Staff picks: The AT Media staff picks conference champions in the SEC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac 12 + ACC
It'ssssss game week - and with just a couple days to kick-off of Week 0, our Torres Media guys are hitting all of the biggest topics in the sport.
On Tuesday, our group of college football writers answered the question: Who is the most overrated team in college football? Then we followed up by asking: Who is the most underrated team? And on Tuesday we gave our Heisman Trophy winner.
Today, we're making our conference title picks - as Aaron Torres and Torres Media college football writers Jake Faigus and Garrett Carr make their picks to win each power conference.
And stay tuned Thursday as we make our playoff and national championship picks!
NC State (ACC): This might come as a shock, but I’m picking the Wolfpack to take that extra step forward and win the ACC. They have a ton of positives coming into the year with the biggest one being that 17 starters are coming back from a team that went 9-3 last year. The experience on this team sets them apart from every other team in the conference. The only question mark on offense is who will step up at running back, and can they replace Ikem Ekwonu at left tackle. Devin Leary is a steady hand at quarterback that had a breakout year last year. On defense, the Wolfpack will have one of the best linebacking units in the whole country and will have a very solid secondary too. I think the Wolfpack have more to like and will be the more consistent team in the ACC than any other contender, even Clemson.
Ohio State (Big Ten): The Buckeyes are loaded this year, and to me the easy pick in the Big Ten. I think it’s safe to say that this team will have the best offense in the country. CJ Stroud comes back at quarterback and then TreVeyon Henderson joins him in the backfield at running back again. The biggest thing for the Buckeyes will be that they have Jaxon Smith-Njigba back at wide receiver who will probably be the best wide receiver in the entire country. The offensive line too doesn’t really have any questions either. There is a bit of a question on defense with new defensive coordinator, Jim Knowles, taking over the reins. The defense is still littered with talent especially at linebacker and in the secondary. Knowles did a lot with less talent at Oklahoma State, so it can be easy to assume he’ll work wonders in Columbus. I have faith in this Buckeyes team, and they are also the best team in the country not named Alabama.
Oklahoma (Big 12): The Big 12 is probably the most open conference in the entire country with no clear favorite. I think Oklahoma edges out Baylor because of the talent the roster has. The sky was falling in Norman after Lincoln Riley left, but they rebounded very well. Brent Venables put together a great staff, highlighted by Jeff Lebby at offensive coordinator. Dillon Gabriel comes in from UCF and reunites with Lebby too. The talent is still there with the return of Kennedy Brooks at running back and Marvin Mims at wide receiver. The defense needs help, but trust Venables to get more out of this unit than Riley ever could. Linebacker DaShaun White is the standout on the unit. There was also a handful of talent that was added on this side from the transfer portal. The talent for the Sooners is a big reason why I think they continue their Big 12 dominance, even with a new head coach.
Utah (Pac-12): Utah is easily the best team in the Pac-12 to me. They finally have a promising quarterback for the first time since arguably Alex Smith took a snap in Salt Lake City with Cameron Rising. Tavion Thomas returns at running back to bring some explosiveness and stability there. The Utes also have great options at tight end and some stability at offensive line. The biggest question mark is who can step up at wide receiver. The defense sees some turnover especially with the departure of Devin Lloyd. Kyle Whittingham is a defensive guru and I trust him to be able to reload to an extent on that side. They have a deep stable of linebackers and then get their best player back in the secondary with JaTravis Broughton back from injury to fill in at cornerback. Another key on defense is Junior Tafuna at defensive tackle. This could be the best year in Utah history if everything goes right.
Alabama (SEC): The Alabama train keeps on rolling this year. Bryce Young comes back at quarterback with an opportunity to win the Heisman a second year in a row and then the defense has arguably the best player in all of college football on its side with Will Anderson Jr off the edge. There’s little reason to be concerned with the offensive skill talent with Jahmyr Gibbs at running back and then Jermaine Burton at wide receiver leading the way. The offensive line is a question mark to watch for the team to reach its ceiling. Henry To’o-To’o leads the way with the linebackers too, but the best unit on the field might be the secondary with how much depth they have across the board there. The Crimson Tide have so much talent that they should be feared everywhere in the SEC this year. The Tide are back, and ready to roll this year.
