Collage of top college football players for the 2024 season.

Nick Saban, the greatest college football coach of all time, has retired from Alabama, where he won six of his seven national championships. Kalen DeBoer, who just led Washington to the College Football Playoff title game, will be his replacement.

Wow. I knew there was a reason we waited a bit longer this year to release my 2024 “way-too-early top 25.” With Saban’s exit, nothing will ever be the same in this sport — much less this projection of next season’s power rankings. The trickle-down effect is going to send shockwaves through rosters across the country, especially with the Crimson Tide and the Huskies, who are now beginning their search for DeBoer’s replacement.

What programs gain from this turn of events will be the story of the offseason — perhaps even USC or UCLA could play it to their advantage in the coming weeks.

For now, one program is on top of the world — the one that beat Saban’s Tide in his last game and DeBoer’s Huskies in his last game at Washington.

Read more: ‘We’re legends’: Michigan caps undefeated season with national title triumph

Michigan’s first national championship since 1997 strengthened the Big Ten’s muscle as a conference as it’s adding four premier West Coast brands. Combined with Saban’s decision to retire, one wouldn’t be surprised to see the balance of power shifting to a more even playing field.

For as much as it seemed significant swaths of the country were rooting against Michigan’s run, college football fans of historically relevant programs not named Georgia, Alabama and Ohio State should have been inspired by Monday night’s result.

The Wolverines featured just two consensus five-star recruits, but they were a true team in every sense of the word. On one hand, if Michigan can do it, many programs can do it. On the other, the Wolverines did it the hard way. It took three years of getting to this point that formed a resolve that wouldn’t break.

Who has the best chance to dethrone Michigan in 2024, the first year of the CFP’s 12-team format?

Ranking teams this early in the era of the transfer portal is a fool’s errand. Knowing rosters will remain in flux through the spring — particularly given the Saban and DeBoer news — I’ll be leaning toward teams with a proven quarterback and a dependable culture of winning more than going deep into the depth charts for answers.

Carson Beck prepares to pass the ball.Carson Beck prepares to pass the ball.

Georgia quarterback Carson Beck passes the ball against Florida State during the Orange Bowl on Dec. 30. (Lynne Sladky / Associated Press)

1. Georgia

Watching Michigan and Washington slog through some poor execution in the middle section of Monday’s title game, it was hard not to think that Alabama did them quite the favor in knocking out the Bulldogs. In the 12-team field, a team such as Georgia would still make the playoff and have the chance to rain havoc, starting with a home game. Next year, Georgia will be poised to return to its perch atop the sport, with quarterback Carson Beck coming back to lead an efficient offensive attack. The Bulldogs added Florida running back Trevor Etienne and Miami receiver Colbie Young from the transfer portal, which should help them recover from the loss of star tight end Brock Bowers as the team’s top playmaker. Kirby Smart’s defense will never be a question.

Ryan Day faces his players and claps.Ryan Day faces his players and claps.

Ohio State coach Ryan Day claps while his players warm up before playing Rutgers on Nov. 4 in Piscataway, N.J. (Noah K. Murray / Associated Press)

2. Ohio State

There is not a program in the country with more on the line in 2024 than Ohio State. Will that mounting pressure to put the Wolverines back in their place bring out the best in Ryan Day’s team? It hasn’t yet, but Ohio State did a remarkable job retaining a slough of players who had the option to go to the NFL but chose to come back for one more shot at a championship, such as wide receiver Emeka Egbuka, running back TreVeyon Henderson and defensive ends Jack Sawyer and JT Tuimoloau. The Buckeyes will swap out quarterback Kyle McCord, who transferred to Syracuse, for Kansas State transfer Will Howard, a proven winner in the Big 12. Yet Howard does not fit the mold of Day’s previous quarterbacks at Ohio State, so it’s possible Day is going to tinker a bit with his scheme. The addition of star running back Quinshon Judkins from Mississippi points toward more emphasis on the running game, despite the Buckeyes’ gaggle of five-star receivers. The defense should be one of the country’s best again.

