The biggest offseason question for each top-25 college football team

Thursday, December 14, 2023

Some teams will need to replace their world-beating quarterbacks. Others will just need to make sure that they keep most of their players. But from top to bottom, every team in college football will leave this season with something more to prove.

Here are the biggest offseason questions for every team in the College Football Playoff's final Top 25 rankings.

1. Michigan: What happens to Jim Harbaugh this offseason?

Harbaugh's status will loom over Michigan until he either departs for an NFL job or the program receives discipline in its two ongoing NCAA infractions cases. Michigan certainly wants to retain the coach, who has helped the team win three consecutive outright Big Ten titles for the first time in its history, and has led the Wolverines to three straight CFP appearances. In October, university president Santa Ono initiated a contract push for Harbaugh, which then was put on hold when the NCAA began investigating former staff member Connor Stalions and the team's signal-stealing operation. Ono is a huge supporter of Harbaugh, who might see the way Michigan rallied following the Stalions investigation as another reason to stay at his alma mater. But Harbaugh, who turns 60 on Sept. 23, has talked to NFL teams each of the past two offseasons and should have his best chance to return to the league this winter, given the jobs already available and likely to come open. He's also likely to face further NCAA discipline in 2024, especially under the head coach responsibility bylaw. --Adam Rittenberg

2. Washington: Will the Huskies be able to replace their outgoing stars?

Last year, Washington was one of the biggest winners of the offseason when it got several key players who decided to delay their NFL dreams for another year, including quarterback Michael Penix Jr. The result has been the best-case scenario with the undefeated Huskies headed to the playoff as the Pac-12 champion and Penix to New York as a Heisman finalist. Next year will be more like 2022, when the Huskies start the season as more of an unknown. Replacing Penix is the top priority. Whether they turn back to former starter Dylan Morris, who stuck around after Penix transferred in, or hand the reins to someone new, coach Kalen DeBoer and offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb have proved at multiple stops that the offense should be effective. It's not so much a question of if the Huskies will be able to find success with new players as much as who those successful players will be. --Kyle Bonagura

3. Texas: Who will replace the departing stars, especially at receiver?

ReceiversXavier WorthyandAdonai Mitchell and tight end Ja'Tavion Sanders are all draft-eligible juniors and projected to be high NFL picks. Another receiver, Jordan Whittington, one of the most respected and popular players on the team, will depart after his senior year. On defense, senior linemanT'Vondre Sweat came back and became a brick wall up front alongside Byron Murphy II, another junior who could opt for the NFL. The Longhorns have recruited well (freshman Johntay Cook will plug in immediately at WR), and Texas will be a transfer portal destination for stars looking to replace them, but this nucleus had a lot to do with the team's turnaround and playoff run. --Dave Wilson

4. Alabama: Who will step up on defense?

It will take some time for a full picture of the departing starters on defense to become clear. But it's safe to say that more than a few key players will be gone, whether it's seniors Malachi Moore (defensive back), Jaylen Key (safety), Chris Braswell (linebacker) and Trezmen Marshall (linebacker) or underclassmen Dallas Turner (edge), Kool-Aid McKinstry (cornerback) and Terrion Arnold (cornerback). On top of that, outside linebackers coach Coleman Hutzler is reportedly set to join the Mississippi State staff. The good news? Alabama has one of the best young players in the country in defensive back Caleb Downs to build around and a front seven that should return some experience in Jaheim Oatis, Deontae Lawson and Jihaad Campbell. And five-star cornerback Jaylen Mbakwe is on the way. That said, don't be surprised if Nick Saban and his staff go into the portal and try to pull out a potential starter or two. --Alex Scarborough

