2022 SEC Football Preview & Best Bet
By: Nicholas Berault
The SEC dominance in college football for the better part of the last two decades only looks to be gaining momentum. The last three College Football Playoff champions all reside in the conference, and 12 of the last 16 national championships sit in trophy cases scattered across the southeastern United States. Six of those belong to the Alabama Crimson Tide, two each to the Florida Gators and LSU Tigers, and one apiece to the Auburn Tigers and the reigning national champs, the Georgia Bulldogs. It just so happened that the Bulldogs defeated Alabama for their first national title since 1980, exercising some demons in the process from recent heartbreaks at the hands of the Crimson Tide. In this article we’ll look ahead to the 2022 SEC championship favorites and break down our pick for the team to beat.
In a continuation of last season, Alabama and Georgia are clear favorites above the rest to compete for the conference championship. The Crimson Tide’s odds range from as low as -115 to -130 across a sampling of online sports books while the Bulldogs can be found in the +135 to +150 range. Both teams returned their starting quarterbacks, but saw a lot of departures to the NFL. Georgia had a staggering 15 players drafted, including five first-rounders, headlined by the top overall selection, Travon Walker. He will now play professionally in Jacksonville. Alabama saw seven players drafted by NFL teams, two of them in the first round.
According to ESPN’s Football Power Index 2022 season simulations, Alabama (84.9%) and Georgia (89.9%) are massive favorites to win their divisions and meet in the conference championship game. Both teams also have greater than a 70% chance to make the College Football Playoff as well, with the Crimson Tide leading the FBS at a 30.1% chance to hoist the national championship trophy. Texas A&M has the next best chance to contend for the SEC championship in 2022, and will have a chance to beat Alabama for the second straight year on October 8 in Tuscaloosa. They will look to rise to the challenge of another schedule ranked in the top 10 of the most difficult in college football in 2022.
Heisman winner Bryce Young returns for his second year as the Tide’s starting quarterback, and will look to at least replicate his 4,872 passing yards and 47 touchdowns from 2021. Last year’s starting running back, Brian Robinson Jr., is now a Washington Commander and will be replaced in the starting backfield by Georgia Tech-transfer, Jahmyr Gibbs. Gibbs averaged over 5 yards per carry in two seasons in Atlanta, and amassed nearly 2,000 all-purpose yards and 13 total touchdowns during that time. The Tide also must replace their two leading receivers from last season, with Jameson Williams and John Metchie III now on NFL rosters. They picked up wide receiver Jermaine Burton from Georgia via the transfer portal this offseason, who will hope to step into one of those roles and target shares
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Georgia brings back Stetson Bennett for another year under center without the threat of JT Daniels behind him after he transferred to West Virginia this offseason. He’ll still likely need to have a strong summer to retain the job, but it’s hard to imagine Bennett doesn’t start the season as their quarterback. The Bulldogs hope returning running backs Kenny McIntosh and Kendall Minton can step into the roles of Zamir White and James Cook, both of whom were drafted in April. The two returning backs combined for 114 carries in 2021, and their workload will likely at least double this season if they can remain healthy. Tight end Brock Bowers, the Bulldogs best receiving threat in 2021, returns for his second season in Athens to give Bennett a familiar target. It will be interesting to see at the end of the season who out of all of these Georgia Bulldogs will end up being one of the best NFL picks. Georgia’s dominance both in college and sending players to the NFL draft has been unmatched in recent years.
Both teams will again be at the top of college football defensively, though it will be interesting to see how Georgia replaces five starters who were all taken in Round 1 of the NFL Draft. Alabama returns some more impressive names defensively who will likely hear their names called by Roger Goodell next spring. Will Anderson Jr., who had 17.5 sacks and finished 5th in Heisman voting last year, and Henry To’oTo’o, the Tide’s top tackler in 2021, both bring immediate stability to this unit looking to avenge a loss in last year’s title game.
Beyond the two SEC juggernauts, Texas A&M will look to improve upon their 8-4 finish in 2021 that included four in-conference losses to LSU, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, and Arkansas. They are currently hovering around 12-1 to 16-1 to win the SEC, and will likely start LSU-transfer Max Johnson at quarterback in their bid to take the leap within an extremely top-heavy conference. Outside of Alabama on the schedule, the Aggies also face Miami, Arkansas, Ole Miss, Florida, Auburn and LSU to give them plenty of chances to build their resume. A&M brought in one of the highest ranked recruiting classes in the history of college football this offseason, and coach Jimbo Fisher staunchly defended his program’s tactics against comments made by Alabama’s Nick Saban this offseason. As if there was any more reason needed for A&M to want to unseat Alabama from their perch on top of the conference. We’re excited to watch that matchup in the middle of the 2022 season.
The remaining SEC teams all have odds of 40/1 or longer to win the conference this season. These include, among others, Florida, Kentucky, Ole Miss, Arkansas, Tennessee, and LSU. It’s difficult to imagine any of those unseating either of the top two teams, but we’ll briefly take a look at LSU who brought in new head coach Brian Kelly from Notre Dame.
Kelly is in a furious effort to build the program back from a demoralizing loss to Kansas State in the Texas Bowl, when their scholarship player total had been reduced from the 85 allowed in FBS to less than 40. Arizona State transfer Jayden Daniels will look to step into the starting quarterback role left behind by Johnson’s departure to College Station. Whoever the Tigers starting quarterback ends up being, they’ll have a strong target in wide receiver Kayshon Boutte who caught nine TDs in 2021. Last year’s top running back, Tyrion Davis-Price, is now in the NFL and will be replaced by a stable of returning backs each looking to cement their role in the Tigers offense. LSU also saw 10 players drafted in 2022, including five defensive players led by third-overall selection, cornerback Derrick Stingley Jr. This defense will likely have its work cut out for them to compete against another brutal schedule.
In terms of our pick to win the SEC in 2022, it’s hard not to roll with the Tide in a season in which they bring back arguably the best offensive and defensive players in the country, let alone the conference, and have the added motivation of ending last season with a loss on their schedule. We’ll take Nick Sabin and Alabama to win the SEC at -115.
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