Donovan Edwards skips in celebrationDonovan Edwards skips in celebration

3. Michigan

The Wolverines enter an uneasy period now, with Harbaugh’s NFL decision looming. Quarterback J.J. McCarthy could also choose to go out a national champion and enter the NFL draft (the gut feeling here is that McCarthy knows he has more developing to do and returns to Ann Arbor to keep Michigan humming). The Wolverines are going to lose a Mt. Rushmore figure in running back Blake Corum, but it’s possible Donovan Edwards decides to enjoy his shot as the team’s top back for the first time. Tight end Colston Loveland, McCarthy’s security blanket, will be back. After three years as the nation’s top offensive line, the Wolverines will have to reload in the trenches. Michigan loses some key pieces from its dominant defense, but it has top talent returning at each level, including Will Johnson and defensive tackles Mason Graham and Kenneth Grant. If Harbaugh leaves, Michigan has already shown it can win with offensive coordinator Sherrone Moore at the helm. Defensive coordinator Jesse Minter could receive a strong look too.

4. Mississippi

Jaxson Dart calls a play for Mississippi.Jaxson Dart calls a play for Mississippi.

Mississippi quarterback Jaxson Dart calls a play during his team’s Peach Bowl win over Penn State on Dec. 30 in Atlanta. (Brynn Anderson / Associated Press)

Has Lane Kiffin finally figured out how to match his offensive acumen as a program CEO? The Rebels beat Penn State in the Peach Bowl to finish an 11-2 season, and they now have the highest-ranked transfer portal recruiting class for 2024. Kiffin’s biggest portal fish is more like a whale — defensive tackle Walter Nolen, who was considered the nation’s top player when he committed to Texas A&M. Nolen will anchor what should be an improved Ole Miss defense, and veteran quarterback Jaxson Dart, a former USC transfer, will take care of the rest. The Rebels lost Judkins to Ohio State, but they won’t lack for talent in the backfield. For the first time in recent memory, because of new SEC scheduling, the Rebels won’t play Alabama. They host Georgia and Oklahoma instead, and Kiffin will need to win one of those games to get Ole Miss to its first playoff.

5. Texas

Steve Sarkisian raises his arms and shouts on the field.Steve Sarkisian raises his arms and shouts on the field.

Texas coach Steve Sarkisian celebrates his team’s win over Iowa State on Nov. 18 in Ames, Iowa. (Matthew Putney / Associated Press)

Steve Sarkisian’s Longhorns finally did it, winning the Big 12 and receiving the program’s first CFP invite. Now, Sark’s challenge will be to keep the team hungry for more as it enters its first year of SEC play. As of now, quarterback Quinn Ewers is returning for his senior season, and, if he does have a change of heart, it would mean the debut of Arch Manning. Texas is stacked at running back and wide receiver, which is no surprise given Sark’s reputation for developing high-scoring offenses. The biggest question will be on defense, where they will lose stalwart defensive tackle T’Vondre Sweat in the middle. Still, if Texas is actually “back” as it now appears, it would be a surprise if the Longhorns don’t make a repeat playoff appearance.

Jalen Milroe carries the ball past a defender.Jalen Milroe carries the ball past a defender.

6. Alabama

I had Alabama ranked No. 2 before the Saban news broke. Dropping the Crimson Tide only four spots, given the cataclysmic event of Wednesday, shows my utmost respect for the foundation of greatness that Saban is leaving very much intact, and DeBoer’s unquestioned coaching ability. No matter what happens in the portal, he will have more talent at his disposal than ever before. The Tide enter the offseason feeling as if they let one slip away against Michigan in the Rose Bowl. An Alabama team with a clear motive has always been dangerous, and the Tide faithful have now watched three seasons pass without a championship. As of now, dynamic quarterback Jalen Milroe will be back to try to change that, and he should benefit from his year of seasoning. Running back Justice Haynes flashed in Pasadena, and the Tide return two experienced tight ends. Alabama got welcome news when linebacker Deontae Lawson announced he was coming back to school. This team won’t be the same without Saban, but there’s no reason to think it is going to fall off a cliff immediately.

