Ah, the College Football year is almost upon us, and we all know what that means. It’s officially time to put our own predictions and projections out there for how the season will turn out, so that at the end of the season we can tell everyone, “See, look how right I was!” Or, in most people’s cases, they’ll have to explain that they’re only wrong because of (insert x, y, and z excuses here). This year, more than ever, people will have objections to their failed predictions because College Football has seemingly turned into THE WILD WEST overnight. Between the transfer portal, NIL, Oklahoma and Texas leaving the Big 12, UCLA and USC leaving the completely failed conference known as the Pac 12, and many intriguing new coaching hires, this season is shaping up to be one of the most exciting and uncertain ones in recent memory. With that said, let’s dive into my thoughts on what’ll happen throughout this year in the SEC, which will inevitably be 100 percent correct, no questions asked.
I know in most people’s estimations and talk shows for the SEC, they start with the West, but because I’m less confident in the East, we’ll go there first to get it out of the way. I’d also like to preface this division specifically by pointing out that at least 4 of these teams are a quarterback injury from likely derailing their seasons. And not to spoil anything, but those teams aforementioned are Florida, Kentucky, South Carolina, and Tennessee. Surprise, surprise.
1. Georgia Bulldogs: 11-1 Overall (7-1 Conference)
Shocker, I know. To predict the reigning national champions to finish first in their own division. And where will the loss come? I’m not sure, to be exact. But it’s extremely difficult to run the table twice in a row in CFB, especially with all the talent they lost. Luckily for them, they still have an incredibly talented roster, but Stetson Bennett won’t be able to hide as easily behind the beasts and brutes they possessed on the defensive side of the ball as he did last year. Regardless, two of the best tight ends in the nation play for the Bulldogs and they have an impressive trio of receivers. My guess: they drop a game in conference to either South Carolina in Columbia early in the year (this assumes Spencer Rattler lives up to his insane preseason hype, which I don’t quite buy), Tennessee, or at Kentucky. Which one, I don’t know. But there’s always a chance.
2. Kentucky Wildcats: 10-2 (6-2)
Kentucky has the easiest schedule in the SEC, with them likely being favored in every game aside from Georgia and probably Tennessee. Combine those factors with a decently talented roster and veteran head coach, and you’re set up for a successful season. The Wildcats will start the season 4-0 and Will Levis’ name will start being mentioned as an early Heisman contender. They’ll then play four straight “toss-up” games with in-conference match-ups at Ole Miss, South Carolina, Mississippi State, and rounding out with a BYE week before playing at Tennessee. Expect to hear Chris Rodriguez’s name called a ton, especially with Levis not having Wan’Dale Robinson there to bail him out whenever he gets in trouble this year. Their two-deep isn’t as impressive or full this year as it was last year though, and that’s the reason they’ll drop at least two games with the insanely easy schedule for an SEC team.
3. Tennessee Volunteers: 8-4 (4-4)
Hendon Hooker is one of the most important quarterbacks in the nation. He’s one of the few players capable of dragging a team to victory, especially with All-SEC talent Cedric Tillman to throw to. The offense is only capable of scoring so many points though, and the defense has yet to prove they’re capable of stopping teams when it counts. I see games against Alabama and Georgia as almost auto-losses. And they’ll also likely drop two of three against Florida, at LSU, and Kentucky. The Volunteers lost a few key pieces defensively, but otherwise they return a great amount of production and added depth they didn’t possess a year ago. This will be key to keeping their defense fresh throughout the season and in close games where they feel comfortable rotating between their ones and twos at all three levels. This will be a team likely better than their record indicates, assuming Hendon Hooker stays healthy. Josh Heupel exceeds expectations once again.
4. South Carolina Gamecocks: 6-6 (3-5)
Shane Beamer and Spencer Rattler might be the most talked about head coach/quarterback duo not in the top 25. Why? I’m not sure. But their in-conference schedule is not doing them any favors. I currently have them beating Missouri, Vanderbilt, and Florida. Their offensive line is old and experienced, but that doesn’t always equate to being better than their subpar product last year. Defensively, they return just eight sacks from their starting front men, so you also must wonder how much pressure they’ll be able to apply to opposing quarterbacks. They also lost a star defensive back, so you question how their linebackers and secondary will fare knowing they don’t have Cam Smith to rely on as a lockdown defender. I see them losing to Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Texas A&M, Tennessee, and Clemson this year. But there’s always the chance Rattler comes out as a Heisman dark horse candidate and makes me into a fool.
5. Florida Gators: 6-6 (3-5)
This is a tough one for me. I’m a full believer in Billy Napier’s coaching abilities, but his first year entirely depends on Anthony Richardson living up to his hype and his starters staying healthy. I feel as though Richardson will be great, but with their schedule this year, it’s hard to count on them to do anything better than 6-6 or 7-5. This will truly be a rebuilding year in my estimation. But once again, if they stay healthy and Richardson lives up to his potential, this could be a scary team come November and December. It’s just hard to assume both things will come to fruition.
6. Missouri Tigers: 4-8 (1-7)
After outperforming expectations in year 1, Eliah Drinkwitz took a wrong turn and did a 180 in year two. They possessed one of the worst rushing defenses of any P5 team outside of Vanderbilt I’ve seen in the past decade. I mean, they allowed 6.4 yards per rush attempt for an entire season. Their team has been reloaded with transfers and a freshman receiver likely to make waves, but I’m not convinced it will be enough to patch the holes in the sinking ship. For instance, offensively, they lost their best RB, WR, TE, and starting quarterback. There’s optimism the defense will fare better this campaign as they return decent production, but they have a slim shot of outperforming SEC teams on both ends of the ball for an entire ballgame. This might be Eli Drinkwitz’s final season at Missouri.
