Ranking Every College Football Conference After the 2022 Season

Morgan MoriartyJanuary 11, 2023

Ranking Every College Football Conference After the 2022 Season

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    Stetson Bennett
    Stetson BennettBrian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    The 2022 college football season is sadly behind us, as Georgia repeated as national champions by clobbering TCU 65-7 on Monday night.

    Now that another season has ended, let's evaluate the year as a whole by looking at how each college football conference did in 2022.

    To gauge how each conference performed this season, we'll take a look at a variety of factors—teams ranked in the final AP Top 25, ESPN's Football Power Index (FPI) and bowl game results. Let's get into it!

10. Mid-American Conference

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    DETROIT, MI - DECEMBER 03:  Toledo players celebrate with the championship trophy during the post-game awards ceremony following the Mid-American Conference college football championship game between the Toledo Rockets and the Ohio Bobcats on December 3, 2022 at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan.  (Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    Average FPI ranking: 106.6

    Bowl record: 4-2

    Final AP Top 25: None

    The MAC had the lowest average FPI ranking of all the conferences, and there were eight teams that finished below .500. But there were some bright spots.

    Toledo won the conference by beating Ohio in the conference championship game. The Rockets finished the season 9-5 and handed Liberty its first-ever bowl loss with a 21-19 win in the Boca Raton Bowl.

    Ohio, meanwhile, finished 10-4 after a 30-27 win over Wyoming in the Barstool Sports Bowl. This game was tied at 24 at the end of regulation. The Bobcats scored a game-winning touchdown in overtime after Wyoming's first possession ended with a field goal. It was the Bobcats' first 10-win season since 2011.

    Perhaps the biggest bragging rights the MAC has is it finished 2022 with the best bowl winning percentage (.667).

9. Conference USA

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    Kelechi Nwachuku
    Kelechi NwachukuRonald Cortes/Getty Images

    Average FPI ranking: 93.9

    Bowl record: 3-3

    Final AP Top 25: None

    Although the C-USA's average FPI average isn't very high, the conference improved from last season. Three teams in UTSA, North Texas and Western Kentucky finished with a 6-2 conference record or better—UTSA went 8-0 in conference play.

    The best team in the conference was UTSA, which won the conference for a second straight season and finished 11-3 with a loss to Troy in the Cure Bowl. Although the Roadrunners have lost three straight bowl games under head coach Jeff Traylor, 2022 marks the second straight season with double-digit wins.

    Western Kentucky finished 9-5, capped off with a 44-23 victory over South Alabama in the New Orleans Bowl. The Hilltoppers also continued their tradition of having record-setting quarterbacks. QB Austin Reed set a New Orleans Bowl record with 497 passing yards in the victory. He finished the season with 4,744 yards—which led the FBS—and 40 touchdowns with 11 interceptions.

    The conference's 3-3 record wasn't too shabby, and UAB won its third bowl game in five seasons, beating Miami (OH) in the Bahamas Bowl.

8. Mountain West

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    SAN DIEGO, CA - SEPTEMBER 03: A general view of the Mountain West logo painted on the field during a college football game between the Arizona Wildcats and the San Diego State Aztecs on September 03, 2022, at SnapDragon Stadium in San Diego, CA. (Photo by Chris Williams/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    Chris Williams/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    Average FPI ranking: 97.1

    Bowl record: 3-4

    Final AP Top 25: Fresno State (24)

    These three criteria alone make it seem like the Mountain West didn't have the best year. But the Mountain West had three teams finish with 10 wins in Boise State, Fresno State and Air Force. That put the conference in a tie for third for the most teams with double-digit wins, behind the Pac-12 (five) and SEC (four).

    The best team in the conference was Fresno State. The Bulldogs won the conference by beating Boise State—which beat the Bulldogs 40-20 earlier in the season—in the MWC title game. Fresno State then beat Washington State in the L.A. Bowl.

    The 10-4 finish marked an impressive turnaround from where Fresno State started the year. The Bulldogs won 35-7 in the season opener against Cal Poly and then lost their next four to Oregon State, USC, UConn and Boise State. Fresno State then won its last nine games. The bowl win let the Bulldogs finish with the biggest in-season turnaround in FBS history. It was also Fresno State's second straight 10-win season.

