Calling My Shot: 10 predictions for the 2024 college football season (2024)

With so much changing, the 2024 college football season is nearly impossible to predict. But I’ll give it my best shot with a leadoff college football prediction guaranteed to come true…

Remember 2007? That year started with Appalachian State beating Michigan and never came close to sanity. The final day of the season began with the possibility of a Missouri-West Virginia national title game and ended with Ohio State set to play two-loss LSU for the title.

But that’s also the year Nick Saban took over at Alabama and laid the foundation for a run of dominance that lasted into this decade. Add in the four-team College Football Playoff, which brought the focus more on the national title but also eliminated all but a select few teams from contention by mid-October, and the result was a fairly boring set of seasons.

This season will be anything but boring. Oklahoma and Texas join the SEC. Oregon, Washington, UCLA and USC join the Big Ten. Colorado, Arizona, Arizona State and Utah join the Big 12. Divisions are dead in the Big Ten and SEC. The College Football Playoff expands to 12, meaning far more teams will be in contention deeper into the season. November games that would have elicited a yawn in pervious years could affect the fate of multiple teams throughout the country.

It’s going to feel completely different, and it’s going to get wild.

2. Five SEC teams will make the first 12-team CFP.

When I made my post-spring top 25, I realized that if the season ended that way, it would mean the SEC made up almost half the field. I’m not backing off that stance.

It’s not apples to apples because you can’t just port Texas or Oklahoma playoff appearances to the SEC because of how the automatic bids work and because we don’t know if those teams would have had a different record playing in a different league, but seven teams that will be in the SEC in 2024 (Texas, Alabama, Georgia, Ole Miss, Missouri, LSU, Oklahoma) finished in the top 13 last season. The No. 12 team is likely getting kicked for the highest ranked Group of 5 champ, but the power conferences are so big now that the champions of all four likely will finish in the top 11. That would keep anyone else from getting punted.

The SEC’s schedule draw is the biggest reason for this prediction. Alabama and Georgia got tougher conference schedules, but they’re also talented enough to handle them. Texas and Ole Miss appear to have CFP-caliber rosters and fairly manageable schedules. Missouri and Tennessee may not be perfect, but they’re going to be good and they fared well in the schedule draw. Oklahoma and LSU are Oklahoma and LSU; they’re almost always a threat to win double-digit games. That’s a lot of legitimate contenders, and it’s entirely reasonable that five-eighths of that group could finish in the top 11.

3. Nebraska will be 7-0 entering the Ohio State game

I get it. You’re tired of us pumping sunshine for Nebraska during the offseason only to watch the Cornhuskers falter once the games begin. But you didn’t get a lot of sunshine in this space last offseason. I also was just as mystified as most of you when my media brethren picked Nebraska to win the Big Ten West in Scott Frost’s second season.

But Matt Rhule’s second season does feel different. First, we’ve got Rhule’s track record. Temple improved by four wins between years one and two. Baylor improved by five wins. Plus, Nebraska was in a better place when Rhule took over than either of those two.

Second, the Big Ten has given Nebraska an absolute gift with this schedule. The Huskers get the aforementioned Buckeyes in October, but they miss Oregon, Michigan and Penn State. The early season is incredibly manageable if they can avenge last season’s loss to Colorado in week two.

Despite all the excitement about freshman QB Dylan Raiola, Nebraska coordinator Tony White’s defense should be the star. That should allow Raiola time to develop without pressure on him to carry the Huskers to victories. If he takes care of the ball and makes plays when the opposing defense slips, Nebraska should be in a position to win most games.

Besides the Buffaloes — who used some late first-half Nebraska turnovers to spark a blowout win in Boulder last season — a visit from Rutgers on Oct. 5 could be a significant challenge. The Scarlet Knights should also be filthy on defense, and we might see the season’s biggest rock fight that afternoon.

But Nebraska should be favored in all seven of those games, so the bowl drought could be a memory by the time the Huskers go to Columbus.

4. Colorado will make a bowl game.

I realize I just handed the Buffs a loss with the previous prediction, but they only need to be a little better than last season to make the postseason.

The discourse around Colorado feels very all-or-nothing. People who love Deion Sanders get mad when we don’t predict a Big 12 title. People who hate Coach Prime accuse us of trolling for clicks if we don’t suggest they’ll go 3-9.

As with most things, the reality for Colorado lies somewhere in the middle. In this version of the Big 12, nearly every above-average team has a chance to play for the conference title if some of the breaks go that team’s way. But unless Colorado is significantly better on both lines of scrimmage, Kansas State, Utah and Oklahoma State — the three betting favorites for the league title, which are all on Colorado’s schedule — will be tough for the Buffs to beat.

