Whileand preseason rankings gave us our early looks at the pecking order for individual teams, the time has come to debate which conference reigns supreme entering the 2023 season.
As has been the case for more than a decade, the SEC is top-loaded with teams ready to push for the College Football Playoff Championship. The Big Ten has two teams who can contend for the sport's top spot, while the Pac-12's quarterback depth could vault it into the discussion in its last season before its collapse. Meanwhile the Big 12 is coming off its first-ever CFP semifinal win last season.
It's talking season, so let's break down where the FBS conferences rank for 2023.
The SEC boasts three legitimate national championship contenders in No. 1 Georgia, No. 4 Alabama and No. 5 LSU. What does the beefy middle of the conference look like, though? It's pretty strong. Tennessee -- which spent time at No. 1 in the CFP rankings last year -- chimed in at No. 12 in the AP Top 25. Ole Miss (No. 22) and Texas A&M (No. 23) both got some love from the voters, and South Carolina and Arkansas just missed out of cracking the rankings. The poll isn't the only thing that matters, though. Arkansas' offense is almost impossible to prepare for with big KJ Jefferson taking the snaps and Raheim Sanders toting the rock. We know just how powerful Tennessee's offense can be with Josh Heupel running things. Speaking of offense, coach Lane Kiffin and the Rebels have running back Quinshon Judkins -- a first-team All-American in the recently released -- behind an offense that will undoubtedly "click" from the time toe meets leather.
This might come as a shock to people on the East Coast, but the Pac-12 is loaded and may be the most entertaining league to watch in 2023. The conference boasts at least four teams that have a legitimate shot at making the CFP: No. 6 USC, No. 10 Washington, No. 14 Utah and No. 15 Oregon. Can any of them actually win it? Probably not. But the conference's depth is as strong as it has been in more than a decade. When you throw in No. 18 Oregon State and a well-coached UCLA squad, "Pac-12 After Dark" is going to be must-see TV in 2023.
3. Big Ten
There's no question that the Big Ten's top end is incredible. No. 2 Michigan and No. 3 Ohio State are as deep and as talented as those in the SEC, and it'd be a total shock if at least one of them doesn't make the CFP. The Wolverines boast one of the best running back rooms in the country, and the Buckeyes' wide receivers are second to none in the sport. No. 7 Penn State -- which is chronically on the cusp of making noise -- has a quarterback in Drew Allar. It'll be fascinating to see what Luke Fickell does in his first season with No. 19 Wisconsin. The primary reason that the Big Ten trails the Pac-12 is depth. Outside of Michigan and Ohio State (and maybe Penn State), there aren't many teams with a real shot at the CFP.
As is the case with the Big Ten, the ACC boasts two legitimate CFP contenders in No. 8 Florida State and No. 9 Clemson. Both boast studs at quarterback with Jordan Travis and Cade Klubnik, respectively, and are experienced enough to not only lead their teams to the national title, but put themselves in position to win the Heisman Trophy. No. 21 North Carolina has potential first-round draft pick Drake Maye taking the snaps, but will need to get much better defensively to make a run at a CFP spot. Outside of those three teams, it's hard to make a case for any of the rest to be relevant on the national scene.
5. Big 12
The phrase "Texas is back" has dominated the offseason lexicon for more than a decade, and it'll be fascinating to see if the 11th-ranked Longhorns can finally live up to the hype in their last season in the conference before jumping to the SEC. There's no doubt that they have the offensive firepower. Texas returns nine starters on that side of the ball including quarterback Quinn Ewers and left tackle Kelvin Banks Jr. No. 17 TCU lived on the edge of disaster for the majority of its run to the national title game, but heavy roster attrition raises serious doubts for a repeat performance. The conference also boasts No. 16 Kansas State and No. 20 Oklahoma among other competitive teams. However, the Big 12 is more likely to cannibalize itself than send a team to the CFP in 2023.
If you're looking for entertainment, keep your eye on the AAC this season. No. 24 Tulane was a monster last season en route to a win vs. USC in the Cotton Bowl, and the Green Wave are set up for success again this year. SMU should be a tough out with Preston Stone leading the charge alongside one of the best receiving corps in the conference. UTSA is one of the best-coached teams in the country, and look out for Memphis to make some noise as well.
7. Sun Belt
Coastal Carolina should be strong with Grayson McCall under center, and it would be a shock if they don't make the Sun Belt Championship Game despite a coaching change from Jamey Chadwell to Tim Beck. Marshall's defense should be rock solid after making the jump to the conference last season, and James Madison could be a dark horse to win the title. Keep an eye on South Alabama and Troy as well. Those two could make some noise in a deep West division.
8. Mountain West
It'll be an interesting season in the MWC. Boise State, Air Force, Fresno State and San Diego State are all capable of earning a berth in a New Year's Six Bowl, while San Jose State and Wyoming will serve as the second tier of the league. After that, the Mountain West drops off in a big way. Hawaii, Nevada and New Mexico should be staples in my college Tom Fornelli's Bottom 25 week-in and week-out.
There isn't a team in the MAC that can make a run to a New Year's Six Bowl, but Miami (Ohio) and Toledo are the top contenders to win their respective divisions. Parity in the conference makes it much more likely to beat itself up rather than have a team emerge into a Group of Five power.
10. Conference USA
The conference was decimated by realignment and it'll show this season. Western Kentucky should be a force, and newcomer Liberty has been competitive over the last several years. However, its third best team is either Middle Tennessee or New Mexico State and neither do much to move the meter. It's hard to imagine FBS newcomers Jacksonville State and Sam Houston State finishing anywhere outside of the final Bottom 25.