In the era of the 12-team College Football Playoff, there will be teams every year the general public just knows without much doubt is going to be in the field come December. That won’t make their season any less interesting, but we’ll just know.

A $100 bet for Georgia to make the 2024-25 CFP placed at FanDuel right now would win $20. The same can be said for Ohio State.

They’ll be there, either as an auto-bid-garnering conference champion or an at-large team. Barring something outrageous, neither is losing more than 3 games this upcoming season. And the selection committee isn’t leaving either of them out if they hit 9 wins.

Both are going to have outstanding offenses. They have known commodities at quarterback — Will Howard is in the same kind of “competition” Bo Nix was in his first offseason with Oregon — and are loaded with skill talent.

So, what about other teams who aren’t necessarily locks to make the Playoff yet boast potentially outstanding offenses? This little thought experiment was inspired by ESPN’s Bill Connelly, who wrote something at the end of March about the defenses that will define the 2024-25 season.

Here are the offenses that will shape the CFP.

Alabama Crimson Tide

The last time Kalen DeBoer coached a team to the CFP, he used a dynamite offense to get there. Led by Michael Penix Jr., a trio of NFL receivers, and a Joe Moore Award-winning offensive line, Washington was one of the country’s most explosive and most efficient offenses. In Tuscaloosa, the ingredients are different. Jalen Milroe isn’t the same kind of passer, Alabama doesn’t have the same level of depth at wideout, Ryan Grubb isn’t in the picture, and the run game looks far more talented.

From the LSU game through the SEC title, Milroe played like a fringe Heisman contender. He averaged 8.3 yards per play with 17 touchdowns (passing and rushing) and was picked off only 1 time. Over the 5 games, he posted a QBR of 88 or better 4 times.

DeBoer’s Washington offense found another gear late in the season when a run game emerged from relative mediocrity. At Alabama, DeBoer could lean on an elite run game from the jump with Milroe’s ability to hurt a defense on the ground and a backfield trio of Justice Haynes, Jam Miller, and Richard Young. The return of Kadyn Proctor, a smoothed-out center exchange,  and plenty of returning experience on the interior means Alabama should have a pretty strong offensive line.

The pieces are here for this to be a formidable run game. Partner that with DeBoer’s combustible pass game and Alabama will feel like a new kind of headache for everyone. They play at Wisconsin, host Georgia the last weekend of September, and have road games against Tennessee, LSU, and Oklahoma.

Tide to make the CFP: +124

Clemson Tigers

Clemson didn’t make Garrett Riley the highest-paid assistant coach in college football last season to get worse on offense, but that’s exactly what happened. The Tigers averaged just 5.25 yards per play, down from the 2022 season and continuing a trend of remarkably mediocre Tiger offenses.

  • 2023: 5.25 (98th)
  • 2022: 5.60 (72nd)
  • 2021: 5.17 (103rd)
  • 2020: 6.89 (15th)
  • 2019: 7.38 (4th)
  • 2018: 7.35 (3rd)

The Tigers gave up more negative plays in fewer games than they did the year prior to Riley’s arrival, were worse on third downs, and had just as many turnovers. The run game wasn’t a strength and the passing game didn’t improve the way fans hoped given the change from DJ Uiagalelei to Cade Klubnik.

Now, in Year 2 with Riley, Klubnik has to show something. The Tigers chose not to add to the quarterback room via the 2024 class (high school or transfer) and have pushed their chips all in on Klubnik being the guy to reverse the slide.

Phil Mafah is a stud in the backfield. The top receiver from a year ago returns and 5-star signee TJ Moore provides optimism. The question once again comes down to the offensive line, which is now under the purview of a new line coach. Seven of the 9 players who saw at least 100 snaps on the line last fall are back, leaving few excuses for another year of leaky play.

Clemson opens the season with Georgia in Atlanta. The Tigers get NC State and Louisville at home, and they’ll face Florida State on the road. If this offense starts to resemble the one Clemson hoped to get when it hired Riley, the Playoff drought could very well end.

Tigers to make the CFP: +172

Miami Hurricanes

A year after going 2-4 in 1-possession games, Miami head coach Mario Cristobal went out and landed a transfer quarterback who can be a difference-maker with the ball in his hands at the end.