But that doesn’t mean Colorado won’t be better than the team that went 4-8 in Sanders’ first season. The personnel on the offensive line is better, at least based on most of those players’ performances on their teams last season. Cornerback/receiver Travis Hunter probably will be the best player on the field in every game. Shedeur Sanders should be one of the best QBs in the Big 12.

A two- or three-win improvement is entirely realistic, and going from 1-11 in 2022 to 6-6 or 7-5 in 2024 would be a perfectly acceptable level of improvement given the circ*mstances Sanders inherited.

5. Miami will play in the ACC title game.

The idea when the Hurricanes joined the ACC in 2004 was that Miami and Florida State would routinely face off for the league title. The Seminoles have done their part, winning the conference five times since 2004. The Hurricanes have not. In fact, they’ve only played in the ACC title game once in that span and haven’t won the league.

That changes this year with a roster built by major signings out of high school on the line of scrimmage and NIL-fueled transfer acquisitions at the skill positions. Former five-star offensive linemen Francis Mauigoa and Samsun Okunlola will block for Washington State transfer QB Cam Ward and Oregon State transfer back Damien Martinez. Edge rusher Rueben Bain, Miami’s best freshman last season, will chase opposing quarterbacks while Washington transfer Mishael Powell, who started the national title game for the Huskies, will provide veteran leadership on the back end of the defense.

Are the Hurricanes the best team in the ACC? They’d have to prove that by beating Florida State (possibly twice). But can they be one of the best two teams in the ACC? With this roster, they absolutely should be. (And if they’re not against this schedule, it might be time to panic.)

6. Arch Manning will start at least one game for Texas, but Quinn Ewers will remain QB1.

This is one I would prefer not to come true, and I don’t want anything to think I’m wishing ill on Texas starter Quinn Ewers. But the fact is Ewers missed three starts to injury in 2022 and two starts to injury in 2023. It’s also true that for a team to have the season Texas wants to have in 2024, that team would have to play 16 or 17 games.

Every playoff contender needs to be cognizant of its backup quarterback situation, and Texas probably is among the most comfortable with the idea of its backup coming in and winning games. Arch Manning looked quite grown-up when we saw him in the spring game, and coach Steve Sarkisian seems confident in Manning should he be needed.

Texas survived Kansas State by the skin of its teeth with Maalik Murphy starting last season. The Longhorns lost to Texas Tech with Hudson Card starting in place of Ewers in 2022. If something happened this season, Manning should be capable of keeping the offense humming until Ewers’ healthy return.

But now that we’ve discussed Texas, I’ll ask a question of fans of other teams that intend to contend for CFP spots: How confident are you in your team’s backup QB to jump in and play in crunch time?

7. The 2024 Heisman Trophy winner will start the season with a +2000 or larger betting line.

For the past three seasons, Las Vegas had a handle on the Heisman race. The eventual winner was one of the three betting favorites heading into the season. Even in 2021, when Spencer Rattler and DJ Uiagalelei were favorites (which seems preposterous now), Alabama QB Bryce Young came in at No. 3. Last year, LSU QB Jayden Daniels surged into the top three in the weeks before the season began. When the Tigers finally kicked off against Florida State in week one, Daniels was second behind 2022 winner Caleb Williams (+450) at +1100.

That’s a long way of saying we’re due for an out-of-nowhere Heisman winner. Devonta Smith, who didn’t appear on any Heisman watch lists going into the 2020 season, was the last one.

The books seem confident this offseason that Georgia QB Carson Beck (+750), Ewers (+900) and Oregon QB Dillon Gabriel (+1000) are the most likely candidates, but then the numbers get big fast.

Alabama QB Jalen Milroe (+1500) and Ole Miss QB Jaxson Dart (+1500) should put up big numbers on teams expected to compete for CFP berths. Ohio State QB Will Howard (+1300), who transferred this offseason from Kansas State, is surrounded by talent, has Chip Kelly calling plays for him and might have the best defense playing opposite his offense.

But if you’re going to take a 13-to-1 shot on Howard, why not take a 25-to-1 shot on the guy who is the reason Howard transferred in the first place? Avery Johnson is the homegrown, lightning-fast former blue-chip recruit who will start this season in Manhattan. If he can post big numbers and keep the Wildcats in Big 12 title contention, he’d certainly be in the mix for the award.

