College Football Coaches Most Likely to Win First National Title in 2024

With just three active head coaches who have won a national championship, an expanded playoff could mean a first-timer will win college football's ultimate prize in 2024.
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Only three head coaches currently active in college football have won a national championship, but with the playoff set to expand from four teams to 12, that could provide a perfect opportunity for some new faces to enter the arena and win a first title in a historic 2024 season.

The departure of Nick Saban, Jim Harbaugh, and Jimbo Fisher from the coaching scenes leaves just Kirby Smart at Georgia, Dabo Swinney at Clemson, and Mack Brown, the North Carolina coach who won the 2005 title with Texas, as the sport's remaining winners.

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But with more competition set to light up the new and improved College Football Playoff, let's predict what head coaches are in a good position to win their first natty, from least likely to most likely.

Ranking College Football's Most Likely First-Time National Champs

7. Lane Kiffin, Ole Miss

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The Portal King can live up to the name this season after bringing on major additions on defense like pass rushers Walter Nolen and Princely Umanmielen, in addition to wide receiver Antwane Wells and tailback Henry Parrish, while quarterback Jaxson Dart returns. This appears to be the Rebels' best shot at making a run since the early 60s.

6. Brian Kelly, LSU

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The three previous coaches at LSU won the national championship, and Kelly has already stacked up two straight 10-win seasons, and an SEC West title. Sitting in plush recruiting territory and bringing on high-profile assistants like defensive coordinator Blake Baker to repair that unit puts the Tigers in the running.

5. Kalen DeBoer, Alabama

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With an 86 percent career win mark under his belt, DeBoer has proven he can win football games, but the SEC and Alabama is another universe. The pressure is on to replace college football's GOAT head coach, but the Tide will give him the recruiting space and resources to do the job. But that job is much tougher in an expanded SEC and at a school that demands greatness.

4. Mike Norvell, Florida State

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While the Seminoles apparently look for a more profitable conference to join in the future, they remain one of the favorites in the ACC's title race, even after a roster exodus from last year's undefeated squad. Norvell was active in the portal and replaced key outgoing production, especially at quarterback with DJ Uiagalelei coming on, but there are questions defensively heading into 2024.

3. Steve Sarkisian, Texas

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The Longhorns' SEC debut comes at a great time, as Sarkisian has turned things around on the Forty Acres. After starting 13-12 his first two years, Sark went 12-2, beat Alabama on the road, won the Big 12, and made the playoff last season. Just the right momentum needed heading into college football's top conference and facing a harder schedule, and with Quinn Ewers returning at quarterback among noted transfer gains.

2. Dan Lanning, Oregon

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Heading into the Big Ten, the Ducks have remained one of the nation's top recruiters and talent developers under Lanning, who heads into his new conference armed with two physical lines and skill players whose perimeter speed should turn some heads in their new league. Dillon Gabriel and Evan Stewart are key transfers at quarterback and receiver, respectively, who should put Oregon squarely in the B1G title race early on.

1. Ryan Day, Ohio State

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Three straight losses to Michigan and an ugly L to Missouri in the Cotton Bowl with a severely-depleted roster got the Buckeyes inspired during this offseason. Day raided the transfer portal and came away with top-flight contributors like safety Caleb Downs from Alabama, veteran quarterback Will Howard, and two-time SEC rushing champ Quinshon Judkins. That's in addition to key retentions on the defensive line, receiver, and running back. Ohio State is in position to make a run right now.


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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.