Ranking the College Football Power 5 Conferences

Morgan MoriartyOctober 28, 2022

Ranking the College Football Power 5 Conferences

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    Jalin Hyatt.
    Donald Page/Getty Images

    At more than halfway through the 2022 college football season, we have a pretty good idea of which teams are for real and which are not.

    We also have a good handle on which conferences are the strongest.

    To determine the exact order of each of the Power Five conferences, we'll take a look at overall record, number of teams with playoff hopes and how many ranked squads a league has.

    We'll also look at the top team, a team that has fallen short, a team that exceeded expectations and possible playoff entrants for each conference.

5. The Big 12

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    Kendre Miller (far left) celebrates a touchdown.
    AP Photo/Richard W. Rodriguez

    Overall record: 46-26

    Ranked teams: 3 (No. 7 TCU, No. 9 Oklahoma State, No. 22 Kansas State)

    Top team: TCU

    The 7-0 Horned Frogs are the lone undefeated team in the Big 12. What's even more impressive is the fact that TCU has beaten four straight Top 25 teams.

    Its biggest win came in Week 7 over then-No. 8 Oklahoma State. The Horned Frogs entered the fourth trailing 30-16 after playing from behind the entire game. TCU scored two touchdowns to tie it up and force overtime, and it put the game away with a TD from Kendre Miller in the second overtime.

    TCU followed that with a 38-28 win over No. 17 Kansas State. It's an exceptional start for first-year Horned Frogs head coach Sonny Dykes after they went 5-7 last season under Gary Patterson and Jerry Kill. There aren't any ranked teams remaining on the schedule, but the Horned Frogs will have to face West Virginia, Texas Tech, Texas, Baylor and Iowa State.

    Horned Frogs QB Max Duggan has thrown for 1,871 yards and 19 touchdowns for the nation's third-ranked offense. His running back, Miller, has added 10 touchdowns.

    Team that has fallen short: Oklahoma

    As in the last six years, the Sooners were looking to be a playoff contender. But unfortunately for first-year head coach Brent Venables, they were knocked out of the playoff hunt by Week 5.

    Oklahoma dropped back-to-back games to Kansas State and TCU to ruin any playoff hopes. Even worse, it followed that with a 49-0 loss to rival Texas in the Red River Rivalry.

    It looks like Sooner fans will have to be patient with Venables as he builds his program. Although a playoff berth is long gone, the 4-3 Sooners should make it to a bowl game this year. They need two wins to qualify, and they'd be best served by nabbing one against 3-4 Iowa State this weekend.

    Team exceeding expectations: Kansas

    The Jayhawks got off to an impressive start, going 5-0 for the first time since 2009. ESPN's College GameDay honored the Jayhawks by hosting the show from Lawrence for the first time. But Kansas dropped three straight games in the last three weeks to TCU, Oklahoma and Baylor, which has taken some of the shine off the magical start.

    Still, this has been a huge success of a season for second-year head coach Lance Leipold. This program hadn't won more than three games since 2009. If the Jayhawks can get one more win, Kansas will go to a bowl game for the first time since 2008.

    Teams in the playoff hunt: TCU, Oklahoma State

    The best chance for TCU to make it into the playoff is to run the table and win in the Big 12 Championship Game, as it would be tough to keep out an undefeated Power Five champ.

    Losing a game would hurt the Horned Frogs, but if they did so and won the Big 12 championship handily, that might convince the committee, depending on who the other top teams are.

    The door is also be open for a one-loss Oklahoma State. As it stands, TCU would face Oklahoma State in the Big 12 title game. If the 6-1 Cowboys were to avenge the loss to TCU, they'd have a case.

    The Cowboys would likely need a lot of help, though, including multiple two-loss Power Five conference champions.

