Feldman's CFP 12-team projection: Why I like Miami, PSU and Texas (2024)

Picking a preseason top 25? That’s easy. Projecting the 12-team College Football Playoff field? That’s trickier. The most vexing part? There’s the elephant in the room. And the bulldog, the longhorn, the tiger … and Lane Kiffin. If I were picking my preseason top 25, I’d have five SEC teams in my top 12, but I doubt that there will be that many teams from one league in the first expanded CFP.

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Remember the expanded Playoff formula: The five highest-ranked conference champions receive automatic bids and seven at-large spots are given to the next highest-ranked teams. The four highest-ranked conference champions will be seeded 1-4 in the expanded Playoff. Those teams have a first-round bye. Seeds 5-8 host a first-round game and quarterfinals and semifinals are at bowl sites.

With that in mind, here’s my first crack at the CFP 12 for the 2024 season.

Feldman's CFP 12-team projection: Why I like Miami, PSU and Texas (1)

1. Ohio State: What an offseason

I love what the Buckeyes have done this offseason. Many stud players return, most notably JT Tuimoloau, Jack Sawyer, TreVeyon Henderson and Emeka Egbuka. Ryan Day struck gold in the portal with Alabama safety Caleb Downs and Ole Miss RB Quinshon Judkins. He also has the nation’s best recruit, WR Jeremiah Smith, a 6-foot-3, 220-pounder who has folks inside the program thinking he’s the most gifted wideout the Buckeyes have ever had. Obviously a huge statement given the NFL talent they’ve developed in the past decade.

The QB spot is a concern. The hunch here is that ex-Kansas State QB Will Howard, a smart, experienced leader, will be the starter. This team is so talented; the Buckeyes don’t need Howard to be CJ Stroud, but he’s a good enough running threat to keep defenses honest, and he should be able to exploit the talent around him. Expect a more physical Buckeyes attack in 2024 as OSU reclaims the top spot in the Big Ten. The schedule is challenging, especially with a trip to Oregon right after hosting a physical Iowa team and a trip to Penn State shortly thereafter. Ohio State hosts Michigan this year. I’ll be surprised if the Buckeyes don’t end the streak this year. (Then again, I did think they’d beat Michigan the last time the Wolverines came to Columbus.)

2. Georgia: A murderous schedule, but too talented and too deep to not make a go

The Bulldogs missed the CFP last year and took it out on a depleted FSU team in the Orange Bowl. Their schedule is one of the hardest in the country: road trips to Alabama, Texas, Ole Miss and Kentucky, which has beaten four Top-25 teams at home in the past three years. They host a good Tennessee team and open the season with a neutral-site matchup against Clemson. But the Bulldogs return 16 starters, including Mykel Williams and Malaki Starks, plus a potential top-10 pick at QB in Carson Beck. Georgia added a big playmaking WR from Miami in Colbie Young. Georgia is too deep and too talented not to make it deep into the postseason.

3. Florida State: Ready to reload with a chip on its shoulder

Even with a ton of guys gone to the NFL, Mike Norvell has a squad ready to reload and make the expanded postseason — especially after last season’s drama. Only eight starters return, but the buzz inside the program is high about how ready some of the new starters are to break out. Patrick Payton leads a very talented defensive front and has Marvin Jones Jr., the Georgia transfer, across from him; I’m told he’s ready to have a monster season. Miami transfer Darrell Jackson is a massive presence. Watch out for CB Azareye’h Thomas, who could make a run at All-American honors.

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The big question: How potent will DJ Uiagalelei be? He’s back in the ACC after making some strides at Oregon State. His ability to run should fit well in Norvell’s system. Transfers Malik Benson and Roydell Williams (both from Alabama) and Jaylin Lucas (Indiana) will add a spark. The Noles get Clemson at home and have trips to Miami and Notre Dame, and also will play a good Memphis team after a bye. A 10-2 run sounds about right, unless DJ U takes another big step.

4. Utah: A return to form

Last year’s Utes were gutted by injury, notably with QB Cam Rising, all-conference TE Brant Kuithe and versatile back Micah Bernard. All are back; Rising — entering his seventh season — is one of the best QBs in the country. Dorian Singer, who put up big numbers in 2022 for Arizona, has transferred in from USC. Singer’s not a burner but he has terrific ball skills and should be a good addition. The defense, even without stars Jonah Elliss and Cole Bishop, should still be one of the best in the Big 12. The Utes don’t play two of the Big 12’s top teams, Kansas State and Kansas — but they do visit Oklahoma State and UCF. But this very seasoned team led by Rising should handle the road well.