    Boise State, despite losing in the conference title game, finished 10-4 with a win over North Texas in the Frisco Bowl. It marked the first double-digit-win season for the Broncos since going 12-2 under Bryan Harsin in 2019. Air Force impressively had back-to-back 10-win seasons under longtime Falcons head coach Troy Calhoun. The win over Baylor in the Armed Forces Bowl gave the Falcons their fourth straight bowl win.

7. Sun Belt

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    BOONE, NORTH CAROLINA - OCTOBER 19: The Sun Belt Conference logo is seen on an Appalachian State Mountaineers pylon before the game against the Georgia State Panthers at Kidd Brewer Stadium on October 19, 2022 in Boone, North Carolina. (Photo by Eakin Howard/Getty Images)
    Eakin Howard/Getty Images

    Average FPI ranking: 86.9

    Bowl record: 3-4

    Final AP Top 25: Troy (19)

    The Sun Belt this season proved why its nickname is the "Fun Belt." It had quite a few teams deliver shocking upsets to Power Five programs and had two teams finish with double-digit wins in Troy and South Alabama.

    App State nearly knocked off UNC in Week 1. In the fourth quarter alone, the Mountaineers scored 40 points and put up 338 yards, only to fall 63-61 thanks to a failed two-point conversion.

    In Week 2, three Sun Belt teams made headlines with major upsets. App State went into College Station and knocked off the then-No. 6 Texas A&M Aggies. TAMU was an 18-point favorite, but the Mountaineers won 17-14 and outgained Jimbo Fisher's team 315-180. Marshall also upset then-No. 8 Notre Dame in the Irish's home opener, winning 26-21. Notre Dame entered the game as a 20.5-point favorite.

    That evening, Nebraska fell to Georgia Southern at home 45-42. Nebraska entered the game 214-0 when it scored 35 or more points at Memorial Stadium. Unsurprisingly, Nebraska fired head coach Scott Frost less than 24 hours after the loss.

    ESPN's College GameDay went to App State for the first time in school history in Week 3. The Mountaineers' game against Troy didn't disappoint—App State won on this wild Hail Mary in the final seconds:

    App State Football @AppState_FB

    𝗖𝗼𝗹𝗹𝗲𝗴𝗲 𝗚𝗮𝗺𝗲𝗗𝗮𝘆 ✔️<br>𝗨𝗻𝗳𝗼𝗿𝗴𝗲𝘁𝘁𝗮𝗯𝗹𝗲 𝗪𝗶𝗻 ✔️<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/GoApp?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#GoApp</a> <a href="https://t.co/OnXTV5RTLU">pic.twitter.com/OnXTV5RTLU</a>

    Exciting games aside, Troy was the best team in the conference. The Trojans finished 12-2, a school record for wins, in head coach Jon Sumrall's first season. Troy won the Sun Belt Conference Championship Game for the first time in school history, beating Coastal Carolina 45-26. Troy also finished ranked 19th in the AP poll, which marks the first time in school history the Trojans have finished the year ranked.

    Having a 3-4 bowl record and seven teams finish below .500 isn't great. But this was still a fun and decent year for the conference as a whole.

6. American Athletic Conference

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    ARLINGTON, TX - JANUARY 2: The Tulane Green Wave players celebrate  following the teams 46-45 win over USC Trojans in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic on January 2, 2023 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)
    Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

    Average FPI ranking: 64.6

    Bowl record: 4-3

    Final AP Top 25: Tulane (9)

    What a great couple of years it's been for the AAC. Last year, Cincinnati made history as the first Group of Five team to make it into the College Football Playoff. While there wasn't an AAC team that made it into the playoff this season, Tulane was one of the biggest bright spots of the Group of Five.

    The Green Wave won the AAC title by beating UCF 45-28 in the conference title game. Tulane was 8-1 through the first 10 weeks of the season and checked in at No. 19 in the first CFP rankings. It marked the first time in school history that the Green Wave were ranked in the playoff's Top 25.

    If all that wasn't great enough, Tulane delivered one of the most shocking upsets of bowl season, beating USC in the Cotton Bowl. The Green Wave erased a 15-point deficit in the last four minutes of the game, scoring two touchdowns and a safety to win 46-45. Tulane's No. 9 ranking in the final AP poll marked the first and highest ranking since the Green Wave's last 12-win season in 1998, when Tulane finished ranked seventh.