4. The Pac-12

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    PALO ALTO, CA - OCTOBER 22:  A high angle view of the Pac-12 logo on the field at Stanford Stadium during an NCAA Pac-12 college football game between the Arizona State Sun Devils and the Stanford Cardinal on October 22, 2022 at Stanford Stadium in Palo Alto, California.  (Photo by David Madison/Getty Images)
    David Madison/Getty Images

    Overall record: 51-35

    Ranked teams: 4 (No. 8 Oregon, No. 10 USC, No. 12 UCLA, No. 14 Utah)

    Top team: Oregon

    The Pac-12 has no undefeated teams, but Oregon looks like the best in the conference. The Ducks had an impressive 45-30 win last week over then-No. 9 UCLA, which entered the game undefeated.

    Quarterback Bo Nix has been sensational under new offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham, who coached Nix his 2019 freshman season at Auburn.

    Nix has thrown for 1,809 yards and 17 touchdowns with three interceptions. His 71.5 percent completion rate ranks fifth nationally. The one blemish on Oregon's record is the 49-3 thrashing the Ducks took from Georgia in Week 1.

    Team that has fallen short: Utah

    The Utah Utes entered 2022 as a dark-horse playoff candidate. But those CFP hopes took a blow when Utah lost 29-26 to an unranked Florida in Week 1. The Utes' 42-32 loss to UCLA in Week 6 effectively killed any remaining playoff hope.

    Utah did hand USC its first loss, upsetting the Trojans 43-42 on Oct. 15. The Utes are close numbers-wise to where they finished last season offensively (14th in scoring in 2021, 11th in 2022) and defensively (35th and 42nd in points allowed).

    The one common denominator in their two losses is the Utes' fourth-quarter defense, as it gave up at least 14 points during the final frame each time.

    Team exceeding expectations: UCLA

    The Bruins have finished above .500 just once since Chip Kelly arrived at UCLA in 2018, going 8-4 last season. But this year, they started 6-0, including back-to-back Top 15 victories over Washington and Utah. Quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson ranks 32nd nationally in total yards with 2,041 and has accounted for 21 touchdowns.

    UCLA suffered its first loss last week against Oregon. The Ducks defense did a good job of limiting the Bruins offense, holding UCLA to field goals on three of its six scoring drives. The biggest test remaining on UCLA's schedule is the Nov. 19 game against USC. It looks like this could be a nine- or 10-win season for the Bruins.

    Teams in the playoff hunt: Oregon, technically USC and UCLA

    Since no Pac-12 teams are undefeated, whoever wins the conference can't lose again if they want a shot at the playoff. Oregon looks like the front-runner, but it's unclear how the committee will judge the blowout loss to now-No. 1 Georgia.

    If USC and UCLA win out, they could be in the mix for a playoff berth. But a Pac-12 loss compared to Oregon's loss to Georgia—assuming the Dawgs are a playoff team—might hurt both teams' playoff resumes. Also, the Pac-12's chances at the postseason look bleaker if there are two SEC teams that make it in.

3. The ACC

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    DJ Uiagalelei (left) and Will Shipley (center) celebrate a touchdown. (Photo by Eakin Howard/Getty Images)
    Eakin Howard/Getty Images

    Overall record: 61-39

    Ranked teams: 5 (No. 5 Clemson, No. 10 Wake Forest, No. 16 Syracuse, No. 21 UNC, No. 24 NC State)

    Top team: Clemson

    Clemson looks a lot more like the program that won six ACC titles and two national titles since 2015 than it did last year. The Tigers remain unbeaten and passed a couple of impressive tests so far.

    The first came in Week 4, when they needed double overtime to defeat Wake Forest 51-45. Just last week, Clemson overcame a 21-10 halftime deficit against an undefeated Syracuse to win 27-21.

    Clemson's quarterback situation might be something to keep an eye on. Although second-year starter DJ Uiagalelei has been playing much better than last year, he threw two interceptions against Syracuse.

    That prompted head coach Dabo Swinney to bench Uiagalelei for true freshman Cade Klubnik. In his first series, he led a 15-play touchdown drive to make it a one-score game early in the fourth as the Tigers held on for the win.

    After the game, Swinney reiterated that Uiagalelei was still his quarterback. Clemson will go on the road to face Notre Dame on Nov. 5 before closing out the season against Louisville, Miami and South Carolina. We'll see if Klubnik gets any more playing time.

