1 – Georgia Repeat?
Georgia Bulldog fans have long suffered, always seemingly contending and putting together good teams only to fall victim to other SEC powers along the way, creating a long Championship drought. The 2021 Bulldogs fortunately ended that drought and ended years of pain having to deal with watching the likes of the Meyer Gators, Saban Tide, Joey B Tigers, and the random Auburn years.
The Bulldogs did it mostly with one of, if not THE, best defenses of all-time, allowing a minuscule 10.2 points per game and less than 270 total yards per game. So, can Georgia repeat in 2022 after the departure of so much talent?
I wouldn’t place them as favorites, BUT, I do think they have a decent enough shot and are a likely Playoff team. This team won’t experience the same issues the LSU Tigers did when their whole National Championship team left. Stetson Bennett is back, and even if he ends up being a liability in close games, Georgia has plenty of talent behind him on the depth chart. Brock Bowers and Darnell Washington return as an elite tight end duo and Georgia has a pair of potential breakout stars in Adonai Mitchell and Arik Gilbert at wide receiver that should fill in for George Pickens nicely.
The bigger question is the defense, but even with all the talent that left, Georgia still has multiple stars and a recruiting profile that suggests a quick turnover. Jalen Carter, arguably the best player on last years defense, returns to head up what should be another vicious defensive line, and at linebacker expect big things from pass rushers Nolan Smith and Robert Beal Jr off the edges. Finally, in the secondary the Bulldogs bring back standout Kelee Ringo after his huge interception to seal the National Championship, as well as veteran safeties Chris Smith and Tykee Smith.
With these stars across all three levels of the defense, I wouldn’t expect much growing pains in 2022. Georgia opens with Oregon in a “neutral” site game in…Atlanta (call it a home game) against last years defensive coordinator Dan Lanning and the Ducks, and an SEC schedule afterwords that is never a given, but if you told me Georgia runs the table to the SEC Championship I don’t think I’d argue with you. South Carolina, Missouri, Mississippi State, and Kentucky are the only true road games on the schedule, and while you obviously can’t rule out upsets in college football, Georgia should enter each game as sizable favorites.
2 – Alabama Rebound
Alabama did not win the National Championship in 2021 and that is a win for most college football fans. We should enjoy that while it lasts because Alabama enters 2022 as the likely favorites to win yet another Championship.
Heisman winner Bryce Young returns to lead an offense that, while losing Jameson Williams and John Metchie III, brings in Georgia transfer Jermaine Burton and Georgia Tech standout running back Jahmyr Gibbs, and Ja’Corey Brooks should be in line for a breakout campaign. The loss of super athlete tackle Evan Neal will sting, but Alabama has never had much issue plugging in new five-star talent along the offensive line since Saban took over.
On the defensive side, the Tide bring back a lot of great talent. Will Anderson, the best player in college football, returns as a dominant pass rusher and is joined by Dallas Turner who’s garnered a lot of hype during the spring. That pair is going to give every offensive line massive fits and to make matters worse, inside backer Henry To’oTo’o returns as the center man. In the secondary, LSU transfer Eli Ricks joins Kool-Aid McKinstry at the corners for what should be an elite lockdown duo and the return of star safety Jordan Battle will play huge dividends for the Tide defense.
There may not be a better unit all season than what Alabama produces on defense, and with a Heisman winning quarterback on the other side, the Tide are obvious favorites to return to the mountaintop in 2022. The schedule isn’t the easiest, with road trips to Texas, Arkansas, Tennessee, LSU, and Mississippi, but on paper I’m just not sure how anyone beats this Tide team, but the beauty of the sport is that its not played on paper. Lock me in as predicting another Alabama Championship.
3 – Brian Kelly at LSU
Brian Kelly made a surprise move this offseason by leaving his comfy yet unsatisfying job at Notre Dame to take over the LSU program (and to also develop a southern accent). It was a shocking move, but Athletic Director Scott Woodward has a history of big game hunting when it comes to finding head coaches and at a school like LSU, money is never really an issue.
So, what are the expectations for Brian Kelly in 2022?
The Tigers won’t want another down year, that’s for certain. Kelly will have a three-way quarterback competition between returning names Myles Brennan and Garrett Nussmeier as well as Arizona State transfer Jayden Daniels. I’ve been a fan of Daniels game since he burst on the scene, however he hasn’t quite developed to the heights expected. He will certainly get that opportunity with the Tigers should he win the starting job. At receiver, the Tigers have one of the best in the conference with Kayshon Boutte, and a threatening running game with senior John Emery Jr. and Noah Cain. The offense will be led by Mike Denbrock, who comes over after several seasons at Cincinnati.
The Tigers defense has two solid pass rushers returning in Ali Gaye and B.J. Ojulari (led the Tigers with 7 in 2021). Mike Jones Jr. and Micah Baskerville return in the linebacker spots will be a huge help for the Tigers as well. The biggest worry is, oddly enough, in the secondary where the Tigers have to replace Derek Stingley Jr. and Eli Ricks as well as longtime coach Corey Raymond.
LSU opens with Florida State, but the whole non-conference schedule should give the Tigers four wins. It’s hard to gauge what I think LSU’s record will be this year, though. They won’t be on the Alabama or Georgia level in year one, so I expect them to slip up once or twice along the way against similar competitive programs like Arkansas and Texas A&M. If everything breaks good, the Tigers could come away with ten wins. If everything breaks bad, the Tigers still probably come away with seven wins and a level of disappointment heading into the offseason. The Brian Kelly Tigers are, for my money, one of the most interesting teams to watch in 2022.
4 – Predictions & Notes
5 Biggest Games
Utah at Florida (Sept 3) – Billy Napier gets a shot at huge Top 25 victory against the defending Pac 12 Champions in his coaching debut when the Utes travel to The Swamp.
Texas A&M at Alabama (Oct 8) – Remember that huge upset last year? Remember the brief dustup between Jimbo and Saban during the doldrums of Summer? There will be plenty of media attention surrounding this one for more reasons than just the on the field product.
LSU at Florida (Oct 15) – Two historic programs with brand new coaches. LSU opted to go big game hunting and completely passed over the in-state hot shot in Billy Napier, a move Napier surely won’t forget when the Tigers come to Gainesville.
Mississippi State at Mississippi (Nov 24) – The Egg Bowl might not decide any Championships, but the rivalry between in-state programs and offensive explosiveness between head coaches Mike Leach and Lane Kiffin gives plenty to be thankful for on Thanksgiving.
Auburn at Alabama (Nov 26) – The Iron Bowl.
Alabama defeats Georgia
Predicted Final Standings
- South Carolina
- Texas A&M
- Mississippi State