Georgia remains No. 1 in way-too-early Top 25 after spring football

Spring practices have wrapped up. The transfer portal still has some players looking for new homes. And the kickoff to the college football season is still four months away. Seems like the perfect time to update our way-too-early top 25 rankings.

A lot of has changed since Michigan walked away with the national title and we released our first way-too-early Top 25 after the championship game. Jim Harbaugh left the Wolverines for the NFL. Nick Saban retired after 17 seasons as Alabama coach. Players left early for the NFL draft, while scores of others jumped in the portal.

So those rankings from January definitely need some tweaking. Can Michigan repeat after the loss of its coach and key players? Is Georgia still the favorite? What happens with Alabama and its new coach Kalen DeBoer?

Here’s our post-spring outlook with the offseason at its midpoint and the rankings from January in parenthesis:

1. Georgia (2023 record: 13-1) (1)

The Bulldogs were left out of the College Football Playoff. Don’t expect that to be the case this year with an expanded field. Carson Beck, one of the elite quarterbacks in the country, leads their quest to get back to the top of the college football mountain. Florida transfer Trevor Etienne boosts a depleted running back position, and there’s enough talent at receiver and tight end to make this an upper-echelon offense even with some losses. The defense boasts LB Smael Mondon and DB Malaki Starks among its standouts.

2. Texas (12-2) (4)

With two teams in front of them losing their championship-winning coaches, the Longhorns slide up a couple spots. QB Quinn Ewers and a veteran group of linemen will be the foundation of the offense. The transfer portal rebuilt the receiving corps and how quickly they jell with Ewers likely determines if this group is as explosive as last season. LB Anthony Hill an emerging star and the secondary has more experience − something needed after the playoff loss to Washington. Texas gets a favorable schedule for its SEC debut but how it handles the schedule and a non-conference game against Michigan is uncertain.

3. Ohio State (11-2) (9)

No team moved up more after a strong showing in the transfer portal. The Buckeyes grabbed DB Caleb Downs from Alabama and RB Quinshon Judkins from Mississippi in addition to adding Kansas State quarterback Will Howard to address the departure of Kyle McCord. Defensive linemen Jack Sawyer and JT Tuimoloau are one of the top pairings in the country. The defense also returns linebacker Cody Simon and safety Lathan Ransom. But can the Buckeyes beat Michigan?

4. Oregon (12-2) (7)

Unlike the rest of the Pac-12 arrivals, there shouldn’t be much culture shock for the Ducks in the Big Ten with their physical playing style under Dan Lanning well-suited to facing teams from the Midwest. QB Dillon Gabriel spent the spring getting adjusted to a new system after his arrival from Oklahoma. He will be throwing to 1,000-yard receiver Tez Johnson while the running game leans on rising junior Jordan James. The defensive line dominated in the spring game, another sign Oregon should be considered one of the Big Ten favorites.

5. Alabama (12-2) (2)

Let’s start with the elephant in the room. How does the Crimson Tide handle the loss of the greatest coach in modern college football? Kalen DeBoer should be an excellent replacement and he’ll have QB Jalen Milroe to build his offense around. RB Justice Haynes should be the top ball carrier. The defense has two big holes at cornerback and loses other key contributors. The group should still be good enough to have them near the top of the polls all season.

6. Mississippi (11-2) (5)

Another portal powerhouse, the Rebels invested heavily in bringing in several key additions, including DL Walter Nolen from Texas A&M and Princely Umanmielen from Florida along with WR Antwane Wells from South Carolina. The offense will have QB Jaxson Dart starting for his third season, and WR Tre Harris should put up big numbers. This should be a team that is right in thick of the playoff race.

7. Notre Dame (10-3) (6)

Marcus Freeman had two major coups in the offseason − the hire of new offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock, whose 2023 offense at LSU led the nation in yards per play, and adding Duke quarterback Riley Leonard from the portal. Leonard’s running and passing ability should thrive after Denbrock mentored Jayden Daniels to the Heisman Trophy. One of the top defenses in the FBS got a major plus with the return of safety Xavier Watts.

8. Oklahoma (10-3) (8)

The Sooners improved from six wins to 10, including a victory over Texas, in Brent Venables’ second season. QB Jackson Arnold had a strong spring and the receiving corps should be outstanding with Purdue transfer Deion Burks, a star in the spring, a major addition. The defense will continue its improvement with LB Danny Stutsman and DB Billy Bowman two standouts that opted to stay for another season. Whether it is ready for the grind of the SEC is the team’s biggest concern.

