College football rankings: Ohio State must buck College Football Playoff trend in pursuit of national title

NCAA Football

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Ohio State is No. 2 in Dennis Dodd’s post-spring top 25 and widely expected to compete for a national championship during a critical seventh season for coach Ryan Day. The Buckeyes loaded up on transfer talent and made a splashy offensive coordinator hire in Chip Kelly to bolster a program that is 129-16 over the past 12 seasons.

But if the Buckeyes are going to hoist the trophy on Jan. 20, 2025, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, they will be required to break recent continuity norms for title-winning teams.

College football’s last 10 national champions – dating back to the beginning of the College Football Playoff era – have each returned at least three of the following four: coach; offensive coordinator; defensive coordinator; a quarterback who started at least four games in the prior year. 

Even amid a quickly changing roster-building landscape, core continuity has mattered. Each of the 10 also finished 13th or better in the final rankings of the previous season.

While Day and defensive coordinator Jim Knowles are back from a 2023 Ohio State team that finished 11-2 and No. 7 in the final CFP Rankings, the Buckeyes welcomed in a new quarterback and new offensive coordinator, leaving them with just two returners in those core four positions.

The last national champion to return fewer than three was the 2013 Florida State team, which was led by Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Jameis Winston. In the absence of a generational QB talent, the Buckeyes will be required to buck a well-established trend if they are going to return to the top of the sport for the first time since 2014.

That title-winning team featured a first-year starting quarterback (J.T. Barrett) but had familiar faces at head coach (Urban Meyer), offensive coordinator (Tom Herman) and defensive coordinator (Luke Fickell). Every national champion since then has followed suit with similar continuity.

So, who best fits the bill in 2024 after finishing 13th or better in last season’s final CFP Rankings? Here’s the full breakdown of the six teams who fit the mold of the past 10 college football national champions by returning at least three of the following:

  • Coach
  • Offensive coordinator
  • Defensive coordinator
  • Quarterback who started at least four games for current school last season

Teams are listed in order of where they are ranked in Dodd’s post-spring top 25.

Final 2023 CFP Ranking: No. 6 | Dodd 2024 ranking: No. 1

Georgia returned just two of its core four last season after replacing starting quarterback Stetson Bennett IV and offensive coordinator Todd Monken. The Bulldogs are back on track this season as OC Mike Bobo and QB Carson Beck enter Year 2 in their respective roles.

HC: Kirby Smart
OC: Mike Bobo
DC: Glenn Schumann
QB: Carson Beck

Final 2023 CFP Ranking: No. 8 | Dodd 2024 ranking: No. 3

Oregon lost quarterback Bo Nix, who ran out of eligibility. But the Ducks are replacing him with a proven passer in Dillon Gabriel, formerly of Oklahoma and UCF. Will Stein proved to be an excellent offensive coordinator hire last year by coach Dan Lanning, and the Ducks retained defensive coordinator Tosh Lupoi.

HC: Dan Lanning
OC: Will Stein
DC: Tosh Lupoi
QB: Dillon Gabriel in for Bo Nix

Final 2023 CFP Ranking: No. 3 | Dodd 2024 ranking: No. 4

The Longhorns return each of their core four from a team that finished 12-2 with a Big 12 title and CFP semifinal appearance. Texas is transitioning to the SEC, which will pose challenges. It is nevertheless well-equipped to navigate those challenges, even after seeing 11 players selected in the 2024 NFL Draft.

HC: Steve Sarkisian
OC: Kyle Flood
DC: Pete Kwiatkowski
QB: Quinn Ewers

Final 2023 CFP Ranking: No. 11 | Dodd 2024 ranking: No. 6

Ole Miss went hard in the portal again, a norm under coach Lane Kiffin. While the Rebels are welcoming plenty of new faces through the nation’s top-ranked transfer class, they return each of their core four from the only team in program history to reach 11 victories.

HC: Lane Kiffin
OC: Charlie Weis Jr.
DC: Pete Golding
QB: Jaxson Dart

Final 2023 CFP Ranking: No. 9 | Dodd 2024 ranking: No. 7

Missouri lost defensive coordinator Blake Baker to LSU and replaced him with former South Alabama defensive coordinator Corey Batoon. With continuity in the other three slots, the Tigers are positioned to stay hot after a breakthrough 11-2 season highlighted by a Cotton Bowl victory over Ohio State.

HC: Eli Drinkwitz
OC: Kirby Moore
DC: Corey Batoon in for Blake Baker
QB: Brady Cook

Florida State

Final 2023 CFP Ranking: No. 5 | Dodd 2024 ranking: No. 20

The NFL Draft hit Florida State hard. The Seminoles lost stars like defensive end Jared Verse, quarterback Jordan Travis and receiver Keon Coleman. But the Seminoles return their top coaches and brought in a high-floor replacement for Travis in former Clemson and Oregon State quarterback DJ Uiagalelei.

HC: yes (Mike Norvell)
OC: yes (Alex Atkins)
DC: yes (Adam Fuller)
QB: DJ Uiagalelei in for Jordan Travis

Below the threshold

The following teams finished in the top 13 of the final 2023 CFP Rankings but return fewer than three of their core four.

Historical exceptions

Since the BCS era began in 1998, just three of college football’s 26 national champions have returned fewer than three of their core four. Here’s a look at the three who bucked the trend.

Miami (2001): While the 2001 Miami team that won the BCS technically fell short of the continuity threshold, it was a program that enjoyed solid continuity all the same. The Hurricanes elevated Larry Coker from offensive coordinator to head coach after Butch Davis left for the Cleveland Browns job. Coker promoted Rob Chudzinski from tight ends coach to offensive coordinator. Starting quarterback Ken Dorsey returned and finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting.

LSU (2007): As a rare two-loss national champion, LSU benefitted from surrounding chaos in order to make the BCS title game. Offensive coordinator Gary Crowton was in his first season after coming over from Oregon, and quarterback Matt Flynn was in his first season as the starter. Coach Les Miles and defensive coordinator Bo Pelini were in their third seasons, which gave the Tigers continuity in two of the core four slots.

Florida State (2013): Defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt and starting quarterback Jameis Winston were each in their first seasons in their respective roles as Florida State obliterated everyone in its path on the way to a BCS title matchup with Auburn. The title game was a classic, but the ‘Noles had Winston, the Heisman Trophy winner, and the Tigers didn’t.

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