An early look at each potential 2023 Power Five conference championship matchup

2MA8R1X Florida State's Jordan Travis (13) carries the ball during an NCAA football game on Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021, in Raleigh, N.C. (AP Photo/Ben McKeown)

• Florida State vs. Clemson: Quarterback Jordan Travis and wide receiver Johnny Wilson form a connection that will be hard for Clemson to beat twice, let alone once.

• Michigan vs. Wisconsin: New head coach Luke Fickell's roster is full of talent, but Michigan is a buzzsaw on both sides of the ball.

• Georgia vs. LSU: While no team will be able to stop yet another loaded Georgia roster, LSU could put up a fight.

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ACC: Clemson vs. Florida State

Clemson: 2022 Team Grade – 88.6 (23rd out of 131)

The Tigers are already favored in every game on their schedule. It’s hard to imagine them losing more than one conference game, which would be enough to get them back to the ACC championship game, a battle that they've dominated for most of the past decade.

Even though Clemson hasn't been as good in the past few years, we expect this to be their best team since Trevor Lawrence was at quarterback. The defense will be stout, as usual, behind the best linebacking corps in college football. Barrett Carter and Jeremiah Trotter Jr. both graded out above 81.0 last year. And the offense should take massive strides in a new system with dynamic weapons such as Will Shipley and Phil Mafah, who each earned 83.0-plus rushing grades in 2022.

Florida State: 2022 Team Grade – 91.5 (9th out of 131)

The Seminoles made the very first College Football Playoff in 2014 but have not been back since. That all could change this fall with the team having returned a ton of talent, including two of the best players in college football in Jordan Travis, who ranked second among Power Five quarterbacks in PFF grade last year, and Jared Verse, who tied for fourth in pass-rush win rate among all edge defenders.

Head coach Mike Norvell has this team primed for a big season. But the Seminoles will be tested early and often, playing LSU and Clemson within the first four weeks of the season. It will be critical for them to win at least one, if not both, of these games. However, Florida State could still make the ACC championship if they suffer an early-season loss in Death Valley, as their schedule only gets easier.

Prediction: This would be a rematch of a game scheduled for late September. These are firmly the two best teams in the conference, both of whom have high hopes of making it to the College Football Playoff.

Clemson will win the first game in September on their home turf. Caesars Sportsbook currently favors the Tigers (-3) in that matchup. But it is hard to beat a team twice in one year. Florida State will get revenge on the Tigers in the ACC championship game behind historic performances from Jordan Travis and star receiver Johnny Wilson, who averaged an astonishing 20.9 yards per catch last year with an 82.3 PFF grade.


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Big 12: Kansas State vs. Texas

Kansas State: 2022 Team Grade – 84.6 (42nd out of 131)

The reigning conference champs should be in a position to repeat in 2023. They brought back starting quarterback Will Howard, who came on strong toward the end of last season, recording 13 big-time throws in seven games. It’ll help to have one of the best offensive lines in college football protecting him — spearheaded by Cooper Beebe, who finished third among all guards in college football in pass-blocking grade last season (89.3). Beebe didn’t allow a single sack last year and let up only nine total pressures. Head coach Chris Klieman has built up this Wildcat program and may field the most balanced team in the Big 12 on both sides of the ball.

Texas: 2022 Team Grade – 90.1 (19th out of 131)

Texas may not be back yet, but they are easily the most talented team in the conference this year. Now, it’s about managing expectations and finally living up to that hype in Year 3 of Steve Sarkisian's head-coaching tenure. The Longhorns were a streaky team in 2022, showing signs of life but lacking consistency.

This year, Texas may switch from a rushing-focused attack to more of an Air-Raid offense, given the two stud running backs they lost. With that being said, quarterback Quinn Ewers, who experienced an 8.6% drop rate for on-target passes last year, should have a much better season alongside a highly ranked, newly built receiving corps. Even if the Longhorns lose early on to Alabama, they still have the ability to make it through the Big 12 undefeated.

Prediction: This would be a rematch of a game set to take place on Nov. 4. Texas is favored big in that contest as of now. And the Longhorns will likely come out on top both times against Kansas State. On paper, they are just the better team, putting up the highest PFF team grade in the Big 12 last season. Sarkisian also brought in one of the best recruiting classes in the nation. If Ewers can take that next step as a passer, then the Big 12 championship is not the only title Texas will be going for this year.


Big Ten: Michigan vs. Wisconsin

Michigan: 2022 Team Grade – 94.2 (2nd out of 131)

This could be Michigan's best team in the Jim Harbaugh era, and that’s saying something. The Wolverines have easily the best rushing attack in college football with Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards returning. They helped the team earn the nation’s highest PFF rushing grade a season ago (96.1). It’s almost unfair that they get to run behind the nation’s best offensive line, too.