7. Vanderbilt Commodores: 3-9 (0-8)
Sure, Clark Lea’s team lost to an FCS school and only beat Colorado State and UConn last year, but they managed to show improvement as the season progressed. No, I don’t mean that as a joke either, they genuinely showed promise. And that’s why they’ll win at least three games this year. They only got to the quarterback eight times as a team last year, but their whole team will have the entire offseason to get stronger mentally and physically to see what they can do this year. There’s just no way I trust them yet to compete against SEC competition. Which is why, if they happen to lose to a Hawaii team who went through a total offseason overhaul, we’ll pretend like I didn’t pick the Commodores to get to three wins this year.
Yes, yes. I recall just a few paragraphs ago how I mentioned not being entirely confident in my picks for the East. But as I continue looking through stats, news, and information for the West teams, I’m realizing just how murky these waters can be too. Here goes nothing.
1. Alabama Crimson Tide: 12-0 (8-0)
You didn’t see this one coming either, did you? I could sit here and write vague statements about schemes and players to watch out for and teams that could trip them up, but I’m not going to do that. There are three things you need to know about this Crimson Tide team, and that’s it. Nick Saban, Bryce Young, Will Anderson. The greatest coach of all time and the two best players in college football. And if you still aren’t convinced, I’d like to introduce you to the rest of their roster, filled with more 4- and 5-star players than I can count. Goodnight, sweet prince. It will surely be an interesting matchup between them and Ohio State in the National Championship this year.
2. Arkansas Razorbacks: 10-2 (7-1)
Phew. If I told myself in 2019 that I thought Arkansas would go 10-2 in 2022, especially given their extremely difficult schedule, I’d have laughed in my own face. Sam Pittman has done an absolutely phenomenal job in Fayetteville and this team is poised to exceed expectations set by the media, in my estimation. There are a few glaring gaps to fill defensively, but they’re so deep on that side of the ball that I believe they’ll be able to fill them. K.J. Jefferson and Jadon Haselwood will be able to put points on the board this year and they have the added bonus of not playing Georgia in the regular season. The Hogs finish 2nd in the West this season… Or so I think.
3. Texas A&M Aggies: 10-2 (6-2)
Jimbo Fisher is an excellent coach, but there’s only so much to be done without a proven quarterback and a young offensive line. They’re a year away from greatness if Haynes King becomes the player the media figure him to be. Additionally, it’s yet to be seen how the newly figured defensive line shakes out given their lack of game experience. Either way, A&M fans will have to be okay waiting just 365 more days before their chance to come out atop of the SEC West arrives. But this is a warning shot to everyone else, if they compete heavily this year, it might be the Aggies’ world for the next few years following.
4. LSU Tigers: 8-4 (5-3)
Phew. I don’t know how much I believe in this pick, but to me, winning transfers over from powerhouse programs. And Brian Kelly sure knows how to win (regular season games, that is). This is one of my boldest predictions and it could come back to bite me in the future. I believe, though, that the fanbase and players are fully bought back in and that Death Valley is still one of the most difficult places to travel to. They brought in five transfer defensive backs and are relatively untested otherwise, so if they become cohesive it’ll make Brian Kelly’s life a heck of a lot easier. Anyway, LSU comes out and shocks a few people in their rebuilding year, going 8-4.
5. Mississippi State Bulldogs: 6-6 (3-5)
This record doesn’t indicate the team I believe Mississippi State to be. Every year, one team has to get the brunt end of the stick and it happens to be them. Aside from their stomping against Alabama last year, they were within 10 points of the rest of their regular season losses, and they clearly got better each week. They also return the most production of any SEC team, including vastly underrated QB Will Rogers. The Bulldogs have just seven underclassmen currently in their projected two-deep roster and even return almost every major coach from last year’s team. I was very tempted to place them above LSU, putting both their records at 7-5 (4-4), respectively.
6. Ole Miss Rebels: 6-6 (2-6)
This will be the tale of two halves of the year for Lane Kiffin. I see them starting out 5-1, and then going just 1-5 in the final stretch when they get into real league play. Matt Corral managed to hide a ton of inadequacies on Ole Miss’ roster last year. The offensive line struggled and the defense was middling at best, failing to show up week in and week out. Jaxson Dart may be the next big thing in Oxford, but I don’t believe he and Zach Evans will have quite the same impact in year one together. They won’t simply be able to “outscore” everyone this season.
7. Auburn Tigers: 4-8 (1-7)
Hm, where is there to start with this team? This was a squad that fell apart at the end of last season, failing to win a single game once November hit. If you have more faith in Zach Calzada than Bo Nix, there’s possibly a reason to believe the offense has a shot at improving, but skill-wise I certainly fail to see it. Not to mention they lost both coordinators from a year ago. Fortunately, they return stud edge rushers Colby Wooden and Derick Hall, but after that, the majority of their defense, I don’t believe, will be overly productive. It will be interesting to see if Bryan Harsin will survive the season, given the tumultuous relationship between him and the boosters.
Alright, that wraps up my thoughts and picks heading into the 2022 season. But I’d also like to make a few extra comments after the thorough research conducted for this article.
Number one: picks 2-5 in the East can be likely switched around with a few bounces of the football in SEC play.
Number two: the exact same comment can be made for picks 3-7 in the West.
The fact is these teams are all closer in skill to each other than we’d like to admit, and scheduling advantages/conflicts or even random injuries or ineligible players can be all the difference needed for one team to beat another on any given Saturday.
Written by Alex Hill