If Mike Elko has a successful first season at Texas A&M, it likely will be because QB Conner Weigman (+2500) blossomed under the tutelage of Collin Klein, who called plays for Howard and Johnson last year at Kansas State. Or maybe take a flier on Oklahoma QB Jackson Arnold (+3000), whose significant upside is the reason Gabriel is at Oregon. And while we’re discussing SEC QBs, don’t forget about Missouri’s Brady Cook (+3500). He’ll be throwing to receiver Luther Burden (+6500) again, and he likely will improve on the already robust 9 yards per attempt he averaged last season.

Want a complete longshot? If you’re going to choose a receiver, why not combine a receiver winning plus the first true freshman to win the award? The buzz around class of 2024 No. 1 recruit Jeremiah Smith (+15000) is loud. Even though the Ohio State freshman joins a stacked receiver room, he still might be the best player in it. He and Auburn receiver Cam Coleman (no odds yet) fell like the most likely true freshmen to make huge instant impacts.

8. Baylor coach Dave Aranda will be this season’s version of Neal Brown.

At this time last year, every hot seat list started with West Virginia coach Brown. Brown didn’t seem bothered by the pressure, though. He retook offensive playcalling duties, led his team to nine wins and got a mayonnaise bath after beating North Carolina in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl. Now Brown starts this season in a comfortable place with a team that returns much of what made it good last year.

Baylor’s Dave Aranda is only three years removed from winning the Big 12, but after going 6-7 in 2022 and 3-9 last season, Aranda is under fire. The Bears need to improve immediately. So Aranda, a longtime defensive coordinator before he became a head coach, will retake defensive playcalling duties.

Aranda also brought in Jake Spavital to run the offense. Spavital, a former OC at Texas A&M and West Virginia, had a great bounceback season in 2023 at Cal after being fired following a stint as Texas State’s head coach. The Bears also brought in sixth-year senior QB Dequan Finn, who won the MAC most valuable player award last season at Toledo.

While good offensive linemen are always important, Spavital’s up-tempo spread isn’t as reliant on having superior athletes up front as former OC Jeff Grimes’ wide zone scheme. This offense should allow the Bears to operate efficiently even if they can’t dominate up front.

As Big 12 schedules go, Baylor’s isn’t especially brutal. If the offense improves and Aranda can call defenses the way he did as a coordinator, the required improvement should come.

9. The most productive tailback duo in the country likely will be at Ohio State. But don’t count out a pair of transfers at Missouri.

The Buckeyes combination of TreVeyon Henderson and Quinshon Judkins has understandably grabbed most of the offseason attention, but don’t be shocked if Missouri’s Marcus Carroll and Nate Noel pile up just as many yards on the ground.

We’ve already mentioned the Cook-to-Burden combo in Columbia, but a key question is how Missouri plans to replace SEC leading rusher Cody Schrader. Schrader was the ultimate transfer portal find, walking on at Missouri after playing at Division II Truman State. The players trying to replace his production have a slightly more established track record.

Carroll was a workhorse back at Georgia State, gaining 1,350 yards on 274 carries. Noel missed a few games with injuries last season but still led the Mountaineers with 834 on 173 carries. With perhaps the nation’s best receiver and a quality QB scaring the hell out of defenses through the air, Carroll and Noel should be able to do significant damage on the ground.

The Flames went 13-0 last season and won Conference USA yet finished only one spot ahead of two loss American Athletic Conference champ SMU in the final CFP poll. This season, Liberty’s toughest game is an out-of-conference trip to Appalachian State.

The highest ranked Group of 5 champ likely will be the No. 12 seed in the CFP. Because of the CFP’s rule that the top four seeds go to conference champs, the No. 5 seed might be the No. 2 or No. 3 team in the nation. That is who the No. 12 seed would play on the road in the first round. Don’t be surprised if the committee opts for a one- or two-loss conference champ that played a tougher schedule.

Miami (Ohio), for example, is coming off an 11-3 season and plays Northwestern, Cincinnati and Notre Dame. If the Redhawks beat one of those three and ran the table in the MAC, they’d probably have a better resume.

Boise State, which won the Mountain West last season, plays in a tougher league and plays Oregon, Washington State and Oregon State. UNLV, another Mountain West contender, plays Kansas, Houston, Syracuse and Oregon State.

The best hope for Liberty would be to go undefeated and hope Appalachian State wins the Sun Belt. But if a Sun Belt, Mountain West or American Athletic Conference team finishes with only one loss — provided it’s not Appalachian State losing to Liberty — the committee probably would opt for the team that took the more rugged path. If those options came with two losses, then it’s going to come down to which teams those teams beat.

Calling My Shot: 10 predictions for the 2024 college football season (2024)


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