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2015 College Football Preview: Predicting the conference standings

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Our view of how the national picture will shake out this season.

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The opening week of the 2015 college football season is here. In this edition of our season preview, we take a look at how the conference standings around the country will shake out.

SEC

West:

1. Alabama

2. LSU

3. Auburn

4. Mississippi

5. Arkansas

6. Texas A&M

7. Mississippi State

East:

1. Georgia

2. Missouri

3. Tennessee

4. South Carolina

5. Florida

6. Vanderbilt

7. Kentucky

Need to Know: Keep an eye on Missouri, not just to contend for another divisional title, but to make a push for the College Football Playoff as well. The Tigers benefit from an extremely favorable schedule that sees to have them miss the top four teams out of the West division. A mid-October showdown at Georgia should decide who emerges from the east to play in the conference championship game.

Big Ten

East:

1. Ohio State

2. Michigan State

3. Penn State

4. Indiana

5. Michigan

6. Rutgers

7. Maryland

West:

1. Nebraska

2. Wisconsin

3. Minnesota

4. Iowa

5. Northwestern

6. Purdue

7. Illinois

Need to know: With a pair of playmakers in quarterback Connor Cook and tight end Josiah Price, I really like this year’s Michigan State team. Unfortunately for the Spartans, it’s going to be awfully tough to overtake a deep and talented Ohio State roster. With the Buckeyes getting Mark Dantonio’s team in Columbus, I think they take the conference crown and make it to their second consecutive College Football Playoff.

Pac-12

South:

1. USC

2. UCLA

3. Arizona State

4. Utah

5. Arizona

6. Colorado

North:

1. Stanford

2. Oregon

3. Washington

4. California

5. Washington State

6. Oregon State

Need to Know: We already know that this conference is oozing with talent. The big question is whether or not any single team can survive the brutal nine game league schedule and emerge as a contender in the national picture. Despite all of its recent distractions, that team could very well be USC. The Trojans have a couple of big time stars in quarterback Cody Kessler and cornerback Adoree’ Jackson and are now not only off probation, but have 75 scholarships to use instead of just the 57 that they were plagued with a year ago.

Big 12

1. TCU

2. Baylor

3. Oklahoma

4. Oklahoma State

5. Texas

6. Kansas State

7. West Virginia

8. Texas Tech

9. Iowa State

10. Kansas

Need to Know: The bottom half of the Big 12 may be ugly in 2015, but the top half will provide some of the most fun football of the season. Both TCU and Baylor are playoff contenders and should put up some monster scores as they try to leave no doubt in the committee’s minds that they belong. The conference lacks a championship game, but the meeting between the Horned Frogs and Bears in Fort Worth to end the regular season will be equally as special.

ACC

Atlantic:

1. Florida State

2. Clemson

3. Louisville

4. NC State

5. Boston College

6. Syracuse

7. Wake Forest

Coastal:

1. Miami (Florida)

2. Virginia Tech

3. Pittsburgh

4. Georgia Tech

5. North Carolina

6. Virginia

7. Duke

Need to Know: There’s not much doubt that Florida State will win its fourth straight conference title. Instead of rebuilding after losing Jameis Winston, the Seminoles just reload as they got Notre Dame transfer Everett Golson to take over at quarterback. This team could very well be in playoff contention once again but will have to navigate a tough road schedule.

Independents

1. Notre Dame

2. BYU

3. Army West Point

Need to Know: Notre Dame will have one of the most experienced rosters in the country, returning 17 starters from a team that put up eight wins against a schedule that included Florida State, Arizona State, Stanford, and LSU. Its schedule is significantly easier this year, the toughest game being on The Farm against Stanford to end the season. Get a win there and the Fighting Irish could crash the College Football Playoff.

AAC

East:

1. Temple

2. Cincinnati

3. UCF

4. East Carolina

5. Connecticut

6. South Florida

West:

1. Houston

2. Memphis

3. Navy

4. Tulane

5. SMU

6. Tulsa

Need to Know: Houston is my pick to represent the Group of Five in this year’s College Football Playoff-affiliated bowl game. The Cougars have the best group of running backs and defensive backs in the AAC and made one of the most underrated coaching moves of the offseason, hiring away Ohio State’s national title winning offensive coordinator. Tom Herman caught a scheduling break in his first year at the helm as Houston will miss Temple out of the East and get to play the two other contenders in the West at home. This team should finish the year with double digit victories and could be an upset or two away from running the table.

MWC

Mountain:

1. Boise State

2. Air Force

3. Utah State

4. Colorado State

5. Wyoming

6. New Mexico

West:

1. San Diego State

2. Fresno State

3. Nevada

4. San Jose State

5. UNLV

6. Hawaii

Need to Know: Boise State should once again ease its way through their conference schedule, but the Broncos will need to pull a couple of non-conference upsets away from home if they want to compete for that Group of Five access bowl bid. They will not get to face San Diego State in the regular season but it is very possible the two meet up in the Mountain West title game. Like the Broncos, the Aztecs should roll through league play but have to play at California and Penn State before the first month of the season is even in the books.

MAC

West:

1. Toledo

2. Northern Illinois

3. Western Michigan

4. Ball State

5. Central Michigan

6. Eastern Michigan

East:

1. Bowling Green

2. Akron

3. Ohio

4. Massachusetts

5. Kent State

6. Miami (Ohio)

7. Buffalo

Need to Know: The MAC consistently provides some of the most fun football to watch year in and year out, and that will not change this season. Toledo and Bowling Green seem to be the clear favorites in their respective divisions, and the Rockets will have a shot to finish the year with 12 wins if they win at Arkansas in week two.

C-USA

East:

1. Western Kentucky

2. Marshall

3. Middle Tennessee

4. Old Dominion

5. Florida International

6. Charlotte

7. Florida Atlantic

West:

1. Rice

2. Louisiana Tech

3. Southern Miss

4. UTEP

5. North Texas

6. UTSA

Need to Know: Western Kentucky quarterback Brandon Doughty just might be the best player you haven’t heard of yet. The sixth-year senior threw for nearly 5,000 yards last season and led the Hilltoppers to back-to-back one point victories to end the year. I like this team to win the East division but their overall record could take a hit with non-conference games scheduled against Vanderbilt, Indiana, and LSU.

Sun Belt

1. Appalachian State

2. Arkansas State

3. Georgia Southern

4. Louisiana-Lafayette

5. Texas State

6. Louisiana-Monroe

7. South Alabama

8. New Mexico State

9. Georgia State

10. Troy

11. Idaho

Need to Know: Perennial FCS power Appalachian State went through a major rebuild in 2013, and a transition up to FBS opponents last season contributed to the program’s growing pains. Fast forward to 2015 and the Mountaineers will not only be used to Sun Belt play, but they also return a ridiculous 20 starters from last year’s squad. A Thursday night battle against Arkansas State to open the month of November could very well decided this year’s conference champion.