Preseason Power Rankings: SEC
Please note that power rankings are meant to rank teams based on current team strength on a neutral field. It is not necessarily a projection of where I think teams will finish or who has a better resume. It is forward thinking but does not factor in strength of schedule, schedule breakdown, etc.
ICYMI Other Conference Preseason Power Rankings:
2022 SEC Preseason Power Rankings
- Alabama: HC Nick Saban turned some heads during SEC Media Days when he called 2021 a “rebuilding year” for Alabama. After all, it’s not very often that you see teams win the SEC Championship and play for the National Championship during a rebuilding year. But, by Alabama standards, he wasn’t really wrong. They had lost 6 first picks from the 2020 team and had to replace QB Mac Jones, RB Najee Harris, WR Devonta Smith, WR Jaelyn Waddle & OC Steve Sarkisian. It speaks to Alabama’s recruiting, coaching & development that they we’re able to lose all that and still have as successful of a season as they did in 2021. They lost a lot less this offseason and added some key transfers which is why they are my #1 team heading into the 2022 season. The offensive averaged 39.9 ppg & 488 ypg last year and could be even better this year. Heisman QB Bryce Young is back after his 4,872 yard, 47 TD season and there is no reason to expect any less from him this season. He lost his top 2 WR in Metchie & Williams, but Alabama found replacements in the transfer portal. They brought in Jermaine Burton from Georgia who has the team’s leading WR last year & Tyler Harrell from Louisville who has the speed to be a dangerous vertical threat. They also added one of the top transfers in the country in Georgia Tech RB Jahmyr Gibbs. He figures to be one of the best RBs in the Nation this year. The defense returns 7 starters from a unit that allowed only 20.1 ppg & 304 ypg in 2021. Will Anderson is back coming off an incredible 34.5 TFL, 17.5 sack season. He’ll be joined by LBs Henry To’oto’o who led the Crimson Tide with 112 tackles in 2021 & Dallas Turner who has the #1 rated OLB in the class of 2021. This is a team that has the best offensive player in the Nation in Bryce Young, best defense player in the Nation in Will Anderson & best coach in the Nation in Nick Saban. They don’t belong anywhere but #1 on this list.
- Georgia: Such disrespect ranking the defending 2021 National Champions #2 on this list. But my job is to look forward rather than backwards at Georgia has more to replace than an Alabama team that went 1-1 against them last year. The Bulldogs got beat by Alabama 41-24 in the SEC Championship game, but got their revenge in the National Championship game with a 33-18 win. They lost an incredible 15 players to the NFL draft though: 5 in the first round, 7 in the first 3 rounds & 9 players from their defense. Former Walk-On QB Stetson Bennett returns this year & despite the constant criticism that he faces he did end up with the 3rd highest QBR in the Poer 5 last year. If he does falter, they do have a 5-star waiting behind him in Brock Vandagriff. They lost their 2021 Top WR Burton (to Alabama) and George Pickens to the NFL but return their Top 7 WR after those two. They have the best TE in the Nation in Brock Bowers who is coming off an 882 yards, 13 TD season. Their offensive line was Top 15 in the Nation in both run push & sack rate and return 69.69% of their snaps this year. The strength of the Championship team was their defense, however. Like I mentioned earlier they lost 9 guys to the NFL resulting in only 44.06% returning production on the defensive side of the ball (#120 in the FBS). They also lost their DC Dan Lanning to Oregon. Fortunately HC Kirby Smart is the architect of the defense, so the Coordinator loss shouldn’t be too big of a deal but it’s hard to ignore just how much they lost in terms of production. This is still a very talented unit that will still be one of the best in the country, but I think it’s reasonable to expect a small step back from them in 2021. I think a small step back is all that Alabama will need. I’ve got Georgia as the #3 team in the country, but that’s only good enough for #2 in the SEC.
