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Too-Early Predictions for Next Season’s Expanded College Football Playoff

The College Football Playoff expands to 12 teams next season. Here's our best (very) early predictions about who gets in.

January 12, 2024

The Saturday Slant gives you deep insights on some of the best games — and bets — of the week in college football.

The college football season has come to an end. Now begins a long offseason full of things that college football fans do in their spare time — preparing to take far too much away from the spring game, catching up on housework they put off for a few months because they were busy on Saturdays, hopping onto message boards to see if anyone noticed that a kid in the transfer portal just happened to post on their IG Story that they’re on their favorite team’s campus…all that stuff.

One fixture of this part of the college football content calendar is putting out a way too early top 25 for the following season. We decided to take that one step further: With the College Football Playoff expanding to 12 teams next season, we want to try and predict who, exactly, is going to compete for a national championship next year. So, let’s do that.

(Disclaimer: While it has not happened yet, the belief is that the 6+6 format for the Playoff — five major conference winners, highest-ranked G5 school, next six highest-ranked teams — is going to turn into a 5+7 format due to what’s happened to the Pac-12. As such, that’s the format I followed.)

SEC Champion: Georgia

It’s Georgia, so I’m going to bank on things working out for them because … well, it usually does. They have to go to Alabama, Texas, and Ole Miss next year, which is a brutal schedule, but Kirby Smart has earned the benefit of the doubt and Carson Beck might be the top returning starting quarterback in America. Add in the fact that every time guys go to the NFL on both sides of the ball there seems to be an in-house option ready to step into a larger role, and the Dawgs should be in line for a big 2024. Also — Nick Saban retired.

Big Ten Champion: Ohio State

Trips to Eugene and Happy Valley are going to be brutal, and of course, Ryan Day has to show he can beat Michigan. But if new QB Will Howard and RB Quinshon Judkins can get up to speed, depending on how Day reshapes the offense under Howard — a better runner than he is a passer — the Buckeyes will have a chance to return to the top of the conference. Don’t discount their ability to convince players to return, either, with WR Emeka Egbuka and CB Denzel Burke being among the headliners. 

ACC Champion: Louisville

There’s a ton of turnover happening in the ACC, with Florida State needing to rebuild after this past year and Clemson losing a number of major contributors on both sides of the ball (along with, of course, Dabo Swinney’s general hesitancy to embrace the transfer portal). Louisville also has to rebuild, particularly on offense, but Jeff Brohm has done a good job in the portal and is bringing a ton of talent back on defense. New QB Tyler Shough has been up and down in his career, but the team’s transfer haul around him (RB Peny Boone, WRs Ja’Corey Brooks and Caullin Lacy, TEs Mark Redman and Tanner Koziol) is awfully good.

Big 12 Champion: Oklahoma State

The new look Big 12 is hard to judge, so let’s bank on continuity and the fact that Mike Gundy just knows what he’s doing at this point. It helps that the Pokes are coming off of a 10-win season and are bringing back a ton on offense: Star RB Ollie Gordon II, their entire offensive line, and starting QB Alan Bowman. They’ll need Bowman to get better command of the offense in his seventh (!) collegiate season, and they have to replace guys like top pass rushers Nathan Latu and Anthony Goodlow from of a defense that wasn’t always great last year. But if things get shored up on that side of the ball (look for LB Nickolas Martin to be the face of things), Oklahoma State will be quite good.

Top G5 Qualifier: Boise State

Picking the best G5 team is tough, so why not bet on Boise? The Broncos are coming off of an eight-win year that featured a coaching change — but also a Mountain West title. Standout RB Ashton Jeanty is back, which is big as the team is bringing in a brand new QB in Malachi Nelson — a five-star prospect from the class of 2023 — from USC. If Nelson gets up to speed quickly and the defense can take a step forward with guys like S Alexander Teubner and LB Andrew Simpson returning, the Broncos will be very, very good.

Big Ten Non-Champions: Oregon, Penn State

The Ducks are replacing Bo Nix with Oklahoma transfer Dillon Gabriel, while Kansas State transfer Kobe Savage is going to be immense in their secondary. We’ll have to see what happens with head coach Dan Lanning, though, as he is linked to the Alabama job. 

Penn State desperately needs to figure out its wide receiver room, but in the event former five-star QB Drew Allar lives up to his potential under new offensive coordinator Andy Kotelnicki and the team’s defense only takes a small step back, the Nittany Lions are going to be tough to deal with in 2024.

SEC Non-Champions: Texas, Ole Miss, Missouri

We’ll see how life in the SEC goes for Texas, but even though they will need to replace the big name weapons around QB Quinn Ewers, their QB is back, there’s talent in the pipeline at those spots, and their defense and OL should both still be pretty good. 

Ole Miss is coming off of a surprising 11-win campaign, brings back a ton, and has knocked the transfer portal out of the park. They should compete for the SEC, but if they come up short, a Playoff berth is there for the taking. 

Mizzou being here is a bit risky, as they’ve lost key pieces off of their defense and defensive coordinator Blake Baker is at LSU now. But I’m banking on head coach Eli Drinkwitz, the QB-WR combo of Brady Cook and Luther Burden, and one of the less grueling schedules in the SEC to get them to where they want to go.

Big 12 Non-Champions: Arizona

One of the darlings of the college football season this year, the Wildcats are changing conferences on the heels of a 10-3 season where QB Noah Fifita turned into a breakout star. There’s tons of returning talent — Tetairoa McMillan is one of the best receivers in America — while their schedule is far more manageable than the meat grinder that was the Pac-12 last year.

Notre Dame: Notre Dame

The Irish are losing a number of big time contributors — OT Joe Alt will be a top-10 pick, QB Sam Hartman and RB Audric Estime were a great backfield, and LB JD Bertrand was at the heart of their defense. But their defense still should be quite good, and it’s possible their offense takes a step forward following some major additions in the transfer portal (QB Riley Leonard from Duke chief among them) and a new offensive play caller in LSU’s Mike Denbrock.

The Wild Cards: Michigan, Alabama

At the time of this writing, there is no word on a host of NFL decisions, whether it be from players or from coaches. Michigan is going to be good next year — I would not be shocked in the slightest if they end up winning the Big Ten — but they’ll get their own little section here as we wait to see what Jim Harbaugh, J.J. McCarthy, and a whole host of other people end up doing. Their defense should be outstanding regardless, particularly if no one poaches defensive coordinator Jesse Minter.

Alabama might have been the favorite to win the SEC. And then, Nick Saban announced his retirement, and who knows what’s coming next for the Crimson Tide. We’ll see who they hire, we’ll see what their roster looks like, we’ll see … well, a lot of stuff. But for now, let’s keep them here and understand that the possibility that they make me look silly is incredibly high.

Bill DiFilippo
Bill DiFilippo is a writer and editor based out of Columbus, Ohio. You should not, however, assume that he is an Ohio State fan. Feel free to tell him why he's wrong about stuff on Twitter, @billdifilippo. Just be nice.
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