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Top 20 Tuesdays: Teams to Watch in 2024

By Sam Jessee | June 11
Photo courtesy of Dustin Bradford, Getty Images

What makes college football so great is that every year, every program has a story.

Whether it be a redemption story from last season’s failures, a program on the rise, or a team committed to remaining on top, every team is looking to write their story book season. It can be tough as fans to keep track of it all and follow along as the hot summer days turn to cool autumn afternoons. 

To cut through some of the noise, here are my top 20 teams to watch in 2024. Think of this as a TV viewing and storylines guide. These are the programs that will be talked about, for better or worse, more than anyone else. If these teams are playing, you need to watch. 


20. Florida

The Gators have all the ingredients for a trainwreck of a season. It will be like watching an episode of Real Housewives of Gainesville. Just pure, unfiltered trash…but you cannot look away. 

Billy Napier is on the hottest, sweatiest, swampiest seat in college football. He looks to be starting a freshman QB against by far the toughest schedule in the country. Things start off with a rivalry game against Miami, followed by hosting Texas A&M, then traveling to Rocky Top, then the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party vs Georgia, then they’ll mozy over to Austin to play Texas, then a trip to Death Valley to play LSU, and to wrap it all up a trip to the state capital to play Florida State. As my good friend Charles Brown once said, “good grief.”

What’s crazy, and somewhat unfortunate, is that this Florida team really isn’t that bad. Sure the win total is set at 5.5, but look at that schedule! I’m not sure many other teams would fare better than 4-8. This team is experienced, deep, and is bringing in a boatload of young talent. Florida probably can’t win the SEC this season, they probably can’t even get to 8 wins. But this team will have ample opportunity to ruin someone’s season. And isn’t that what college football is all about, Charlie Brown? Seeing an entire university’s ecosystem bubbling with excitement and hope only to be crushed by a barely bowl eligible team from some kooky college town in the Florida swamp?


19. Liberty

No mid-major program is financially better set up to succeed in modern college football than Liberty. This is a program that doesn’t look at price tags before purchasing, and frankly that’s the attitude that will bring them success.

Jamey Chadwell seems to be the perfect fit as a head coach and offensive mind for this program. His unique spread option offense simply baffles their competition, and he’s managed to maintain start QB Kaidon Salter to run the ship. The Flames lost a lot in terms of pass catchers in the offseason, but the running game may be so good it won’t matter. On defense, there’s much to be desired with this roster, but there’s enough there to give their offense a chance to win it for them. 

The team is solid and will be a lot of fun to watch, but the real reason Liberty is appointment television in 2024 is their schedule….it’s laughable. 

For the second consecutive season, the Flames will play one of, if not the, easiest schedule in college football. For starters, Conference USA has become more of a landing spot for FCS programs on their journey to big boy football. Sort of an Ellis Island for adventurous athletic departments. Liberty fits that bill, kind of, or they did a couple years ago. Now? They are on a totally different level financially. Also, Liberty has not managed to schedule much in the non-conference slate. The only matchup of note is a road game at Sun Belt title contender Appalachian State. While that will be one of the best mid-major matchups of the season, it hardly makes up for games against UTEP, ECU, and Campell. 

This means that every game this season for Liberty is a single elimination playoff game. They need to go 13-0 to even have a shot at making the playoffs, and after a 45-6 baptism at the hands of Oregon in last season’s Fiesta Bowl even that may not be enough. Every game, every snap, will have playoff implications. 

Photo courtesy of Brian Bishop, USA TODAY Sports

18. Appalachian State

The SunBelt has separated itself as the premies mid-major conference in college football. And at the core of that newfound stability are the Appalachian State Mountaineers. 

Last season, the Mountaineers went 9-4 with three losses by one possession including an OT loss to North Carolina. That team was good, but this team may be better. Not because of major additions to the roster, but because of depth and development. 

The Mountaineers return nine players with significant starting experience on a defense that was good, not great in 2023. They should be great in 2024. Offensively, QB Joey Aguilar is a real gamer while a trio of pass catchers in WR’s Christian Horn and Kaedin Robinson and TE Eli Wilson will provide solid targets. Top RB Nate Noel transferred to Mizzou, but the staff feels confident that Kanye Roberts can be one of the best backs in the Sun Belt. 

What makes App State such an interesting candidate for the playoff is their schedule. We’ve already mentioned the showdown with Liberty in Boone, but a road trip to Clemson in week 2 is a really juicy upset spot. If App State makes it out of September at 3-1, they’ll be in the hunt for that #12 spot. 


17. Miami Ohio

You can talk all you want about the SEC, the mega-BIG10, and all that nonsense all you want. Everyone knows the backbone of college football is MACtion. 