Oregon players douse Dan Lanning with Gatorade.Oregon players douse Dan Lanning with Gatorade.

Oregon coach Dan Lanning gets doused with Gatorade by his players during the closing moments of the Ducks’ Fiesta Bowl win over Liberty on Jan. 1 in Glendale, Ariz. (Ross D. Franklin / Associated Press)

7. Oregon

No quarterback has embraced college football’s era of player movement quite like Hawaiian Dillon Gabriel, who must be trying to get as much mainland flavor as possible. He started at Central Florida, transferred briefly to UCLA, played for Oklahoma the past two years and has now made one last move to Oregon. The Ducks can only hope he approaches the success of their last transfer, Bo Nix, who helped give Dan Lanning’s tenure an exciting jump-start. The only thing Nix couldn’t do was beat Washington, a task that will now fall to Gabriel. Oregon loses running back Bucky Irving and wide receiver Troy Franklin, but the Ducks still look fierce all over the depth chart.

Garrett Nussmeier throws for LSU.Garrett Nussmeier throws for LSU.

8. Louisiana State

This was one of those seasons LSU just couldn’t get off the ground, losing to Florida State in its opener and never playing its way back into national title contention. But the talent is there, and Brian Kelly knows what it takes to make the playoff. He just has to show it now in the SEC. The Tigers lose Heisman Trophy winner Jayden Daniels and top wide receiver Malik Nabers, but quarterback Garrett Nussmeier and his supporting cast seemed up for their new roles in beating Wisconsin in the ReliaQuest Bowl. LSU must figure out its defense, which has not been the same since winning the 2019 national championship. Giving up 31 points to the Badgers was not the greatest sign, but Kelly announced the hire of Blake Baker, the Missouri defensive coordinator who led the Tigers to an 11-2 season.

Nico Iamaleava holds his MVP belt.Nico Iamaleava holds his MVP belt.

Tennessee quarterback Nico Iamaleava shows his MVP belt to teammates after defeating Iowa in the Citrus Bowl on Jan. 1 in Orlando, Fla. (John Raoux / Associated Press)

9. Tennessee

The Volunteers used veteran quarterback Joe Milton to bridge the gap between Hendon Hooker and Southern California product Nico Iamaleava. During Iamaleava’s first college start against Iowa in the Capital One Bowl, he led the Vols to a 35-0 thumping of the Hawkeyes. The Iowa defense is a tough draw for a young quarterback, but Iamaleava met the challenge, compiling four touchdowns, including three on the ground. Tennessee feels poised for its CFP breakthrough in the coming years.

Mike Norvell claps.Mike Norvell claps.

Florida State coach Mike Norvell claps as his players warm up for the Orange Bowl Dec. 30 in Miami Gardens, Fla. (Rebecca Blackwell / Associated Press)

10. Florida State

The Seminoles enter the offseason flaming mad they were denied a spot in the playoff after an undefeated season and ACC championship. But now they know that if they repeat as ACC champs, they’ll be in the playoff and very likely enjoying a first-round bye. Mike Norvell has the full faith of Florida State to get the job done, and he’ll be counting on the maturity of former St. John Bosco quarterback DJ Uiagalelei, a two-time transfer who previously played for Clemson and Oregon State, to provide a stabilizing force after a turbulent time. Uiagalelei’s presence should make the Clemson game very interesting.

Eliah Drinkwitz and Brady Cook celebrate with a trophy.Eliah Drinkwitz and Brady Cook celebrate with a trophy.

11. Missouri

Quarterback Brady Cook and wide receiver Luther Burden are back to try to prove last year’s Missouri uprising was no fluke.

Drew Allar holds the ball.Drew Allar holds the ball.

12. Penn State

To make their first CFP, the Nittany Lions will need quarterback Drew Allar to live up to his five-star potential for the first time.

Dabo Swinney shouts and prepares to clap his hands.Dabo Swinney shouts and prepares to clap his hands.

