2022 college football: SEC preview, odds and predictions

·16 min read

Is the SEC still Alabama and Georgia and everyone else?

The two teams that played for the national title enter the 2022 season as the overwhelming favorites in the SEC and among the top three favorites to win the College Football Playoff. That makes sense. While both teams lost a lot of talent to the NFL, they reloaded for another title run.

Figuring out who is going to challenge Alabama and Georgia this season may be the biggest question in the conference. Both Kentucky and Ole Miss won 10 games in 2021 but each team has to replace a lot of key contributors in 2022. Is this the year that Texas A&M wins 10 games in a season? Will Arkansas follow up a surprise nine-win season with an even better one? While the SEC championship game matchup may feel like a foregone conclusion, there's still a lot of intrigue in the conference.

Other conference previews: ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Group of Five

(All odds via BetMGM)

Favorites

Alabama Crimson Tide (-140 to win SEC)

  • 2021 record: 13-2 (7-1 in the SEC)

  • National title odds: +190

  • Over/under: 11.5 wins in 2022

The defending SEC champions bring back the 2021 Heisman winner and the best defensive player in college football. It’s obvious why Alabama is the SEC and national title favorite.

Bryce Young would be just the second player to win back-to-back Heismans if he wins the award again in 2022. Top target Jameson Williams is gone, along with John Metchie III, but there are a host of talented receiving options waiting in the wings. One of those is JoJo Earle, but he’s set to be out for up to eight weeks with a broken foot. Transfers Jermaine Burton (Georgia) and Tyler Harrell (Louisville) will need to be immediate contributors.

Running back Jahmyr Gibbs is also set to be an impact player on offense. Gibbs was fantastic in his time at Georgia Tech and could add a big-time receiving threat out of the backfield.

Will Anderson could be the top pick in the 2023 NFL draft if he has another 17.5-sack season and Dallas Turner had eight sacks last year from the other outside linebacker spot. Henry To’o To’o led the team in tackles and is back for another season, too and the secondary has very good safeties in Jordan Battle and DeMarcco Hellams.

Alabama quarterback Bryce Young (9) won the Heisman Trophy in 2021, and he's looking to build on that success for a loaded Crimson Tide team. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Alabama quarterback Bryce Young (9) won the Heisman Trophy in 2021, and he's looking to build on that success for a loaded Crimson Tide team. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Georgia Bulldogs (+150)

  • 2021 record: 14-1 (8-0 SEC)

  • National title odds: +350

  • Over/under: 11 wins

The Bulldogs’ roster is still stacked despite all of the talent that was taken in the NFL draft. The wrecking-ball defense needs to replace eight starters and No. 1 overall pick Travon Walker but there are four- and five-star recruits everywhere to step up in their place.

Kelly Ringo and Christopher Smith are two of the three starters back on the defense and will be the anchors of a strong secondary. Nolan Smith is the only starter returning from the front seven, but this is a Georgia defense that rotated through a ton of players. Jalen Carter looks to be the next star defensive lineman and Robert Beal had 6.5 sacks and 19 quarterback hurries with just 23 tackles. The defense may take a slight step back with all the new talent and a new co-defensive coordinator in Will Muschamp, but that’s to be expected on a unit that allowed 10 points per game.

Offensively, QB Stetson Bennett is back after a year that included 30 total touchdowns to just seven interceptions. Kendall Milton and Kenny McIntosh should be the primary running backs and true freshman Branson Robinson could get some playing time. Tight ends Brock Bowers, Arik Gilbert and Darnell Washington are the position group envy of every other school and should pose nightmares for defenses.

Contenders

Texas A&M Aggies (+1600)

  • 2021 record: 8-4 (4-4 SEC)

  • National title odds: +2500

  • Over/under: 8.5 wins

The Aggies are still looking for their first 10-win season since 2012. If double-digit wins are going to happen in 2022, either Max Johnson or Haynes King will have to emerge as a very good SEC quarterback. Johnson transferred from LSU while King was injured early in the season against Colorado in 2021. Johnson could have the edge given his experience with the Tigers, though it’s feasible both will see playing time early in the season.