- Texas A&M: Texas A&M had high expectations in 2021, so the 8-4 regular season can be characterized as a bit of a disappointment. They lost their starting QB Haynes King for the season in Week 2 and struggled to generate explosive plays all season. They did beat Alabama as a highlight of a solid (but not spectacular) season. They did have a spectacular offseason, however! They signed the #1 recruiting class of all time – which features eight 5-stars & 18 Top 100 players! The question will be how many of those guys are ready to crack the rotation & make an instant impact in 2022. The starting QB is a bit of a mystery as last year’s starter Haynes King (who got hurt in Week 2) is back along with former LSU starting QB Max Johnson. Both seem like strong options, but there are also rave reviews for true freshmen 5-star QB Connor Weigman. Whoever ends up starting for this team will have earned it! The offensive line was Top 30 in both Run Push & Pass Protection and returns 65% of their snaps. Explosive slot WR Ainias Smith is back and the Aggies also added two 2022 5-star WR recruits in Evan Stewart & Chris Marshall. It remains to be seen how quickly those two guys will be ready. The defense was strong last year surrendering only 328 ypg & 15.9 ppg. DC Mike Elko left to take the head coaching job at Duke and was replaced with DJ Durkin. They will have to replace their entire defensive line. The next wave in line to start are 4-stars (with one 5-star) but that is not including the four Top 20 class of 2022 recruits they brought in. If any of those guys are ready right away that could improve things quickly. Overall this is a roster stacked with young talent and if everything clicks they could be a National Title contender. More likely though is that it will take them a year or two to be hitting on all cylinders.
- Arkansas: Lots of people scoffed at Arkansas when they hired “just an O Line coach” in Sam Pittman to be their next head coach. But he has engineered one of the better turnarounds in college football and has been a great culture fit for the Razorbacks. After going 7-27 in their last seasons, Pittman’s Razorbacks went 9-4 last year with wins over Texas & Texas A&M and finished the season ranked #21 in the country. Pittman has been a great job in the role and has been killing it on the transfer & recruiting trail, but a lot of his success also is attributed to his strong coordinator hires (and his ability to keep them around) in Kendall Briles & Barry Odom. The offense performed very well last season scoring 30.9 ppg & 442 ypg. More impressively we’re the 228 rushing yards/game and 5.0 yards/carry that they averaged. Pittman knows how to coach OLine and this team reflected that with their rushing stats. They return 70.89% of their offensive line snaps this year so that should be a strength of the team again this year. They also bring back their big 250 pound QB KJ Jefferson who was 5th in the Nation last year among Power 5 QBs with 9.1 yards/attempt. He will look to build off that strong season. He will have an inexperienced but talented WR corps highlighted by Jadon Haselwood who was the #1 WR in the class of 2019 and was the Oklahoma leader in receptions & TD before his transfer. Backup QB Malik Hornsby is a speedster who may get some time at WR as well. The defense was strong last year but will need to be rebuilt. They are #115 in the Nation in defensive returning production and lose their 3 starting Defensive Linemen and 2 LB’s (Henry & Morgan) who combined for over 200 tacklers last year. Barry Odom is one of the better coordinators around though and should be able to coach up the new starters. They do return experienced LB Bumper Pool who was 3rd in the SEC with 125 tackles last season.
- Mississippi State: Mississippi State was a classic example of a team that was better than their record indicated according to the stats. They finished 7-5 in the regular season, but we’re actually +95 ypg in SEC play which was actually 3rd best in the conference. They had 3 special teams blunders that cost them games, and actually deserved to have 8.75 wins according to the box score post-game win expectancy metrics. They bring a ton of production back, ranking 9th in the country and 1st in the SEC in returning production. This will be Mike Leach’s 3rd year with the Bulldogs and historically speaking it’s fair to expect the offense to take another jump this offseason as they players get more and more reps in his system. He has his QB back in Will Rogers, who completed 74% for 4739 yards & 36 TD in 2021. The defense was solid last year, ranking 34/66 in Brett Ciancia’s opponent adjusted rankings and they return their entire DLine 2-deep and two starting LBs.
- Ole Miss: Ole Miss put together an impressive 10-win 2021 campaign, but this year rank just #110 in FBS returning production. They lost NFL QB Matt Corral, their top 3 WR and their top 3 RB from a very explosive offense. However the self-proclaimed “portal king” Lane Kiffin did his best to fill those holes with transfer additions as he put together the #2 transfer class adding 16 total players. Among those transfers are USC QB Jaxson Dart (who will battle Luke Altmyer for the starting job), TCU RB Zach Evans (who was probably the most talented RB in his recruiting class) & WR’s Malik Heath & Jaylon Robinson from Mississippi St & UCF respectively. Kiffin is an offensive genius who will hopefully be able to slide these new guys in and keep things humming on offense. The reason for the jump in Ole Miss’s success last year was actually the improvement on the defensive side of the ball. They didn’t always have to win shootouts anymore as they installed a new 3-2-6 base scheme and improved to allowing only 24.7 ppg & recording 39 sacks. However they lost DC Durkin to Texas A&M and their replacement hire left after just 24 days to take an NFL job, leaving them with their 2nd choice in WKU’s Maurice Crum. WKU’s defense struggled last year so I’m not really sure about this hire. I think the defense may regress a little bit in Durkin’s absence leaving the offense stuck trying to win shootouts again. I call for Ole Miss to take a little step back this year.
