The college football season is set to begin Aug. 26 when Notre Dame, USC and others are set to do battle. Some of the game's rising young stars will be in action as fans begin to familiarize themselves with the pool of talent that could be available in the 2024 NFL Draft.
CBS Sports' Ryan Wilson, Chris Trapasso and myself compiled our early rankings to create a top 25 watchlist for the upcoming season.
1. Caleb Williams, QB, USC
Williams arrived at USC a year ago under uncommon pretenses. Transfers are usually leaving to seek more playing time elsewhere, but the D.C. area recruit had already established himself as one of the game's most promising signal-callers while at Oklahoma. After unseating Spencer Rattler at quarterback, Williams threw for nearly 2,000 yards and rushed for 442 more, all while accounting for 27 total team touchdowns.
When head coach Lincoln Riley left, Williams followed. Riley played an integral role in the quarterback's initial decision to pick the Sooners out of high school having produced Heisman winners and eventual No. 1 overall selections in the NFL Draft in Kyler Murray and Baker Mayfield.
As a sophomore, Williams was efficient and effective carving up the Pac-12. He threw for 4,537 yards, 42 touchdowns and five interceptions while adding an additional 10 touchdowns on the ground en route to winning the Heisman. A propensity to extend plays outside of the pocket will inevitably lead to higher sack totals. He had the nation's 22nd-worst rate having taken 30 sacks, according to TruMedia.
2. Marvin Harrison Jr., WR, Ohio State
The son of Colts legend Marvin Harrison has more than delivered on his 4-star status coming out of high school. Genetically blessed with size, speed and the body control of his father, the Philadelphia native waited for his moment and scorched Big Ten competition. A player of his status would typically see the field early, but the Buckeyes have built an underground tunnel from the receiver room in Columbus to the NFL. Harrison watched as Garrett Wilson, Chris Olave and Jaxon Smith-Njigba set the standard. The stage is set for him now.
As a true sophomore, Harrison caught 77 passes for 1,263 yards and 14 touchdowns.
3. Olu Fashanu, OT, Penn State
Fashanu started one game over his first two seasons in Happy Valley. His moment arrived in 2022 as he locked down the starting left tackle role, allowing zero sacks on 281 pass blocking snaps. The D.C. area native could have entered the 2023 NFL Draft and likely would have been a top 10 selection. However, he elected to return to campus and enjoy his college experience a little while longer. Still just 20 years old, the lineman is trending towards being one of the youngest players selected in next April's draft.
4. Drake Maye, QB, North Carolina
Maye was a big recruiting win for Tar Heels head coach Mack Brown. The Charlotte resident decommitted from Alabama to pursue a career in Carolina Blue, much like his father, Mark, and brother, Luke, before him. Unlike Caleb Williams, most of Maye's first season on a college campus was spent on the sideline watching eventual fifth-round draft selection Sam Howell. When given keys to the operation, Maye threw for 4,321 yards, 38 touchdowns and seven interceptions last season. Maye was sacked 43 times last season, which was the fourth-most in the FBA, according to TruMedia.
5. Brock Bowers, TE, Georgia
The 2023 NFL Draft saw just one tight end taken in the first round -- Dalton Kincaid No. 25 overall to the Bills -- but nine were selected in the first two days. Kincaid likely would have gone even earlier had it not been for an injury. Bowers has a good chance to be taken in the top half of the first round because of his projection to the NFL game. A refined pass-catcher who is capable of making contested catches and separating post-catch, Bowers may need to gain a bit of weight to sustain blocks and create displacement in the run game. As the salary cap figures for wide receivers continue to soar, desire for cost-efficient, impactful pass-catching tight ends may grow.
6. Laiatu Latu, EDGE, UCLA
Latu had 10.5 sacks and three forced fumbles for the Bruins last season after transferring from Washington. His 22% pressure rate was second best among players with at least 200 pass-rush snaps, according to TruMedia. (His former teammate, Bralen Trice, was first on the list.) Latu injured his neck during the fall leading up to the 2020 season, and Washington allegedly told him he would never play again. He medically retired in 2021 but has obviously returned to play at a high level.