The MAC is a long shot to have a team in the playoff, but the Redhawks will be their best bet. A senior led roster that returns a ton of production on the offensive line and defensive front seven is led by QB Brett Gabbert who, when healthy, has been one of the better mid-major QB’s that no one talks about. 

This team went 11-3 last season. There’s nothing sexy about them, but they just play good football. They’d need to go at least 13-1 to make the playoff, but that’s a real possibility with how experienced and physical this bunch is. The last, and only, non-power conference team to make the playoff was Cincinnati in 2021. They did so on the back of a win at Notre Dame. Guess where the Redhawks play on September 21st…


16. Penn State

Can Penn State get over the Michigan + Ohio State hump?

They certainly are making moves to do so. QB Drew Allar has all the hype, and new OC Andy Kotelnicki, who turned Kansas into the 1999-2001 St. Louis Rams, should unlock all that arm talent. Defensively, Penn State remains one of the nastiest bunch of dudes in the country.

But there are major concerns in Happy Valley. For starters, James Franklin just doesn’t seem to handle the big games well. They lost to the three best teams they played last season and all by more than a TD. On offense, there’s a real lack of talent in the WR room. Ohio State transfer Julian Fleming is really the only bonafide target the Lions have.

That being said, there’s no real reason for Penn State to go less than 10-2 again. There’s no Michigan on the schedule and they’ll welcome Ohio State to Beaver Stadium. 

Photo courtesy of Barry Reeger, AP

15. Virginia Tech

The Hokies are receiving their most pre-season hype in over a decade, and with good reason. 

QB Kyron Drones and a stable of offensive weapons have revitalized this program from a mid-major roster to a legit conference title contender. And the best part for the Hokies? The schedule couldn’t get easier. Outside of a trip to Coral Gables to play the Hurricanes and a home game vs Clemson, the Hokies will play a myriad of teams that rank outside of the top 40 in preseason rankings, some well outside even the top 65. And home matchups against Georgia Tech, Rutgers, and the aforementioned Clemson Tigers are a good sign, as the Hokies have been significantly better at home than on the road under Brent Pry. 

It may be a nostalgic season in Blacksburg, but college football never seems to work that way. Things will be tougher for the Hokies than it may seem on the surface. But, with some late game luck and a relatively healthy season the Hokies could be back to being a nationally relevant brand of football just a couple years after hitting rock bottom.


14. Tennessee

2022 Tennessee was a historic offense. Will they hit that level of firepower in 2024 with 5 star QB Nico Iamaleava at the helm? Maybe not, but they’ll be darn close. 

The Vols will have one of the tougher schedules in the SEC with matchups against Oklahoma, Alabama, and Georgia to match up with a non-conference neutral site game vs NC State. A 10-win season may be asking too much, but if we’ve seen anything from the Vols under Josh Heupel it’s that they will be entertaining no matter the matchup. 


13. Washington State / Oregon State

A genuinely somber story in the chaos of college football reconstruction, Washington State and Oregon State seem to be the first two victims of financial strong arming in college football. While the Cougars haven’t been able to hold onto much success since the years of the late great Mike Leach, the Beavers were coming off multiple seasons of rousing success. And coupled with that was the construction of a brand new addition to their stadium, adding an aura to an already great home atmosphere. 

Both have been gutted by transfers, but both still have pride and will push to be included in however this all ends up. This season, they’ll be de facto Mountain West teams. After that? Who knows. For now, it’s worth watching and supporting these two programs. If nothing else, it may act as a harbinger of doom for mid-sized programs across the country. 

Photo courtesy of Brian Hayes, Statesman Journal

12. Ole Miss

Few programs have embraced the transfer portal like Lane Kiffin and Ole Miss, and it’s working. 

The Rebels find themselves a consensus top-10 team in the nation with, for the first time in a very long time, a manageable schedule. QB Jaxson Dart fits Kiffin’s system perfectly, and returning WR’s Tre Harris and Jordan Watkins are joined by transfer Antwane Wells Jr. to make up maybe the best trio of WR’s in the country. If Ole Miss is going to ever make a run at a national title, it’s this season.


11. Memphis

If there’s a team where you need to bet the over in every game, it’s Memphis. 

The Tigers, led by gunslinging QB Seth Henigan, return a ton of talent on an offense that averaged almost 40 points per game last season. Defensively, the Tigers struggled mightily. Big plays were an issue as they allowed 80 (eighty!) plays of over 20 yards and 38 (thirty-eight?!) plays of over 30 yards. Yeah, life’s too short to not bet the over. 