RB Devon Achane averaged seven yards a carry and scored nine TDs on just 130 attempts in 2021. He could end up being the SEC’s best running back at the end of the season. Receiver Ainias Smith leads a talented but largely unproven receiving unit and the offensive line has three starters back.

The defense needs to replace most of its sack production. DeMarvin Leal, Michael Clemons and Tyree Johnson combined for 24 of the team’s 39 sacks in 2021. The entire starting secondary is back after holding opponents to under 200 yards passing a game. An above-average pass rush and an excellent secondary is typically a great combination.

Texas A&M Aggies head coach Jimbo Fisher is trying to secure the team's first 10-win season since 2012. (Photo by Matthew Visinsky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Texas A&M Aggies head coach Jimbo Fisher is trying to secure the team's first 10-win season since 2012. (Photo by Matthew Visinsky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Tennessee Volunteers (+4000)

  • 2021 record: 7-6 (4-4 SEC)

  • National title odds: +10000

  • Over/under: 8 wins

Can QB Hendon Hooker somehow improve upon his breakout 2021? The Virginia Tech transfer was fantastic after taking over as UT’s starting quarterback. He completed 68% of his passes for nearly 3,000 yards and threw 31 TDs to just three interceptions while rushing for over 600 yards. It was a stat line that makes it hard to believe he didn’t open the season as the starter.

Hooker is one of eight starters back on the offense. Leading receiver Cedric Tillman will be the top target once again and Jabari Small returns after averaging 5.6 yards per carry. Throw in an offensive line with four starters back and it’s easy to see how this unit could be even better in 2022.

That means Tennessee’s ceiling will likely be determined by the defense and health. UT allowed 29 points per game and opponents threw for nearly 275 yards per game. Leading tackler Jeremy Banks is one of seven starters returning and if the unit can improve just a little bit, UT could end up as the No. 2 team in the East by a comfortable margin.

Arkansas Razorbacks (+5000)

  • 2021 record: 9-4 (4-4 SEC)

  • National title odds: +8000

  • Over/under: 7.5 wins

The Razorbacks won more games in 2021 than they had in the previous three seasons combined (7). And Arkansas looks to build on that success with seven starters back on offense and a defense bolstered through the transfer portal.

KJ Jefferson was very good in his first full season as a starter in 2021. He completed two thirds of his passes for 21 TDs and four interceptions and led the team in rushing with 664 yards. RBs Raheim Sanders and Dominique Johnson each averaged over five yards a carry in 2021 and combined for 12 TDs.

The toughest task will be finding a receiver who did what Treylon Burks did in 2021. Burks had 66 catches for 1,104 yards and 11 TDs. No other Arkansas player had more than 24 catches, 337 yards or two touchdowns. Oklahoma transfer Jadon Haselwood could be the guy that replaces Burks.

Defensively, Arkansas added DL Landon Jackson from LSU, LB Drew Sanders from Alabama and DB Latavious Brini from Georgia, among others. LB Bumper Pool is back for another season after notching 125 tackles and Jalen Catalon and Myles Slusher will anchor the secondary.

Quarterback KJ Jefferson helped lead Arkansas to a breakout 2021 season in which it finished 9-4. (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
Quarterback KJ Jefferson helped lead Arkansas to a breakout 2021 season in which it finished 9-4. (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

Kentucky Wildcats (+5000)

  • 2021 record: 10-3 (5-3 SEC)

  • National title odds: +15000

  • Over/under: 7.5 wins

The Wildcats are fresh off their second 10-win season in the last four years. Getting to 10 wins would be a massive achievement in 2022.

The offense returns QB Will Levis, a player who is getting a lot of 2023 NFL draft love ahead of the season. Levis threw for 2,826 yards and 24 TDs in his first season with Kentucky. RB Chris Rodriguez is also back, though it’s unclear when he’ll see the field after an offseason DUI arrest. He rushed for 1,379 yards in 2021.

Replacing Wan’Dale Robinson and Josh Ali at receiver is imperative along with steadiness on an offensive line with three new starters. No returning Kentucky receiver had more than 14 catches in 2021 and Robinson (104 catches) more than doubled Ali’s output as the engine of the Kentucky passing attack.