- Tennessee: 7-5 was a very impressive season for Tennessee when you consider what new Head Coach Josh Heupel walked into. He inherited a team that was facing pending NCAA sanctions, had just lost 25+ players to the transfer portal and what players he did have returning we’re brought in to play in a system very different from the one he wanted to run. But even with all that, Heupel got the offense going to the tune of 39 ppg & 475 ypg. It took them only 5 games to outscore the 2020 team that played in double the games. They play at one of the fastest paces in the Nation, but the pace-adjusted stats we’re great as well as the offense finished 4th in the Power 5 in Brett Ciancia’s pace-adjusted, opponent-adjusted rankings. This year they are 27th in the Nation in returning production (2nd best in the SEC). They bring back QB Hendon Hooker who recorded a 31-3 TD-INT season as well as 1K WR Cedric Tillman. It’s starting to look like transfer WR Bru McCoy wont be granted eligibility from the NCAA (which is a bummer) but this offense still will have plenty of firepower. The defensive stats don’t look great because the offense plays at such a fast pace that the defense has to play more possessions that most teams. But when you look at the pace adjusted stats, they finished 32 out of 66 power 5 teams. They return 9 of their 12 top tacklers so will hope to build off that this year.
- Florida: After a promising start to his tenure in Gainesville, the wheels abruptly fell off for Dan Mullen. He flirted with the NFL and was seen by many to be a pretty lazy recruiter. He ended up losing 9 of his last 11 games to Power 5 opponents and after a 6-6 season which included giving up 52 points to an FCS school he is gone at Florida. The job now belongs to Billy Napier, who was one of the more highly regarded group of 5 coaches at Louisiana and has worked under both Nick Saban & Dabo Swinney. He inherits a team that ranks just 12th in the SEC in returning production. Explosive QB Anthony Richardson is back and will finally get a chance to be the guy after Mullen stayed committed to Emory Jones for too long. He’s a human highlight reel that should be fun to watch. The OL ranked 4th Nationally in Brett Ciancia’s run push & pass protection metrics and return 3 starters. The defense really has nowhere to go but up after quitting on Mullen last season. Napier has brought his coordinator with him from Louisiana, Patrick Toney. He will run a 3-4 base defense with disguised pressure similar to what Baylor & Georgia have had success with. They have 4 of their 5 starters returning in the secondary, but I have concerns about the strength and depth of their front 7.
- Kentucky: Don’t look know but Mark Stoops is turning Kentucky into a “football school.” The Wildcats are coming off an impressive 10-3 season and now have gone to 6 straight bowls. He has taken a program that routinely finished near the bottom of the conference and now has them consistently playing in the postseason. Last year they finished 6th in the conference at +6 ypg in conference play. The offense put up 32.3 ppg & 425 ypg. Transfer QB Will Levis helped transform them from a traditional smash mouth team to a team that could also have success through the air. He finished in the top 6 in the SEC in most categories and is drawing first round NFL mock draft grades. The strength of Kentucky is typically their offensive line, but they will have to reload a little as they return only 42.6% of their snaps. RB Chris Rodriguez is back after finishing 2nd in the SEC with 1379 rushing yards, but he will likely start the season suspended for some off the field issues. The latest rumor I heard was that it would be a 4 game suspension which would mean he would miss the Florida game in Week 2. The defense was kind of the definition of a bend but don’t break team in 2021 as their points allowed stats we’re a lot better than their yards allowed stats. They return 7 starters this year and should be solid again.
- South Carolina: A 6-6 regular season and a dominant bowl win over a heavily favored rival is a big step in the right direction for South Carolina. First year Head Coach Shane Beamer and his two first year coordinators brought a lot of enthusiasm to a program that had been down for too long. They have the pieces in place to continue to build momentum as they rank 41st in the country & 4th in the conference in returning production. Their season was especially impressive when you consider what a mess the QB position was for them last year. Zeb Noland was supposed to be a grad assistant but ended up playing in 9 games. This was a guy that cost me money with his poor play and then was benched in the FCS and now here he was playing in the SEC. That position should be in much better shape in 2022 as former 5-star recruit and 2021 preseason Heisman favorite Spencer Rattler transferred from Oklahoma to South Carolina. For good measure, he brought All Big 12 TE Austin Stogner with him. I think South Carolina can become a prime transfer destination as players will be drawn to Beamer’s likability and the chance to play in the SEC. Luke Doty is back from injury and will provide depth at the QB position. The Offensive line was a weakness last year. The metrics we’re bad in both run push & pass pro. Even going up against the worst run defense in the SEC, they we’re only able to run for 57 yards and 1.6 ypc vs Missouri. Part of this could have been the result of having bad QBs that the defenses didn’t have to worry about, but obviously this will need to improve in 2022. They have the entire 2-deep back so you’d hope they can take a step forward. The defense improved in just about every category under new DC Brad White. This year they lose 2 All-SEC defenders and will need to rely on a strong DLine while the other units catch up.
