SEC Championship: Alabama over Georgia
1. Georgia Bulldogs
Projected Record: 12-1
Wins: Oregon, Samford, South Carolina, Kent State, Missouri, Auburn, Vanderbilt, Florida, Tennessee, Mississippi State, Kentucky, Georgia Tech
Losses: Alabama (SEC Championship)
Georgia is back after their 2021 national championship win. However, the Bulldogs lost a ton on the defensive side. They still have plenty of talent to star on this team including one of the best defensive lineman in the country Jalen Carter. Nolan smith and Rober Beal also return as the starting pass rushers. The concern remains at inside linebacker as they lost three guys who were all drafted in the first three rounds. Also there is a question on who starts opposite of star cornerback Kellen Ringo. On offense, returning quarterback Stetson Bennett is efficient. But he struggled against elite defenses by often turning the ball over and is the least talented starter on offense. Georgia’s skill positions are deep with studs including Adonis Mitchell and Arian Smith at wideout. Georgia also has by far the deepest, most talented tight end room with Brock Bowers, Arik Gilbert, and Darnell Washington. The offensive line is also one of the best in the nation. Overall, this has a team with enough talent to make the college football playoffs again. But replacing that much defensive talent to the NFL won’t be easy and may lead to an early College Football Playoff exit.
2. Tennessee Volunteers
Projected Record: 9-3
Wins: Ball State, Pittsburgh, Akron, Florida, LSU, UT-Martin, Kentucky, Missouri, Vanderbilt
Losses: Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina
When Hendon Hooker took over at starting quarterback for the Vols last year, this became a legitimate top ten offense. Expect a similar explosive offense. The offensive line was good last year and now returns four out of the five starters. The key will be filling in the left tackle spot with Darnell Wright moving back to right tackle. The wide receiver room is also solid with Cedric Tillman coming off a 1000 yard season and transfer Bru McCoy could be a wildcard. As for the defense, the Vols unit finished in the top 50 last year. The defense will have some work replacing their top three defensive lineman and try to improve what was an inconsistent pass rush from last year. One guy that will be relied on to be a key rusher is defensive end Byron Young. Another stud on the defense is linebacker Jeremy Banks, but the Vols will need another linebacker to step up (possibly Juwan Mitchell after only playing 3 games last year). This defense needs to improve in the secondary after finishing near the bottom of the SEC in passing yards against. Expect this defense to finish in the middle of the SEC conference. Overall, this is a quality team who has a legitimate shot at finishing second in the SEC East.
3. Kentucky Wildcats
Projected Record: 8-4
Wins: Miami (Ohio), Youngstown State, Northern Illinois, South Carolina, Mississippi State, Missouri, Vanderbilt, Louisville
Losses: Florida, Ole Miss, Tennessee, Georgia
Coach Mark Stoops has done a phenomenal job keeping Kentucky a steady 8-9 win team the last few years. Even with the new offensive coordinator, expect this to be your classic run-first team. Specifically behind talented, tough-nose running back Chris Rodriguez. Despite the offensive line losing three starters, the coaching staff seems confident in a few former four star recruits stepping up. What continues to be the concern is at wide receiver. Virginita Tech transfer Tayvion Robinson from Virginia Tech will be the top guy, but the complimentary pieces are unknown. Last but not least, quarterback Will Levis will need to improve his efficiency. He has all the tools with even a few publications projecting him as a first round NFL pick. Defensively, there are a few concerns including the defensive line and defensive back. Specifically at cornerback, someone needs to step up other than Carrington Valentine. The strength is Justin Rogers on the defensive line and the outside linebacker unit. Overall, this seems like another classic Kentucky team reliant on the run game and decent defense. But hopes of the SEC East title are too ambitious.
4. Florida Gators
Projected Record: 7-5
Wins: Kentucky, South Florida, Eastern Washington, Missouri, South Carolina, Vanderbilt, Florida State
Losses: Utah, Tennessee, LSU, Georgia, Texas A&M
Coach Billy Napier takes over for Dan Mullen after a disappointing season for the Gators. However, the season wasn’t a total loss as there were glimpses of stardom from quarterback Anthony Richardson. He has all the tools to make Florida a tough team in the SEC East. The offense has major issues though as the wide receiver position is unproven. Florida hopes Justin Shorter can be the guy to step up at WR. The offensive line will need to step forward from last year for this offense to reach its potential. Transfer offensive lineman Ocyrus Torrence will help after finishing last year as a first team All-Sun Belt. On defense, Gervon Dexter is the stud that leads the defensive line. But the defensive depth is incredibly thin especially at linebacker, safety and defensive tackle. The strength of this team is at defensive back especially after Jalen Kimber transferred from Georgia. Overall, this team has some talent but the lack of depth is a major concern. Expect just an OK first year from the Gators.