The defense returns five starters and needs to replace Josh Paschal and Yusuf Corker. JJ Weaver had six sacks in 2021 and is part of a very good linebacker trio with Jacquez Jones and DeAndre Square. Road games at Florida and Mississippi over the first five weeks of the season are a great test for the Wildcats.

Florida Gators (+5000)

  • 2021 record: 6-7 (2-6 SEC)

  • National title odds: +10000

  • Over/under: 7.5 wins

Florida followed up a 4-7 campaign with a 10-3 season in Dan Mullen’s first year with the program. A 10-win season in Billy Napier’s first year after the mess that was the 2021 season would be a huge success.

QB Anthony Richardson takes over as the undisputed starter after backing up Emory Jones for most of 2021. Richardson has shown flashes of excellence, but is largely unproven and was overwhelmed (like a lot of quarterbacks) when he made the first start of his career against Georgia.

The run game needs to replace Dameon Pierce, but Louisiana transfer Montrell Johnson followed Napier to Florida and could end up being the Gators’ top back. WR Justin Shorter returns after the scary injury he suffered in the Gasparilla Bowl and four starters are back on an offensive line that should get better. The defense needs to replace CB Kaiir Elam and LB Mohamoud Diabate but could end up improving significantly just because of a scheme change.

Ole Miss Rebels (+5000)

  • 2021 record: 10-3 (6-2 SEC)

  • National title odds: +10000

  • Over/under: 7.5 wins

Ole Miss needs to replace the most offensive production of any team in the SEC. Gone are QB Matt Corral, RB Jerrion Ealy and WR Dontario Drummond. No player on the roster rushed for over 100 yards for the Rebels in 2021 and no player caught more than 22 passes a year ago.

There’s a talented group of players set to step in, however. Former USC QB Jaxson Dart is the likely successor to Corral and former five-star RB and TCU transfer Zach Evans may be the most talented running back to play for Ole Miss in years. Former UCF WR Jaylon Robinson should start right away and Jonathan Mingo averaged nearly 16 yards a catch in 2021.

Seven starters are back on defense but the team needs to replace its two leading tacklers from 2021 and also Sam Williams after led the team with 12.5 sacks. Cedric Johnson should take another step forward as a pass rusher and the secondary will feature three senior starters. With a manageable early season schedule, it’s not out of the question that Ole Miss could be at least 6-1 before an Oct. 22 game at LSU.

LSU Tigers (+5000)

  • 2021 record: 6-7 (3-5 SEC)

  • National title odds: +6600

  • Over/under: 6.5 wins

Brian Kelly’s first LSU team is set to feature a ton of transfers. Former Arizona State QB Jayden Daniels is set to start after Myles Brennan opted to end his college football career Monday. Daniels will have two exceptionally talented receivers to throw to as Kayshon Boutte and Jaray Jenkins are the top returning receiving duo in the SEC.

Former Penn State RB Noah Cain is an intriguing addition to the offense, though the line will be breaking in four new starters.

The defense loses Damone Clark but returns DE BJ Ojulari (seven sacks) and Micah Baskerville at linebacker. Defensive back transfers Greg Brooks and Joe Foucha from Arkansas should see significant playing time right away and Florida State presents a stiff test in Week 1 ahead of a Week 3 game at home against Mississippi State.

First-year LSU Tigers head coach Brian Kelly will have his work cut out with a team filled with transfers players. (John Korduner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
First-year LSU Tigers head coach Brian Kelly will have his work cut out with a team filled with transfers players. (John Korduner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Long shots

Mississippi State Bulldogs (+12500)

  • 2021 record: 7-6 (4-4 SEC)

  • National title odds: +15000

  • Over/under: 6.5 wins

QB Will Rogers quietly had a fantastic season in 2021. Eye-popping passing stats seem the norm in Mike Leach’s offense, but Rogers completed 74% of his passes for 4,739 yards and threw 36 TDs to just nine interceptions. He could be even better in 2022 as Leach’s offensive system gets more and more familiar.

Rogers is one of eight offensive starters back and every key skill position player returns with the exception of receivers Makai Polk and Malik Heath. RB Dillon Johnson averaged over five yards a carry in 2021 and Jaden Walley and Austin Williams should be able to pick up the slack left behind by Polk.

