Welcome to our second annual Preseason College Football Conference Predictions! This is our second year doing preseason conference projections. Like last year, we used our preseason College Football Ratings to project every match up of the teams within their conference. This list doesn’t necessarily project which team is better, but who will win their prospective division based upon the schedule they were given. We also provide weekly game projections at NCAA Football Predictions and this year’s bowl projections at NCAA Football Bowl Predictions We hope that you enjoy!
American Athletic Conference
UCF had an epic plummet in conference last year as they went from going 8-0 in 2013, 7-1 in 2014 to 0-8 last year. This year looks to be much of the same as Scott Frost takes over the program from a retiring George O’Leary. Temple is coming off a great year last year, and although South Florida is the odds on favorite to win the division we project Temple as the slight winner. Having both South Florida and Cincinnati at home helps Temple’s chances although these come in back-to-back weeks.
After going 13-1 and beating Florida State in the Peach Bowl last year, Houston again is the odds on favorite to win both their division and conference. They do have to play both Navy and Memphis on the road and they are their toughest competition within the division. We don’t expect much out of Tulane or SMU as they should finish in the bottom two places, but we think Tulsa has an outside shot if QB Dane Evans has another great year.
Atlantic Coast Conference
The Atlantic will see some familiar faces at the top of the standings again with Clemson and Florida St as the heavy favorites coming into the season. Even playing Florida State in Tallahassee, we calculate Clemson to be the favorite coming out of this division. Florida State can go in a few different directions. The emergence of Deondre Francois could shoot them to the top of the division and even make them a title contender, but poor QB play could potentially drop them behind Louisville in the division..
We sometimes feel like a broken record as year-after-year the ACC Coastal looks like a total crap shoot. Miami struggled mightily last year (even getting blown out by 58 to Clemson), but are the preseason Vegas favorite to claim the division. Virginia Tech brings in a new head coach and have a very favorable out of division schedule catching Boston College and Syracuse. We have Pittsburgh finishing 4th though they are coming off a very strong year last year finishing 6-2 in conference. Our projections, however, have UNC finishing on top. Even though the division was supposed to be a Tight race last year, UNC dominated their competition and finished 8-0 before losing in the ACC Championship.
Big Ten Conference
Big Ten East
The Big Ten East looks to be the most interesting and exciting division in all of college football this year. In our preseason College Football Ratings, we have Ohio State at #2, Michigan State at #9 and Michigan at #12 overall. Though Ohio State projects out to have the clear advantage of winning the division, the Big Ten East could easily go any of those teams. One particular negative in Ohio State’s schedule is at the end of the year where they go to East Lansing to play Michigan State then return home the following week to play Michigan.
Big Ten West
While it doesn’t have nearly the firepower that the East does, the Big Ten West should be pretty competitive. In our preseason ratings, we actually have Wisconsin as the best team of the bunch. However, they lost the lottery so to speak in drawing Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State in their out of division games. That will make it nearly impossible for Wisconsin to win the division. Iowa, is coming off a great season and is lucky to draw both Nebraska and Wisconsin at home. This gives them the advantage in 2016 and we expect to see them in the Big Ten Championship game if they can pull off those victories.
Big 12 Conference
As always, the Big 12 should make for a ton of excitement throughout the season. Just about the only thing we can say with any confidence is that Iowa State and Kansas will finish at the bottom of standings. Oklahoma is the clear-cut best team of the bunch, but between TCU, Oklahoma State, Baylor, West Virginia and Texas you can guarantee there will be a battle for the top spot. Even though we project a vastly different amount of wins between teams like Oklahoma and Texas, there are so many wild cards this year that make this conference difficult to project. The scandal at Baylor and ousting of Art Briles has made them a very tough team to judge and the talent at Texas makes it hard to believe that they will continue to underperform.
