Yahoo Sports' way-too-early Top 25 for next college football season

The 2023 season concluded on Monday night but it's never too early to look ahead to next season. Here's our way-too-early look at how we think the college football field shapes up in the first season of the 12-team playoff.

25. Louisville (10-4 in 2023)

The Cardinals rank No. 1 in Rivals’ transfer portal rankings so far and have added seven top-200 players. Not included in that group is former Oregon and Texas Tech QB Tyler Shough. He’s shown flashes when he’s been healthy, but he’s dealt with a lot of injuries over five years of college football. Shough has never played in more than seven games in a single season.

24. Boise State (8-6)

The Broncos added former five-star recruit and USC quarterback Malachi Nelson over the weekend. He should open the season as the starter and will have RB Ashton Jeanty to rely on. Jeanty rushed for 1,347 yards and 14 TDs in 2023. LB Andrew Simpson had 6.5 sacks and 16 tackles for loss in 2023 and should be back. The Broncos will enter 2024 as the favorite to grab the Group of Five’s playoff berth.

23. Wisconsin (7-6)

The Badgers should be better in Luke Fickell’s second year and added former Miami QB Tyler Van Dyke. RB Braelon Allen is heading to the NFL, but leading WR Will Pauling is set to return after he had eight catches for 143 yards against LSU in the ReliaQuest Bowl. Getting leading tackler Hunter Wohler for his senior season is big for the defense.

22. Oklahoma State (10-4)

The Cowboys bring back RB Ollie Gordon after he was one of the nation’s best running backs in 2023 and QB Alan Bowman has been granted a seventh season of eligibility. WR Brennan Presley is back for 2024 too after grabbing 101 passes. Defensive improvement is a must, however. OSU allowed 6.5 yards per play as opposing quarterbacks averaged nearly nine yards an attempt.

21. SMU (11-3)

The Mustangs should be contenders right away in their first year in the ACC. QB Preston Stone is set to return after throwing for nearly 3,200 yards and 28 TDs before suffering a season-ending injury in the regular season finale. The new conference schedule is manageable too. Florida State visits Dallas and SMU heads to Louisville but could be favored everywhere else.

20. Iowa (10-4)

A healthy Cade McNamara and a new offensive coordinator could do wonders for the Iowa offense. After a dreadful 2023, we expect the Iowa offense to take a step forward — it can’t get any worse, can it? — and the defense should still be very, very good. The schedule takes a big step up in difficulty too with the Big Ten moving to get rid of divisions. The Hawkeyes host Washington and visit Ohio State and UCLA.

19. Arizona (10-3)

Don’t sleep on the Wildcats in their first season in the Big 12. Arizona ended 2023 with seven straight wins and bring back QB Noah Fifita and WR Tetairoa McMillan. Leading tackler Jacob Manu is back too. He was everywhere in 2023 with 116 tackles, 6.5 sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss. A trip to Kansas State to open Big 12 play on Sept. 14 is a possible Big 12 title game preview.

TEMPE, ARIZONA - NOVEMBER 25: Wide receiver Tetairoa McMillan #4 of the Arizona Wildcats celebrates with Noah Fifita #11 after catching a 50-yard touchdown reception against the Arizona State Sun Devils during the second half of the NCAAF game at Mountain America Stadium on November 25, 2023 in Tempe, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Arizona finished the 2023 season on a tear and will have star QB Noah Fifita and WR Tetairoa McMillan back in the fold next season. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

18. LSU (10-3)

Will Garrett Nussmeier be the Week 1 quarterback or will LSU add someone in the spring transfer portal? The offense will look a lot different in 2024 without Heisman winner Jayden Daniels, RB Logan Diggs and WRs Malik Nabers and Brian Thomas. A step back is likely. LSU’s ceiling will be determined by its defensive improvement. The Tigers hired Missouri defensive coordinator Blake Baker to run the defense in 2024.

17. Oklahoma (10-3)

Jackson Arnold takes over as the starting quarterback and got some valuable experience in the Alamo Bowl. There are questions about the offensive line thanks to all the December departures, but the defense could get better in 2024 with a coordinator change. The Sooners get an SEC gauntlet, however. OU has Tennessee and Alabama at home (in addition to its annual game in Dallas vs. Texas) and visits Ole Miss, Missouri and LSU in the second half of the season.