5. Florida State: How will the Seminoles respond to their playoff snub?

The anger over what happened on CFP Selection Day has started to diminish, but how the Seminoles use their playoff snub as motivation to come back even stronger next season will be something to watch this offseason. Florida State will have to replace nearly all of its productivity on offense and defense, withJordan Travis,Trey Benson,Johnny Wilson, Jared Verse, Braden Fiske,Kalen DeLoach, and possibly Keon Coleman departing. Florida State has used the portal to its advantage over the past four seasons, and there's no reason to expect that to change. One person inside the program simply said, "We will kill the portal again." Others have acknowledged that the snub will only fuel the program to even greater heights under Mike Norvell. That, of course, remains to be seen, but Florida State wants to make it clear that this team is not going anywhere for the foreseeable future. --Andrea Adelson

6. Georgia: How will the Dawgs replace their firepower on offense?

As good as Georgia's defense has been during the Kirby Smart era, its offense stole the show in 2023. Now the Bulldogs face the task of replacing many of their best players on that side of the ball. All-America tight end Brock Bowers is a potential top-10 pick and will undoubtedly enter the NFL draft. So might receiver Ladd McConkey, tailback Kendall Milton and tackle Amarius Mims. As many as three other offensive linemen, including center Sedrick Van Pran, might be on the move as well. The good news: Quarterback Carson Beck seems to be leaning toward coming back after a solid first season as a starter. He'll have to lean on receivers Rara Thomas, Dillon Bell and Dominic Lovett, as well as some new faces at running back. Building depth on the interior defensive line is also a priority, and Georgia might dip into the transfer portal to do it. --Mark Schlabach

7. Ohio State: Who will take over at quarterback?

In light of Kyle McCord's decision to enter the transfer portal, the first course of business for Ryan Day and Ohio State is figuring out who will be under center for the Cotton Bowl. Sophomore Devin Brown (12-of-22 for 197 yards with two touchdown passes and one interception in five games this season) or true freshman Lincoln Kienholz will likely get the call. But in 2024, with expectations as high as ever, Ohio State should have no shortage of options in the portal, with Cameron Ward (Washington State) and Dante Moore (UCLA) among the quarterbacks available. They'll also have Air Noland, the left-handed signal-caller from Langston Hughes High School and No. 30 overall prospect in the 2024 ESPN 300, on the roster. --Blake Baumgartner

8. Oregon: Will the 2024 offense live up to the expectations set by the 2023 unit?

WithBo Nix on his way out and Dillon Gabriel on his way in from Oklahoma, the Ducks' new offense will have a tough act to follow. Nix and the 2023 offense was the most prolific group in the nation. While the NFL Draft statuses of running back Bucky Irving and wide receiver Troy Franklin are still up in the air, it's already clear that at least some skill talent will have to be replaced. Sophomore running back Jordan James will likely have a much larger role in the offense next season after a 696-yard, 11-touchdown season while Tez Johnson, Terrance Ferguson and Gary Bryant Jr. (should they return) will likely collectively fill the hole Franklin leaves behind at wideout. Gabriel's presence alone will start the Ducks' offense off on the right foot. The transfer had 3,660 yards and 30 touchdowns last year and led the Sooners to a 10-2 season. He should be a seamless fit in offensive coordinator Will Stein's offense. --Paolo Uggetti

9. Missouri: How much of a rebuild will the defense require?

The blossoming of Missouri's offense was a primary driver for the Tigers' 2023 success, and both quarterback Brady Cook and star receiver Luther Burden III are likely to return. But the defense was the engine. It surged last year and maintained form for most of 2023, but how many pieces will Eliah Drinkwitz end up needing to replace moving forward? Will he keep defensive coordinator Blake Bakeror will the veteran DC land a head-coaching job elsewhere? And will everybody who might leave end up departing? Based on who took part in Senior Day, that could mean as many as eight starters gone, including all-SEC performers DE Darius Robinson and CB Kris Abrams-Draine. The cupboard wouldn't be bare -- pass-rusher Johnny Walker Jr. and tackle Kristian Williams could still anchor a solid line with nickel Daylan Carnell and maybe safeties JC Carlies and Joseph Charleston returning. But after pulling off a massive turnaround on offense in 2023, Drinkwitz might have to turn his focus back in the other direction again this year. --Bill Connelly