5. South Carolina Gamecocks
Projected Record: 7-5
Wins: Georgia State, Charlotte, South Carolina State, Texas A&M, Missouri, Vanderbilt, Tennessee
Losses: Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Florida, Clemson
Shane Beamer comes into his second year after vastly exceeding expectations in year one. The bar just got set higher after acquiring a few transfer portal guys including Spencer Rattler. Helping out Rattler will be a few decent receivers (Josh Vann and Arkansas State transfer Corey Rucker) and a tight end room with Jaheim Bell and his former Oklahoma TE Austin Stogner. The running back room is also talented with Wake Forest transfer Christian Beal-Smith and Marshawn Lloyd. The offensive line is experienced, but will have to take a step forward after a down year last year. On defense, the Gamecocks are led by their secondary and in particular Cam Smith, who will move to nickel this year. The front seven will be OK, but Jordan Burch will have to fill the hole left by Kingsley Engbare on the defensive line. Overall, expect the Gamecocks to make a small step towards being a solid team in the SEC East.
6. Missouri Tigers
Projected Record: 4-8
Wins: Louisiana Tech, Abilene Christian, Vanderbilt, New Mexico State
Losses: Kansas State, Auburn, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas
Missouri struck out in the transfer portal filling the quarterback position. Now it will turn to returning backup and bowl game starter Brady cook at QB. However, this is a team that is very excited about their wide receiver room with star freshman Luther Burden, Mookie Cooper, and leading receiver from last year Tauskie Dove. Where this team needs to focus on is stopping the run after finishing 126th in the nation last year. Jayden Jernigan from Oklahoma state may help, but it needs to be a point of emphasis if this team will find any success. The secondary is solid returning four starters including Ennis Rakestraw returning from an ACL injury. Overall, this is a decent team, but a lack of a true starting quarterback and weakness against the run could keep them near the bottom of the SEC.
7. Vanderbilt Commodores
Projected Record: 3-9
Wins: Hawaii, Elon, Northern Illinois
Losses: Wake Forest, Alabama, Ole Miss, Georgia, Missouri, South Carolina, Kentucky, Florida, Tennessee
Vanderbilt remains a huge work in progress. The offensive line continues to be a huge issue and in the SEC that isn’t a good thing. As for quarterback look for Mike Wright to take over for Ken Sells as the starting quarterback. There also a few guys who could step up at receiver including Will Sheppard and true freshman Jayden McGowan. Again, the main question offensively is if this line can be competent in the SEC. On the defensive side, the Commodores returns a decent amount of starters. Add in a few transfers including UConn transfer CB Jeremy Lucien and Clemson transfer LB Kane Patterson, and this defense should improve from last in the SEC last year. Overall, Vanderbilt is focusing on high school development and recruiting. With it only being Clark Lea’s second year as head coach, expect something similar to Vanderbilt’s 0-8 SEC record last year.
1. Alabama Crimson Tide
Projected Record: 13-0
Wins: Utah State, Texas, Louisiana-Monroe, Vanderbilt, Arkansas, Texas A&M, Tennessee, Mississippi State, LSU, Ole Miss, Austin Peay, Auburn, Georgia (SEC Championship)
Heisman trophy winning quarterback Bryce Young leads a very talented Alabama team. However, this year’s team may be led more by their defense. The strength is at edge rusher where Will Anderson, Dallas Turner, and Chris Braswell are all dangerous. The Crimson Tide still has strong units outside of this on the defense including secondary, linebacker and defensive line. As for the offense, transfer wide receivers Jermaine Burton, Tyler Harrell, and running back Jahmyr Gibbs will all step in and be major contributors. The major question mark and weakness of this team is at offensive tackle after Evan Neal was drafted in the top ten. Expect transfer offensive tackle Tyler Steen to fill in at left tackle, but right tackle remains wide open. Regardless, expect one of the better Nick Saban teams this year with the expectation being an appearance in the National Title.
2. Texas A&M Aggies
Projected Record: 10-2
Wins: Sam Houston, Appalachian State, Miami, Arkansas, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Auburn, UMass, LSU
Losses: Alabama, South Carolina
Texas A&M comes into the year with the overall number one recruiting class and a loaded roster. This is especially true on the defensive side of the ball where they finished in the top ten last year. The secondary returns almost anybody including talented corner Jaylon Jones and safety Antonio Johnson. The question on that side of the ball is who steps up at defensive line after losing their top four guys off last year’s team? Lucky for the Aggies they have six five star freshman coming in and talented returning guys in Tunmise Adeleye, and McKinley Jackson. As for the offense, the Aggies have wide receivers ready to step in, but the best of the bunch might be true freshman Evan Stewart. Expect the offensive line to also be a solid, deep unit. There is one major question keeping this football team from reaching their potential… quarterback. The Aggies need Max Johnson, Haynes King, or Connor Weigman to step up if they want a chance at the SEC West or even the playoff. My gut tells me they’re not going to get that type of production and they’ll drop a few games during SEC play.