    Team that has fallen short: Miami

    Despite entering the season as favorites to win the ACC Coastal, Miami has fallen well short of expectations during Mario Cristobal first year in Coral Gables. The Canes are 3-4 and fourth in the division after losing 45-21 last week to Duke.

    One of the most shocking losses came at home against Middle Tennessee State in Week 4. Before the win over the then-No. 25 Canes, Middle Tennessee was 0-20 against AP Top 25 opponents.

    Quarterback Tyler Van Dyke was pulled in the loss to MTSU after he threw two interceptions. He has struggled this season, having thrown just 10 touchdowns and four picks. Making matters worse, he got injured in the loss to Duke and is questionable for Saturday's game against Virginia.

    Team exceeding expectations: Syracuse

    Syracuse is having a great season. Yes, the blown lead and loss to Clemson puts a damper on things, but it looks like the 6-1 Orange will finish above .500 for the first time since 2018. If they win most of their remaining games, a New Year's Six bowl might be in the cards.

    The Orange offense has been much-improved under new offensive coordinator Robert Anae, having gone from 91st to 36th in points per game. Quarterback Garrett Shrader has thrown for 1,601 yards and 13 touchdowns. Running back Sean Tucker is the ACC's second-leading rusher, averaging 99.7 yards per game. He has eight total touchdowns too.

    Syracuse has some tough opponents remaining, including Notre Dame this weekend, at Pitt, vs. Florida State and at No. 10 Wake Forest on Nov. 19. We'll see if the Orange can get back its early-season mojo.

    Teams in the playoff hunt: Clemson

    There's no question the Tigers are the best team in the ACC. Going on the road to face Notre Dame looks like their toughest remaining test, but they will be favored in that one.

    Even if they were to drop a game to Notre Dame or South Carolina, winning the ACC Championship might be enough to put them in the playoff. A berth would be a relief for Clemson fans, whose team missed out on the CFP for the first time since 2015 last year.

    If UNC were to hand the Tigers loss No. 2 in the conference title game, the committee wouldn't have enough to put the Tar Heels in the playoff. UNC's one loss came to Notre Dame, and it has yet to beat an AP Top 25 team.

2. The Big Ten

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    Julian Fleming (left) and Emeka Egbuka celebrate a score. (Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    Overall record: 62-40

    Ranked teams: 4 (No. 2 Ohio State, No. 4 Michigan, No. 13 Penn State, No. 17 Illinois)

    Top team(s): Michigan and Ohio State

    Ohio State and Michigan, both 7-0, have been equally impressive through nine weeks. The Buckeyes had a 21-10 victory over Notre Dame in Week 1 but have won by a combined score of 326-94 since. Quarterback C.J. Stroud and Ohio State's offense is second in scoring behind Tennessee's nationally, averaging 49.6 points per game.

    Michigan's margins of victory aren't quite as big as Ohio State's. But it looks like the Wolverines are on pace to remain undefeated heading into the regular-season finale against the Buckeyes. Michigan took care of Penn State with ease two weeks ago, winning 41-17.

    Team that has fallen short: Michigan State

    It's a bit surprising to see how this season has gone for Michigan State, especially considering that the Spartans went 11-2 last season. Not to mention head coach Mel Tucker signed a 10-year, $95 million contract extension last year. But Michigan State is 3-4, having dropped four of its last five games.

    It might get worse for Sparty. MSU has to play three more ranked opponents, including at Michigan this weekend, at No. 17 Illinois and at No. 13 Penn State to close out the regular season.

    Team exceeding expectations: Illinois

    The Fighting Illini haven't finished above .500 since 2011, when Ron Zook was their head coach. So it's a bit surprising that Illinois is 6-1 and the No. 17 team in the country. Illinois is also the top squad in the Big Ten West and looks primed for a Big Ten Championship Game berth. It's been a picture-perfect season for Bret Bielema in just his second season in Champaign.

    The reason Illinois is having so much success? Its defense. Illinois has the top-ranked unit in the country, allowing just 221.1 yards per game. The Fighting Illini are also first in scoring defense, giving up just 8.9 points per game. The unit holds its opponents to just a 26.5 percent conversion rate on third down, too, a top-10 mark.