10. Penn State: Can new offensive coordinator Andy Kotelnicki unlock QB Drew Allar?

A day after losing at home to Michigan on Nov. 11, Penn State coach James Franklin fired offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich, who had been on the coaching staff for three seasons. Enter new offensive coordinator Andy Kotelnicki, who comes to State College after spending the past three years at Kansas helping Lance Leipold build up that program. Kotelnicki will be tasked with trying to help quarterback Drew Allar (2,336 passing yards with 23 touchdowns and one interception) and the Penn State passing game take the next step. The Nittany Lions (10-2, 7-2 Big Ten) finished the regular season eighth in the Big Ten and 91st in the FBS with 204.3 passing yards per game. That inconsistency showed in their two losses to Ohio State (191) and Michigan (74). --Baumgartner

11. Ole Miss: Can the Rebels continue taking steps on defense?

By now, we know Lane Kiffin's Rebels are going to be a tough out against just about everybody they play. They've won 10 regular-season games in two of the past three years after previously never winning 10. Kiffin's teams are known for their offense, and the Rebels again put up big numbers on that side of the ball in 2023, finishing fourth in the SEC in scoring offense (34.8 points per game). But in Year 1 under new coordinator Pete Golding, the Rebels had their best season yet on defense since Kiffin arrived in 2020. They gave up an average of 22.3 points per game to tie for sixth in the SEC (41st nationally). Bringing in a few more disruptors on defense in the transfer portal will be critical for the Rebels, who still need to be stingier in the big games. Let's not forget, though, that Ole Miss ranked 117th nationally in scoring defense in Kiffin's first season, when the Rebels allowed an average of 38.3 points per game. They've come a long way, but taking that next step and becoming a championship-caliber defense won't be easy. --Chris Low

12. Oklahoma: What will the offense look like?

Just two years after starting over on offense after Lincoln Riley departed for USC along with Caleb Williams, the Sooners are once again looking at an offensive renovation. Offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby departed to become head coach at Mississippi State, followed by Dillon Gabriel's departure for the transfer portal. Assumed starter Jackson Arnold and new offensive coordinator Seth Littrell (and co-offensive coordinator Joe Jon Finley, also the tight ends coach) were at OU this year, Arnold as a five-star freshman backup and Littrell as an analyst. But it remains to be seen how the offense will look and how quickly Arnold can get up to speed in the Sooners' first season in the SEC. --Wilson

13. LSU: What will the Tigers do for an encore on offense?

LSU was a lot of fun to watch on offense this season and incredibly explosive with Heisman Trophy winner Jayden Daniels throwing to Malik Nabers and Brian Thomas Jr., all of whom will be in the NFL next season. The Tigers led the country in scoring offense (46.4 points per game), total offense (547.8 yards per game) and yards per play (8.5). The good news is that LSU locked up offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock with a hefty raise after Texas A&M came after him, and now Denbrock has to go to work in retooling an offense that scored more than 40 points in nine of its 12 games this season. Garrett Nussmeier has waited his turn at quarterback and will get his first shot at leading the Tigers next season. They may need to look in the portal to surround him with some new playmakers on offense, and some of the younger players on the roster will need to grow up in a hurry. -- Low

14. Arizona: Will the Wildcats be able to retain talent?

The Wildcats have recruited well and benefited from the portal during Jedd Fisch's tenure, but in doing so they've entered into a new competitive tier. When Fisch took over, the roster didn't exactly have many desirable players. That's no longer the case. Arizona is in a place now where it will find out whether it can keep its talent or be subject to more poaching via the portal than ever before. The Wildcats could use some help in the defensive front seven and at running back but should be well positioned to be competitive in the Big 12. --Bonagura