In 2015, Western Kentucky dominated their division and then stomped on Southern Miss by 17 in the title game. This year, however, they lose their All-Conference QB in Brandon Doughty and should take a small step back. Marshall, on the other hand, has found a QB in Chase Litton and catch Western Kentucky at home in the last game of the year. Middle Tennessee State is the only other team that we think has a valid shot at winning their division as they catch Charlotte, FIU and North Texas (all weak teams) in away games.
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Last year had Southern Miss (7-1) edging out Louisiana Tech (6-2) in the division by beating them 58-24 at Ruston. No other team had a better record in the division than 3-5. From our analysis, this year doesn’t appear to be much different with Southern Miss and Louisiana Tech in a dead heat for the top spot. This year, however, has Louisiana Tech going to Hattiesburg in the last game of the season which is likely to determine the winner of CUSA West.
In 2015, the MAC West ended with four teams in the 6-2 logjam at the top of the standings. This year, we think there will be a little bit more differentiation at the top of the standings as Western Michigan gets both Northern Illinois and Toledo at home. Eastern Michigan, out worst rated team in the FBS, is again poised to finish last.
It appears clear that the team to beat again in the MAC East is Bowling Green. Last year, they finished 7-1 in conference play and then dominated Northern Illinois in the conference title game. They are also the highest rated MAC East team in our College Football Ratings by a pretty large margin. We wouldn’t sleep on Ohio or Akron though as both have strong teams with the potential to win the division and conference.
Mountain West Conference
Even though Boise State was the favorite in every game they played last year, they only finished with a 9-4 record. This year they project out very strongly and we have them as a very heavy favorite to win their division. While there doesn’t appear to be much of a challenge to the top spot, we do expect Air Force and Utah State to be very competitive for the second spot.
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Like the Mountain division, we don’t expect the West division to be very close at all. Our projections have San Diego State running away with the West as they project out a full 1.8 wins ahead of second place San Jose State. Things should all play out for a very intreging match up with Boise State in the Mountain West Championship game.
The Pac-12 North is pretty strong this year and there are really four teams that have a legitimate shot at winning the division. Even though we only project them at 4.5 wins, Washington State could be a long shot to win the North. Stanford clearly has the best team and projects as the favorite even though they have to play Oregon, Washington and UCLA on the road this year. Oregon has a strong team again as has become the custom with them and Washington appears to have found their man in Sophomore Jack Browning at quarterback.
If the Pac-12 North is considered brutal then there isn’t even a word to describe the Pac-12 South. Colorado is clearly the team that will get beat down on a weekly basis, but the other four teams in the division can win in any given week. UCLA projects out as the favorite as they have arguably the best quarterback in the country, but they will be heavily tested all season by USC, Utah, Arizona State and Arizona. We expect there to be fireworks just about every week in Pac-12 South.
Yes, you read that correctly. After about ten tumultuous years, we project Tennessee to turn it around and to win the SEC East. Without a doubt, the SEC East is down as a division, we don’t even project 4 of the 7 teams to win a full three games out of nine. Georgia and Florida both have a very good shot at competing for the division, but this is Tennessee’s title to lose in 2016.
Once again, the SEC West is the best division in the country and we aren’t even sure it’s close. Alabama is the best team in the country and things shouldn’t be any different this year. Behind them, in places 2 through 7, there is a ton of parity with only 1.9 projected wins differentiating the second and seventh placed team. While we can say with pretty high confidence that Alabama will take the SEC West again, one may have better luck picking the other teams by throwing darts at a dartboard.
Sun Belt Conference
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The Sun Belt will be an interesting one this year as there is a clearly a top tier of teams with Appalachian State, Arkansas State and Georgia Southern. Arkansas State took the title last year in convincing fashion with an 8-0 record in conference and a victory over Appalachian State by 13 in Boone. This year, however, those teams avoid each other with the uneven scheduling of the conference. Georgia Southern, who has the best shot of taking these teams down heads to Arkansas State on October 5th and hosts Appalachian Stat on October 27th.