Ward is a 44-game starter with 13,876 career passing yards and 119 touchdown passes in 4 seasons. He played 2 at the FCS level, where he set the world on fire, and then 2 more at Washington State before transferring.

From his first year at the FBS level to his second, Ward improved his completion percentage, his yards-per-play clip, and his interception rate. Former Oregon defensive lineman Brandon Dorlus called Ward the “most annoying quarterback” he had to face, saying he’s slippery to tackle and plays like it’s backyard football.

At Miami, Ward has a 1,000-yard receiver in Xavier Restrepo who he appears to be in sync with already. The receiver had 7 catches for 113 yards in the Canes’ spring game. He also has a backfield that returns 3 of its top 4 rushers from last year. And he might have a better offensive line than what he dealt with at Washington State.

Throughout his coaching career, Cristobal has been known for producing strong offensive lines. The Canes return their top 3 linemen from last season and 5 of the 7 who played at least 100 snaps. An Indiana transfer is competing for reps on the interior and 2023 5-star signee Samson Okunlola could be a wild card after he was limited to 3 games last year.

If Ward is the missing piece, Miami could be the surprise team of 2024. Ward wants to impress draft scouts. Cristobal is in a crucial “prove it” kind of season. The Hurricanes face Florida at The Swamp to begin the year — a potential springboard — and they don’t have to face Clemson. They also get Florida State at home.

Hurricanes to make the CFP: +250

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Oklahoma Sooners

It’s time to see what the young guy can do in Norman. This offseason, the Sooners said goodbye to veteran quarterback Dillon Gabriel in order to officially turn the page to the Jackson Arnold era. A 6-foot-1 second-year quarterback, Arnold was a 5-star recruit and the Elite 11 MVP before joining OU. Arnold made his first start in the Alamo Bowl against Arizona, where he completed 26 of his 45 passes for 361 yards and 2 touchdowns with 3 interceptions.

But OU felt comfortable enough with where he was in his development to hand the reins over ahead of its first season in the SEC. That says something about the youngster.

Oklahoma welcomes a new offensive coordinator to town, but it doesn’t expect sweeping changes under Seth Littrell. The Sooners are coming off a season that saw them post the fourth-best scoring mark in the country (41.7 points a game). They also finished 10th in offensive efficiency (6.8 yards).

And Arnold has one of college football’s budding big-play stars to throw to at receiver. Nic Anderson entered the postseason last fall leading the country in yards per reception and he set a program record for touchdown catches by a freshman with 10.

Arnold has as much upside as any quarterback in the SEC next season, and OU gets to face nearly all of the league’s heavy hitters. If the offense lives up to the billing, OU could be playing spoiler for several SEC teams — which is another way of saying they could be in play for an at-large berth.

Sooners to make the CFP: +520

Oklahoma State Cowboys

If you know me, you know I love Ollie Gordon II, Oklahoma State’s uber-talented running back. Gordon finished seventh in Heisman voting last season after rushing for 1,732 yards and 21 touchdowns. He averaged 6.1 yards per carry and added another 330 yards through the air.

And that was all after he received only 19 carries in Oklahoma State’s first 3 games of 2023. Over Oklahoma State’s last 11 games of 2023, the offense was retooled to feature Gordon and he produced at an elite rate. During that time, he averaged 24 carries, 147.5 yards, and 1.7 touchdowns a game. Oklahoma State won 7 of its final 8 regular-season games to secure a spot in the Big 12 Championship Game.

Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy was raked over the coals for not featuring Gordon sooner. This season, expect the standout back to be the emphasis right away.

But Oklahoma State also looks to have the tools around Gordon to keep from being keyed in on. Quarterback Alan Bowman returns for a seventh season of college ball, meaning the floor for play at the position should be pretty high. The top 2 receivers return, as do each of the 7 offensive linemen who played more than 200 snaps last year.

With Oklahoma and Texas out of the Big 12, the runway is wide open for the Cowboys to make their first-ever CFP. They won’t face Arizona in the regular season, and they get both Utah and West Virginia at home, where the Pokes are 27-5 over the last 5 seasons.

