Conference championships are always a marquee goal, but these titles take on extra meaning in 2024 and beyond.

As the College Football Playoff expands to 12 teams—and further growth is already peeking over the horizon—five league champions are guaranteed a spot in the CFP. Whether automatic bids are here to stay is a fair question, but they’re a part of the process in 2024.

The winners of the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 and SEC will be headed to the playoff, along with the highest-ranked champion from the American, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West or Sun Belt.

Now, that’s the greatest reward.

Bringing home a trophy—no matter if there’s a CFP trip attached—is absolutely a high honor and should be treated as such.

The list is entirely subjective. Good thing I’ve never been incorrect about anything in college football for my entire life, though.

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AAC: Memphis Tigers

Tulane won the conference in 2022 and finished as the runner-up last season. Even after losing head coach Willie Fritz to Houston and quarterback Michael Pratt to the NFL, the Green Wave are a top contender.

Memphis, though, is the early favorite thanks to a potent offense. Seth Henigan is entering his fourth year as a starter and has consistently been among the nation’s most productive QBs. Although the Tigers head to USF, UTSA and Tulane in AAC play, they should be a 10-win team.

C-USA: Liberty Flames

The trio of Jacksonville State, Liberty and Western Kentucky figure to create an entertaining race in Conference USA. However, the reigning champion will be tough to beat.

Kaidon Salter, a dynamic dual-threat QB, led Liberty to a 13-0 mark before a Fiesta Bowl loss to Oregon. He entered the transfer portal briefly in January but withdrew and will be back at LU. While a retooled pass-catching group is a concern, Salter’s playmaking ability and an experienced defense are still an appealing combination.

MAC: Miami RedHawks

Wildly enough, Miami swiped a MAC crown in 2023 despite losing quarterback Brett Gabbert to an injury in October. Toledo had been the clear favorite all season and entered the MAC Championship with 11 victories in a row, but the RedHawks won when it mattered most.

So, really, it feels like Miami was a year ahead of schedule. The defense is stacked with returning contributors, and the entire offensive line is back in front of a healthy Gabbert.

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MWC: Boise State Broncos

Two years ago, Fresno State defeated Boise State to win the Mountain West. Last season, Boise knocked off UNLV. That trifecta—perhaps with Air Force—is the leading group heading into the 2024 campaign.

One massive advantage for Boise? Within that group, the Broncos only take on UNLV. They also avoid Colorado State and host Utah State. The conference slate is extremely kind, yet clashes with Oregon, Washington State and Oregon State mean Boise State will be tested, too.

Sun Belt: Texas State Bobcats

Not so quietly, the Sun Belt is rising in the Group of Five ranks. The conference didn’t make a New Year’s Six bowl in the last 10 years, but that trend may be broken soon—and now result in a CFP bid. The bad news is I believe it won’t happen this season because the Sun Belt, not unlike the Pac-12 in years before 2023, might cannibalize itself.

Texas State, nevertheless, has that upside. Swiping star quarterback Jordan McCloud from James Madison and playing in the weaker division makes the Bobcats a real threat for Appalachian State, Coastal Carolina, JMU and two-time reigning champ Troy.

Cade Klubnik Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images

Projected Champion: Clemson Tigers

Miami may finally put it together, sure. North Carolina State landed Grayson McCall to run the offense, Louisville added a bunch of impact transfers and SMU arrives from the AAC with a competitive roster.

Still, this is a Clemson vs. Florida State battle, right?

Florida State has to restock the starting lineup, but Mike Norvell successfully leaned on transfers for strong years in 2022 and 2023. It’s fair to expect a new-look roster to flirt with 10-plus victories again.

Clemson, meanwhile, had a pretty forgettable start to the 2023 campaign before closing on a hot streak. Dabo Swinney’s resistance to using the portal is exasperating, but the Tigers have championship-level upside if second-year QB Cade Klubnik plays anywhere near his potential.

The regular-season clash may lean FSU’s way, considering the ‘Noles host the game. However, a friendly slate should give Clemson a shot at redemption in Charlotte.

Tez Johnson Brandon Sloter/Image Of Sport/Getty Images

Projected Champion: Oregon Ducks

The popular choice, for good reason, is Ohio State. I’m certainly expecting the Buckeyes to make the College Football Playoff because of their potentially stellar defense, too.

Winning the conference, though, might continue to elude Ryan Day and Ohio State for another year.

Oregon’s debut in the Big Ten should be impressive. Dillon Gabriel is an ideal replacement for Bo Nix, and the Ducks have steadily risen defensively since Dan Lanning took control of the program.

The simple version: I’m more inclined to trust Gabriel than whichever QB (presumably Will Howard) is leading OSU’s offense—and Michigan’s, for that matter—in 2024.

No matter your lean, the Oct. 12 showdown between the teams at Oregon is a massive game.

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Projected Champion: Utah Utes

Although the Big 12 seemingly lacks a national championship threat, the conference race should be very enjoyable.

Kansas State and Oklahoma State are annual thorns, and Kansas has started to ascend under Lance Leipold. Plus, Pac-12 transplants Arizona and Utah bring some competitive rosters to the league. Iowa State, UCF and West Virginia shouldn’t be overlooked, either.

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham is ready to make a rude introduction.

Between a few transfers and the return of injured players, Utah’s outlook is excellent. Health is an unpredictable variable—the Utes epitomized that lesson in 2023—but this is a high-quality roster.

As long as Utah doesn’t fall to both Oklahoma State and Arizona in September, the Utes should be a CFP-worthy team.

Kirby Smart Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Projected Champion: Georgia Bulldogs

What a beautiful disaster the SEC could be. Georgia and Texas are high-end teams with Alabama, Ole Miss, Oklahoma and LSU not far behind—yet Missouri has a favorable slate in comparison to all of them.

Due to the mass of big matchups, it’s legitimately possible that, say, Texas and Missouri meet for the SEC title.

In other words, the league might have a Top Five team not in the SEC Championship Game.

Georgia’s schedule is full of landmines with trips to Kentucky, Alabama, Texas and Ole Miss. If the Dawgs play for the conference title once again, it’ll be a hard-earned spot in Atlanta. However, UGA simply has the SEC’s most talented, well-rounded roster.

And that makes the Dawgs the national front-runner, too.


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