Clemson Over Miami (FL) (ACC): As much as I dislike Dabo Swinney, I have to pick Clemson because of the talent gap compared to the rest of the league. Quarterback DJ Uiagalelei hurt the Tigers at times last year, and i’m not sold on him for this season. But, freshman five-star Cade Klubnik knows how to win football games and I think Dabo will have a quick leash for DJ. Couple that with a defense that lost coordinator Brent Venables but brings back a lot of talent including projected top-five pick Bryan Breese up front, and Clemson is the favorite, albeit a less than even money one, to win the ACC.
Ohio State over Wisconsin (Big Ten): I had an entire write-up already written with me picking the Badgers over the Buckeyes. I just can’t get myself to pull the trigger due to Ohio State’s talent on offense. I have serious doubts about the mentality of the program under Ryan Day and whether they are tough enough (they definitely were not last year on both sides of the ball). But, the talent is just so overwhelming, I'm not sure anyone in the conference can keep them out of the 30s, and it’s hard to run the ball to 30 points. The difference between Ohio State winning the national title or going 10-3 is can they run the ball in short yardage and stop the run in short yardage, two things they absolutely could not do last year. I think they’ll do it just enough to beat the Badgers twice, once in September and once in the Big Ten title game. Below is why I thought Wisconsin could beat the Buckeyes.
I’m a big believer in the Badgers this year. Graham Mertz is a better player than he’s shown, and that defense under Jim Leonard is always elite. What most excites me, though, is second-year running back Braelon Allen. Allen averaged 6.8 yards a carry last year after taking over the starting duties during the year and at 6-2 240lb is the perfect running back. Coupled with an offensive line that I believe will be the best run-blocking line in America, and I think they have the secret sauce to beat an Ohio State program under Ryan Day that has become just a tad finesse and soft. We saw that against the two best running teams they saw last year in Oregon and Michigan, and Wisconsin will control the clock all year and win the Big Ten.
Oklahoma State over Baylor (Big 12): I’m predicting a rematch of last year’s conference title game that may have been the game of the year in college football. Oklahoma State ended that game as close as one can get to making the playoff before a Baylor goal line stand. I expect both teams to be good again, And I think Spencer Sanders in Stillwater is a sleeper Heisman candidate in Stillwater. I love Dave Aranda and he has a ton of confidence in Blake Shapen at quarterback.
This pick was going to be Texas, but Hudson Card, who outperformed Quinn Ewers in the quarterback competition, was not named starter, and that’s probably not going to go well. I wrote about why I’m down on Oklahoma last week in our most overrated team segment.
USC over Oregon (Pac 12): It’s no secret that I’m high on the Trojans, and I wrote about it in our most underrated teams segment. Here is an excerpt from that explaining why I like USC to make a big run this year. It starts with Lincoln Riley and Caleb Williams. Don’t let bitter Oklahoma fans fool you, Riley can flat-out coach. Oklahoma was slowly fading away from national relevance before Bob Stoops brought in Lincoln Riley. Since Riley came aboard as offensive coordinator and later on, head coach, the worst season in Norman was 9-2 in the pandemic-shortened year. The year before he got there, they were 8-5. He’s going into a USC program that was tenth in team talent last year according to 247 Sports, and got a lot more talented over the offseason with impact transfers on both sides of the ball. They are more talented than any team in the league by a wide margin except Oregon, and when talent level is close, I always side with the team that has the better head coach and quarterback. The second best team in the league is actually Utah, but I'm taking Oregon, because they don't have to play 'SC in the regular season and should be able to pile on one more win.