    Elsewhere in the conference, Cincinnati and UCF finished with nine wins, and just four teams finished below .500. The conference's .571 win percentage during bowl season was the third-highest, too.

5. Atlantic Coast Conference

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    CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA - OCTOBER 29: ACC logo on the sidelines during a college football game between the Miami Hurricanes and the Virginia Cavaliers on October 29, 2022, at Scott Stadium in Charlottesville, VA. (Photo by Lee Coleman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    Lee Coleman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    Average FPI ranking: 50.1

    Bowl record: 5-4

    Final AP Top 25: Florida State (11), Clemson (13), Pittsburgh (22)

    This was another down year for the ACC. For the second straight season, the conference was left out of the playoff. Clemson won the ACC with its 39-10 victory over UNC, but the Tigers' losses to Notre Dame and South Carolina kept them out of the playoff. UNC entered the game already having three losses, so there was no way the Tar Heels could have made it in with a win over the Tigers anyway.

    Florida State arguably had the best season within the conference. Although the Noles lost to Wake Forest, NC State and Clemson, they finished with a 10-3 record. Florida State beat Oklahoma 35-32 in a thrilling Cheez-It Bowl that was won on a 32-yard field goal made by Noles kicker Ryan Fitzgerald in the final minute.

    Under first-year head coach Mike Elko, Duke had its best season since 2014, finishing 9-4 with a Military Bowl win over UCF. It was a huge turnaround for a Duke team that went winless in the ACC last season.

    It was a rough year for other first-year head coaches in the conference. Mario Cristobal's Miami team went 5-7, Virginia finished 3-7 under head coach Tony Elliott, and VT finished 3-8 under Brent Pry.

    Despite having five teams—Clemson, UNC, Syracuse, Wake Forest and NC State—ranked in the initial CFP rankings, just Clemson, FSU and NC State were in the playoff's final ranking before the semifinals. Clemson and NC State both lost in their bowl games.

4. Pac-12

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    Cameron Rising
    Cameron RisingDavid Becker/Getty Images

    Average FPI ranking: 48.8

    Bowl record: 3-4

    Final AP Top 25: Washington (8), Utah (10), USC (12), Oregon (15), Oregon State (17), UCLA (21)

    The Pac-12 hasn't had a team make the playoff since Washington did so in 2016. Although the 3-4 bowl season was a bit of a mixed bag, the conference looks like it has several teams that can compete for a playoff spot in 2023.

    The Pac-12 is tied with the SEC with the most teams ranked inside the AP poll's final Top 25, with six. The team that had the most disappointing finish was USC, under first-year head coach Lincoln Riley. The Trojans were on track to earn a playoff bid until losing for the second time this season to Utah in the Pac-12 title game. USC then got upset by Tulane in the Cotton Bowl.

    Playoff hopes aside, the conference still had a whopping five teams finish with double-digit wins in USC, Washington, Oregon, Utah and Oregon State. Washington, Oregon and Oregon State won their bowl games. The Ducks beat UNC in the Holiday Bowl thanks to a Bo Nix six-yard touchdown pass to Chase Cota in the game's final minute. Oregon State stifled Florida in the Las Vegas Bowl, winning 30-3. The bowl win allowed the Beavers to reach 10 wins for just the third time in school history. Washington beat Texas in the Alamo Bowl.

    Utah lost to Penn State 35-21 in the Rose Bowl to mark a second straight loss for the Utes in this game. Unfortunately, Utes QB Cameron Rising, who has announced he'll return for the 2023 season, left the game in the third quarter due to injury. He got hurt in the Rose Bowl against Ohio State last season, too.

    Still, the Utes finishing with double-digit wins for a second consecutive season is impressive, as is beating USC twice, the second time knocking the Trojans out of the playoff.

    2023 should be a fun year for the conference considering all the big-name QBs that will be returning. The conference's leading passer, Michael Penix Jr., who threw for 4,641 yards and 31 touchdowns with eight interceptions, will be back next season. So will Nix, Rising and Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams, who isn't eligible for the draft yet.

3. Big 12

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    ARLINGTON, TX - DECEMBER 03: Kansas State Wildcats waits for the trophy after winning in overtime against the TCU Horned Frogs on December 3rd, 2022 at ATT Stadium in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by William Purnell/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    William Purnell/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    Average FPI ranking: 29.8

    Bowl record: 2-7

    Final AP Top 25: TCU (2), Kansas State (14), Texas (25)

    Yes, TCU getting drubbed by Georgia in the national title game makes the Big 12 lose its shine a bit. But this was still a very successful year for the conference, having a national title game representative for the first time since Texas in 2005. The conference also had the highest FPI average.