9. Missouri (11-2) (14)

This could be too high or too low for the Tigers given the high expectations after 11 wins in 2023. QB Brady Cook and WR Luther Burden should both be at the top of their respective positions in the SEC. RB Marcus Carroll (Georgia State), OL Cayden Green (Oklahoma) and DB Toriano Pride Jr. (Clemson) addressed critical needs in the portal that has become a huge part of Missouri’s building process. But how do the high expectation and a tougher SEC schedule get managed?

10. Clemson (9-4) (11)

The Tigers are not a team that uses the portal, and this offseason was no exception. It’s hoped that the second year of the relationship between QB Cade Klubnik and offensive coordinator Garrett Riley bears more fruit after an up-and-down season in 2023. Klubnik has all the tools to lead and there are some young receivers looking to push for time. The pieces for an outstanding defense are in place. DB R.J. Mickens and two very promising DLs in TJ Parker and Peter Woods are potential stalwarts.

11. Michigan (15-0) (3)

The Wolverines played six games without Jim Harbaugh last year, but his permanent departure drastically changes things, especially with loss of QB J.J. McCarthy. With an unsettled quarterback situation, expect Sherrone Moore to rely on the running game, though the offensive line needs some retooling. The defense should remain nasty and keep Michigan in games. The question is whether they can win enough of them to return to the playoff.

12. Utah (8-5) (16)

The wait for Utes fan is over. After seeing QB Cam Rising go down in the 2023 Rose Bowl, they finally got to watch the sixth-year senior take the field in the team’s spring game, and he didn’t disappoint. Among his top targets was Southern California transfer Dorian Singer, which portends a more explosive offense than last season when Rising and TE Brant Kuithe, who saw restricted action in the spring game, both were sidelined with knee injuries. With more offensive production, less pressure will be placed on Utah’s defense. The group should be formidable in the Big 12, which suggests the Utes will be right at the top of what should be a balanced race.

13. LSU (10-3) (10)

Things will look very different for the Tigers with quarterback Garrett Nussmeier taking control of the offense. He’s not the running threat of Jayden Daniels, however his strong showing in the team’s bowl game and this spring predicts another productive offense. That said, scoring wasn’t a problem last year. The defense was. This spring was spent doing a makeover of the group with coordinator Blake Baker coming in from Missouri. LB Harold Perkins had a down year as a sophomore. He has moved inside and his ability to impact the game will go a long way to making the unit capable of winning games against the league’s elite.

14. North Carolina State (9-4) (21)

It’s always critical to be skeptical about spring football being an absolute indicator for success in the season. However, the Wolfpack have to be thrilled with how former Coastal Carolina quarterback Grayson McCall took charge of the offense and the arrival of Ohio State transfer receiver Noah Rogers. With rising sophomore KC Concepcion, N.C. State has two of the better young receivers in the country to pair with McCall in what could be the ACC’s best offense. The defense is still sorting out some key losses. DL Davin Mann should be a force. There are enough pieces to get this group in shape. And if not, the offense might just outscore people.

15. Florida State (13-1) (18)

The pain of missing the College Football Playoff should be motivation for the Seminoles, though there are some major holes to fill from last year’s squad. A slew of transfers across the depth chart arrived in time for spring. Among the most notable is QB DJ Uiagalelei, who arrives from Oregon State and looks to have a hold on the starting job after spring. Among the important holdovers are RB Lawrance Toafili, DE Byron Turner Jr. and OL Darius Washington. It’s now on coach Mike Norvell to get this group to jell and unlock Uiagalelei’s potential to erase last year’s disappointment.

16. Penn State (10-3) (15)

It was plain as day last season against Ohio State and Michigan. The Nittany Lions lacked the offense to win the games against the Big Ten elite. To address the issues, coach James Franklin hired Andy Kotelnicki from Kansas to coordinate the offense, and the return of QB Drew Allar seems like a good match, even if Allar has yet to live up to his high expectations. There were signs of progress in the spring. The biggest worry for the offense is the receiving group that lost KeAndre Lambert-Smith and three others in the portal. The arrival of Julian Fleming from Ohio State helps offset some concerns. On defense, secondary losses were addressed by transfers A.J. Harris (Georgia) and Jalen Kimber (Florida). Still, this is a team that has to prove itself against a difficult league schedule that could make or break things.

