2024 CFP Surprises: Who’s This Season’s Horned Frogs

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There will almost undoubtedly be some major 2024 CFP surprises this college football season. And Sports Hub will be here with all the latest news, previews, recaps, picks, and more.

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The football season will all start in late August and Sports Hub’s handicappers will be ready to go to work in the new season. Heading into the new campaign, it’s no surprise that the preseason Top 10 features some familiar faces. Alabama, Georgia, and Ohio State are among the top-5 in nearly every preseason poll.

Michigan, Clemson, LSU, USC, and Texas are among those in the next tier. In the last year of the four-team College Football Playoff – the CFP expands to 12 teams after this season – could there be a team or two that surprises the entirety of college football?

Last Year’s Biggest Surprise

TCU (13-2) was on no one’s radar heading into the 2022-23 college football season. When we hear talk about 2024 CFP surprises, the Frogs usually lead the conversation.

Max Duggan, now a member of the Los Angeles Chargers, was not even the team’s starting quarterback at the beginning of last season. Chandler Morris won the job then got hurt in TCU’s opener, a 38-13 win over Colorado. That allowed Duggan to take over.

All Duggan did was lead the Horned Frogs to 11 straight victories, including five over Top-25 programs. The streak almost ran to 12, but TCU lost to Kansas State in the Big 12 championship game, 31-28, in overtime.

Then, it was off to the 2023 CFP as the No. 3 seed. Duggan had four touchdowns – two passing and two rushing – as the Horned Frogs eliminated No. 2 Michigan 51-45.

If anyone had said TCU would be playing for a national title at the beginning of last season, they would have been laughed right out of town. 

It was one of the greatest – if not the greatest – seasons in TCU football history. It was head coach Sonny Dykes’ first season and the best-ever season in his college football coaching career. Can he do it again in 2023-24? Which other coach can mirror this feat in 2024? Who tops your list of 2024 CFP surprises?

Other Shockers Last Season

Tulane went 11-2, won the American Athletic Conference title, and put up one of the more surprising bowl wins of 2022-23. The Green Wave lost by three to Southern Miss and by a touchdown to a ranked UCF. Head coach Willie Fritz’s team then pounded defending AAC champ Cincinnati 45-28 in the conference title game and went on to upset No. 10 USC 46-45 in the Cotton Bowl.

USC was also somewhat of a surprise finishing last season ranked three spots below Tulane. The Trojans and new head coach Lincoln Riley went 11-3 with two of the losses coming to Utah, which finished last year ranked No. 10. Two of USC’s losses came by a single point, too. The Trojans 2022-23 campaign came after four consecutive seasons of futility. Only once in the past four years did USC win more than five games.

The other big surprise came in creamsicle orange and white – Tennessee. The Volunteers were in their second year under head coach Josh Heupel. His high-octane offense was unstoppable until Heisman Trophy candidate QB Hendon Hooker suffered a knee injury late in the season. 

The Vols beat No. 20 Florida, No. 25 LSU, and No. 3 Alabama in consecutive games at midseason. Tennessee’s first loss of the season came to eventual national champion Georgia. The Vols lost to South Carolina after Hooker was hurt, but Tennessee managed to finish 11-2 and with a final ranking of No. 6 in the CFP poll.

Is there another TCU or Tulane out there? Tennessee or USC? It’s certainly possible. let’s look at 2024 CFP surprises.

2024 CFP Surprises on the Possible List

North Carolina (9-5) won the ACC’s Coastal Division last year and returns one of the top quarterbacks in the country – Drake Maye. The 6-5 sophomore threw for 4,321 yards and 38 touchdowns last season. He also led the Tar Heels in rushing (698 yards), but UNC struggles mightily in one area of the game – defense. If North Carolina can improve defensively, they could be among the 2024 CFP surprises.

The Tar Heels were 9-1 before they proceeded to lose their last four games in a row. That included the ACC title game against Clemson, 39-10, and a one-point loss to No. 15 Oregon in the Holiday Bowl. North Carolina allowed 29.5 points per game over the course of those four games, which was just a hair better (31.0) than they allowed for the season

 UNC finished 105th in scoring defense and if that doesn’t change, there’s no way head coach Mack Brown and the Heels are knocking on the CFP’s door. That’s why they’re listed at +12500 odds and a solid maybe.

Is the Pac-12 Back?

The Pac-12 could be loaded this year. We could definitely see some 2024 CFP surprises out of the Pac-12.

Yes, hard-core college football fans will get a chuckle out of that, but 2023-24 could be the year the conference finally returns to the playoff.

The aforementioned USC Trojans return a load of talent and have another solid portal class. The Trojans are among the top-5 on most betting boards at around +1400. If they make the CFP, it wouldn’t be that much of a surprise.

However, if crosstown rival UCLA (+10000) or Washington (+4000) were to make the playoffs, that would easily be among the 2024 CFP surprises. UCLA will have to replace QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson, but they have two quality candidates – four-star transfer Collin Schlee and five-star freshman Dante Moore. 

The Bruins brought in 13 portal transfers and they avoid Oregon and Washington on the schedule. Head coach Chip Kelly led UCLA to eight wins in 2021 and nine last year. Just like TCU, the right quarterback could make all the difference in whether or not the Bruins are a CFB surprise team.

It could also be Washington, which returns the nation’s second-leading passer in sixth-year QB Michael Penix Jr. who threw for 4,641 yards and 31 touchdowns last season. Penix led the Huskies to an 11-2 mark with both losses by one score or less. The Huskies will face USC, Utah, and Oregon late in the season with their CFP hopes on the line.

The Big One on the List of 2024 CFP Surprises

Here at Sports Hub, Coach Rick is one of our top college football experts. With years of experience playing, coaching, writing about, and handicapping the sport, Coach Rick is dialed into everything college football. With his finger on the pulse of the CFP, it’s the Florida State Seminoles that Coach Rick sees as this year’s TCU.

Take a guess as to Pro Football Focus’s No. 1-rated quarterback for the 2022-23 season? It was not No. 1 NFL draft pick Bryce Young nor was it No. 2 pick CJ Stroud. It was the Seminoles’ Jordan Travis with a 91.7 rating. Travis is electric and creates serious problems for opposing defenses.

He passed for 3,214 yards and 24 touchdowns. Travis also averaged over five yards per carry, ran for 417 yards and seven more scores. He will lead an offense that was top-20 in both rushing and scoring (36.1 ppg). More importantly, the Seminoles return a number of starters to a defense that allowed 19.7 (16th) points per game. 

There will be the opening weekend showdown with LSU. Then, there should be ample opportunities for the Seminoles to face Top 25 competition in the ACC – Clemson and Pitt, most notably. With its schedule, FSU could slip up along the way and still win the ACC and make the playoff. 

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