ESPN releases analytics-based Top 25 college football rankings for 2024 season

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One of the more fun predictive models in college football has dropped, with ESPN’s Bill Connelly releasing the first edition of his 2024 SP+ rankings.

The SP+ is a measure Connelly derived that takes into account returning production, recent recruiting and recent team history to assign numerical values to teams that can then be used as a predictive measure. Connelly tweaks the method every so often to ensure it’s capturing the essence of team strength.

With the new top 25 out, On3 stops to take a look at who Connelly’s SP+ has ranked near the top of the nation. Let’s dive in. The point total attached to each team is their SP+ score, the higher the better.

1. Georgia Bulldogs – 34.5

CFB Rankings
(Tony Walsh/UGAAA)

The Bulldogs return after coming up a little short in 2023, falling in the SEC Championship Game to Alabama. But there is plenty of talent returning, even with star tight end Brock Bowers off to the NFL Draft.

Georgia’s offense is expected to be one of the nation’s best, thanks to the return of quarterback Carson Beck and the addition of several new weapons in the passing game. The Bulldogs check in rated No. 2 in offensive SP+ and No. 5 in defensive SP+.

2. Ohio State Buckeyes – 30.1

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Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

Ohio State has a lot of moving pieces following the departure of Kyle McCord through the transfer portal. But quarterback Will Howard takes over and should have a number of elite weapons at his disposal, including Ole Miss running back transfer Quinshon Judkins.

Still, the Buckeyes rank just 20th in offensive SP+. Where they’re really sound is on the defensive side of the ball, boasting the top SP+ unit in the country. The addition of Caleb Downs at safety should be a huge boost.

3. Oregon Ducks – 29.3

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© Ben Lonergan/The Register-Guard / USA TODAY NETWORK

Bo Nix is gone but Dillon Gabriel and Dante Moore step in to fill the void and there should be no issues at quarterback for the Ducks next fall. There will still be some retooling, but the offense has everything it needs to be elite.

In fact, Oregon boasts the No. 1 SP+ offense, according to Connelly. The defense isn’t projected to be quite as stout but still ranks in the top 15, so Dan Lanning will have one of the favorites to reach the College Football Playoff next year.

4. Texas Longhorns – 28.7

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(Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports)

Like Georgia, Texas returns a quality starting quarterback in the likes of Quinn Ewers. Ewers was excellent in helping lead the Longhorns to the College Football Playoff this year, even capturing a road win over Alabama.

He’ll have some elite weapons to work with on offense, while the Texas defense has quietly been building the last few years. The Longhorns are loaded with talent on both sides of the ball, supplemented by some quality work in the NCAA transfer portal.

5. Michigan Wolverines – 27.0

Michigan Wolverines football Sherrone Moore
(Photo by Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports)

The biggest question for Michigan will be replacing quarterback JJ McCarthy, who took a great deal of the returning production on offense with him when he entered the 2024 NFL Draft. It certainly won’t be easy, as he was as steady as they come.

Still, Michigan can lean on an absolutely loaded defense next year. The Wolverines have the nation’s No. 2 SP+ unit on that side of the ball, which should make life easier on a new starting quarterback.

6. Alabama Crimson Tide – 26.6

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Alabama reached the College Football Playoff by upsetting Georgia, but it was clear the Crimson Tide weren’t quite well-rounded enough to win a national title. Taking a step forward offensively with quarterback Jalen Milroe would go a long way toward remedying those issues.

That said, the bigger question is a more basic one. How does Alabama do with a new head football coach? How well players buy into what Kalen DeBoer wants to do could have as much to do with Alabama’s success as anything else.

7. Penn State Nittany Lions – 25.6

Penn State quarterback Drew Allar
Penn State quarterback Drew Allar. (Credit: Frank Hyatt | Blue White Illustrated)

Penn State is another team that needs a little bit more out of its offense to really break through to the truly elite level. To that end, the Nittany Lions made a coordinator change and will turn to KansasAndy Kotelnicki next fall.

The defense should be stout. It checks in ranked as the No. 4 SP+ unit in the country, and there is talent at all three levels of the defense. That should keep Penn State in most games.

8. Ole Miss Rebels – 25.2

Ole Miss QB Jaxson Dart
Petre Thomas | USA TODAY Sports

Ole Miss suffered a significant blow when Judkins hit the transfer portal, but there’s still plenty of talent around returning quarterback Jaxson Dart. Tight end Caden Prieskorn and receiver Tre Harris are as good a duo as any in the country.

Defensively, Ole Miss really went hard in the transfer portal to try to shore up the ranks. The defensive line added three very key pieces, while there are other impact players in the transfer class too. Big man Walter Nolen was the star get.

9. Notre Dame Fighting Irish – 24.1

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Notre Dame coach Marcus Freeman. (Photo by Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports)

Notre Dame loses Sam Hartman but turns to another ACC transfer quarterback in Riley Leonard. Leonard will offer some running ability that Hartman did not, and there’s a lot to like about the potential look of the offense with him at the helm.

The Fighting Irish should also boast a stout defense, with plenty of returning talent. Notre Dame is one of the few teams that features a top-10 SP+ offense and defense, checking in with the No. 9 defense and No. 10 offense.

10. LSU Tigers – 23.5

LSU
Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

LSU will have to replace Heisman Trophy winner Jayden Daniels, and that certainly won’t be an easy task. But LSU has recruited quite well under Brian Kelly and is hopeful that can make the difference.

Despite losing Daniels, LSU’s offense actually checks in at No. 3 in the SP+, so Connelly’s metrics are expecting the Tigers to be good offensively once again. The defense is where the Tigers have had problems, and the SP+ projects LSU at No. 34. You have to go all the way down to No. 19 Arizona to find the next ranked team with a defense that low.

Rest of the SP+ Top 25

  1. Missouri Tigers – 21.8
  2. Florida State Seminoles – 20.0
  3. Texas A&M Aggies – 19.0
  4. Oklahoma Sooners – 18.9
  5. Tennessee Volunteers – 18.4
  6. Clemson Tigers – 18.0
  7. Utah Utes – 16.4
  8. Kansas State Wildcats – 14.4
  9. Arizona Wildcats – 14.4
  10. Oklahoma State Cowboys – 13.1
  11. Miami Hurricanes – 12.3
  12. Iowa State Cyclones – 11.7
  13. USC Trojans – 11.5
  14. Louisville Cardinals – 11.4
  15. Wisconsin Badgers – 11.0

There are a handful of potential College Football Playoff contenders just outside the top 10 of the SP+, starting with Missouri. The Tigers have a very manageable schedule and return quite a bit, including starting quarterback Brady Cook. Florida State adds quarterback DJ Uiagalelei to a near-playoff squad. Oklahoma, Tennessee and Clemson also stand out in the top 25.

Bottom line: It should be a pretty compelling 2024 season, with plenty of twists and turns. The SP+ can help give you an edge on what to expect ahead of time.