- LSU: It was pretty how wild LSU went from on top of the college football world in 2019 to firing their coach, but the wheels fell off pretty quickly for Coach O. The job now belongs to former Notre Dame HC Brian Kelly. LSU is a hard team to evaluate because I don’t know how much of what I saw on the field was real and how much of it was a team in disarray/quit mode. Kelly wasted no time hitting the recruiting trail & transfer portal though and he does bring in the 3rd ranked transfer class in the Nation. He was brought in Mike Denbrock to run the offense. Denbrock was the OC at Cincinnati last season where he helped lead a G5 team to the playoffs. Prior to that the spent 7 seasons with Kelly at Notre Dame. The starting QB will either be Garrett Nussmeier or Arizona State transfer Jayden Daniels. Both are very talented and they have the luxury of throwing to future NFL first round pick Kayshon Boutte. The offensive line will need to be rebuilt, however, as they lost 3 players to the NFL. Kelly brought in Matt House from the Kansas City Chiefs to be the defensive coordinator. The defense performed poorly last season and lost 5 players to the NFL & a key transfer to Alabama, so he will have his work cut out for him.
- Auburn: Auburn is a mess right now. Bryan Harsin started his first season on the plains 6-2, but then they collapsed to a 6-7 finish which included letting Alabama off the hook in an Iron Bowl that Auburn should have won. Several boosters tried to get Harsin fired after just one season, but the buyout was too big so Harsin is back for a second season with a roster that ranks 2nd to last in the conference in returning production. The OC that Harsin originally hired left after just 6 weeks, which led to an internal promotion for Eric Kiesau. The QB battle looks to be an even battle between Texas A&M transfer Zach Calzada and former LSU transfer (who played for Auburn last season) TJ Finley. I’m not blown away by either option. RB will be strong with the return of Tank Bigsby who rushed for 1099 yards & 10 TD last year. The offensive line looks like it will be the most veteran position group on the team with 74.48% of the snaps returning. DC Derek Mason left for Oklahoma State, so Harsin brought in Jeff Schmedding who was his DC at Boise State in 2019 & 2020 where the defense was near the top nationally in points allowed & sacks. He will have a strong DL to work with (which seems to be a theme in this conference) but will have his work cut out for him as they face a brutal schedule in the SEC West with an annual crossover game vs Georgia.
- Missouri: Missouri is coming off a 6-6 regular season and a bowl game loss to Army. They finished -78 ypg in SEC play which was the 3rd worst in the conference. It was a bit of a disappointment for 2nd year HC Eli Drinkwitz as I thought he would take more of a step forward in 2021. Sophomore QB Connor Bazelak didn’t progress like I thought he would under the offensive minded Drinkwitz and transferred to Indiana. The starting QB job will go to Brady Cook. The offense will also have to replace stud 16K RB Tyler Badie. One encouraging thing is the success they are having on the recruiting trail. They brought in 5-star WR Luther Burden (#1 WR in the class) & a 4-star WR & 4-star RB in the class of 2022. These 3 guys will compete for playing time right away and should help make the offense more explosive. The defense was the 2nd worst in the SEC last year, which has led to them bringing in their 3rd DC in 3 years. They do return a pretty high 67.2% of defensive production which is on the higher end for the conference.
- Vanderbilt: It’s tough to get excited about Vanderbilt’s prospects in 2022. They are coming off a 2-10 (0-8) season in which they finished last among power 5 teams in Brett Ciancia’s opponent adjusted rankings. The offense finished 128th out of 131 in the FBS in ppg & 124th out of 131 in yards per game. Dual threat QB Mike Wright will get the starting nod this year. The defense wasn’t much better finishing 118th out of 131 in ppg allowed & 116th out of 131 in yards per game allowed. They do rank 28th in the Nation & 2nd in the conference in returning production so hopefully they can show some improvement under 2nd year HC Clark Lea.
Resources Used: Brett Ciancia’s Pick 6 Previews Magazine, Phil Steele 2022 Magazine, Athlon 2022 Preview Magazine, CFB Winning Edge Analytics & Projections, Dave Campbell Texas Football Preview Magazine