Defending national champion Georgia and College Football Playoff title game opponent Alabama enter the 2022 season as the consensus top teams in the SEC. No surprise there. The Bulldogs and Crimson Tide are powerhouses on and off the field, but that’s where the similarities stop as another college football campaign approaches.

While Georgia lost many NFL championship-winning starters in the offseason, Alabama saw 2021 as a rebuild. The Tide returns not only Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Bryce Young, but also star Will Anderson Jr., the CBS Sports Preseason Player of the Year, as a potent 1-2 offense and defense that has also favored once Bama to win controversially. The toughest conference in sports.

Beyond these giants, however, there is much disagreement about how the SEC will shake out in 2022.

Texas A&M is riding high in a record-breaking recruiting class, though it may need those players to mature before it’s ready to compete for the league crown. Florida and LSU are both in rebuilding mode after leaving coaches with national championship-winning experience (Dan Mullen as coordinator under Urban Meyer, Ed Orgeron as head man), but the Gators and Tigers hope to prove doubters wrong with immediate returns campaigns.

Meanwhile, Kentucky and Tennessee have more buzz in the SEC East than in recent memory, while Arkansas hopes to continue its surprising climb from a year ago. Meanwhile, Lane Kiffin aims to prove his offense will work at Ole Miss despite the departure of its star quarterback to the NFL.

Our CBS Sports college football experts have provided their picks and predictions for the SEC ahead of the 2022 season.

The most overrated team

Texas A&M: The Aggies start the year as the No. 6 in the preseason AP Top 25 and the consensus favorite to be Alabama’s top contender in the SEC West after returning the best recruiting class of all time. That said, an 8-4 record and a fifth-place finish in the SEC West last season doesn’t exactly scream playoff contender. True, they lost Day One starter Haynes King to a season-ending injury early in 2021, but Texas A&M is the only team to finish with fewer than 10 wins in the preseason top 12. especially after losing four of their All-SEC players to the NFL. — Shehan Jeyarajah (also Dennis Dodd, Barrett Sallee)

Tennessee: AP voters have the Volunteers as the team no. 26 in the country and the coaches are not far behind. That’s aggressive for a team that still has a long way to go defensively, and even an 8.5 win total seems optimistic for a schedule that includes Alabama, Georgia and a game against LSU in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Is Tennessee in a place where it can be trusted to run the table otherwise, winning against the likes of Kentucky, Florida and Pitt while avoiding slips at every position where the Vols are a significant favorite? This team just went 7-6 a year ago, so while I definitely agree that Tennessee is a dangerous team, it has another step in development before it flirts with double-digit wins. – Chip Patterson (also Tom Fornelli)

Ole Miss: Lane Kiffin’s nickname “the king of the tailgate” is accurate, but not even the nation’s No. 2 transfer class can replace what the Rebels lost in quarterback Matt Corral, offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby and defensive coordinator DJ Durkin. Corral was the soul of last season’s 10-3 team, and the staff turnover will cap what this team can accomplish in the sport’s deepest division. An easy nonconference schedule, plus the annual game with Vanderbilt, make it relatively easy to project bowl eligibility for Ole Miss, but this team will take a step back. — David Cobb

LSU: Things have quickly gone south for LSU since the Tigers won the national championship in 2019. The Ed Orgeron era ended with consecutive seasons of .500 or worse. It’s the first time that’s happened at LSU since coach Gerry DiNardo’s final two seasons in 1998-99. Brian Kelly was lured away from Notre Dame to get things back on track, and while there is excitement around the program, it will probably take some patience before we see LSU compete for division titles again. — Jerry Palm

The most underrated team

Florida: Expectations for the Gators seem rooted in last season’s 6-7 record, but that performance was hardly indicative of the possibilities given the team’s roster. Compared to everyone else in the SEC East except Georgia, Florida still has the most complete team. Motivation seemed lacking in 2021 as Dan Mullen’s tenure limped to a close and the team completely imploded. That shouldn’t be a problem this season with a new head coach in Billy Napier and defensive coordinator in Patrick Toney, both of whom have proven success. Cobb (also Jeyarajah)

Tennessee: Josh Heupel has a quarterback (Hendon Hooker). If you have it in the SEC, you have a chance. Squiint and you can see the Volunteers winning nine games, but they could just as easily go the other way. However, Tennessee is clearly on the rise. — Dodd

Ole Miss: Much has been made of Corral’s absence and not enough has been made of the improved returning corps, versatile receivers/tight ends and a quarterback situation that is — at least — stable. With Kiffin at the helm, that stability turning into excellence is more likely than not. I don’t care what the defense looks like on a consistent basis because Ole Miss is going to click in a big way against almost any team it faces. — Sallee

LSU: It’s nearly impossible to rate this LSU team entering the season. What I can tell you is what the Tigers are not, and that is the fifth best team in the SEC West. Here’s where they landed in the preseason media poll. The high level of talent and depth of options at receiver makes almost every other team in the league the envy of what Kelly is inheriting, and if the defensive line can stay healthy, that group could be really bad down the line. of the collision. With multiple future pros at wide receiver and a potentially dominant defensive front, LSU has two of the three or four most important building blocks for success in the modern college game. If Kelly can figure out the quarterback, the ceiling for this team is much higher than many expect. — Patterson

Mississippi State: Has any SEC program flown further under the radar this offseason than Mike Leach’s Mississippi State? We’re talking about a Bulldogs team that returns a veteran quarterback familiar with all the details of Leach’s playbook and nearly all the production from a defense that was better than most last season. The Bulldogs will pull off at least one major upset and finish higher in the SEC West than most expect. — Stove

Kentucky: At the risk of offending coach Mark Stoops, Kentucky is definitely a basketball school. This is the main reason why his program flies under the radar. However, Stoops has led Kentucky to six straight bowl games, including two Citrus Bowls, and has won four straight. The Wildcats may not be ready to compete with Georgia in the SEC East, but they match up well against everyone else. Not bad for a “basketball school.” — Palm trees

Bold predictions

  • Dennis Dodd: Mark Stoops will win 10 at Kentucky, realize he’s hit his ceiling in Lexington, and take the not-so-unexpected open position at Auburn.
  • Tom Fornelli: Every team in the SEC West will bowl, but only Alabama and Texas A&M will win more than eight games during the regular season.
  • Chip Patterson: Vanderbilt will reach the over-under win total by the end of September.
  • Barrett Sallee: Ole Miss will run the table through the first two months of the season. The Rebels will hit the bye week on November 5th with a battle against undefeated Alabama expected on November 12th. If they can pull off an upset, coach Lane Kiffin’s team could make a legitimate push for the College Football Playoff.
  • Shehan Jeyarajah: Behind overwhelming division favorites Alabama and Georgia, no other SEC team finds its way into the postseason top 10.
  • David Cobb: Year 1 of the Brian Kelly experiment is about to go awry as the former Notre Dame coach experiences the nation’s toughest division for the first time. The Tigers will miss out on a bowl game, but still end up with a top-10 signing class.
  • Jerry Palm: The SEC will place two teams in the College Football Playoff again this season and have a third team in the top six.

The SEC provided the order of termination

The SEC champion

Alabama: There’s no reason to try not to think about the room here. The Crimson Tide have the reigning Heisman Trophy winner at quarterback Bryce Young, the best player in college football at EDGE Will Anderson Jr. and the sour taste of last season’s loss in the national title game. Young will have an even better season behind a vastly improved offensive line, the secondary will emerge as the best in the nation and the schedule is well set for coach Nick Saban to win his second straight conference title. — Sallee (unanimous)

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