5. Texas: Don’t be surprised

The Longhorns came within one play of making the title game last year. Don’t be surprised if they get there this season. Quinn Ewers will continue to blossom in Steve Sarkisian’s system. Texas did lose two elite wideouts, but added a bunch of talent in the portal in Oregon State’s Silas Bolden, Alabama’s Isaiah Bond and Houston’s Matthew Golden. DeAndre Moore, Johntay Cook and Ryan Wingo are all gifted young receivers.

Texas will miss the talented interior DT combo of Byron Murphy and T’Vondre Sweat, but Texas’ pass rush on the edge will be even better with the arrival of former UTSA star Trey Moore, who had 14 sacks in 2023 and has generated a lot of buzz inside the program. The schedule is interesting early with a trip to a reloading Michigan with a still-nasty defense. Texas plays Oklahoma and Georgia back-to-back.

6. Oregon: Best of the Big Ten’s newcomers

The Ducks are the most talented of the four Pac-12 additions to the Big Ten. Incoming QB Dillon Gabriel should be a great fit in offensive coordinator Will Stein’s system. Gabriel’s really accurate, has a quick trigger and can do some damage with his wheels. Oregon added talented Texas A&M transfer Evan Stewart to join Tez Johnson, in addition to adding Washington CB Jabbar Muhammad. The Ducks get Ohio State in Autzen before visiting Michigan and Wisconsin; they have a very good shot of going at least 11-1 in the regular season.

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7. Ole Miss: Key returners and great portal additions

The Rebels capped an 11-win season with a No. 9 finish and return a lot of key pieces, led by QB Jaxson Dart. He’s got first-round talent if he can continue his growth, especially in taking care of the football. Ole Miss added a bunch of beef on both lines from the portal, nabbing, among others, Texas A&M’s Walter Nolen and Florida’s Princely Umanmielen on the D-line and Washington’s Nate Kalepo and Julius Buelow on the O-line. Ole Miss visits LSU and Florida and should be favored in both. It gets a week off before Oklahoma comes to town; Georgia plays in Oxford as well. A 10-2 season seems very realistic.

Feldman's CFP 12-team projection: Why I like Miami, PSU and Texas (2)

8. Notre Dame: An OC-QB combo with great upside

Marcus Freeman has upgraded the Fighting Irish’s athleticism, which should really show on defense. Howard Cross III and Rylie Mills are disruptive forces up front and Ben Morrison and Xavier Watts both are All-American caliber on the back end. The offense figures to look quite different with OC Mike Denbrock returning to South Bend after a terrific two-year run at LSU. Duke transfer Riley Leonard brings much more of a running threat at QB. The season opener could be rough: The Irish visit Texas A&M to face the man who knows Leonard best, new Aggies head coach Mike Elko, his former head coach with the Blue Devils. Later, the Irish receive visitors Louisville and FSU, which will both be very dangerous, and then go to USC, which the Irish whupped last season.

9. Alabama: New-look Tide with proven talent and leadership

Kalen DeBoer led Washington to the national title game only two years removed from a 4-8 Huskies campaign. Now, he has an even bigger challenge: replacing Nick Saban. Jalen Milroe had a fantastic second half of last season. DeBoer has raved about his new QB’s work ethic. If Milroe can continue to blossom, he could become an even bigger problem for opposing defenses. The Tide are still very big and physical, but the secondary needs foundation work after losing two terrific corners and an elite safety. They added an athletic safety in Michigan transfer Keon Sabb, while ex-USC corner Domani Jackson is blazing fast and exceptionally talented. The Tide will face a deep schedule: vs. Georgia, at Wisconsin, at Tennessee, vs. Missouri, at LSU, at Oklahoma, and of course the Iron Bowl. It’s very possible they play five top-15 teams, three of them on the road.