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney walks on the field before a game against Miami on Oct. 21 in Miami Gardens, Fla. (Lynne Sladky / Associated Press)

13. Clemson

Three playoffs without Dabo Swinney’s Tigers would have seemed unfathomable five years ago, but he has failed to adapt well to the changes across the sport.

Jadarian Price avoids a tackle by Oregon State.Jadarian Price avoids a tackle by Oregon State.

14. Notre Dame

The Fighting Irish seem to be struggling to develop a home-grown quarterback. They’re hoping Duke transfer Riley Leonard can get them farther than Sam Hartman last season.

Jedd Fisch hoists a trophy.Jedd Fisch hoists a trophy.

Arizona coach Jedd Fisch lifts the team’s trophy after defeating Oklahoma in the Alamo Bowl on Dec. 28. (Eric Gay / Associated Press)

15. Arizona

Jedd Fisch’s team was a revelation last season. If the Wildcats continue their trajectory, they’ll win a Big 12 championship and receive a first-round bye in the playoff. Wow.

Jackson Arnold runs with the ball.Jackson Arnold runs with the ball.

16. Oklahoma

The Sooners are hoping top quarterback prospect Jackson Arnold is ready to lead them into the SEC.

Mike Elko speaks into a headset.Mike Elko speaks into a headset.

Texas A&M has hired Duke coach Mike Elko to take over the program, replacing Jimbo Fisher. (Phelan M. Ebenhack / Associated Press)

17. Texas A&M

The Aggies needed a new leader to harness all that talent they’ve been recruiting, but getting to the playoff in Year 1 will be a tall task for Mike Elko.

Cameron Rising holds the ball.Cameron Rising holds the ball.

Utah quarterback Cameron Rising looks to pass during the Rose Bowl last year. (Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

18. Utah

Cam Rising’s knee didn’t heal in time to play last season, so he’ll get a seventh college year to try to make the Utes champions in their new league.

Avery Johnson evades a linebacker.Avery Johnson evades a linebacker.

Kansas State quarterback Avery Johnson scrambles away from N.C. State linebacker Jaylon Scott as he looks for a receiver during the Pop-Tarts Bowl on Dec. 28. (John Raoux / Associated Press)

19. Kansas State

There was a reason Howard hit the portal, and his name is Avery Johnson. The Wildcats might may have a higher ceiling now.

Miller Moss throws a pass.Miller Moss throws a pass.

USC quarterback Miller Moss throws a pass during the the Trojans’ Holiday Bowl win over Louisville on Dec. 27 in San Diego. (Icon Sportswire / Getty Images)

20. USC

Could the Trojans have a better season with Miller Moss at quarterback than Caleb Williams? The early returns were great against Louisville, and it seems Lincoln Riley has realized he has to start putting a defensive mentality first.

Kalen DeBoer smiles after a win.Kalen DeBoer smiles after a win.

Washington coach Kalen DeBoer is leaving the Huskies to replace Nick Saban at Alabama. (David Becker / Associated Press)

21. Washington

The Huskies will not look like the same team with their head coach, quarterback and star wide receivers all gone.

Alan Bowman jumps to make a pass.Alan Bowman jumps to make a pass.

22. Oklahoma State

Rising won’t be the only seventh-year senior quarterback in the Big 12, as Alan Bowman will be back. To sum up the absurdity: This guy played at Texas Tech for Kliff Kingsbury in 2018.

Jalon Daniels leans back and throws a pass.Jalon Daniels leans back and throws a pass.

23. Kansas

The Jayhawks are building something with head coach Lance Leipold, and quarterback Jalon Daniels is back to try to win a Big 12 title.

Tyler Shough prepares to throw the ball.Tyler Shough prepares to throw the ball.

24. Louisville

Tyler Shough continues the seventh-year quarterback trend with the Cardinals, who may be better off if they give those reps to talented Southern California prospect Pierce Clarkson.

Cade McNamara looks to pass.Cade McNamara looks to pass.

25. Iowa

If the Hawkeyes improve just a little offensively — and they should with a healthy Cade McNamara at quarterback — they could sneak into the playoff conversation.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.


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