2023 college football conference previews: SEC, Big Ten, more

The long wait is nearly over as the 2023 college football season is just around the corner.

Can Georgia pull off the unthinkable and win its third straight national championship? Will the Dawgs even win the SEC, with Alabama, LSU and Tennessee all formidable foes?

How will things shake out in the new-look Big 12? Can Ohio State unseat Michigan or will Penn State emerge in the Big Ten? Will USC (or UCLA) leave the Pac-12 with a championship trophy? And can Florida State live up to the hype and get the ACC back to the College Football Playoff?

College football's storylines don't stop there, but luckily ESPN's Bill Connelly has them all covered -- and by all, we mean all 133 FBS teams -- in his in-depth previews of every conference, which are available to ESPN+ subscribers. From projections and burning questions for every team to his favorite players and anniversaries of note, Connelly gives his unique perspective on the season ahead, from A (as in Aggies) to Z (as in Zips).

Jump to conference:
SEC | Big Ten | Big 12 | Pac-12 | ACC
Independents | American | Sun Belt
Mountain West | MAC | Conference USA


Thirty-two years after it pioneered the divisional structure, the SEC will be adopting the trend of ditching its divisions when it adds Oklahoma and Texas in 2024. The SEC East will go out with what feels like a familiar storyline: The lead Dawg -- Georgia -- is a heavy favorite. Can Tennessee or anyone else defy the odds and threaten the two-time defending national champion? And which teams might stand out among the division's customarily large middle class? Everything you need to know about the SEC East »

Over the past 20 years, three of the SEC West's teams have combined to win 10 national titles and has had almost no actual bad teams -- in the past 10 years, only four of its teams have finished outside of the SP+ top 60. All seven are projected in the top 30 to start 2023. In its final year, the West division brings us plenty of questions. Is there such a thing as too much change for Nick Saban at Alabama? Can an even deeper LSU team defend its title? How many quarterbacks does Lane Kiffin need? How the heck is this Bobby Petrino experiment going to work out in College Station? Everything you need to know about the SEC West »

Big Ten

Last season, Penn State lost to Ohio State and Michigan -- both of which ended up in the CFP -- by an average score of 43-24 and beat 11 other opponents by an average of 38-14. It feels historically appropriate, then, that in the final East division race, Michigan and Ohio State start out far ahead of the pack and Penn State starts third, quite a few points behind the Big Two and way ahead of everyone else. Can Ohio State turn the tables on Michigan after two straight losses? Can Penn State close the gap on the Big Two? Can anyone else close the gap on them? Everything you need to know about the Big Ten East »

I have to admit, I'm going to miss the Big Ten West. As a competitive entity, it certainly wasn't great. But no division has had such a reliable identity. The rest of the world could try to keep up with the offense-friendly times; the Big Ten West, however, has continued to live the defense-and-power-football life. In this year's SP+ projections, four of the nation's top defenses live in the West. No top 40 offenses do. You be you, West. Everything you need to know about the Big Ten West »

Big 12

Here's some free marketing advice for the Big 12: Nickname it The Fun Conference, the one most likely to produce nonstop close games, go for it nonstop on fourth downs and make big, bold realignment moves. This fall, as it welcomes its four Oklahoma and Texas replacements while not yet losing the Sooners and Longhorns, the Big 12 should again be one of the most enjoyable conferences around. Here's our look at the seven teams that aren't in Oklahoma or Texas. Everything you need to know about the Big 12, part 1 »

In the last two Big 12 championship games, four different teams have taken part in two absolute classics -- Baylor's 21-16, by-a-millimeter win over Oklahoma State in 2021 and Kansas State's overtime victory over TCU last December. With Oklahoma and Texas on the way out, this could be the new normal: two teams using the kiss of the close-games god to prevail over loads of similarly talented (and monied) teams, then putting on a classic at Jerry World in Arlington, Texas. There are worse fates. In the meantime, we break down the seven teams in the conference's geographic heart. Everything you need to know about the Big 12, part 2 »


Per Total QBR, four of the top eight returning quarterbacks in college football play in the Pac-12. There are six Pac-12 teams in the projected SP+ top 30 and, more importantly from an entertainment standpoint, there are five projected 13th or better on offense. The competition levels among the top half of this conference could be absolutely dynamite, doubly so if you enjoy a good track meet. Here we look at the six teams that previously made up the Pac-12 South, including USC, UCLA, defending champ Utah and Deion Sanders' Colorado Buffs. Everything you need to know about the Pac-12, part 1 »

In the breakdown of the former Pac-12 South teams, I couldn't decide who I like the most -- USC or Utah -- and in this look at the group that used to be the Pac-12 North, I'm very much talking myself into both Oregon and Washington -- but that's pretty exciting in itself. So is the fact that the scoreboard operators will be busy. Everything you need to know about the Pac-12, part 2 »


The college football universe went without the chestiness of fully confident, fully engaged Florida State fans for a few years, but Doak Campbell Stadium reawakened last fall and the Seminoles are co-favorites in the ACC with Clemson. You know, Clemson? The team that has won seven league titles (and two national titles) over the past eight years? Dabo Swinney's program has slipped a bit of late but is still the league flag bearer, and now he gets to play the "Everyone's underestimating little ol' Clemson!" card. The Seminoles and Tigers are clear league leaders as we prepare for 2023. Can anyone else in the former Atlantic division mount a surprise? Everything you need to know about the ACC, part 1 »