Expectations should be high in Stillwater. A Big 12 title means a spot in the CFP, and Gordon is more than capable of getting the Pokes back to that title game.

Cowboys to make the CFP: N/A

Ole Miss Rebels

Among qualified receivers last fall, Tre Harris had the sixth-best receiving grade in the country. He was better than Tetairoa McMillan, better than Rome Odunze, and tied with Marvin Harrison Jr. Missouri’s Luther Burden III has a strong claim to the title of “best returning wide receiver,” but Harris can make a pretty compelling argument.

He and Jaxson Dart are the centerpieces of an offense that’ll determine whether last year’s program-record 11 wins were the table-setter or the main event.

Coach Lane Kiffin is all in on this season in Oxford. He has a veteran returning quarterback, depth everywhere, and a schedule that would seem to be pretty conducive to a Playoff appearance. The 2024 signing class featured the nation’s No. 1 transfer class.

On offense, the additions include former LSU runner Logan Diggs, former Washington offensive linemen Nate Kalepo and Julius Buelow, former South Carolina receiver Juice Wells, former Virginia Tech tight end Dae’Quan Wright, and former North Carolina tackle Diego Pounds. All figure to provide roles on Saturdays this fall.

The Rebels need to find a running back in the spring transfer window. That appears to be the only hole on this offense. Everywhere else, Kiffin has nothing but talent. Harris averaged 18.2 yards a catch last year on his way to a 985-yard, 8-touchdown season. Dart had moments where he looked like an absolute star. Another year together means Ole Miss will have one of the country’s best quarterback-receiver tandems.

Circle the 3-week stretch after a bye when Ole Miss faces Oklahoma, travels to Arkansas, and hosts Georgia. If this offense is rolling, those will be hugely influential games as far as the CFP is concerned.

Rebels to make the CFP: -122

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Oregon Ducks

What’s in store for an offense that said goodbye to its record-setting quarterback, its record-setting wide receiver, its tackle-shedding star running back, and its Rimington Trophy-winning center?

Few in college football are questioning the Ducks as College Football Playoff contenders in 2024. The bigger question is whether this team wins the Big Ten right away. Ohio State and Michigan deserve their respect, sure, but Oregon is loaded on paper.

Dillon Gabriel, one of the Heisman favorites in 2024, will spend 1 final season in college at Oregon, where he could become the NCAA’s all-time passing leader and break Bo Nix’s career starts record. He looks like a hand-in-glove fit at Oregon, but don’t undersell all that Nix did before the snap to pilot what was college football’s second-most efficient offense a season ago.

Tez Johnson (86 catches, 1,182 yards) looks more than capable as a No. 1 option in place of Troy Franklin, and Oregon also added Texas A&M transfer Evan Stewart to an already deep receiver room. The stable of running backs looks strong as well.

A year after Oregon had to replace 4 starters up front, 3 of 5 starters returned. Not that new faces were cause for much concern a season ago; the Ducks have only given up 10 sacks in their last 27 games. This has been one of college football’s best offensive lines for several years. More of the same will have the Ducks boat-racing lesser competition once again.

With Nix, Franklin, and Bucky Irving, last year’s Oregon team went 12-2 and was within a game of the College Football Playoff. This fall, the Ducks face Ohio State and Michigan in the regular season. If the replacements are seamless fits, Oregon can win the Big Ten.

Ducks to make the CFP: -210

Penn State Nittany Lions

It’s now or never for Drew Allar. And his performance in Penn State’s spring game, where he completed only 15 of his 32 passes on a windy day, didn’t inspire much confidence.

To add insult to injury, receiver KeAndre Lambert-Smith entered the transfer portal as a grad transfer 2 days after the spring game. He led the Nittany Lions in 2023 with 53 catches for 673 yards and 4 touchdowns and was the only returning receiver with more than 250 yards receiving.

There are no issues at running back, where Penn State boasts Kaytron Allen and Nicholas Singleton, but even with the talent, this has been an offense that has struggled to make things easy on itself.