10. Penn State: Bet on an improved offense

New defensive coordinator Tom Allen, former Indiana head coach, takes over for Manny Diaz. Coaches who’ve worked with Allen think highly of his defensive acumen and ability to connect with players. But offense was PSU’s biggest headache last year. Mike Yurcich is out and Andy Kotelnicki is in from Kansas. He did a superb job with the Jayhawks in spite of many injuries at QB the past few years. Twenty-year-old QB Drew Allar did a lot of good things in his first year as a starter (25 TDs, 2 INTs), but he and the offense fizzled in big games. They ranked No. 10 in the Big Ten in pass plays of 20-plus yards in 2023; improving explosiveness will be key, and former OSU WR Julian Fleming should help that. The running backs, led by Nick Singleton, are really talented. The opener at West Virginia will be a stiff test; the Nittany Lions also visit USC and Wisconsin. There’s probably only one team with close to Penn State’s talent on the schedule: Ohio State, which visits State College.

11. Miami: Time to buy in

Miami has had just one top-10 finish in 20 years (2017). So why am I buying this version of the Canes? Miami has made a huge commitment to NIL, and its big free-agent additions prove that, starting with former Washington State QB Cam Ward. Everything I’ve heard out of Miami has been exceptional regarding Ward. He has an excellent arm, the knack for extending and making plays and brings leadership, something that the Canes have lacked there for a while.

Adding bruising RB Damien Martinez from Oregon State was another big get, and ex-Houston WR Sam Brown will add more punch to a potent group of receivers. The D-line also was significantly upgraded to help out budding superstar Rueben Bain and Akheem Mesidor. Miami starts on the road at Florida, which is in a rebuild, but The Swamp is never easy. Miami gets FSU at home. A 10-win season given all the infusion of talent here feels very realistic.

12. Memphis: Loads of talented returners

An excellent subplot this fall will be keeping an eye on the Group of 5 spot. My pick is the Tigers, who beat Iowa State in the Liberty Bowl en route to a 10-win season. The Tigers have been able to keep their big stars, which is really hard to do these days, especially if you aren’t a Power 4 program. Quarterback Seth Henigan has thrown 79 TDs the past three years and he’s a decent runner. His go-to guy Roc Taylor, a 6-3, 225-pound Freak, is at his best in big games. He had eight catches for 102 yards in the bowl win and seven catches for 143 yards in a close loss against last season’s breakout Missouri team.

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Mario Anderson, South Carolina’s leading rusher last year, will boost a talented backfield, where speedy Sutton Smith looks like one of those old game-breaking Tigers RBs from the Mike Norvell days. The Tigers visit FSU in September, but after that, they should be more talented than everyone else they face, although games at USF and Tulane should be good challenges.

Bracket notes

  • Other programs I think will be serious contenders for the Group of 5 spot: UTSA, Tulane, Boise State, Liberty and App State.
  • I omitted Missouri, which is coming off of a fantastic year that was capped by a bowl win against Ohio State. The Tigers return Brady Cook, along with a dynamic WR combo in Luther Burden III and Theo Wease. The O-line will be really good again too, although RB Cody Schrader will be missed. Defensive coordinator Blake Baker is also gone, coaching now at LSU. The Tigers’ schedule is extremely manageable by SEC standards, with trips to Texas A&M and Alabama, though visits from Auburn and Oklahoma should be tough. I struggled with this one more than any other because barring significant injuries, I have a hard time seeing Missouri do worse than 9-3. But I just can’t see a fifth SEC team getting in.
  • Michigan is the defending national champion and maintains its impressive talent level on defense. I like what the Wolverines have done this spring, boosting their secondary through the portal. I see them in the 8-4/9-3 range, but I think they lost too many vital leaders from the national title team — not just Jim Harbaugh, but J.J. McCarthy, Blake Corum, the entire O-line, Mike Sainristil, Michael Barrett and Kris Jenkins. If Michigan beats Texas when the Longhorns come to Ann Arbor, I’ll probably regret this pick. But until that happens, I feel this team is in for more of a rebuild.

(Top photo: Jason Mowry / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Feldman's CFP 12-team projection: Why I like Miami, PSU and Texas (3)Feldman's CFP 12-team projection: Why I like Miami, PSU and Texas (4)

Bruce Feldman is the National College Football Insider for The Athletic. One of the sport’s leading voices, he also is a sideline reporter for FOX College Football. Bruce has covered college football nationally for more than 20 years and is the author of numerous books on the topic, including "Swing Your Sword: Leading The Charge in Football and Life" with Mike Leach and most recently "The QB: The Making of Modern Quarterbacks." Follow Bruce on Twitter @BruceFeldmanCFB

Feldman's CFP 12-team projection: Why I like Miami, PSU and Texas (2024)
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