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SEC college football preview: Breaking down the conference's best players, games and more

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SEC preview: Alabama seeks revenge on Georgia (2:00)

Ryan McGee previews the SEC, highlighting its historical championship dominance, the Bama-Georgia rivalry and the entertaining coaches of the SEC West. (2:00)

The more things change in college football, the more they really don't in the SEC.

Sure, we have a playoff now, talk of conference realignment seemingly every week, free agency via the transfer portal, even high school recruits raking in serious cash under the guise of the name, image and likeness rules.

But through it all, the SEC continues to dominate the sport and has produced 12 of the past 16 national champions. Five different SEC schools have won titles during that span, and only once in the past 16 seasons has an SEC school not appeared in the national championship game. Twice over the past five years, two SEC schools (Alabama and Georgia) have played for the title.

Here's a preview of the 2022 SEC season, as Georgia tries to become the first school to repeat as national champion since Alabama in 2011-12.


Storylines to watch

1. Saban vs. Jimbo

Oh, you thought the dustup between Alabama coach Nick Saban and Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher was over? Sure, they've said all the right things since Saban claimed the Aggies' top-ranked recruiting class was bought and paid for with NIL money and Fisher shot back, calling Saban a narcissist, but who really believes that was the end of it? Don't forget what happened last season when Texas A&M upset Alabama in College Station on a last-second field goal. Alabama players haven't forgotten what it was like when fans rushed the field. Against that backdrop, with the fractured relationship of Saban and Fisher to consider, Texas A&M's Oct. 8 trip to Alabama will be must-see TV. And that's to say nothing of the potential division implications with the Aggies hoping to finally unseat the Tide and play for an SEC championship.

2. Georgia reloading

The term "rebuild" has become a little loaded this offseason. First, we had Saban saying that last season was a rebuilding year for the Tide -- despite winning the SEC and appearing in the national championship game. Then came Kirby Smart, whose Georgia Bulldogs beat Alabama in the championship, saying they weren't rebuilding despite losing more than a dozen players to the NFL draft, including five first-rounders on defense. And he might not be wrong. Defensive lineman Jalen Carter, a possible first-round pick next year, is back. So is linebacker Nolan Smith. Plus, there are four straight top-three recruiting classes to draw from in Athens. A possible championship hangover aside, it will be interesting to see early on how all that talent replaces all that experience.

3. New coaches

It wasn't the wildest coaching carousel on record in the SEC, but it was noteworthy, with Brian Kelly replacing Ed Orgeron at LSU and Billy Napier replacing Dan Mullen at Florida. Orgeron was less than two years removed from a national championship, and Mullen was six months removed from signing a three-year contract extension after appearing in the SEC title game. But what's done is done, and both Kelly and Napier have their hands full reshaping rosters that were depleted thanks to the transfer portal. But there's reason for hope when it comes to the quarterback position. At LSU, Kelly brought in former Arizona State starter Jayden Daniels to battle for the starting job. At Florida, losing last year's starter, Emory Jones, wasn't ideal. But Anthony Richardson, who showed flashes of Cam Newton-esque dual-threat ability as Jones' backup, steps in with high expectations as a possible first-round pick.


Power Rankings

Surprise, surprise. It's the usual suspects at the top of the SEC, setting up a rematch of the conference and national championships.

1. Alabama
2. Georgia
3. Texas A&M
4. Arkansas
5. Kentucky
6. Tennessee
7. Ole Miss
8. LSU
9. South Carolina
10. Auburn
11. Florida
12. Mississippi State
13. Missouri
14. Vanderbilt


Five must-see games

Florida at Tennessee, Sept. 24

There was a time when Florida vs. Tennessee was one of the premier games in college football. Well, the Gators haven't won an SEC championship since 2008, and the Vols' SEC title drought goes all the way back to 1998. Josh Heupel's first season on Rocky Top brought some hope to a win-starved fan base. But with Florida and first-year coach Napier coming to Knoxville, this feels like one the Vols have to win if they're going to capitalize on the momentum surrounding the program. They're just 4-38 against chief rivals Alabama, Florida and Georgia since Phillip Fulmer's final season in 2008.

Texas A&M at Alabama, Oct. 8

Easily the conference's most anticipated game -- after the fireworks this offseason between Alabama's Saban and Texas A&M's Fisher -- this one has a little bit of everything. The Crimson Tide were already smarting from being beaten last season by the Aggies, as Fisher became the first of Saban's former assistants to beat him. The venue shifts to Tuscaloosa this season, and there's no doubt that the Crimson Tide will be ready. The Aggies have stockpiled elite talent under Fisher. They could really send ripples across the conference by taking down the Tide for a second year in a row.

LSU at Auburn, Oct. 1

For a while last winter, it looked like Bryan Harsin might not see a second season as Auburn's coach after the school launched an internal inquiry into his relationships with players and coaches and left him twisting in the wind. But a resolute Harsin survived and feels like his team only grew stronger through that ordeal. Auburn plays its first five games at home, and the fourth of those is against LSU and first-year coach Kelly. The winner of this one could potentially stake its claim as the surprise of the league this season.

Kentucky at Tennessee, Oct. 29

Despite John Calipari's recent comments that Kentucky was a basketball school, Mark Stoops has worked tirelessly to make the Wildcats relevant in football as well. They've won 10 games in two of their past four seasons and bring back one of the more talented passers in the league in quarterback Will Levis. What Kentucky hasn't done consistently is beat rival Tennessee. Stoops is just 2-7 against Tennessee, and this late-October clash in Knoxville could go a long way toward establishing who's best equipped to challenge Georgia in the SEC East.

Ole Miss at Arkansas, Nov. 19

No SEC game a year ago was more entertaining than Ole Miss' 52-51 victory over Arkansas, when the Hogs went for the 2-point conversion and the win at the end of the game and came up short. The Rebels won 10 games last season in Year No. 2 under Lane Kiffin, while the Hogs won nine games in Year No. 2 under Sam Pittman. The SEC West is one brutally tough division, and these are two teams hellbent on making some more noise in a divisional race that has been dominated by Alabama.


Preseason All-SEC team

More surprises that really aren't surprises at all, as Alabama has a team-high six selections on our all-conference team.

Offense
QB Bryce Young, Alabama
RB Tank Bigsby, Auburn
RB Jahmyr Gibbs, Alabama
WR Kayshon Boutte, LSU
WR Cedric Tillman, Tennessee
AP Jaheim Bell, South Carolina
TE Brock Bowers, Georgia
OL Javon Foster, Missouri
OL Layden Robinson, Texas A&M
OL Warren McClendon, Georgia
OL Nick Broeker, Ole Miss
C Ricky Stromberg, Arkansas

Defense
DL Jalen Carter, Georgia
DL BJ Ojulari, LSU
DL Derick Hall, Auburn
LB Will Anderson Jr., Alabama
LB Nolan Smith, Georgia
LB Bumper Pool, Arkansas
LB Dallas Turner, Alabama
DB Jordan Battle, Alabama
DB Cam Smith, South Carolina
DB Eli Ricks, Alabama
DB Jalen Catalon, Arkansas
NB Antonio Johnson, Texas A&M

Special teams
P Nik Constantinou, Texas A&M
K Anders Carlson, Auburn
RS Ainias Smith, Texas A&M


Championship game prediction

Alabama beats Georgia.