College football 2024: Teams, players with most to prove

The times, they are changing around college football, and in 2024 these players and teams are under the most pressure in a world of shifting conference realignment and the expanded playoff.
Gary Cosby Jr.-Tuscaloosa News / USA

College football is undergoing some major changes in 2024 and beyond, from conference realignment to the expanded playoff, to the likelihood of schools sharing revenue with players for the first time. In a shifting world, it's up to coaches and programs to adapt and prove themselves.

Related: College football teams that benefit from 12-team expanded playoff

With those new changes, there's plenty of opportunity to take a giant leap forward, or to fall behind in the race against your rivals and slide into obscurity. These coaches and teams come into a historic 2024 season with the most to prove on the field.

College Football Teams, Players with Most to Prove in 2024

10. Utah's Dynamic Duo

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Utes quarterback Cameron Rising and tight end Brant Kuithe both return after missing last year with injuries. Their comeback bodes extremely well for Utah in what looks like a more competitive, expanded Big 12 title chase, and in tandem with another physical defense, that could easily spell contention for the expanded playoff, too.

9. Texas A&M

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Just two years after signing a historically-great recruiting class, Jimbo Fisher is out and Mike Elko is in. A&M lost plenty in the transfer portal, but it also gained some notable pieces, most importantly Nic Scourton, the edge rusher who led the Big Ten in sacks a year ago. Conner Weigman's return bodes well for a talented offense, and the Aggies don't get Alabama or Georgia on the schedule.

8. Oklahoma

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Making their debut in the SEC this year, the Sooners are undergoing major roster changeover and at important positions. Jackson Arnold steps in at QB1 after Dillon Gabriel's transfer, and he's working behind a completely new offensive line. Brent Venables hopes his defense can take another big step forward in Year 3 in order to hold its own against physical SEC fronts, and against a very tough schedule.

7. Florida State

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After a historic CFP snub that came despite going undefeated and winning the ACC title, Florida State watched an exodus of key personnel leave school. Mike Norvell responded with another active transfer season, signing key players like quarterback DJ Uiagalelei, receiver Malik Benson, tailback Roydell Williams, edge rusher Marvin Jones, Jr., and others. The race is on for the Seminoles to prove last season wasn't a fluke.

6. Miami

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Mario Cristobal is just 12-13 in two years at his alma mater, leaving questions about whether he can steer the program back to national prominence. But Miami's transfer gains are promising: dual threat quarterback Cam Ward is a big play waiting to happen, Sam Brown is a potential game-changer at receiver who had over 800 yards a year ago, and tailback Damien Martinez is a stabilizing force for an offense that lost Henry Parrish in the backfield.

5. Billy Napier

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The higher-ups at Florida assure us that Napier's job is secure for right now, but with a sub-.500 record at a top-flight program after two years, nothing is a given. Especially not facing a schedule that looks like the toughest in college football, one that includes Texas, Ole Miss, LSU, Texas A&M, Tennessee, and Georgia, and rivalry games against a good Seminoles team and an improved Miami squad.

4. Lincoln Riley

Jason Parkhurst-USA TODAY Sports

There's been no issue with Riley's ability to cultivate elite quarterback play and coach dynamic offenses, but his Trojans defense the last two years played an outsized role in missing out on the playoff. Heading to the Big Ten, USC brought D'Anton Lynn, who coached UCLA's unit to a No. 10 ranking nationally a year ago, to fix the defense, and needs to make a good first impression in its new conference and with 12 CFP spots to play for.

3. James Franklin

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Franklin has won almost three-quarters of the games he's coached, but so far Penn State has played third-fiddle to Ohio State and Michigan in the Big Ten. The expanded playoff means there is more margin for error, in tandem with returning skill on both sides of the ball, and not having Michigan or Oregon on the schedule. And with Ohio State being a home game this fall. If Penn State isn't regarded as one of the 12 best teams in college football, things could get dicey for Franklin quickly.

2. Ryan Day

Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA

With a 56-8 record at a blue-blood like Ohio State, things are going generally well for Day, but so much of an OSU coach's reputation depends on his record against Michigan, and the last three years it's been 0-3. Day signed a monster transfer class that will help, combined with returning experience on both sides of the ball that can put the Buckeyes back in the driver's seat both against that team up north and nationally.

1. Kalen DeBoer

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Maybe no singular person is under more stress in college football than the man tagged to replace the GOAT. DeBoer is a proven winner everywhere he's been, and that includes CFP semifinalist Washington last year, but Bama and the SEC are another universe. The expanded playoff means there are 12 spots open for the Crimson Tide to stay in contention, which means far fewer potential excuses, and any failure to be in that mix will lead to overwhelming pressure.


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James Parks


James Parks is the founder and publisher of College Football HQ. He previously covered football for 247Sports and CBS Interactive. College Football HQ joined the Sports Illustrated Fannation Network in 2022.