College Football 2024 National Champion Dark Horse Candidates

College Football 2024 National Champion Dark Horse Candidates

By: John S | 06/28/2024 College Football Dark Horse

The 2024 college football season will bring a monumental shift with the introduction of a 12-team playoff system. This is a game-changer, opening the door for more teams to dream big. While the usual suspects like Alabama, Ohio State, and Georgia will undoubtedly be in the mix, this expanded format could see some surprise teams making a deep run. Here are the dark horse candidates who could shock the world and hoist the national championship trophy in 2024.

"We can't even get competitive games with 4 teams in the College Football Playoffs. Why in the world would we want 12? This is nothing more than a money grab." - Rob Parker FS1
"I LOVE IT! This gives more teams opportunity and opens up recruiting!" - Chris Broussard FS1

1. Utah Utes

Utah has been knocking on the door for years. Known for their physical, disciplined style of play, the Utes can dominate the trenches. If they can get effective quarterback play, there’s no reason they can’t be the Cinderella story of the 2024 season.

Key Stats

  • 2023 record: 8-5
  • QB Cameron Rising Rising missed the entirety of the 2023 campaign after tearing his ACL in the 2022 season capping Rose Bowl game
  • 2023 defense ranked 19th of 133 in Opp Pts/G with 19.3
  • Utah has the 8th most weeks ranked by the CFB Playoff committe all time (2014-Now) at 44 weeks
  • Head coach Kyle Whittingham is tied as the second-longest tenured head coach at the same school in the NCAA FBS, will enter his 20th season at the helm and 31st overall season at Utah in 2024 as the Utes’ all-time wins leader.
  • ESPN Post-Spring Ranking #9
Utah Utes

Utah quarterback Cameron Rising has been called "wild card" Heisman candidate for the 2024 season.

2. Ole Miss Rebels

Under the stewardship of head coach Lane Kiffin, Ole Miss has been an offensive powerhouse. The Rebels ended the 2023 season with a remarkable 11-2 record and one of the nation's top performing offenses. With the return of key playmakers and a solid recruiting class, Ole Miss could be a dark horse in the 2024 playoffs.

Key Stats

  • 2023 record: 11-2
  • Returning starting quarterback Jaxson Dart
  • Took advantage of the portal adding big-time receiver Juice Wells, running backs Logan Diggs and Henry Parrish Jr., edge rusher Princely Umanmielen, defensive tackle Walter Nolen and many others
  • ESPN Post-Spring Ranking #6
Ole Miss Rebels

Dart completed a record-setting 3,364 passing yards for 23 touchdowns against five interceptions in 2023.

3. Clemson Tigers

Clemson has the pedigree, having won national championships in 2016 and 2018. Though they have fallen slightly off the national radar in recent years, they finished the 2023 season strong with a 9-4 record and a top-tier defense. If their young offensive talent develops as expected, Clemson could be right back in the national title hunt.

Key Stats

  • 2023 record: 9-4
  • 2023 Won Gator Bowl 38-35 versus Kentucky
  • Lost four games for the first time since 2011
  • 2023 Opp Pts/G: 21.1 (31st of 133)
  • Strong recruiting class
  • Shockingly, one of four FBS teams to not take a transfer from the portal: Air Force, Army, Navy, and Clemson
  • ESPN Post-Spring Ranking #16

When asked whether he felt better about Clemson’s chances of returning to the College Football Playoff with the new expanded 12-team format, Clemson Junior Quarterback Cade Klubnik went a step beyond that stating his goals for the Tigers in 2024:

“Our goal is to go undefeated, and I fully, fully believe that this is the team that can do it,” Klubnik said. “I think we’ve got every single piece that we need to be able to do that. If I just continue to take another step this spring and this summer and we continue to keep our heads on straight and keep on working and shutting out the noise I don’t see how that can’t happen. I believe it.”

Clemson Tigers

Cade Klubnik is entering his junior season, and second campaign as QB1 for Clemson football. 2023 was filled with ups and downs and the Tigers suffered because of it.

4. NC State Wolfpack

NC State has quietly built a strong program under head coach Dave Doeren. With a good defense and a solid transfer at quarterback that's surrounded by all kinds of talent offensively, the Wolfpack could make some noise. The expanded playoffs could be their ticket to a national spotlight that has long eluded them.

Key Stats

  • 2023 record: 9-4
  • Dave Doeren quietly guided Wolfpack to 34 wins in past 4 seasons
  • Bringing in Grayson McCall from Coastal Carolina who threw for 2,400 yds and 24 TDs with only 3 INTs each season 2020-2022
  • Bringing in solid talent via transfer portal in receivers Noah Rogers and Wesley Grime
  • Have a returning star in KC Concepcion, the ACC Rookie of the Year in 2023
  • Could have some growing pains without linebacker Payton Wilson anchoring the middle of the unit
  • ESPN Post-Spring Ranking #13
NCStateKC

Receiver Kevin “KC” Concepcion had a dynamic freshman season in 2023 with 1,159 all-purpose yards.

Wrap-up

The 12-team playoff format is set to revolutionize college football, providing opportunities for teams outside the elite circle to make a run for the championship. Utah, Ole Miss, Clemson, and NC State are just a few of the dark horse candidates ready to take advantage of this new landscape. Buckle up, because 2024 is going to be one wild ride.

  • Published
    Jun 28, 2024
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