16. Tennessee (9-4)

Nico Iamaleava showed why he’s the quarterback of the future for the Vols in the Citrus Bowl win over Iowa. He should be fun to watch in Josh Heupel’s offense and WR Bru McCoy is returning after suffering a season-ending injury just five games into the season. Former Oregon State DB Jermod McCoy could make an instant impact in the secondary and the addition of WR Chris Brazzell from Tulane could be a sneaky good pickup.

15. Clemson (9-4)

A second year in Garrett Riley’s offense for QB Cade Klubnik should lead to more improvement. The Tigers were just 52nd in scoring in 2023 but had 31 or more points in four of their last five games. Replacing Will Shipley is imperative, but Phil Mafah is likely to return and be the No. 1 back. Though we have the Tigers at No. 16, it’s fair to say that anything other than a College Football Playoff berth will be a disappointment for Tigers fans.

14. Utah (8-5)

We have confidence the Utah offense will be better in 2024 with Cameron Rising back at the helm. He missed the entirety of the 2023 season after suffering a knee injury in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1, 2023. The Utes don’t have to play Kansas State or West Virginia and get BYU and Arizona at home. The Utah defense should be exceptional once again and possibly good enough for a playoff berth.

13. Kansas State (9-4)

The Wildcats should enter the first year of the Big 12 without Oklahoma and Texas as the favorites. Avery Johnson’s emergence in limited playing time in 2023 helped lead to Will Howard’s transfer; Johnson led all Kansas State players with 5.7 yards per carry. RB D.J. Giddens rushed for over 1,200 yards and WR Jayce Brown had 27 catches for 437 yards as a freshman.

12. Washington (14-1)

We’ll fully admit that this could be too low for the Huskies. But it’s hard to ignore the talent that Washington could be losing after the 2023 season. Former Mississippi State QB Will Rogers is an adept replacement for Michael Penix Jr., but their quarterbacking styles are vastly different. Watching Kalen DeBoer and offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb adapt to Rogers’ strengths will be fascinating. The Huskies will need new receivers to emerge as well. Ultimately, we trust DeBoer’s track record enough to believe Washington will contend for a playoff spot in 2024.

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 04: Washington Huskies head coach Kalen Deboer during a college football game between the Washington Huskies against the USC Trojans on November 04, 2023, at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles, CA(Photo by Jordon Kelly/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Will Kalen DeBoer have the Huskies right back in the thick of things next season? (Jordon Kelly/Getty Images)

11. Florida State (13-1)

Here’s another team that is losing a ton of talent from a phenomenal season. Florida State needs to replace QB Jordan Travis, RB Trey Benson, WRs Keon Coleman and Johnny Wilson, along with star DE Jared Verse and other defenders. Coach Mike Norvell has shown he’s very good at navigating the transfer portal and already landed DJ Uiagalelei to replace Travis. The Seminoles should be at or near the top of the ACC that they desperately want to leave.

10. Penn State (10-3)

We’re excited to see what Penn State’s offense looks like in 2024 with former Kansas offensive coordinator Andy Kotelnicki calling the plays. If you’ve made it this far you know how bad Penn State’s offense was against Michigan and Ohio State in 2023. Those two hurdles remain heading into 2024, but Penn State doesn’t have Michigan on the regular season schedule.

9. Notre Dame (10-3)

The Irish added a transfer quarterback from the ACC for the second straight season with the addition of Duke’s Riley Leonard. His stats were down in 2023 as he dealt with injuries but he had an exceptional 2022 with 33 total touchdowns as he passed for nearly 3,000 yards and rushed for almost 700. Safety Xavier Watts is back for a fifth season in 2024 and the defensive line should be very good with the return of Howard Cross III and Rylie Mills.

8. Missouri (11-2)

The Tigers will have a new defensive coordinator in 2024 and need to replace all-SEC running back Cody Schrader but have all the pieces in place for a spot in the expanded playoff. Missouri landed five-star in-state DE Williams Nwaneri and has done very well in the transfer portal so far. Brady Cook was the most improved quarterback in the SEC in 2023 and WR Luther Burden could be the best wideout in the conference in 2024. The Tigers’ SEC schedule is also about as good as it gets.