15. Louisville: Will Jeff Brohm be able to avoid a letdown in Year 2?

The Cardinals made the hire of the offseason last year, bringing back hometown hero Jeff Brohm to coach the program. All he did in Year 1 was lead Louisville to its first-ever ACC championship game appearance. Though the Cards won 10 games in the regular season for the first time since 2013, there is plenty to build on heading into next season. Plus there's work to be done to break their long losing streak to rival Kentucky (that one stung, despite the otherwise successful season). That starts on offense, where Louisville did not put up the passing game numbers many expected because it was so strong on the ground with running backsJawhar Jordan and Isaac Guerendo. QB Transfer Tyler Shough has already committed to the Cards, who also have Brady Allen,a transfer from Purdue this past offseason. Louisville was strong using the portal last year to make significant upgrades, so expect the Cards to be strong here once again as they embrace a philosophy Brohm has used since his days at Purdue. --Adelson

16. Notre Dame: How will the offense take the next step in coach Marcus Freeman's third season?

Not surprisingly, Notre Dame's defense has maintained a good trajectory since promoting Freeman from coordinator to head coach (16th nationally in points allowed since the start of the 2022 season). But the offense has been uneven -- strong against inferior opponents and shaky against comparable or elite teams. A bizarre offensive coordinator search that ended with Gerad Parker's promotion still doesn't sit well with some after Notre Dame averaged 19 points and 5.1 yards per play in losses to Ohio State, Louisville and Clemson. Freeman has vowed to keep the staff together, although wide receivers coach Chansi Stuckey's exit -- after fostering improvement in an underperforming group -- raised some eyebrows. The Irish also lost starting center Zeke Correll, leading receiver Chris Tyree and several others to the portal. Notre Dame's offense will be largely resetting in 2024 but needs an overall upgrade, including at quarterback as Duke transfer Riley Leonard likely steps in. The Irish should soon be contending for the expanded CFP, but not without more consistent production against its best opponents. --Rittenberg

17. Iowa: How and where will the Hawkeyes' offense improve under a new offensive coordinator?

There's no question Iowa's offense has lagged behind the stout unit defensive coordinator Phil Parker, the 2023 Frank Broyles Award winner, has led for years. But this season it became clear that the offense needed an overhaul -- it ranked 130th nationally in total offense (238.8 YPG) and 127th in both passing (123.2 YPG) and scoring (16.6 PPG). Kirk Ferentz's son Brian isn't returning in 2024 as the offensive coordinator after six seasons, and whoever gets to call the shots on offense will be one of the highly watched moves of the offseason. Quarterback Cade McNamara (505 passing yards with four TDs and three interceptions in five games) will return for his final year of eligibility after tearing his ACL against Michigan State in September. --Baumgartner

18. NC State: Can the Wolfpack find its next great QB?

At a place that considers itself a contender for the title of QBU, the Wolfpack spent an uncomfortable amount of time in 2023 trying to find an answer at quarterback, first benching Brennan Armstrong, then seeing backup MJ Morris opt out of the final three regular-season games. When Armstrong returned -- and NC State began huddling -- everything finally clicked. But Armstrong is done, Morris is in the portal and QB is once again the biggest question mark for a team that has an emerging star at wide receiver inKevin "KC" Concepcionand should once again have a stellar defense. --David Hale

19. Oregon State: How do the Beavers reset following Jonathan Smith's departure?

A new head coach, a new quarterback, a new (sort of) conference. Change is afoot in Corvallis, and it will be fascinating to see how Trent Bray and the Beavers reset given all they've experienced so far this year. The departure of Smith plus the transfer of both of their quarterbacks (DJ Uiagalelei and Aidan Chiles) as well as several other key players this week puts them in a precocious position as they are set to play a Mountain West schedule next year. Bray appears to be the right man for the job as the Beavers try to maintain the momentum that Smith started, but he's got a tough task ahead. --Uggetti

20. Oklahoma State: What will Mike Gundy be able to conjure this year?

The Cowboys have appeared in two of the past three Big 12 championship games, losing a heartbreaker in 2021 to Baylor and getting rolled in 2023 by Texas. With Texas and OU leaving the conference, OSU has its sights on sitting atop the league, but with Utah, Arizona, Arizona State and Colorado coming to the Big 12 next year, there's a whole new corner of the conference to conquer. Will Ollie Gordon II be the centerpiece of the offense again next year? Will the Cowboys be able to keep teams from loading up on him? The portal was a big issue for OSU last offseason, but Mike Gundy always figures it out. Can we expect another remake this year? --Wilson

