The debate about conference supremacy never truly ends.
But with the latest season in the books, it’s already time to start another round as the ESPN.com college football reporting crew looks ahead to the 2017 campaign.
Which league will take the top spot next season? The chances of each conference taking the crown are broken down here, roundtable style.
Big Ten: The league is back in a major way. And in case a reminder of that strength is needed, check the final national rankings where the Big Ten nearly took up half of the spots in the top 10. The conference has come roaring back to life and is stocked with multiple national contenders, and the strength and depth at the top with Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin and Penn State just can’t be matched. That list doesn’t even include Michigan State, which is just a season removed from the playoff and will be eager to bounce back under Mark Dantonio, or a Nebraska team that is already progressing quickly under Mike Riley. While there is a massive gap between the league’s elite and the cellar-dwelling programs, the top-to-bottom competitiveness figures to get even better with strong coaching hires such as Jeff Brohm at Purdue or Lovie Smith heading into his second season at Illinois. Even a team that wasn’t far off in Minnesota, a nine-win team, has been given a jolt of excitement by bringing in P.J. Fleck from Western Michigan. So get ready: The Big Ten is preparing to get comfortable at the top of the polls. -- Austin Ward
SEC: Look, Alabama isn't going anywhere. Not under Nick Saban's watch at least. And definitely not with Jalen Hurts ready to learn from a spectacular, albeit inconsistent freshman season. So if you have arguably the top program in the country, you're in the conversation for being the best conference in college football. But it's not just Alabama, is it? Auburn is in good position with former Baylor QB Jarrett Stidham on campus and both top running backs back. LSU has Derrius Guice to replace Leonard Fournette, and is really just a quarterback away from title contention. And don't look now but Georgia could get really interesting with Kirby Smart entering his second season leading the program. Jacob Eason has an NFL-caliber arm, Nick Chubb and Sony Michel return at running back and the 2017 signing class could be one of the best in school history. -- Alex Scarborough
Big 12: This past season, the ACC stunningly surpassed the SEC and Big Ten to become the top conference in college football, underscoring how quickly the narrative can flip. Quietly, the Big 12 could be on the verge of flipping the script as well. Coming off a successful bowl showing -- with sterling defensive efforts, by the way -- the Big 12 seems primed for a breakthrough in 2017. Oklahoma, led by arguably the nation’s top returning QB in Baker Mayfield, has restored a physical identity in the trenches (just ask Auburn). Oklahoma State will boast its best offense since at least 2011, when the Cowboys came close to playing for the national championship. And Texas, well, finally has its man in Tom Herman. With Kansas State, West Virginia and TCU all possessing the upside to be 10-win teams as well, the Big 12 could be as strong as it has been in a very long time. -- Jake Trotter
ACC: The ACC had a breakthrough season in 2016, but don’t expect for the league to go anywhere any time soon. Guess who will be back to contend for a national championship in 2017? The usual ACC reps: Florida State and Clemson. The Seminoles bring back ACC Rookie of the Year Deondre Francois, who threw for more than 3,000 yards in his freshman season, and also will have a healthy Derwin James back at safety. Clemson loses Deshaun Watson, Wayne Gallman, Mike Williams and Jordan Leggett, but they should be nasty once again on defense with Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence to anchor the front. Of the two, Clemson certainly has the bigger holes to fill, but the Tigers have recruited at such a high level, there is talent all across the roster. And let’s not forget that Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson returns for Louisville, and Miami should have a top-10 defense in Year 2 under Mark Richt. The arrow clearly is pointed up for this conference, and building on the momentum from a terrific 2016 is an absolute must in the new season. -- Andrea Adelson
Pac-12: Only one conference finished 2016 with two teams in the top five of the AP poll, and that was the Pac-12. USC finished ranked No. 3, while Washington ended up at No. 4. So at worst, the league is the most top heavy in the nation entering 2017, since both the Trojans and Huskies return key pieces -- including their starting quarterbacks -- and look primed to remain strong next season. And at best, the Pac-12 is climbing toward the distinction of being the nation’s top league. The onus will lie on conference depth. Stanford still is an upper-tier threat after another 10-win season, while Washington State can’t be dismissed with the return of quarterback Luke Falk. Although Colorado and Utah, the two other Pac-12 teams that finished ranked, both lose a lot of talent, both have shown to be healthy programs with a penchant for consistency. Throw in UCLA, which returns quarterback Josh Rosen, and a potential surprise team in the mix, and the Pac-12 has a shot to field six or seven ranked teams in 2017. -- David Lombardi