Penn State was one of college football’s most effective teams in the red zone, scoring touchdowns on 76.6% of its trips. The rest of the field was an adventure. And the 2 games that mattered most on the schedule (Ohio State and Michigan) saw Allar complete just 43% of his passes.

The revolving door at offensive coordinator brings former Kansas assistant Andy Kotelnicki to town, where the hope is his scheme and pre-snap shifting can help the Nittany Lions create more explosives. Allar needs to show he can make the necessary throws in the big moments.

He went 11-for-36 on passes of at least 20 air yards last season, per Pro Football Focus. In his team’s spring game, Allar overthrew open receivers on several occasions.

If another underwhelming season is in store, questions start getting asked of the head coach. Penn State has won double-digit games 5 times since the 2016 season but has never felt like a true national title contender.

If Allar finally lives up to his 5-star recruiting ranking, that might change this season.

Nittany Lions to make the CFP: -142

Tennessee Volunteers

Nico Iamaleava takes over the controls at quarterback, and the anticipation for his full-time debut couldn’t be higher. He had a 1-game teaser in 2023 — closing out the year with a 35-0 blowout of Iowa in the Citrus Bowl. Iamaleava completed 12 of his 19 passes for 151 yards, a touchdown, and 3 rushing scores. He didn’t have to do much, with Iowa’s offense stuck in the mud all day. But it was enough.

The swing between the 2022 Volunteers and the 2023 Vols was drastic. The good news for Vols fans is that Iamaleava appears to be much closer to Hendon Hooker than Joe Milton III was.

In 2022, the deep ball was a huge part of Tennessee’s offense. Hooker threw more than 20 yards downfield on a fifth of his throws, per Pro Football Focus, and completed those passes at a 44% clip. He had 13 touchdowns, 17 big-time throws, and 0 turnover-worthy plays, as graded by PFF.

In 2023, Milton completed 29.5% of his deep throws with 10 touchdowns, 12 big-time throws, and 5 turnover-worthy plays. UT needs that deep-ball potency within its offensive toolbox. And capable targets shouldn’t be an issue in 2024, with a receiver group that features the likes of Bru McCoy, Squirrel White, Dont’e Thornton, and Tulane transfer Chris Brazzell.

Like with Jackson Arnold at Oklahoma, Iamaleava’s combination of sky-high potential and inexperience makes him a real wild card in the SEC and the greater at-large discussion. If he’s everything we thought he’d be, Tennessee has a path to 10 wins. This should be one of college football’s better offensive lines and that always helps a young quarterback.

But development is rarely linear.

Volunteers to make the CFP: +172

Utah Utes

Quarterback Cameron Rising is back for his seventh season of college football. Tight end Brant Kuithe returns for his seventh as well, one of college football’s most versatile pass-catchers when healthy. The offensive line brings back 5 players who started in games last season. The run game returns Micah Bernard and Jaylon Glover, 2 players who have been regular pieces of the rotation when healthy over the last few seasons. And the pass game added the 1 thing it has been missing — a dynamic receiving threat.

After a breakout year with Arizona in 2022, Dorian Singer transferred to USC to play with the reigning Heisman winner. He was misused throughout the year and jumped right back in the transfer portal, where he landed with a Utah team that has been desperately searching for a receiver who can take the top off a defense.

Last season, the Utes were hit with a downright unmanageable amount of injuries on both sides of the football. Rising missed the entire season rehabbing a knee injury. Kuithe missed the entire year. Running backs shuffled in and out. Linemen stepped up and were repeatedly knocked out.

With better injury luck in 2024, Utah stands as a clear and present threat to the Big 12’s established order.

The Utes won back-to-back Pac-12 titles and appeared in consecutive Rose Bowls with Rising as the starter in 2021 and 2022. What they lacked was a clear go-to receiver to compliment strong tight end play and smash-mouth running. Singer made 12 contested catches on a Pac-12-leading 24 contested targets during the 2022 season, per PFF. His 16.7 yards per catch that year ranked fifth among all Pac-12 players. He’s the answer to the deep ball problem Utah has had. If everyone stays healthy, a Sept. 21 date with Oklahoma State in Stillwater will be 1 of the most consequential games in the Big 12 all year.

Utes to make the CFP: +310