The 2023-2024 NCAA Football (NCAAF) is less than three months away, and the anticipation is ramping up across the country. Fans and pundits are already debating which teams will emerge as the top contenders for the College Football Playoff. Perennial powerhouses such as Georgia, Alabama, and Ohio State are poised to continue their dominance, but schools like Texas, Michigan, LSU, Notre Dame, USC, and Clemson have upgraded their rosters, and the college football odds indicate this could be their year.
Which teams are the best candidates to end Georgia’s run of two straight titles? This article will delve deep into some of the top teams to look out for this season, as well as some of the premier players to watch this season.
The Big Three
When discussing the top contenders in NCAAF, it’s impossible to ignore the formidable trio of Georgia, Alabama, and Ohio State. Here’s why these teams are considered the favorites to win this year’s national championship
Known for its dominant defense and exceptional recruiting prowess, Georgia won the last two national titles. Led by a talented roster and renowned head coach Kirby Smart, the Bulldogs have built a reputation for stifling opposing offenses and exhibiting tremendous depth.
Despite losing several key contributors to the pros, they have recruited well in recent years and shouldn’t lose a step in 2023. While Georgia’s defense should continue to be among the best in football, there are questions about who will replace Stetson Bennett at quarterback, with Carson Being being the early frontrunner.
Under the legendary tutelage of head coach Nick Saban, Alabama has long been a powerhouse. Under Saban, they have won six national championships since 2009 and have been in all but two College Football Playoffs since the system began in 2014.
The key for Alabama is replacing Bryce Young; Jalen Milroe and Notre Dame transfer Tyler Buchner are expected to duel it out in preseason for the No. 1 spot, but Milroe is expected to win the battle. Defensive tackle Jaheim Otis leads a star-studded Crimson Tide defense.
Guided by the expertise of head coach Ryan Day, the Buckeyes showcase an explosive offense with possibly the best wide receiver in college football, Marvin Harrison, Jr. Renowned for its dynamic playmakers and consistent high-scoring performances, they possess the firepower to outgun any opponent.
Ohio State came so close a year ago to making the national championship; they blew a late double-digit lead to Georgia in the playoff semifinal and lost by one. While C.J. Stroud will be missed, quarterback Kyle McCord is expected to fill in and make an immediate impact.
Potential Surprises to Win the Title
While perennial powerhouses like Georgia, Alabama, and Ohio State often dominate the conversation in college football, several teams have the potential to surprise fans and pundits in the upcoming NCAAF season.
Under the guidance of head coach Steve Sarkisian, the Longhorns have a roster bursting with talent. The big question is who will start at quarterback this year–second-year star Quinn Ewers or freshman Arch Manning? Both of these gunslingers have the talent around them to strike fear into opponents. With one of the top recruiting classes in the nation, Texas’ resurgence could catch many off guard.
After a strong showing in the previous two seasons, the Wolverines aim to build upon their momentum with an elite defense and an offense led by the return of running backs Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards. Quarterback J.J. McCarthy also returns, hoping to avenge Michigan’s semifinal losses the last two years to Georgia and TCU.
The Tigers’ key transfers, including cornerbacks Denver Harris and Zy Alexander, as well as former Alabama wide receiver Aaron Anderson, signify their commitment to maintaining success. Brian Kelly is hoping to continue the momentum after a better-than-expected debut last season.
The Irish lost offensive coordinator Tommy Rees to Alabama, along with quarterback Tyler Buchner, but added Wake Forest transfer Sam Hartman, who broke the ACC all-time record for touchdown passes last year. Marcus Freeman brings back a stellar offensive line and impressive running back rotation to go along with a defense that has been one of the best units the last couple of seasons.
Lincoln Riley’s coaching staff has the potential to tap into its tradition of producing top-level talent and make a surprising impact. Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams returns and looks to return USC to prominence; it’s been nearly 20 years since their last national championship.
By bringing former TCU play-caller Garrett Riley on board as a significant addition to the coaching staff to aid in the development of quarterback Cade Klubnik, Dabo Swinney believes he has discovered a solution. Clemson is seeking to return to the College Football Playoff after missing out the last two seasons.
Top Heisman Candidates
The Heisman Trophy is the NCAAF’s ultimate prize for any individual player. The award goes to the season’s most outstanding college athlete. Here are the top candidates to win this year:
Quarterback Caleb Williams (USC)
While he may be the best player in college football, winning back-to-back Heisman Trophies is extremely rare. In fact, the last player to accomplish this was Archie Griffin in 1975. The 2022 winner threw for more than 4,000 yards a season ago and 47 touchdowns but will be without star wide receiver Jordan Addison, now a member of the Minnesota Vikings. Williams isn’t just a threat with his arm; he can beat you with his legs as well.
Quarterback Drake Maye (North Carolina)
Alongside Williams, Maye is discussed by many analysts to be the No. 1 quarterback taken in the 2024 NFL Draft. Maye threw for over 4,100 yards and 35 touchdowns last season. He won the 2022 ACC Player of the Year and helped take the Tar Heels to the ACC Championship Game.
Wide Receiver Marvin Harrison, Jr. (Ohio State)
A wide receiver’s only won the Heisman Trophy once since 1992, so the odds aren’t in his favor. However, Devanta Smith’s win in 2021 has given hope to receivers, and Harrison is one of the best to ever come out of Ohio State at that position. Harrison had 1,157 yards in 2022, and averaged over 112 yards per game over his last five contests.
Quarterback Cade Klubnik
Clemson has a history of producing great quarterbacks under Dabo Swinney; Deshaun Watson and Trevor Lawrence are evidence of that. Some say Klubnik has the potential to be even better than them. Considered the top-dual threat quarterback from the 2022 class, Klubnik broke out in the ACC Championship Game, going 20-for-24 for 279 yards while throwing and rushing for a touchdown. With great talent around him, Klubnik can easily be this year’s top quarterback.