7. Kool-Aid McKinstry, CB, Alabama
McKinstry was a 5-star recruit and the nation's No. 1 cornerback coming out of high school. As a true freshman, the local talent earned a role in a deep Alabama secondary that included Jordan Battle, Malachi Moore, Brian Branch, Demarcco Hellams and Jalyn Armour-Davis. Last season, McKinstry had a full-time role that also included punt return duties. He was fifth in forced incompletions (47), according to TruMedia.
8. Jared Verse, EDGE, Florida State
Like Olu Fashanu, Verse had a good chance to be a first-round selection in the 2023 NFL Draft had he declared. The Albany transfer had nine sacks in his first season with the Seminoles. Verse had a 19.4% pressure rate and averaged 2.88 seconds to sack, according to TruMedia; both respectable numbers.
9. JC Latham, OT, Alabama
Latham secured a full-time starting role at right tackle as a redshirt freshman at Alabama; that alone should be evidence of his talent. It is a deep class of offensive tackle prospects, and Latham is the beginning of a mini-run on our list in particular. He is built like an offensive guard but wins with strength and has the mobility to defend the corner.
10. Kingsley Suamataia, OT, BYU
Suamataia transferred from Oregon ahead of the 2022 season. He was not credited with a sack allowed on 361 pass block snaps. The Samoan lineman is another strong right tackle prospect. Teams in need of a right tackle had limited options beyond Tennessee's Darnell Wright as part of the 2023 NFL Draft, but the outlook is more positive in next year's class.
11. Joe Alt, OT, Notre Dame
Alt is the third consecutive offensive tackle and the fourth overall. He has started 21 consecutive games at left tackle for the Irish, who have a rich history of producing NFL offensive linemen. His father, John, was a two-time Pro Bowl selection and former first-round pick of the Kansas City Chiefs. His brother, Mark, plays for the NHL's Los Angeles Kings.
12. Jeremiah Trotter Jr., LB, Clemson
The son of the four-time Pro Bowl linebacker led the Tigers in tackles (92), tackles for a loss (13.5) and sacks (6.5) last season; that is particularly noteworthy considering they had three front seven players -- edge rusher Myles Murphy, defensive tackle Bryan Bresee and linebacker Trenton Simpson -- selected inside the top 100 picks of the 2023 NFL Draft.
13. Barrett Carter, LB, Clemson
Carter, a former 5-star recruit, earned an expanded role for Clemson this past season. He was highly productive and has a unique tie to two of college football's best linebackers in recent history, according to the player's Clemson biography:
"Prior to Carter and two others in 2022, the last two Power Five conference players to reach 10 tackles for loss, five sacks, two forced fumbles and two interceptions in a season were Georgia's Nakobe Dean in 2021 and Clemson's Isaiah Simmons in 2019, years in which both players won the Butkus Award as the nation's top linebacker."
14. Dallas Turner, EDGE, Alabama
Turner was viewed as Alabama's next best pass-rusher beyond Will Anderson Jr. Turner has a more slender frame and has just 12.5 sacks over his first two seasons. The former 5-star recruit has immense talent but has hardly solidified his placement among the best draft-eligible pass rushers. Without Anderson, he will garner more attention this season, and that comes with increased expectations as well.
15. Kalen King, CB, Penn State
Penn State has done a fantastic job of producing defensive backs in recent years. King was the primary defender on a targeted pass-catcher 60 times last season, according to TruMedia. Of those attempts, the Detroit area native forced 33 incompletions and allowed zero touchdowns.
His twin brother, Kobe, is also a member of the Nittany Lions' program.
16. Quinn Ewers, QB, Texas
Caleb Williams and Ewers were apart of the same high school recruiting class and the same transfer class. Ewers was ranked higher than Caleb Williams coming out of high school, but Williams was a higher ranked transfer.
Ewers has a strong arm and a creative ability to make plays off-platform. The Ohio State transfer started 10 games last season, completing just 58.1% of his passes for 15 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. He now has to hold off Maalik Murphy as well as Arch Manning.