    Don't be surprised if Illinois makes a New Year's Six bowl this year, folks.

    Teams in the playoff hunt: Ohio State, Michigan, Illinois and Penn State

    Ohio State and Michigan appear to be on a collision course to meet for The Game undefeated on Nov. 26. If we see multiple two-loss conference champions, there's a chance both of them could make the playoff.

    If Penn State upsets Ohio State this weekend, the Nittany Lions would have an outside shot at making it in. It might come down to some Big Ten tiebreakers to determine who wins the East if that happens, though.

    And lastly Illinois, whose one loss came by three points early in the season to Indiana, would get in if it knocks off an undefeated Michigan on Nov. 19 and then runs the table and wins the Big Ten title game.

1. The SEC

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    OXFORD, MS - OCTOBER 15: The SEC logo on the field before the start of the college football game between the Auburn Tigers and the Ole Miss Rebels on October 15, 2022 at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in Oxford, MS. (Photo by Kevin Langley/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    Kevin Langley/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    Overall record: 69-34

    Ranked teams: 7 (No. 1 Georgia, No. 3 Tennessee, No. 6 Alabama, No. 15 Ole Miss, No. 18 LSU, No. 19 Kentucky, No. 25 South Carolina)

    Top Team: Georgia

    Don't worry, Tennessee fans, I will get to your Volunteers. But Georgia has been the most consistently dominant team in the conference. With the exception of the Dawgs' 26-22 win over Missouri on Oct. 1, Georgia has dominated every one of its opponents. The closest score outside the Missouri game was Georgia's 39-22 win over Kent State.

    The Bulldogs defense had to replace a ton of talent from last season's national championship-winning squad, but they have a top-four unit in total, scoring, rushing and passing defense this year. The offense, led by quarterback Stetson Bennett and a talented crop of receivers, averages 41.4 points per game, a top-10 mark.

    Team that has fallen short: Texas A&M

    It has to be the Aggies, right?

    Texas A&M entered the year as a playoff contender, having been one of just two teams to knock off Alabama last season. Instead, the Aggies are 3-4 and have lost consecutively to Mississippi State, Alabama and South Carolina.

    The Aggies are also at risk of missing a bowl game for the first time since 2008. (Texas A&M pulled out of its Gator Bowl bid last season because of COVID-19). You'd expect a little better from Jimbo Fisher, who signed a $95 million contract last year.

    Team exceeding expectations: Tennessee

    The Vols are having one heck of a year. Tennessee is ranked third and knocked off Alabama for the first time in 16 years on Oct. 15. The offense is one of the country's most explosive, averaging 50.1 points per game.

    Tennessee has also scored 30 or more points in 10 straight contests, dating back to last season. That's the longest streak in Vols history.

    They also have a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate in quarterback Hendon Hooker, who's thrown for 2,093 yards and 18 touchdowns with just one interception. He could become the first Heisman winner in school history.

    Vol fans have waited quite a while to have a season like this, and it's pretty fun to see them get one.

    Teams in the playoff hunt: Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, LSU and Ole Miss

    If Alabama wins out in the SEC West against LSU, Ole Miss and Auburn, the Crimson Tide will make it to the SEC Championship. Beating whoever represents the East would certainly make the Tide worthy of a playoff bid, even with the Tennessee loss.

    The same goes for Georgia, but that's assuming the Dawgs represent the East in Atlanta after facing a gauntlet of Florida, Tennessee and Kentucky.

    For Tennessee, the Vols would need to beat Kentucky and Georgia to win the SEC East—assuming they also beat Missouri, South Carolina and Vanderbilt at the end of the season. Even if Tennessee loses to Georgia, the win over Alabama might be enough to give the Vols a playoff bid.

    LSU and Ole Miss' playoff berths are long shots, but not impossible. LSU would have to win the SEC Championship, needing to beat Alabama to win the West. Ole Miss is still alive in the SEC West if Alabama beats LSU and the Rebels can beat Bama and then take the SEC title.