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Athlon projects how the conferences will stack up in 2013.
After seven consecutive national championships, the SEC is reigns supreme as college football’s premier conference for 2013. The bottom of the conference isn’t its strength this year, but Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, Texas A&M and Florida are all national title contenders for 2013.
The SEC is clearly ahead of the rest of the conferences, but the Pac-12 boasts two top-10 teams in Oregon and Stanford. The South Division is a wide-open battle between Arizona, Arizona State, UCLA and USC. Helping the Pac-12’s case as the No. 2 conference should be the bottom of the league, as Colorado, Washington State, Utah and California should continue to improve as the season progresses.
The Big Ten and Big 12 round out the top four conferences, with the ACC and Mountain West running just behind. The Big 12 doesn’t have a clear frontrunner in 2013, but the league has solid depth.
Ranking College Football's Conferences for 2013
Athlon's 2013 Favorite: Alabama
The SEC increased its run of national championships to seven straight thanks to Alabama’s dominating win over Notre Dame in the BCS title game. The Crimson Tide are our pick to win it all again, but Texas A&M, Georgia, South Carolina, LSU and Florida could all play their way into the national title discussion. Texas A&M is loaded once again, but the Aggies will have to deal with huge expectations. LSU lost a ton of key personnel on defense but still has one of the most talented rosters in the nation. Vanderbilt and Ole Miss, two up-and-coming programs, are just outside the top 25.
2013 SEC Predictions
Athlon's 2013 Favorite: Oregon
Oregon lost its leader — head coach Chip Kelly — but the Ducks have enough pieces in place to win the Pac-12 title for the fourth time in the past five seasons. New coach Mark Helfrich will lean on sophomore quarterback Marcus Mariota and a talented corps of skill players. Stanford will remain among the elite in the Pac-12 thanks to an outstanding defense and one of the nation’s top offensive lines. The South Division race should be intriguing. Our pick is Arizona State — which returns quarterback Taylor Kelly and eight starters on defense — but you could make a case for USC, UCLA or Arizona.
2013 Pac-12 Predictions
3. Big Ten
Athlon's 2013 Favorite: Ohio State
The Big Ten boasts a legitimate national title contender in Ohio State, which returns 13 starters from a team that went 12–0 in Urban Meyer’s inaugural season in Columbus. Wisconsin, under new leadership with Gary Andersen, and Penn State should both be solid, but neither figures to pose too much of a threat to Ohio State in the Leaders Division. The Legends race, however, should be tight. Our pick is Michigan to edge Nebraska, but always-underrated Northwestern will be a factor.
2013 Big Ten Predictions
4. Big 12
Athlon's 2013 Favorite: Oklahoma State
The Big 12 features quality depth but lacks star power at the top. Oklahoma State is ranked No. 16 in our preseason top 25 — the lowest spot for the preseason favorite in the 18-year history of the league. There was heavy debate for the next three spots. Oklahoma, despite its concerns at the quarterback position — Can the Belldozer be a weapon in the passing game? — got the nod over Texas and TCU. The Longhorns have plenty of talent, but they must show significant improvement on defense. TCU will be a legitimate title threat if quarterback Casey Pachall returns to form.
2013 Big 12 Predictions
Athlon's 2013 Favorite: Clemson
Led by quarterback Tajh Boyd and wideout Sammy Watkins, Clemson is the favorite to win its second ACC title in the past three seasons. The Tigers have won 21 games over the last two years and are in the midst of shedding their label as chronic underachievers. Florida State appears to be the only worthy challenger to Clemson in the Atlantic Division. There are four teams capable of winning the Coastal Division. Miami is our pick, followed by Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech and North Carolina.
2013 ACC Predictions
6. Mountain West
Athlon's 2013 Favorite: Boise State
The Mountain West, now up to 12 teams and two divisions, is stronger than ever. Boise State is the team to beat in the Mountain Division, though league newcomer Utah State, which went 6–0 in the WAC in 2012, should be a factor in the division race. The return of quarterback Derek Carr makes Fresno State the easy choice in the West Division. The Bulldogs should score a ton of points. The West has solid depth, with San Jose State, San Diego State and Nevada each likely to play in a bowl game.
2013 Mountain West Predictions
7. American Athletic
The league formerly known as the Big East continues its descent down the college football food chain, but that doesn’t mean the league is without quality teams. Louisville, fresh off its BCS bowl win over Florida, is capable of running the table in the regular season. Cincinnati, now under Tommy Tuberville’s watch, returns 13 starters (including all five O-linemen) from a 10-win team. Rutgers will have to fight off league newcomer UCF for third.
2013 American Athletic Predictions
Athlon's 2013 Favorite: Northern Illinois
Last season, the MAC sent its first team to a BCS bowl (Northern Illinois) and had four different schools ranked nationally at some point. This year, the power remains in the West, where NIU has the edge over Ball State and Toledo. Bowling Green is the pick in the East, but it’s not wise to count out Ohio and coach Frank Solich. The Bobcats have won three division titles under Solich but have not won the outright MAC title since 1968.
2013 MAC Predictions
9. Conference USA
Athlon's 2013 Favorite: Tulsa
Conference USA is up to 14 teams, but the league is weaker in 2013 due to the loss of UCF, Houston and SMU (among others) to the American Athletic Conference. Tulsa, which will make the move to the American in 2014, is a strong favorite to win its second straight C-USA crown. The race in the East should be intriguing. Our pick is Marshall over East Carolina.
2013 Conference USA Predictions
10. Sun Belt
Athlon's 2013 Favorite: UL Lafayette
The Sun Belt lost four teams to Conference USA but did retain the defending league champ (Arkansas State) and two of the three teams (UL Lafayette and ULM) that tied for second place. Moving forward, ULL has a great opportunity to claim its first outright league title since winning the Gulf States Conference in 1970.
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