset or two, Lane Kiffin could definitely have this group in the playoff. Winning it all is a different proposition, but I definitely see a CFP berth in the outlook.

54. Penn State (20-1): The revolving door of offensive coordinators has been destabilizing, but Penn State might have hit a home run bringing in Andy Kotelnicki from Kansas. A step forward for Drew Allar and the offense certainly opens up the doors for the program hitting new heights, and expectations for the program’s first playoff appearance are certainly fair. 

Tier 2 

Our second their includes the nine teams listed between 22-1 and 50-1, with thoughts on the path or likelihood of one of these dark horses breaking through.

55. Michigan (22-1): The expectation is that Michigan will be so strong along the defensive line and so efficient running the football that the Wolverines will be able to continue using Sherrone Moore’s catchphrase and SMASH their way to CFP contention. But we’ll get a good look at whether they’re title worthy early with a big-time showdown against Texas in Week 2. 

56. Notre Dame (22-1): If Riley Leonard can stay healthy and the wide receiver room delivers on expectations of taking a step forward, you could be getting a top-five team at a top-10 price here at 22-1. As we mentioned earlier, Notre Dame has a roster and schedule to make the playoff, and Leonard could be the x-factor in a deep run. 

57. Florida State (28-1): A title run one year after the CFP snub would make a great story, but there are questions for Florida State to answer in order to be on the same level as the other national title contenders. Among them is whether DJ Uiagalelei has another step in what will be his fifth year of college football. 

58. Tennessee (30-1): If Nico Iamaleava comes anywhere close to his projections in his first full season as a starter, we could see Tennessee’s offense get right back to the levels of production during Josh Heupel’s 2022 breakthrough. 

59. Missouri (35-1): There is a ton of production returning from last year’s group that finished the season by beating Ohio State in the Cotton Bowl. It makes sense they would be the next group up among SEC teams on the odds board, but having to get through some of those teams could make title contention difficult. 

60. Clemson (40-1): If you do think Clemson will win the ACC, I don’t hate this pick as a flyer seeing how the ACC champion is likely getting a bye to the quarterfinals of the CFP. Does Clemson have the roster to win three games against the best team in the country? We’ll know a lot more by the end of the season opener against Georgia. 

61. Texas A&M (40-1): Talent acquisition was not the issue for Jimbo Fisher’s tenure, so Mike Elko is inheriting a group with a significant amount of difference-makers that could power a dream season in College Station. 

62. USC (45-1): The Trojans currently hold a win total with the oddsmakers that’s closer to 8-4 or 7-5, so a bet on USC is not only a wager that Riley will fix the defense but that they will log multiple upset wins against a challenging schedule. 

63. Miami (50-1): The Hurricanes are all in on a big step forward in 2024, investing heavily in talent acquisition to address needs and put Mario Cristobal’s group in the mix to contend for an ACC title. But that ACC title contention is boosted by a favorable schedule, and I’m not sure the same advantages will be had against other playoff teams should the Hurricanes get there. 

Best nonconference games 

64. Georgia vs. Clemson (Aug. 31) 
65. Notre Dame at Texas A&M (Aug. 31) 
66. Miami at Florida (Aug. 31) 
67. Penn State at West Virginia (Aug. 31) 
68. USC vs. LSU (Sept. 1) 
69. Texas at Michigan (Sept. 7) 
70. Tennessee vs. NC State (Sept. 7) 
71. Colorado at Nebraska (Sept. 7) 
72. Alabama at Wisconsin (Sept. 14) 
73. West Virginia at Pitt (Sept. 14)
74. UCLA at LSU (Sept. 21) ?
75. UCF at Florida (Oct. 5)

Heisman Trophy contenders 

Last year’s winner, Jayden Daniels, was 8th on the odds board in May, while Caleb Williams was a top-three player on the board the year prior. While we do have players that ascend to new levels of stardom in a Heisman-winning year, it’s rare in the modern era they are coming from totally off the radar. It’s likely the eventual Heisman Trophy winner will be one of the 25 below.

It also serves as a healthy list of preseason A-listers for fans to keep tabs on in the early weeks of the season. Among players with Heisman odds of 50-1 or better, all are quarterbacks, while two schools — Ohio State and USC — have two quarterbacks on the list.  

76. Carson Beck, Georgia QB (15/2)
77. Quinn Ewers, Texas QB (9-1)
78. Dillon Gabriel, Oregon QB (10-1)
79. Will Howard, Ohio State QB (13-1)
80. Nico Iamaleava, Tennessee QB (15-1)
81. Jalen Milroe, Alabama QB (15-1)
82. Jaxson Dart, Ole Miss QB (15-1)
83. Garrett Nussmeier, LSU QB (18-1)
84. Riley Leonard, Notre Dame QB (20-1)
85. Cameron Ward, Miami QB (22-1)
86. Avery Johnson, Kansas State QB (25-1)
87. Jackson Arnold, Oklahoma QB (25-1)
88. Conner Weigman, Texas A&M QB (25-1)
89. Noah Fifita, Arizona QB (30-1)
90. Jalon Daniels, Kansas QB (30-1)
91. D.J. Uiagalelei, Florida State QB (35-1)
92. Cade Klubnik, Clemson QB (35-1)
93. Brady Cook, Missouri QB (35-1)
94. Drew Allar, Penn State QB (40-1)
95. Shedeur Sanders, Colorado QB (40-1)
96. Miller Moss, USC QB (40-1)
97. Cam Rising, Utah QB (50-1)
98. Jayden Maiava, USC QB (50-1)
99. Julian Sayin, Ohio State QB (50-1)
100. Travis Hunter, Colorado CB (65-1)

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