College football is officially back this weekend, with a few games before most of the Power Five schools get in action next week. Everything will be determined in the fall—and perhaps more telling, in the winter during bowl season—but this is where I see each Power Five conference ranking heading into the 2018 season.
Nothing against the other conferences, but the easy choice for the top conference in college football in 2018 is the Big Ten. Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan, and Wisconsin all figure to be squarely in the College Football Playoff conversation throughout the year, and there could be surprise teams (like Scott Frost’s Nebraska squad) that work their way into the discussion. The Big Ten, which went 7-1 in bowl games last season, has both top-tier teams and strong depth. Also, the conference might have the best group of coaches in the nation.
While the Big Ten is the clear number one conference in the nation heading into the season, that doesn’t mean the SEC isn’t close behind. Alabama, Georgia, and Auburn were all in New Year’s Six Bowls last season, with Bama and Georgia in the title game, undoubtedly attesting to the power in the conference. New head coaches Jimbo Fisher (Texas A&M), Matt Luke (Ole Miss), Joe Moorhead (Mississippi State), Chad Morris (Arkansas), Dan Mullen (Florida), and Jeremy Pruitt (Tennessee) make things interesting.
I believe these next three conferences are more interchangeable in terms of their ranking, but the ACC gets the nod for the number-three spot because they have a couple of clear national title contenders in Clemson and Miami. Dabo Swinney and the Tigers return an absolutely stacked roster, and they have to be in everyone’s top five heading into the year. Meanwhile, Mark Richt has done an outstanding job with his alma mater, and they might take another step forward in 2018. It’s hard to see the other teams competing for a Playoff berth, but it’s a solid bunch. Willie Taggart’s Florida State team is a wild card.
The 1-8 record in bowl games in 2018 probably has a lot of people believing the Pac-12 is clearly the worst Power Five conference in college football. However, they have a couple of underrated teams in Washington and Stanford that can go toe-to-toe with nearly any other team in the nation because of their physical styles. Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate is one of the Heisman favorites heading into the year, and USC and UCLA might be better this season despite losing top-ten NFL selections Sam Darnold and Josh Rosen. New UCLA head coach Chip Kelly had a 46-7 record during his five seasons at Oregon, and the Ducks themselves should also compete with star quarterback Justin Herbert.
If Oklahoma remains great without Baker Mayfield—which they might with future Oakland Athletic Kyler Murray—, Texas takes the next step under Tom Herman, Will Grier plays like a superstar and carries West Virginia, TCU plays up to Gary Patterson’s standards, Oklahoma State’s Taylor Cornelius takes advantage of his opportunity with Mason Rudolph in the NFL… you might have noticed there are some questions with the Big 12. It wouldn’t be a surprise if Pac-12 is awesome as a conference in 2018, but they’ve been a fifth-wheel of sorts when things are close between the Power Five schools.