3. Ole Miss Rebels
Projected Record: 9-3
Wins: Troy, Central Arkansas, Georgia Tech, Tulsa, Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Auburn, LSU, Mississippi State
Losses: Texas A&M, Alabama, Arkansas
Ole Miss is coming off a very good season where they finished in the top 10-15 team with a Sugar Bowl appearance. Last season will be tough to repeat after losing Matt Corral. Quarterbacks Jaxon Dart and Luke Altmyer will compete for the starting job. While Ole Miss did lose their starting quarterback, they were aggressive in the portal and pulled Zach Evans and Ulyssess Bentley to make up a great RB room. As for the pass catchers Mingo leads the unit with help from Watkins from Louisville and a high upside TE in Michael Trigg. The offensive line could be improved as well led by Jeremy James at left tackle. The question will be can the defense repeat as an effective unit after finishing in the top 35 last year. The Achilles heel of last year’s team was a poor run defense. JJ Pegues from Auburn will attempt to help as they are playing him at nose tackle. Cedric Johnson will also be a key defensive player on the edge after a solid 6.5 sacks last year. The Rebels should be solid at defensive back again, but linebacker is a major question. Overall, this is a talented team whose success will be dependent on how Dart or Altmyer replaces Matt Corral.
4. LSU Tigers
Projected Record: 8-4
Wins: Florida State, Southern, Mississippi State, New Mexico, Auburn, Florida, Arkansas, UAB
Losses: Tennessee, Ole Miss, Alabama, Texas A&M
Brian Kelly enters his first year as LSU’s head coach. The LSU team will look different from last year with only around six starters returning. The strength on offense is at the wide receiver position especially with one of the best in the nation, Kayshon Boutte. With very little tight end depth, expect LSU’s offense this year to go with more four wide receiver sets. Who is throwing the ball to the receivers is a major question going into the season with a three quarterback battle brewing between Arizona State transfer Jayden Daniels, Garrett Nussmeier, and Myles Brennan. The offensive line is also a concern as the Tigers lost all four of their snap count guys from last year. On the other hand, the defense has a chance to be solid with a talented defensive line that features Jaquelin Roy and Mason Smith. The edge is also a position of strength with rushers Ali Gaye and Ben Ojulari. A key position on the defensive side of the ball is defensive back where they lost 4 out of their five top defensive backs. LSU brought in four defensive back transfers including Arkansas transfers Joe Foucha and Greg Brooks to help the back end. Overall, LSU is still a talented team. But the questions at quarterback, offensive line and defensive back keeps them in the middle of the pack of the SEC West.
5. Arkansas Razorbacks
Projected Record: 8-4
Wins: Cincinnati, South Carolina, Missouri State, Mississippi State, BYU, Liberty, Ole Miss, Missouri
Losses: Texas A&M, Alabama, Auburn, LSU
The Razorbacks are coming off an excellent 9-4 season. There is a reason for excitement in Fayetteville as the starting quarterback KJ Jefferson returns after a quality season. Also retuning is the entire offensive line. The skill positions took a hit trying to replace first round pick Treylon Burks. But Oklahoma transfer Jaden Haselwood and breakout candidate Ketron Jackson will help at wideout. Look for Dominic Johnson to be the premier running back in the offense coming off a 500 yard season. Expect him to have an even bigger season as this offense likes to focus on establishing the run game. On defense the Razorbacks will be playing a 3-2-6 base. The defense had some key losses including losing their top three defensive lineman and two impact linebackers from last year. While the defensive line remains a concern, the same can’t be said at linebacker with Bumper Pool and Alabama transfer Drew Sanders starting. The secondary is scattered with new talent including Latavious Brini from Georgia at safety and Dwight McGlothern from LSU at cornerback. Jalen Catalon also returns at safety after a disappointing year following a 2020 first team SEC season. Overall, this should be your classic, hard-nosed, Sam Pittman team that focuses on running the ball and good defense. Expect a pesky team in the SEC West.
6. Mississippi State Bulldogs
Projected Record: 6-6
Wins: Memphis, Arizona, Bowling Green, Kentucky, Auburn, East Tennessee State
Losses: LSU, Texas A&M, Arkansas, Alabama, Georgia, Ole Miss
Quarterback Will Rogers leads the Bulldogs back after a 7-6 season. The offensive line remains a concern as they are faced with replacing both starting tackles. The Bulldogs also must find a wide receiver to replace former wide receiver Makai Polk’s 1046 yards. Mike Leach has his work cut out after finishing 59th in scoring offense last year. The strength of this team actually is on the defensive end with a loaded front seven. The secondary is led by Emmanuel Forbes at corner. Richardson and Marcus Banks, a transfer from Alabama complete a decent cornerback room. Overall, Mississippi State is a solid team, but faces a tough uphill battle in the SEC West.
7. Auburn Tigers
Projected Record: 5-7
Wins: Mercer, San Jose State, Missouri, Arkansas, Western Kentucky
Losses: Penn State, LSU, Georgia, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Texas A&M, Alabama
Auburn had an eventful offseason that ended with the administration bringing back Coach Bryan Harsin for a second season. It won’t be any easier this year. For one, the Tigers still have to decide who is the starter between Zach Calzada, TJ Finley or Robby Ashford. The offensive line returns most of the starters from last year, but needs to make an improvement. On the offensive side it is Tank Bigsby at running back who will have to lead the offense as the receivers are unproven. The strength of this team is on the defensive line led by (Wooden, Marquis Harris, Northwestern transfer, Hollis). Overall, Auburn is one of the least talented teams in the SEC West and face a difficult schedule. Expect Auburn to be a fringe bowl team.