21. Tennessee: What will Nico Time in Tennessee look like?

All eyes will be on prized quarterback Nico Iamaleava this spring and leading into the 2024 season. Blessed with incredible arm strength, Iamaleava redshirted this season, so there were only glimpses of what he could do, and those came in mop-up duty. But he's clearly Tennessee's quarterback of the future, and coach Josh Heupel wants to build around him. The Vols will likely look to the portal to give Iamaleava another dynamic receiver to throw to. They could also use some help (and depth) in the offensive line depending on who's back and who decides to leave. There will be considerable pressure on Iamaleava to deliver -- and deliver quickly. He was a massive recruit for Tennessee, and there are always growing pains for a first-year starting quarterback in the SEC. But the Vols are betting that he has what it takes to get them back among the upper echelon in the league. --Low

22. Clemson: How deep into the portal will Dabo dive?

Dabo Swinney isn't apt to give much credit to the pundits, message board posters or Tyler from Spartanburg, but he's finally addressing some long-held complaints from fans about an insular coaching staff and a lack of activity in the portal. Just how many transfers Swinney adds this year remains a question though, and there are definite needs -- on the O-line, D-line and receiver. It's doubtful he goes full Coach Prime, but some veteran leadership in those areas feels like a must. --Hale

23. Liberty: How do you follow THAT?

Jamey Chadwell screwed up. You're supposed to bring hope in your first year but not succeed beyond everyone's wildest imaginations. That sets the bar absurdly high moving forward. Chadwell came to Liberty and immediately improved the Flames from 8-5 to 13-0 with an incredibly efficient offense and a nasty secondary. They benefited from one of the nation's weaker schedules, sure, but they also played only two games that finished with a single-digit margin of victory. The Flames had an incredible season, and you could make the case that underclassmen made up a majority of their very best players. Quarterback Kaidon Salter and safetyBrylan Green are sophomores, and running back Quinton Cooley and corner Kobe Singleton are juniors. So now Chadwell faces both very old and very new issues: Can he keep motivation levels high and expectations manageable? And can he resist all the modern issues of roster retention -- namely the transfer portal and the draw of greater NIL money elsewhere? --Connelly

24. SMU: Are the Mustangs ready for their closeup?

The Mustangs finally seized their moment and landed in a Power 5 conference, beginning ACC play next year. Coming off their first conference title since 1984, back when they were still in the Southwest Conference, the Ponies are riding high. The four newcomers in the nearby Big 12, many of them coming from the AAC to the P5 for the first time, like SMU will be doing, combined to go 8-28 this year. Rhett Lashlee has continued to use the transfer portal to gear up quickly and has a star quarterback in Preston Stone to build around. But with Florida State coming to town next year, there's a lot more work to do. --Wilson

25. Kansas State: Is the next generation ready?

The 2023 season was a frustrating success for Chris Klieman & Co. Klieman clearly fielded another excellent team, one capable of blowing out Troy, TCU, Houston and Baylor, extending a lengthy winning streak against Kansas and nearly toppling Texas in Austin. But it was frustrating in that, after winning a majority of its close games in 2023, Kansas State went 1-4 in one-score finishes and finished just 8-4. Then Klieman lost offensive coordinator Collin Klein to Texas A&M and starting quarterback Will Howard to the transfer portal. How many of the Wildcats' veteran playmakers will return in 2024? Will likely new starting quarterbackAvery Johnson -- a former blue-chipper who looked awfully enticing in a small sample (301 passing yards, 238 rushing yards) -- have the playmakers around him that he needs? And can Klein's successor keep the offensive organization levels high? Klieman's next Big 12 title push begins now, but we'll see how long it takes to get the pieces in the right places. --Connelly

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