20. Iowa (10-4)
Does it pain me to put Iowa at No. 19 ahead of teams like Kansas and Louisville who I truly believe will contend for titles in their own conference? Yes and no. Brian Ferentz is now gone which means the Hawkeyes can now decide to score some points. Plus, Cade McNamara is back after a season-ending injury in 2023 and Iowa still managed to win 10 games. Imagine if the Hawkeyes could score 25-plus points with that elite defense. Watch out, Big Ten.
19. Tennessee (9-4)
Since Josh Heupel took over, Tennessee has felt like a different program. The Volunteers were serious title contenders in the SEC in 2022 before taking a slight step back this past season, but a 9-4 finish is nothing to scoff at. Now, they will be fielding one of the best young quarterbacks in the country in Nico Iamaleava who will be replacing Joe Milton. This feels like a quarterback who could single-handedly make Tennessee a contender -- but he'll have a ton of help.
18. Clemson (9-4)
There are a lot of Clemson doubters lately, and rightly so. The Tigers have been one of the most mediocre former powerhouses in college football for the past few years and a lot of that has to do with the offense just not living up to its potential. Cade Klubnik is back to start at quarterback but he's going to need some help. Will Shipley may be gone, but this team is just far too talented to finish .500 in ACC play. Dabo Swinney has top 20 talent to work with, he just needs to wake up.
17 . Kansas State (9-4)
Chris Klieman is another one of those coaches who was on everyone's radar during the coaching carousel this offseason but opted to remain with Kansas State. The Wildcats have to be thrilled by this because, well, he's a darn good one. After winning a conference title in 2022, the Wildcats took a slight step back and went 9-4 in 2023 with a 6-3 mark in Big 12 play. With two big dogs gone from atop the standings, even with Will Howard gone and the inexperienced, but explosive, Avery Johnson at quarterback.
16. Utah (8-5)
Cam Rising is back for another season and the mystery of "will he play?" every week will hopefully be a thing of the past. Utah needs him to play if it's going to be a contender in the new-look Big 12. Rising will also get Brant Kuithe back who missed all of last season with an injury but was once considered one of the nation's top tight ends. The Utes could also return Micah Bernard who was injured for most of the season and there's talk about this team contending in its new conference.