    TCU was college football's Cinderella. After going 5-7 last season, the Horned Frogs had 200-1 odds to win it all to start the 2022 campaign. Under first-year head coach Sonny Dykes, TCU shocked everyone and finished the regular season undefeated. Losing to Kansas State in overtime in the Big 12 title game didn't knock the Horned Frogs out of the playoff, and they were underdogs against Michigan in the Fiesta Bowl semifinal.

    TCU shocked everyone again and upset the Big Ten champion Wolverines 51-45. Horned Frogs QB Max Duggan was a Heisman finalist in December, too. It didn't end well to say the least, but this was still a great season for TCU.

    Elsewhere, Kansas State won the conference for the first time since 2012. Kansas reached six wins to make it to a bowl game for the first time since 2008, falling to Arkansas 55-53 in triple overtime in the Liberty Bowl. Texas finished ranked in the AP poll and improved to 8-5 after going 5-7 last year.

    On the negative side, the conference's 2-7 mark in bowl season, the worst in the country, helped cause the Big 12 to finish with five teams below .500.

2. Big Ten

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    C.J. Stroud
    C.J. StroudRich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    Average FPI ranking: 43.1

    Bowl record: 5-4

    Final AP Top 25: Michigan (3), Ohio State (4), Penn State (7)

    Anytime you have two teams make it into the playoff, your conference had a pretty good year. Obviously both Michigan and Ohio State lost in the semifinals, but both were close games, and both teams deserved to be in the playoff. If Ohio State had made its 50-yard field-goal attempt against Georgia at the end of the game, it would have faced TCU in the national title game instead.

    Penn State finished 11-2 with a Rose Bowl win over Utah. Although the Nittany Lions lost to both Michigan and Ohio State during the regular season, Penn State reached 11 wins for the fourth time under head coach James Franklin.

    Purdue won the Big Ten West for the first time in school history after beating Indiana 30-16 at the end of the season. Illinois looked on track to win the division but lost three out of its last four regular-season games to Michigan State, Purdue and Michigan. The Boilermakers got trounced in the Citrus Bowl against LSU, losing 63-7.

    The conference had five teams finish below .500 in Michigan State, Indiana, Rutgers, Nebraska and Northwestern.

1. Southeastern Conference

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    Kirby Smart
    Kirby SmartChris Williams/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    Average FPI ranking: 32.4

    Bowl record: 7-5

    Final AP Top 25: Georgia (1), Alabama (5), Tennessee (6), LSU (16), Mississippi State (20), South Carolina (23)

    I mean, you can't be surprised at which conference is No. 1, right? When a conference wins its fourth straight national title, it's pretty hard to put it anywhere else. Georgia dominating TCU in the title game was just the tip of the iceberg in a big year for the SEC.

    Although Alabama and Tennessee had two losses so they missed out on the playoff, both won their New Year's Six bowl games. Alabama beat Kansas State 45-20 in the Sugar Bowl, and Tennessee beat Clemson 31-14 in the Orange Bowl.

    Tennessee had a magical season, highlighted by upsetting Alabama for the first time in 16 years. The Vols also beat LSU in the regular season, which meant Tennessee's win over Clemson gave it victories over teams that had won six out of the last seven national championships. The Vols' 11-2 finish marked their best since their identical record in 2001.

    LSU had a big season under first-year head coach Brian Kelly. The Tigers won the SEC West and upset Alabama in overtime during the regular season. The Tigers' 10-4 mark is their best since their national title season in 2019.

    South Carolina also finished the season out on a high note. In Shane Beamer's second season, the Gamecocks beat Tennessee and Clemson in back-to-back weeks, which knocked both of them out of playoff contention.

    But several teams had down years. Florida finished 6-7 in Billy Napier's first season, and Texas A&M finished below .500 for the first time since 2009. Auburn and Missouri also finished below .500.

    Although there was just one SEC team in the playoff this season, there likely would have been several teams making it in if the expanded format to 12 teams began this season. Once it does in 2024, we will likely see multiple SEC teams make the playoff.