I've made the prediction previously that College Football is on the doorstep of a major sea change. What we currently think of (falsely) as "Division 1" (Or FBS, whatever) is really an amalgamation of 5 'power' conferences and 5 conferences who's members really just want to migrate to one of the big 5.
Because of this dichotomy, fans of universities who are members of the AAC, C-USA, MAC, MWC and Sun Belt Conference delude themselves into thinking they are playing big-time college football when, in fact, they just aren't. This doesn't mean that they're at the Division 1-AA level (or, FCS, whatever) but that they're not really competing against the SEC, PAC-12, ACC, B1G or Big-12 even.
None of the champions of these conferences has much chance of being included in the College Football Playoff even IF they go undefeated. That said, they're still going to play so I'm still going to predict champions, and also where Texas teams will finish.
Let's go alphabetically:
American Athletic Conference:
Champion: Cincinnati - The Bearkats have been a pretty good program for quite a while now, despite not having the resources many of the top teams possess. They are, in my opinion, pretty clear favorites here.
Houston (3rd): Picking the Cougars any higher than 3rd is a reach. Yes, they have a lot of talent but UCF and Cincinnati have more. It will be interesting to see if the defense can continue to turn the ball over at the same rate as last year. On offense the O'Korn/Greenberry connection will be exciting.
SMU(6th): I want to pick SMU higher here, but I just can't. Coach Jones needs to find a QB and a defense stat. Still, with their offense (a combination of the Air Raid and Run n' shoot) they should pile up some gaudy statistics.
Champion: Marshall - Like Cincinnati the Herd are simply the best team in the conference by a mile on paper. They also have a head coach in Doc Holliday with the best coaching name in recent memory.
Rice(1st Western Division, runner-up) Rice will make the conference championship game (again) but will lose to Marshall. HC David Bailiff has done a great job here.
UTSA (2nd Western Division) - That we're even seriously considering the fact that UTSA plays in a bowl speaks volumes regarding the job HC Larry Coker has done. 5 years ago this was a team on paper only.
North Texas (4th Western Division) - With a new stadium, new conference and revamped facilities North Texas could be a directional school on the rise.
UTEP (6th Western Division) - It's hard to rebuild in El Paso. This school could be on the bottom for a few years.
Champion: Bowling Green - They have the most talent, and a good HC in Dino Babers. Fortunately for Babers, former HC Clawson left the cupboard stocked with talent.
Champion: Utah State - I'm going out on a limb here and saying that Boise State will NOT win the conference championship. Utah State QB Chuckie Keeton is a Cy-Fair ISD product who is coming back from injury and is probably the most talented player in the conference. He'll get that small conference, not a real chance-in-hell Heisman talk.
Champion: University of Louisiana-Lafayette. - The Rajin' Cajun's have been around or near the top of this catch-all conference for a while now. This is really just a home to teams with no natural fit, or those teams trying to make the jump from D-1AA to D-1. (See: Texas State)
Texas State (6th) - Coach Dennis Franchione has some youth issues this year but I think the Bobcats are still positioned to pass UH as the top lower-tier Texas college football team sometime in the near future.
Other thoughts: Once the Big 5 conferences change to the Really Big 4 (consisting of either 16 or 18 teams) then these five conferences will form the nucleus of Division II. (or whatever silly name they'll call it.) I still think they'll play in the smaller bowl games (omitting the former B(C)S bowls and some other key bowls which will remain the exclusive domain of the top tier) and they might even contest their own championship.
There will be, of course, much wailing and gnashing of teeth but for most of these schools uncoupling from the bigger football powers will be a financial blessing not a curse.