Even with all of the turnover on one of the best defenses in college football history the Georgia Bulldogs are still the best team in the East. Head coach Kirby Smart and the Bulldogs won Georgia’s first National Championship in 41 years. The offense returns last year’s Championship quarterback Stetson Bennett, who had a good season with 2,862 yards, 29 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. The starting running backs are gone but 3rd leading rusher, Kenny McIntosh, is back. The receivers saw some turnover, but sophomore Ladd McKonkey has the ability to carry the load. All-American tight end Brock Bowers is back and will have Arik Gilbert & 6’7” Darnell Washington in the mix. The defense last season was out of this world. There were five Bulldog defensive players drafted in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft and seven defenders taken overall. That’s ridiculous! That much turnover has to be tough to replace, right? Wrong, this is Georgia we’re talking about. When it comes to defense Kirby Smart doesn’t rebuild, he reloads. And the 2022 Bulldogs defense may not be as good as 2021 but they will be very, very good! The defensive line will need a complete replacement but have the pieces in place to not have much of a drop off. Junior Jalen Carter has the size and speed to pick up where last season’s #1 NFL Draft pick, Travon Walker, left off. Senior Nolan Smith is the only returning linebacker and he’s a great player. The secondary also had some turnover but, as is the case with the d-line and linebackers, has plenty of playmakers who return. Corner Kelee Ringo, whose pick six sealed the deal in the National Championship game, is back and will one day be an NFL starter. With this much talent on defense, and until someone else proves otherwise, Georgia is the best team in the East, and my pick to win the division.
After 1 season under coach Josh Huepel Tennessee has found its way toward the top tier of the SEC again. Quarterback Hendon Hooker has a firm grasp on Huepel’s high scoring offense and as long as the Tennessee defense improves, they should finish 2nd in the East. Kentucky has been solid the last few years under coach Mark Stoops, but they don’t have the players to get ahead of Georgia or Tennessee. Watch out for Wildcats quarterback Will Levis, though. South Carolina had a great finish to 2021 and got a jolt at quarterback with Oklahoma transfer Spencer Rattler. The Gamecocks will be better in 2022 but not good enough to challenge for the division crown. Florida crashed and burned to finish the 2021 season and it cost coach Dan Mullen his job. In comes Billy Napier from Louisiana but this season will be a tough rebuild for the Gators. Missouri just isn’t good enough on either side of the ball to compete for anything more than “better than Vandy” in the SEC East. Vanderbilt is the Kansas of the SEC and will be lucky to win a conference game as they have Alabama and Ole Miss as their SEC West crossover opponents.
The Alabama machine just keeps on rolling. They lost the National Championship game to Georgia last season, but the Crimson Tide will be back in the College Football Playoff picture in 2022. The offense returns Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Bryce Young who finished the season with 4,872 yards, 47 touchdowns and 7 interceptions in his first season as a starter. The Tide run game gets Georgia Tech running back transfer Jahmyr Gibbs to go along with 2021’s 2nd leading rusher, Trey Sanders. The receivers lost A LOT but, hey, this is Bama, they’ll be fine. They get Georgia transfer Jermaine Burton who is a deep threat. Tight End Cameron Latu was a red zone nightmare for opposing defenses and he returns in 2022. The Tide defense has, arguably, the best player in the country in linebacker Will Anderson. He led the country in both sacks with 17.5 and tackles for loss with 34.5. Anderson is joined by returning senior linebacker Henry To’o To’o, a future NFL starter. The secondary has a lot of experienced players coming back and will be a force against opposing passers. Safety Jordan Battle is a star, and he too will be starting on an NFL roster in the next few years. There is a lot of turnover on the roster, but this is Nick Saban’s team, this is what he does. He brings in the best talent and coaches them up to the best of their abilities. You can be sure Bama will be playing with a chip on their shoulders this season as the expectations in Tuscaloosa are National Championship or bust. And last season they came within an injury or two of pulling out a win against Georgia. The talent level at Alabama is incredible and, coupled with the coaching of Saban and his staff, there’s really nobody in the West who can unseat the Tide in 2022.
Ole Miss loses star quarterback Matt Corral but brings in USC transfers Jaxson Dart and Michael Trigg who should be the starting quarterback and tight end respectively. The defense still has way too many holes to legitimately challenge Bama for tops in the division. But coach Lane Kiffin’s offense is exciting to watch and he’s one of the best coaches, and personalities in the country. Arkansas won 9 games last season and returns a good portion of that roster but should still only finish 3rd in the West. Texas A&M, in my opinion, is all hype and little substance. A lot of key players are gone, and the roster is young, but Jimbo Fisher is a very good coach and should get the Aggies to a 4th place finish in the West. LSU tanked last season, so out is coach Ed Orgeron and in comes former Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly and his high-flying passing attack. But the Tigers are still a few years away from seriously being a threat again. Auburn has had plenty of internal turmoil after an even worse crash and burn than LSU had. A lot of players and coaches from last season’s team are gone and Harsin almost was one of them. The school conducted an investigation into allegations of Harsin’s treatment of the players and in the end decided to keep him. With that kind of turnover, and the constant nagging of this past off season, I don’t see Auburn getting higher than 6th in the division. Mississippi State has a strong defense and great passing game, but I don’t think they’ll get out of the basement in 2022. With road games at LSU, Alabama and Ole Miss and a home game with Georgia, they’ll be lucky to be bowl eligible.
Championship game Georgia -v- Alabama A repeat of both the SEC Championship game and the National Championship game from last season. Bama won the SEC Championship game when Georgia went vanilla in their game plan, but Georgia won the one that mattered. This season Alabama will be back to its normal dominating self. This should be a monster of a game and I have to go with the Tide edging out Georgia to get to the College Football Playoff.