Michigan's J.J. McCarthy is another for fans to monitor as far as first-round consideration is concerned.
17. J.T. Tuimoloau, EDGE, Ohio State
Tuimoloau was the No. 2 overall prospect nationally, according to 247Sports, coming out of Sammamish, Washington. While most recruits sign no later than February, the pass rusher kept his interested schools guessing until he enrolled at Ohio State in July of 2021.
Tuimoloau does a great job of keeping his eyes on the quarterback and impacting pass lanes. He has just six sacks to this point in his young career with the Buckeyes.
18. Maason Smith, DT, LSU
The fanfare surrounding Smith is warranted but unusual considering he has appeared in just 10 total collegiate games with only four starts. The 5-star high school recruit suffered a season-ending knee injury in the first quarter of the 2022 season-opener against Florida State. It usually takes a full year for players to fully recover from a knee injury, but that will not quell the expectations surrounding the Louisiana native.
19. Treveyon Henderson, RB, Ohio State
Henderson was a breakout star as a freshman for the two-loss Buckeyes. He accumulated over 1,500 all-purpose yards and 19 total touchdowns. In his encore campaign, the Virginia native was limited to just eight games as he dealt with injury.
According to TruMedia, he had a 13.2% tackle avoidance rate last season, which was 24th-worst among players with at least 100 carries. As a freshman, his 27.3% tackle avoidance rate was No. 41 among all running backs.
When all is said and done, it would be a surprise to me, personally, if any running backs were taken in the first round.
20. Braelon Allen, RB, Wisconsin
Allen has topped 1,200 rushing yards in each of his two seasons at Camp Randall Stadium. He has 23 total touchdowns through two seasons, which is more than the number of receptions (21) he has amassed over the same time period.
Allen ranked No. 101 in tackle avoidance rate (22.2%), according to TruMedia; disappointing considering his 6-foot-2, 240 pound frame.
21. Malik Nabers, WR, LSU
The Louisiana native did not get an offer from in-state LSU until September of his senior year. His recruitment was complicated because he did not play his senior season after being denied a waiver after transferring high schools. At the time, he was committed to Mississippi State. However, he signed with the Tigers just three months later. Nabers had a respectable true freshman campaign but burst onto the scene this past season when he managed 72 receptions for 1,017 yards and three touchdowns. His sophomore season ended on a high note being named MVP of LSU's Citrus Bowl victory over Purdue.
According to TruMedia, he ran Hitch and Go routes on 51.5% of his routes last season.
22. Emeka Egbuka, WR, Ohio State
Egbuka begins a run on Ohio State prospects. Similar to Malik Nabers, Egbuka did not play his senior season of high school football. His high school moved its football season to the spring during COVID and the Washington native had already enrolled for classes in Columbus.
Egbuka paid his dues waiting behind other talented prospects who would go on to the NFL. When given the starting nod, he flourished, amassing 74 receptions for 1,151 yards and 10 touchdowns.
23. Jack Sawyer, EDGE, Ohio State
Sawyer was the No. 5 prospect overall, according to the 247Sports Composite, coming out of nearby Pickerington North. He also played quarterback for his high school but did not play his senior season.
Through two collegiate seasons, he has 7.5 total sacks, but his athleticism and ability to make plays in space suggest that his best football is ahead.
24. Denzel Burke, CB, Ohio State
Burke was a two-way athlete for his high school before settling in at cornerback for the Buckeyes. He played in just one game during his senior season due to injury. Talent evaluators likely want to see more ball production from the Arizona native this season, as he has just one interception in two seasons. Burke was targeted 42 times last season and allowed 22 completions. He is, however, a player willing to play downhill and attack the flat to help in run support.
25. Bralen Trice, EDGE, Washington
Washington has produced highly productive pass-rushers like Joe Tryon-Shoyinka. Trice, along with Zion Tupuola-Fetui, are working to be next; that does not even include Laiatu Latu, who notably began his playing career with the Huskies.