Plus, Michigan's front seven, which earned a 92.9 team run-defense grade in 2022, is right up there with Georgia as one of the country's best. The Wolverines' schedule is a cakewalk up until mid-November, so it’s very likely they will be undefeated going into the Ohio State game — which they get at home this year.

Wisconsin: 2022 Team Grade – 88.2 (25th out of 131)

Don’t sleep on Luke Fickell and the Badgers this season. He knows how to turn around a program quickly and has already made an impact by bringing in several highly touted transfers in the portal. We know Wisconsin will always be tough on the ground and on defense, earning team grades above 82.0 in each of those categories last year. But their success is on the shoulders of transfer quarterback Tanner Mordecai.

Mordecai is a solid veteran quarterback who knows how to win games and put up numbers, finishing with an 80.3 passing grade in 2022. He is set to be a major upgrade at the position for the Badgers.

Prediction: It’ll certainly be a fun year for Fickell and the Badgers. While they may exceed expectations, the Big Ten title game is where their luck runs out. Michigan is just too deep and too well balanced to slip up against Wisconsin. The Badgers will struggle to put up points against a daunting Wolverines defense that ranked second in team defense grade a season ago (93.7). Getting through the Big Ten East unscathed will be the toughest challenge for Michigan. Assuming they can do that, the conference championship game should be a breeze.


Pac-12: USC vs. Washington

USC: 2022 Team Grade – 90.7 (14th out of 131)

Caleb Williams, plain and simple, is how the Trojans will make it to the Pac-12 title game. Their Heisman trophy quarterback is the best player in college football. He led the nation in touchdown passes a year ago (42) and ranked first in PFF grade (91.8) among Power Five signal-callers. Williams will carry this team all year long behind a high-powered offense.

Defensively, it’s no secret that USC will need to improve to take that next step. The unit recorded a 61.1 tackling grade last year, which ranked 86th in the FBS. Utah was USC's only blemish a season ago and, luckily, the Trojans get the Utes at home this time around. If USC can get over that hump, there’s no doubt they’ll be right back in the conference championship game.

Washington: 2022 Team Grade – 86.0 (34th out of 131)

The Pac-12 is incredibly deep this year with a handful of teams that could come out on top. Washington may be the most consistent and well-balanced team in the conference. The Huskies finished 11-2 last season and returned most of their star players, including quarterback Michael Penix Jr., who finished second in the nation in passing yards with an 88.1 PFF passing grade last year. Look for their Air-Raid attack to continue, as Penix also gets back his two best receivers — Rome Odunze and Jalen McMillan, who each graded out above 77.0 in PFF receiving grade in 2022.

Washington played a favorable conference slate in 2022 but will battle the Pac-12's other four top teams in 2023. They’re certainly going to have to earn their spot here.

Prediction: You could make a case that these are two of the three best quarterbacks in college football. They both finished in the top 10 in PFF passing grade a year ago, so expect this to be a high-scoring affair with tons of highlight-reel plays. As good as Washington is, they are just a step below USC this year. And Trojans quarterback Caleb Williams is on a mission to not only win the Pac-12 championship but also lead his team to the College Football Playoff.


SEC: Georgia vs. LSU

Georgia: 2022 Team Grade – 93.8 (3rd out of 131)

Georgia will get to this point just by showing up on time to each of their games. The talent gap is that big between the Bulldogs and everyone else in college football right now. Georgia’s roster is loaded and balanced, finishing with a 94.3 team offense grade and an 89.9 defense grade last season. These units will be strong once again.

The Bulldogs should run through just about everybody up until mid-November, when they’ll travel to Tennessee for their biggest challenge on the schedule. Georgia will likely dominate the SEC East for a third straight year, which will ultimately land the team back in the conference title game.

LSU: 2022 Team Grade – 86.1 (32nd out of 131)

Things could not have gone better for Brian Kelly in his first year at LSU. But now that comes with more pressure to perform in Year 2. Luckily, the Tigers brought back the majority of their stars from a season ago, including quarterback Jayden Daniels and Harold Perkins, who ranked third in total pressures (41) among linebackers last year. LSU should field one of the best defensive lines in the country, a unit that earned an 86.5 defensive grade in 2022, which will cause havoc for SEC offenses.

The defense will likely be the backbone of this team, but a Heisman-esque year out of Daniels — who will be looking to improve on his 87.8 PFF grade from last year — wouldn't hurt. LSU’s schedule will be challenging, as usual, but they will upset Alabama once again to claim the SEC West for a second straight year. Winning in Tuscaloosa is never easy, but right now, LSU has the better roster on paper.

Prediction: This game will most likely be the same story as last year’s SEC championship. There might not be a team in college football, let alone the SEC, that can compete with the Georgia Bulldogs. They'll dominate the trench game with arguably the nation’s best line on both sides of the ball.

Kirby Smart has built an absolute juggernaut in Athens, and while this year's final score may be a little closer than last year's, the Tigers will come up short yet again in the SEC title game.

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