17. Tennessee (9-4) (12)

QB Nico Iamaleava made his first start in Tennessee’s bowl win, but the spring was the first opportunity for Volunteers fans to see him as the true leader of the offense. Results were positive as was the outlook for his receiving group with Tulane transfer Chris Brazzell impressing. The main question is the offensive line, which was short-handed due to injuries. The defense overhaul, especially in the secondary, remains a work in progress.

18. Oklahoma State (10-4) (20)

Alan Bowman showed what he could do when healthy and his return as the clear starting quarterback this spring means the Cowboys shouldn’t have a slow start that hurt the team last year. Also back are RB Ollie Gordon and WR Brennan Pressley, giving the offense two important playmakers. The strength of the defense starts with LBs Nickolas Martin and Collin Oliver. The lack of major portal additions and departures made for a pretty uneventful spring which is how coach Mike Gundy would have wanted it as he tries to get Oklahoma State back to the Big 12 title game.

19. Kansas (9-4) (22)

Optimism reigns in Lawrence, mostly because QB Jalon Daniels is back healthy and showed in spring that he should be electric if he can stay on the field this fall. There are plenty of weapons for him to work with, starting with RB Devin Neal and the team’s top three receivers from last season. Whether this team pushes to reach its full potential will be determined by the defense. Finding pass rushers is the biggest concern. Bai Jobe, a late arrival from Michigan State, could help that spot.

20. Arizona (10-3) (13)

The ripple effect of Nick Saban’s retirement caused the Wildcats to lose coach Jedd Fisch to Washington and unsettle a team poised to be one of the Big 12 favorites. Despite some departures, there were some critical returners − notably quarterback Noah Fifita and receiver Tetairoa McMillan and DB Tacario Davis. Another 10-win season is possible if Brent Brennan’s first season goes smoothly.

21. Kansas State (9-4) (NR)

It would seem a big loss that the Wildcats saw Will Howard exit. However, the move opens the door for Avery Johnson, and the offense may actually see improvement. That may be optimistic given Howard’s performance, but that’s Johnson’s potential. RB Dylan Edwards joins after a post-spring departure from Colorado, giving the offense another backfield option with leading rusher DJ Giddens. There were significant losses on the offensive line and secondary that the spring helped jump-start the process of getting new starters integrated. Chris Klieman has been through before. It’s wise to have faith he will sort it out.

22. Southern California (8-5) (19)

The Trojans are hoping that this spring with new defensive coordinator D’Anton Lynn was the start of turning things around on that side of the ball. Given Lynn’s work at UCLA, gains should be expected. The question is how much the offense loses with QB Caleb Williams leaving. Miller Moss looked great in the Holiday Bowl and carried that momentum into the offseason. He is the front-runner to start ahead of UNLV transfer Jayden Maiava. The offensive line was a bright spot for coach Lincoln Riley as it will be relied on to provide more balance. A transition to the Big Ten will be challenging, but Riley is likely to be able to do enough to get this team near the top of the league.

23. Virginia Tech (7-6) (25)

Is this finally the season the Hokies return to contending for the ACC title? Momentum and enthusiasm are building after a strong finish in 2023 and a promising spring. Everything is in place for Brent Pry after slowing laying the foundation of his rebuilding job in his first two season. Now Virginia Tech is poised to reap the benefits with all 11 starters returning on offense. It starts with quarterback Kyron Drones, who had 22 total touchdowns and three interceptions in 2023, but there’s good depth at running back and wide receiver. Three defensive linemen were added from the portal, including all-conference tackle Aeneas Peebles from Duke, to address a need area. Don’t be surprised to see the Hokies in the conference title game.

24. Iowa (10-4) (24)

The departure of offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz removes a lightning rod of controversy for the Hawkeyes and their fans. The worst-ranked offense in the country can only get better with former Western Michigan coach Tim Lester taking over. Lester will hope to keep QB Cade McNamara healthy after he missed much of last season. McNamara was limited in spring practice and adding a quarterback as insurance seems necessary. The defense will again be rock-solid, so another season with 10 wins seems possible given that the offense can only improve.

25. Memphis (10-3) (23)

The Tigers boast two of the best players in the Group of Five with QB Seth Henigan and WR Roc Taylor. The focus in the spring was sorting out a new offensive line that will allow the duo to maximize their impact. The defense under new defensive coordinator Jordan Hankins showed potential in the team’s Liberty Bowl win against Iowa State. More consistency on that side of the ball will help the Tigers get to the top of the American.

Just missed: Washington, Texas A&M, Boise State, Miami (Fla.).

This post appeared first on USA TODAY