7. Oregon (12-2)

Dillon Gabriel will enter 2024 as one of the favorites for the Heisman Trophy as he plays his final season of college football for the Ducks. Oregon needs to replace RB Bucky Irving, but Jordan James averaged over seven yards a carry as a sophomore. WR Tez Johnson is back for next season and the return of linebacker Jeffrey Bassa for 2024 is huge. Our only reason for pause about Oregon is a schedule that includes Boise State, a trip to Oregon State, Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin and Washington.

6. Ohio State (11-2)

The addition of Will Howard from Kansas State is significant for multiple reasons. It gives the Buckeyes a top-tier QB for 2024 and also shows that Ryan Day wasn’t comfortable entering next season with the options he had on the roster. The late addition of Quinshon Judkins only adds to the excitement for the Buckeyes offense. DE Jack Sawyer’s return is significant after a phenomenal Cotton Bowl outing against Missouri. Like it has ever since Day took over for Urban Meyer, the ultimate verdict on the season will be determined by the outcome of the regular season finale against Michigan.

ARLINGTON, TX - DECEMBER 29: Ohio State head coach Ryan Day leads his team onto the field during the 88th annual Cotton Bowl game between the Missouri Tigers and the Ohio State Buckeyes on Friday, December 29, 2023 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX.  (Photo by Nick Tre. Smith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Will the addition of Will Howard help push Ryan Day and the Buckeyes over the hump in 2024? (Nick Tre. Smith/Getty Images)

5. Ole Miss (11-2)

Yes, we’re fully on board with Ole Miss as the hype team of 2024. Look, the loss of RB Quinshon Judkins to the transfer portal hurts, but the offense is largely returning intact otherwise and is adding former South Carolina WR Juice Wells. Head coach Lane Kiffin adeptly stocked the defense through the transfer portal and the Rebels have about the easiest SEC schedule possible. There’s no Alabama and Georgia visits Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.

4. Michigan (15-0)

We reserve the right to move Michigan down if Jim Harbaugh bolts for the NFL. The Wolverines have done a fantastic job of replacing players who head to the NFL and we expect nothing less in 2024 even though Michigan will be replacing RB Blake Corum and likely QB J.J. McCarthy. Alex Orji is McCarthy’s successor and success will once again be predicated on a strong run game and defense. We do have a hesitation about the schedule, however. Michigan has Texas, USC, Washington, Oregon and Ohio State on tap along with a Week 1 game against a feisty Fresno State team.

3. Texas (12-2)

This top-three pick is based on the return of QB Quinn Ewers for the 2024 season, though we’re not sure how much we’d drop the Longhorns if the Arch Manning era was to begin in earnest later this year. The losses of RB Jonathon Brooks and WR Xavier Worthy hurt but they were expected. The Longhorns have added Clemson DB Andrew Mukuba, Houston WR Matthew Golden and UTSA LB Trey Moore through the transfer portal and also secured the No. 3 recruiting class.

2. Georgia (13-1)

The Bulldogs could be the most talented team entering the 2024 season. That’s obviously not a shocker. QB Carson Beck is back and could be the preseason Heisman favorite. The addition of RB Trevor Etienne from Florida is a big deal for the run game and the defense will once again be loaded. But there’s a reason we have Georgia at No. 2 instead of No. 1. The Bulldogs have a brutal schedule. Georgia opens the season vs. Clemson and visits Alabama, Texas and Ole Miss.

1. Alabama (12-2)

Alabama is our way-too-early national title favorite thanks to a more manageable schedule than the Bulldogs and a roster that brings back QB Jalen Milroe and DB Caleb Downs among many other contributors. Milroe should take another step forward in 2024 after he improved as the season went on. The Crimson Tide head to Wisconsin in Week 3 and have to visit Tennessee, LSU and Oklahoma in conference play but get both Georgia and Missouri at home. After what Nick Saban did with his team in 2023, it’s hard to go against him in 2024.