The more things change in college football, the more they really change in the SEC.
Sure, we’ve got a playoff now, talking about a conference realignment seemingly every week, free agency via the transfer portal, even high school recruits raking in serious money under the guise of the name, picture, and likeness rules.
But despite it all, the SEC continues to dominate the sport and has produced 12 of the last 16 national champions. Five different SEC schools have won titles in that span, and only once in the last 16 seasons has an SEC school failed to appear in national championship play. Twice in the past five years, two SEC schools (Alabama and Georgia) have played for the title.
Here’s a preview of the 2022 SEC season as Georgia seeks to become the first school to repeat the national championship since Alabama’s 2011-12.
Storylines to watch
1. Saban vs. Jimbo
Oh, you thought the row between Alabama coach Nick Saban and Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher was over? Sure, they’ve said all the right things since Saban claimed the Aggies’ senior recruit class was bought and paid zero money, and Fisher fired back and called Saban a narcissist, but who really thinks that was the end? Don’t forget what happened last season when Texas A&M upset Alabama with a last-second field goal at College Station. The Alabama players haven’t forgotten what it was like when the fans rushed onto the field. With that in mind, and given Saban and Fisher’s fractured relationship, Texas A&M’s October 8th trip to Alabama will be a must-see. And that says nothing about the potential impact on the division, as the Aggies hope to finally call off the tide and play for an SEC championship.
2. Reloading in Georgia
The term “remodeling” has become somewhat overloaded this offseason. First, Saban said last season was a year of rebuilding for the Tide — despite winning the SEC and playing in the national championship game. Then came Kirby Smart, whose Georgia Bulldogs beat Alabama in the championship, and said they wouldn’t rebuild despite losing more than a dozen players to the NFL draft, including five first-round players on defense. And he couldn’t be wrong. Defensive lineman Jalen Carter, a possible first-round pick next year, is back. That’s linebacker Nolan Smith. Also, there are four straight top 3 recruitment classes in Athens to draw from. A possible championship hangover aside, it will be interesting to see all that talent replacing all that experience early on.
3. New trainers
It wasn’t the SEC’s wildest coaching carousel, but it was notable with Brian Kelly replacing Ed Orgeron at LSU and Billy Napier replacing Dan Mullen in Florida. Orgeron was less than two years away from a national championship and Mullen was six months away from signing a three-year contract extension after appearing in the SEC title game. But what’s done is done, and both Kelly and Napier have their hands full revamping rosters that have been depleted thanks to the transfer portal. But there’s hope when it comes to quarterback position. At LSU, Kelly brought in former Arizona State starter Jayden Daniels to compete for the starting job. Losing last year’s starter Emory Jones in Florida wasn’t ideal. But Anthony Richardson, who displayed flashes of Cam Newton-like dual-threat ability as Jones’ backup, comes in with high expectations as a possible first-round pick.
Surprise surprise. It’s the usual suspects at the top of the SEC who are calling for a repeat of the conference and national championships.
7. Ole Fraulein
12. State of Mississippi
Five must-see games
Florida in Tennessee, September 24th
There was a time when Florida vs. Tennessee was one of the most important games in college football. Well, the Gators haven’t won an SEC championship since 2008, and the Vols’ SEC title drought dates back to 1998. Josh Heupel’s first season on Rocky Top brought some hope to a victory-hungry fan base. But with Florida and first-year coach Napier coming to Knoxville, it feels like the Vols need to win if they’re going to capitalize on the momentum around the program. They are only 4-38 against main rivals Alabama, Florida and Georgia since Phillip Fulmer’s last season in 2008.
Texas A&M in Alabama, October 8th
Easily the most anticipated game of the conference – after the fireworks this offseason between Alabama’s Saban and Texas A&M’s Fisher – this game has a little bit of everything. The Crimson Tide were already suffering from being beaten by the Aggies last season when Fisher was the first of Saban’s former assistants to beat him. The venue is moving to Tuscaloosa this season and there’s no doubt the Crimson Tide will be ready. The Aggies have amassed elite talent among Fisher. They could really make waves at the conference by plunging the tide for a second year in a row.
LSU at Auburn, October 1
For a while last winter, it looked like Bryan Harsin would not see a second season as Auburn’s coach after the school launched an internal investigation into his relationships with players and coaches and turned him in the wind. But a resolute Harsin survived and feels his team has only grown stronger through this ordeal. Auburn is playing its first five games at home, and the fourth of those games is against LSU and freshman coach Kelly. The winner of this duel could possibly hold his own as a surprise in the league this season.
Kentucky in Tennessee, October 29
Despite recent comments from John Calipari that Kentucky was a basketball school, Mark Stoops has worked tirelessly to make the Wildcats relevant to football as well. They’ve won 10 games in two of their last four seasons and are bringing back one of the league’s most talented passers in quarterback Will Levis. What Kentucky hasn’t consistently done is beat rival Tennessee. Stoops is just 2-7 against Tennessee, and this late October clash in Knoxville could go a long way in determining who is best equipped to challenge Georgia in the SEC East.
Ole Miss in Arkansas, November 19
No SEC game a year ago was more entertaining than Ole Miss’s 52-51 win over Arkansas when the Hogs went for the 2-point conversion and the late-game win and fell short. The Rebels won 10 games last season in the No. 2 year under Lane Kiffin, while the Hogs won nine games in the No. 2 year under Sam Pittman. The SEC West is a brutally tough division, and these are two teams looking to make even more noise in an Alabama-dominated division race.
All-SEC preseason team
More surprises that aren’t really surprises at all, since Alabama has a team high six pick on our all-conference team.
QB Bryce Young, Alabama
RB tank Bigsby, Auburn
RB Jahmyr Gibbs, Alabama
WR Kayshon Boutte, LSU
WR Cedric Tillman, Tennessee
AP Jaheim Bell, South Carolina
TE Brock Bowers, Georgia
OL Javon Foster, Missouri
OL Layden Robinson, Texas A&M
OL Warren McClendon, Georgia
OL Nick Broeker, Ole Miss
C. Ricky Stromberg, Arkansas
DL Jalen Carter, Georgia
DL BJ Ojulari, LSU
DL Derick Hall, Auburn
LB Will Anderson Jr., Alabama
LB Nolan Smith, Georgia
LB Bumper Pool, Arkansas
LB Dallas Turner, Alabama
DB Jordan Battle, Alabama
DB Cam Smith, South Carolina
DB Eli Ricks, Alabama
DB Jalen Catalonia, Arkansas
NB Antonio Johnson, Texas A&M
P. Nik Constantinou, Texas A&M
K Anders Carlson, Auburn
RS Ainias Smith, Texas A&M
Championship Match Prediction
Alabama beats Georgia.
https://www.espn.com/college-football/story/_/id/34394044/sec-college-football-preview-breaking-conference-best-players-games-more SEC college football preview – Breaking down the conference’s best players, games and more