NCAAF Teams
Tom VanHaaren, ESPN Staff Writer 130d

Ranking the Power 5 divisions strongest to weakest

College Football

As the season approaches and debates heat up about which teams have the most difficult schedules and who has the easiest path to the College Football Playoff, we are here to help clear the air. Or maybe muddy the waters, depending on your argument.

With the help of ESPN's Football Power Index, which measures each team's strength and helps predict its performance, we have ranked the best divisions in college football for the 2018 season.

1. SEC West
Teams: Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, LSU, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Texas A&M
Average FPI: 13.3

The SEC West comes out as the No. 1-ranked division in college football and it's likely no surprise. Alabama is coming off of a national championship and is ranked the No. 1 team in many preseason polls. The Tide have a desirable situation at quarterback, with two more-than-viable options, and while there are some holes on defense, the past few recruiting classes should be enough to keep Alabama in the conversation for another championship run. Division foe Auburn faced off against Georgia in the SEC championship last season, and while the coaches are looking to replace quite a bit on offense, the Tigers are also in a favorable spot at quarterback with Jarrett Stidham returning. Mississippi State and Texas A&M both have new coaches at the helm, but both have pieces on the roster to help make this one of the most challenging divisions in football.

2. Big Ten East
Teams: Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State, Rutgers
Average FPI: 11.4

The Big Ten East was the biggest challenger to the SEC West in these rankings, and many would argue this division will end up being the best when the season finishes. Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan all fielded young teams in 2017 and are returning an astounding number of starters on offense and defense. The Buckeyes and Spartans have identities on offense that will very likely continue to improve throughout the season, and the Wolverines have added in Ole Miss quarterback transfer Shea Patterson to help push them to the next level. While Penn State has lost all-everything running back Saquon Barkley and three of its offensive assistants from last season, quarterback Trace McSorley is still on the roster, and the quality recruits head coach James Franklin has been able to reel in should make an immediate impact.

3. ACC Atlantic
Teams: Boston College, Clemson, Florida State, Louisville, NC State, Syracuse, Wake Forest
Average FPI: 10.1

The Atlantic stumbled in 2017, mainly because Florida State finished the season 7-6. There were some bright spots, with NC State finishing 8-4, but Clemson was the only team to finish with more than eight wins in the division. That could very likely change this season with head coach Willie Taggart now at Florida State. The Seminoles dealt with injuries last season, especially at quarterback, so if they can stay healthy their numbers should improve drastically. If NC State and Louisville can build off of their performances last season and improve their win totals, this could be a sneaky difficult division to deal with. Clemson is likely the only team firmly in the College Football Playoff discussion, but from top to bottom there are some quality teams in this division.

4. Pac-12 North
Teams: Cal, Oregon, Oregon State, Stanford, Washington, Washington State
Average FPI: 9.4

Stanford and Washington are the two headliners in this division, both showing up in the top 15 of ESPN's preseason power rankings. Washington checks in at No. 5 and is returning quite a bit of production from last season, including quarterback Jake Browning and running back Myles Gaskin on offense, as well as leading tackler Ben Burr-Kirven and defensive back Byron Murphy, who led the team in interceptions. Stanford is bringing back Heisman candidate Bryce Love at running back and a little more continuity at quarterback with K.J. Costello firmly in the driver's seat. If Washington State can build on its nine-win season from a year ago and Oregon can rebound under new head coach Mario Cristobal, this could be a difficult division to get through.

5. Big 12
Teams: Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, TCU, Texas, Texas Tech, West Virginia
Average FPI: 8.4

The Big 12 is just one big ole conference, so it gets ranked as one. Oklahoma is carrying much of the heavy lifting for the conference after claiming a spot in the playoff last season. Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Baker Mayfield is off to the NFL, but there is a lot of excitement surrounding his presumed replacement, Kyler Murray. The offense should be fine, but if the defense can show improvements from last season, this could be another playoff-type year for the Sooners. West Virginia and TCU are at the back half of the power rankings, but both have opportunities to outplay their preseason predictions. The Mountaineers have an exciting combo coming back on offense with quarterback Will Grier and receiver David Sills V, who linked up for 18 touchdowns last season. The wild card in this conference is going to be how well Texas performs under second year coach Tom Herman. There are some quality teams in this conference, but it needs Texas to progress in order to be considered one of the best.

6. SEC East
Teams: Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Missouri, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vanderbilt
Average FPI: 8.2

Georgia carried the water for this division last season, winning the conference championship and ultimately making it to the national championship game. South Carolina did its part by winning nine games last season, but those two teams were the only teams with more than seven wins in the division. Florida was a huge letdown, finishing 4-7 on the season. Under new head coach Dan Mullen, there are some pieces in place to improve on what happened in 2017. If the Gators can pull up their bootstraps and outperform expectations, this division could finish in higher regard than expected. You could put Tennessee in that category as well, with new coach Jeremy Pruitt coming from Alabama. If the Vols can take quickly to Pruitt's coaching, it would tremendously help the division, but there are a lot of ifs and questions still left for that to happen.

7. ACC Coastal
Teams: Duke, Georgia Tech, Miami, North Carolina, Pittsburgh, Virginia, Virginia Tech
Average FPI: 7.3

It's not surprising to see the ACC Coastal this far down the list as it was top-heavy last season with Miami and Virginia Tech leading the way. The Hurricanes have shown progression under Mark Richt and finished at 10-2 overall, while Virginia Tech has taken off under new coach Justin Fuente. Both teams should be able to replicate the 2017 season, or at least come close to it, in 2018. Miami seemingly has the roster and experience now to push forward and potentially make a bigger splash than it did in 2017. If Richt and his staff can keep things progressing forward, the Hurricanes should be in good shape. Outside of those two teams, however, it doesn't look promising. Miami and Virginia Tech were the only two teams in the division to finish with more than seven wins and the prospects don't look great for the bottom half of the division.

8. Big Ten West
Teams: Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern, Purdue, Wisconsin
Average FPI: 6.3

There's no secret that the two divisions in the Big Ten are lopsided, and that looks to be true in the 2018 season as well. Wisconsin could make some noise nationally, returning most of its offensive line as well as running back Jonathan Taylor, who broke records as a true freshman in 2017. Northwestern came away with 10 wins in 2017 and has an opportunity to have another strong season, and the same goes for Iowa. But in terms of a national presence, there likely won't be many other teams outside of Wisconsin. Purdue has taken great strides under coach Jeff Brohm but is still likely a few years away from being what he wants the team to be. While Nebraska hired Scott Frost away from UCF, it will also seemingly take him a few years to get the Huskers back to the top of the standings. This division boasts a lot of promise and young coaches, but the potential hasn't been realized just yet.

9. Pac-12 South
Teams: Arizona State, Arizona, Colorado, UCLA, USC, Utah
Average FPI: 6.1

Talk about uncertainty in a division! There is a whole mess of it in the Pac-12 South, with USC as the lone team in the division in the preseason power rankings. Add in that Arizona, Arizona State and UCLA are all dealing with new head coaches and you can see why this division comes in last. The Trojans were the only team in the division to finish with more than seven wins in 2017, and it seems as though it's going to take some time to get those numbers up. Chip Kelly is looking for a new quarterback at UCLA after Josh Rosen's departure and could start true freshman Dorian Thompson-Robinson. Kevin Sumlin and Herm Edwards have their quarterbacks at Arizona and Arizona State, respectively, but both have a lot of work to do with the rosters outside of that position. If USC can find its quarterback after Sam Darnold's departure for the NFL, the Trojans should be in great shape, but the rest of the division has too many questions going forward.

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