The defense also has a ton of starters back, including pass rusher Tyrus Wheat. The MSU defense was the stingiest its been since 2018 a season ago and could be even better, though the schedule is one of the toughest in the country thanks to the SEC West.

South Carolina Gamecocks (+12500)

  • 2021 record: 7-6 (3-5 SEC)

  • National title odds: +15000

  • Over/under: 6.5 wins

The Gamecocks were a surprise bowl team in Shane Beamer’s first season and now have expectations for an even better postseason in Year 2. Former Oklahoma QB Spencer Rattler was a preseason Heisman favorite last year and should be a significant upgrade at QB with a moderate bounce back. Beamer also added TE Austin Stogner from his former school in the transfer portal and Stogner should be a reliable safety valve for Rattler given their Oklahoma familiarity.

A big reason for South Carolina's success in 2021 was a defense that allowed 12 fewer points per game than it did in 2020. Repeating that feat (24 points per game) will be a big ask with six new starters and a lot of players with sacks a season ago no longer on the roster. But South Carolina can still have a winning season if the defense takes a step back as long as above-average quarterback play raises the floor of the offense.

Auburn Tigers (+15000)

  • 2021 record: 6-7 (3-5 SEC)

  • National title odds: +15000

  • Over/under: 6.5 wins

How imperative is it for Auburn to get off to a hot start? Bryan Harsin enters his second season after an offseason investigation into the program and a wave of transfers away from the Tigers following a disappointing 2021. Auburn opens the season with five consecutive home games before back-to-back trips to Georgia and Ole Miss.

Two of those home games are against fellow SEC Tigers (Missouri and LSU) and are preceded by a game against the Nittany Lions from Penn State. That’s why Auburn could be 2-3 or 5-0 heading into that Georgia game and none of the possible outcomes within that range would be all that surprising.

TJ Finley returns after taking over for Bo Nix as the QB late in the season and will compete with Texas A&M transfer Zach Calzada. Leading receiver Kobe Hudson needs to be replaced; he transferred to UCF.

The defense returns Colby Wooden and Derick Hall on each side of the line and LB Owen Pappoe should anchor the defense after missing eight games a season ago. The secondary, however, needs to replace Smoke Monday and Roger McCreary and doesn’t have much time to get things settled before PSU visits in Week 3.

Missouri Tigers (+40000)

  • 2021 record: 6-7 (3-5 SEC)

  • National title odds: +50000

  • Over/under: 5.5 wins

The Tigers’ run defense was a horror film in 2021. Missouri gave up 227 yards rushing per game as Tennessee rushed for 456 yards and Kentucky rushed for 341 yards. Both of those games were unsurprisingly losses. And it’s not a coincidence that Missouri beat both Florida and South Carolina while holding both of them to under 100 yards on the ground.

Eight starters are back on that unit and former NFL coach Steve Wilks is no longer the defensive coordinator after going back to the pros. Perhaps more experience and a scheme change is the easy recipe for improvement.

Brady Cook will open the season as the starting QB after Eli Drinkwitz named him the top QB earlier in the month. Replacing do-it-all RB Tyler Badie is imperative for Mezzo after he rushed for over 1,600 yards and led the team with 54 catches. If Stanford transfer Nathaniel Peat and Elijah Young can make the transition from Badie as seamless as possible, Missouri has a schedule that could lead to an eight-win season.

Vanderbilt Commodores (+100000)

  • 2021 record: 2-10 (0-8 SEC)

  • National title odds: +100000

  • Over/under: 2.5 wins

Oddsmakers believe your odds of winning the SEC aren’t much worse than the Commodores’. Vanderbilt was outscored by 20 points per game in 2021 as the offense struggled and the defense couldn’t stop anyone in Clark Lea’s first year. A 21-20 loss to South Carolina was the only SEC game that was within a possession.

The good news is that Vanderbilt should be better in 2022 with seven starters back on each side of the ball and Mike Wright back at QB after he started five games as a true freshman. The bad news is that it may not be reflected too much in the win column. Vanderbilt’s non-conference schedule includes trips to Hawaii and Northern Illinois and a visit from Wake Forest, in addition to games against Alabama and Ole Miss from the SEC West.

Who will win the SEC?

East: Georgia

West: Alabama

Champion: Alabama