Of the seven teams formerly in the Coastal division, only North Carolina has a projected conference win total above 4.5. The Tar Heels, with star quarterback Drake Maye, don't need that many breaks to move into contention, but are they the only ones with a shot? Can Miami deploy a second-year surge after Mario Cristobal's dismal debut season as coach? Can Pitt replenish its defensive front and find a bit more offense? Can Duke turn turnovers luck into something sustainable? Everything you need to know about the ACC, part 2 »


In 1988, the last time Notre Dame won the national title, four of the top five teams in the final AP poll -- the Irish, plus No. 2 Miami, No. 3 Florida State and No. 5 West Virginia -- were independents. There were 25 indies in 1988, 33 a decade before that. Now there are four -- the Irish, Army, UConn and UMass. At South Bend, second-year coach Marcus Freeman looks to build on some late-season momentum with a new offensive coordinator and quarterback (Wake Forest transfer Sam Hartman). Everything you need to know about the indies »


The American Athletic Conference replaced quality with quantity. It will take a while to figure out if that was the right move. Easily the most consistently strong of the conference in the Group of 5, the AAC lost Cincinnati, Houston and UCF, but added a whopping six schools from Conference USA, including the winners of the past six C-USA crowns. Only one of these teams (UTSA) is projected to compete for a conference title immediately. Four of the other five are breaking in new head coaches, and Rice remains interred in a long-term rebuild. But when you can't have a better AAC, you might as well have a bigger one. Here's a look at the six newcomers. Everything you need to know about the AAC, part 1 »

The AAC has taken a hit in terms of overall quality, but the moves have also opened a door for the conference's remaining programs. Can Tulane consolidate power after last year's incredible surge? Can SMU finally put all the pieces together? Can Memphis regain what it has lost in recent seasons? There is opportunity afoot, and a lot of programs are attempting to seize it. Let's talk about the AAC's eight holdovers. Everything you need to know about the AAC, part 2 »

Sun Belt

In 2022, the Sun Belt East gave us Appalachian State's all-time run of September drama -- a 63-61 loss to North Carolina, an upset of Texas A&M and a Hail Mary win over Troy. It gave us another year of Coastal Carolina's mullet-acious quarterback, Grayson McCall. It gave us one of the greatest FBS debuts we'll ever see in James Madison. It gave us loads of close games and wild finishes. What will it give us in 2023? Everything you need to know about the Sun Belt East »

The new, seven-team Sun Belt West produced a pair of sudden powers last fall -- Troy and South Alabama went a combined 14-2 in conference play, and Troy stomped Coastal in the conference title game -- and at first glance it appears the Trojans could lead the way again this fall. Or are we in for a surprise? Everything you need to know about the Sun Belt West »

Mountain West

It wasn't a great year for the Group of 5 conference out west. A rebound isn't guaranteed in 2023, but there are reasons for hope. In the Mountain Division, Boise State has its QB situation figured out and boasts one of the conference's higher returning production averages. Wyoming went from near the bottom of the returning production list to near the top. Air Force returns the bones of an outstanding defense and the injury bug has almost no choice but to be kinder to Utah State. Let's look at the teams of the former Mountain division. Everything you need to know about the MWC Mountain »

Can Fresno State repeat despite key changes on offense? Can San Diego State disrupt the path toward a rematch? Can a high potential San Jose State make a charge after a couple of stagnant years? Let's look at the six teams formerly known as the MWC West. Everything you need to know about the MWC West »


Eleven of the MAC's 12 current teams have reached the conference championship game at some point. Nine have won it. If you are a fan of raw and ridiculous parity, the Mid-American Conference is the league for you. Mind you, the MAC could stand to be a little better. MAC teams went just 2-19 against power-conference opponents last season. Mediocre or no, the product could be pretty even again in the East in 2023. But if there's a standout, the best odds are on either Miami, Buffalo or defending champ Ohio. Everything you need to know about the MAC East »

In theory, Toledo should win the MAC West for the second straight year, and Eastern Michigan should again be its primary challenger. But "should" doesn't tend to play in the MAC. This is a conference of parity, funky bounces and beautiful, beautiful nonsense, and lots of teams are plotting bounce-back campaigns as we speak. Everything you need to know about the MAC West »

Conference USA

Welcome FBS newbies Jacksonville State and Sam Houston! Both Rich Rodriguez's JSU Gamecocks and KC Keeler's SHSU Bearkats join a league in transition. After watching six of its programs leave for the AAC, C-USA added two FBS newcomers and two former independents in Liberty and New Mexico State. Here's a look at C-USA's additions. Everything you need to know about Conference USA, part 1 »

SP+ projects four teams within 1.4 conference wins of each other atop C-USA, and the variety of approaches is pretty clear. Western Kentucky's Tyson Helton loves to air it, Louisiana Tech coach Sonny Cumbie doesn't mind going vertical, Middle Tennessee's Rick Stockstill relies on a relentless horizontal passing game and UTEP's Dana Dimel just wants to push you over. Florida International's Mike MacIntyre? He's willing to try just about anything. Everything you need to know about Conference USA, part 2 »