But if the Tigers can figure things out on defense, this team could surprise some people. And they’ll have plenty chances to do so. Memphis has road tests against Florida State, South Florida, Texas - San Antonio, and Tulane. That’s a brutal road schedule. An 11-2 AAC champion with that schedule is going to be a real candidate for a playoff spot. 


10. Miami

The narrative is pretty simple at this point: Miami gets all the hype, has all the talent, and ends up being a slightly above average team. Will this season be different?

I have no clue, and that’s why I’ll watch every snap. It does seem like the Canes have a clear talent advantage over the majority of the ACC. Offensively, they may be one of the better rosters in the entire country. The question lies on defense where Miami ranked 55th in passing yards allowed per game and didn’t get much better in the offseason. And then there’s coaching… Mario Cristobal is, without hyperbole, one of the worst in-game football coaches you will ever see at the college level. He’s on the hot seat already as his salary (and his team’s payroll) is more indicative of a mid-size tech company on South Beach than a college football team. 

Transfer QB Cam Ward has all the physical tools, but he was outside the top 50 in QBR last season at Washington State, and didn’t seem to take over the PAC12 like many thought he would coming from the FCS level. Much of Miami’s success will hinge on Ward looking more like an NFL first-rounder and less like a middle of the road PAC12 QB. Cristobal is banking on the NFL version of Ward, but history tells us he won’t be able to unlock that potential.

Is Cristobal out of a job if the Canes go 8-4?

Mario Cristobal
Photo Courtesy of Al Diaz, Miami Herald

9. Boise State

RB Ashton Jeanty and 5-star freshman QB Malachi Nelson could probably start for half of major conference teams. Combine that with a defense that continues to lead the Mountain West and you have a team that is going to expect to win 9+ games and yet another conference title. 

The Mountain West is struggling in the transfer portal world, so even in some leaner years the Broncos have taken advantage. But this season, things seem to be a bit brighter in Boise and hopes are higher than they’ve been in quite some time. An early season trip to Eugene will be brutal, but after that the Broncos draw a favorable schedule. 11-1 is a real possibility if Nelson lives up to his recruiting hype. 


8. Colorado

Deion Sanders, Ralphie, and Folsom Field.


7. Texas State

If you’re looking for this year’s New Mexico State (and who isn’t?), the Bobcats of Texas State are your best pick. 

From the depths of misery to bowl relevancy, the Bobcats have ridden the transfer portal rollercoaster all the way to having one of the best rosters in the Sun Belt with multiple pre-season first teamers, including former JMU QB Jordan McCloud.  The Sun Belt offers plenty of chances for big games, but with both JMU and Coastal Carolina being relatively in rebuild mode, the Bobcats are favorites in a conference that is destined to lead the pack of mid-majors in this new college football world. Texas State to the playoff is…not as crazy as it sounds. 


6. Florida State

There’s one word on the mind in Tallahassee: Revenge. 

The Seminoles got snubbed last year, there’s no other way to think about it. They were not just undefeated in 2023, they were dominant. How will the respond in 2024?

Well, it’s largely a new cast of characters leading the way. A plethora of NFL draftees and a few transfers meant Mike Norvell and the Florida State staff had to reload across the board on offense and the defensive front seven. With that reload comes one of the more intriguing stories of the season as QB DJ Uiagalelei arrives from Clemson by way of Oregon State. 

A premier program with a rival’s former QB and a revenge narrative? Oh yeah, feed me more.

Photo courtesy of Melina Myers, USA TODAY Sports

5. Utah

No team in the country was decimated more by injuries than Utah last season. QB Cam Rising was unable to come back after an ACL injury in the Rose Bowl, but he looks 100% heading into fall camp. Similarly, star TE Brant Kuithe will be a matchup nightmare in an offense that will feature multiple top transfer WR and a veteran stable of running backs. 

Utah might not have the preseason hype, but they should be favored to win the expanded BIG12 and lock up a top 4 playoff seed. Matchups vs Oklahoma State, Arizona, and Iowa State will be sneaky big games in the playoff race. And if Utah doesn’t win the BIG12 but manages to hit the 11-win mark? You’d be playing a game in Salt Lake City in December vs the Utes and the best home field advantage in college football. Good luck, babe. 


4. Oregon

If you think Oregon will struggle with the physicality and cold weather of the BIG10, you haven’t been paying attention. 

The Ducks are elite at every position, with the only question mark being which blue-chip defensive lineman will step up to anchor a defense that should be one of the best in the BIG10. Offensively, Dillon Gabriel looks to be the perfect replacement to Bo Nix, a QB who can get the ball out to playmakers and avoid mistakes. The NFL-quality throws will be the icing on the cake for an offense that will most certainly average over 40 per game. 