Alabama over Georgia (SEC): Ok, this one is chalk, and I’m very confident Alabama wins the SEC and the national title this year. Nick Saban calls media attention rat poison, and it seems like their two main competitors in the SEC, Georgia and Texas A&M, have had a lot of rat poison. I love Saban teams coming off of playoff losses. They’ve lost three games in the playoffs. Twice they’ve won the national title the next year and the other time they won it two years after. They have the Heisman winner and best defensive player in America back in Bryce Young and Will Anderson, Jhamyr Gibbs comes in as a standout running back, and It’s a pissed off Nick Saban. Georgia will be very good themselves, but no one is touching the Crimson Tide.
Clemson over Miami (ACC): At first blush, I wanted to pick against Clemson, and go with someone, anyone other than the Tigers after what I saw last season. Then I went back and really thought about what I saw last season, and it was this: A team that got wayyyyyy less out of the quarterback position than they had anticipated, a group that had a slew of injuries throughout the year including their best running back (Will Shipley) and a future first round pick on the defensive line (Bryan Breeze) and one... that still won 10 games, and won seven straight to close the season. Basically, everything that could go wrong did. In theory it can't get worse, and I'm not sure it can, considering that there is a legitimate back-up option at quarterback this year in Cade Klubnik. I'm still not sure if the Tigers are a playoff team, but I like them to win an improved ACC.
Ohio State over Purdue (Big Ten): While I ultimately have questions over whether Ohio State's defense is good enough to win the national title, I have little doubt that they will run through the Big Ten. Remember, this is a team which had won four straight Big Ten title games prior to last season, and like Clemson, as "bad" as things were for the Buckeyes last year, they still finished 11-2 and won the Rose Bowl. With major departures at Michigan and Penn State kinda looking like Penn State always does, the Buckeyes run away with another league title. As for Purdue, well as you know, I really like the Boilermakers this year. With plenty of returning talent on offense, an advantageous schedule that doesn't include Ohio State, Michigan or Michigan State, I'm picking the Boilers to get to Indy - even if they lose when they get there.
Oklahoma over Oklahoma State (Big 12): If you've read any of my preseason work, you know that I believe that not only is Oklahoma the most underrated team in the Big 12, but maybe nationally. The offense will look different than it did under Lincoln Riley, but I'm not sure it misses a beat, with Dillon Gabriel under center and Jeff Lebby calling plays. The defense should be improved under Brent Venables watch, and the Sooners get both Baylor and Oklahoma State at home this season. It will be a rematch of Bedlam at Jerry World, where the Sooners will again take down the Pokes and return to the College Football Playoff.
Utah over UCLA (Pac-12): The Pac-12 will be entering a new era soon without USC and UCLA, but it's also entering a new era this year, as the top two teams in the league will play in the title game, rather than division winners. Therefore, it'll be interesting to see if we get a Utah-USC, or my guess, Utah-UCLA matchup in Las Vegas, but in the end, the Utes still have too much for the rest of this league. An offense that went nearly score-for-score with Ohio State in last year's Rose Bowl basically returns intact, while the defense plugged a couple holes in the transfer portal with the additions of Gabe Reid (Stanford) and Mohamed Diabite (Florida). The Utes roll to a second straight Pac-12 title, and the only question is whether it ends in a playoff appearance for the Utes.
Alabama over Georgia (SEC): Forgive me for being cliche and boring, but Alabama is too obvious here. Not only are they the best team in college football (by a significant margin, in my opinion) but they enter their season with a genuine chip on their shoulder after losses to Texas A&M and Georgia last season. You don't need me to tell you about Bryce Young, Will Anderson, Jahmyr Gibbs, Jermaine Burton and Co. Alabama is always good, but rarely have they had this much motivation coming into the year. It could be ugly for a lot of SEC opponents this season.
Follow Jake Faigus on Twitter - @Jake_Faigus
Follow Garrett Carr on Twitter - @RealGarrettCarr
Follow Aaron Torres on Twitter - @Aaron_Torres