A juicy non-conference matchups with Boise State in Week 2 will provide an early test for the Ducks, while a home game vs Ohio State in mid-October looms large as one of the biggest games in the country. Two tough road trips to Ann Arbor and Madison will test the Ducks and provide some incredible visuals for us watching.

Oregon has been close to a national title a handful of times in the last two decades. 2024 might be the year. 


3. Alabama

There’s not much to say here except that life after Nick Saban will be a fascinating watch. Kalen DeBoer comes in as one of the best winners in the sport, but the challenge (and pressure) he’ll face at Alabama far surpasses anything he’s seen before. 

The roster is just as stacked as they always are, but a few key areas of weakness mean that a double-digit win season might be a tough task for the Tide. The normally elite WR room hasn’t been as productive since Holmon Wiggins (now at Texas A&M) joined the staff a few years ago, and the defensive backfield was decimated by the NFL Draft and transfer portal.

Jalen Milroe is lightning in a bottle, but he has room to grow as a passer. DeBoer is the perfect coach to unlock his full potential, however, so expect Milroe to be in the Heisman race until the very end. He’s worth the price of admission alone. 

The schedule offers some incredible matchups, including a showdown with big bad Georgia and a battle of the Crimson’s against SEC newcomer Oklahoma. Oh yeah, and those rivalry games vs Tennessee, LSU, Auburn, and a trip to Madison to play Wisconsin. Welcome to the SEC, Mr. DeBoer!

Kalen deboer alabama athletics
Photo courtesy of Alabama Athletics

2. Ohio State

I can say with relatively certainty that Ohio State has put together the most expensive roster in college football history. The rumored salary pool is north of $13M, but even that may be a little light. 

The Buckeyes brought in two of the most coveted transfer portal players in the last few seasons with Ole Miss RB Quinshon Judkins and Alabama CB Caleb Downs. They did all that while also convincing a slew of NFL talent to remain in Columbus and not enter the NFL Draft. When the Buckeyes take the field this fall, they’ll be doing it with virtually an NFL Rookie Camp roster. Good luck, Southern Miss, Marshall, Western Michigan and pretty much everyone else that’s not Michigan, Penn State, or Oregon. 

Head coach Ryan Day is one loss in November away from being maybe the winningest coach ever to be fired for performance. The expectations at Ohio State are so far beyond what any other program north of the Mason-Dixon has. How hot would Day’s seat really get if the Buckeyes drop a game or don’t win the BIG10?

It’s true that the money in the sport has changed much of the narrative around roster construction, but it has also kept some of the sport’s best talent in school for a year longer than they would have a decade ago. Ohio State, for better or worse, has turned themselves into the Los Angeles Dodgers of college football. But in Columbus, they expect nothing less than championships, and how many titles have the Dodgers had this century? Sometimes winning the offseason is a recipe for failure. 


1. Texas

Everything that exemplifies big time college football in 2024 will be in Austin this year.

Star QB? Check. Blue-chip recruits all over the roster? Yup. Studs from the transfer portal? Of course. High-powered offense? You betcha. Big games in the SEC in a 100K+ stadium? Oh yeah. 

Texas may not have won the national championship last season, but they cleared the national relevance hurdle that the program had struggled to even approach since the Colt McCoy years. Even after some losses to the NFL draft, this team is one of the top 4 or 5 rosters in the country, and Quin Ewers could very well hear his name called at the Heisman ceremony.

The Longhorns move to the SEC (along with rival Oklahoma’s) is one of the more seismic moves in college football history, and it will provide the juiciest of matchups vs Georgia and the return of one of the great rivalries in the sport: Texas vs Texas A&M on Thanksgiving weekend. However, before Texas even sniffs the bourbon and magnolias in SEC country, they’ll travel up to the big house to face the defending national champions, Michigan.

Love them or hate them, it’s true that Texas is the biggest, richest, most powerful brand in the sport. And now they have the team to match. (As the kids say nowadays, they match each other’s freak.)

Photo courtesy of Sara Diggins, Austin American-Statesmen
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I'm a born and raised Hokie. My first game in Lane Stadium was in September of 1997 when Tech stomped Big East rival Syracuse 31-3. 

I was born and raised in Richmond, VA, where I developed a passion for local cooking, scenic nature, and everything Orange and Maroon. I graduated from Tech with a degree in Finance in 2019 and received my Master's in Data Analytics in 2021. I'm a certified analytics nerd with a passion for data visualization and modeling, which fuels much of my work.

I joined the Sons team in 2020, and now act as the Website Content Manager overseeing all online content and mentoring our talented tea of writers. I also co-host the Two Deep podcast with Pete B.

I currently work in Virginia Beach, VA, as a data and financial analyst for LifeNet Health, a biotech and organ transplant non-profit.

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