Heading into Week One of the 2022 season, Georgia leads the way as the most oft-predicted SEC East Division champion. And I can’t think of a scenario where the prediction doesn’t become reality.
But, it’s hard to count out Kentucky and Tennessee to at least make things interesting.
The only way the Bulldogs don’t make it back to Atlanta is if the defense doesn’t show out and the offense stalls under Stetson Bennett. The offensive firepower of a few East Division teams will keep some of these games closer than last season. Georgia’s first SEC test is against South Carolina in Week Three.
We all know that the SEC East runs through Athens, but acting like this defense will be anything like last season would be foolish. They’re going to have to prove it. Led by Nolan Smith, Kelee Ringo and Robert Beal – who led the team in sacks. A consistent Stetson Bennett is key for Georgia, who has Adonai Mitchell and Ladd McConkey at receiver. The Bulldogs had the luxury of relying on one of the best running back groups and will now need Kendal Milton and Kenny Mcintosh to carry the load. Having Brock Bowers as a downfield weapon can’t be understated for Stetson Bennett. Bowers, a tight end, looks to build upon a fantastic freshman season. The Dawgs will play Florida, Tennessee and Kentucky in November. So if an upset is coming, it might not happen until late in the season.
Plenty Of Weapons In Tennessee
Give all the credit to Hendon Hooker and what he was able to accomplish in 2021. Because wide receiver Cedric Tillman returns, head coach Josh Heupel does not have to worry about who will lead the offense. Now, throw in Bru McCoy and the Vols should have an electric passing attack. If Tennessee can finally beat Florida at home, then split the LSU, Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky gauntlet, this team will have the opportunity at nine wins.
Folks trust the offense, but the defense will have to prove it can get off the field. The Volunteers have experience at a few key positions, with Jeremy Banks getting help from a returning Juwan Mitchell at linebacker. I still like Heupel and this offense to out-score most teams.
Can’t Buy The Kentucky Hype
I want to believe the hype around Kentucky and Mark Stoops. Coming off a successful 2021 season, the Wildcats had to replace Wan’Dale Robinson, who turned heads with his playmaking ability. The status of Chris Rodriquez in the first three games has me worried about their Week Two trip to Gainesville. Kentucky has Will Levis to lead them at quarterback, but will need more than his legs to win games. Don’t get me wrong, he can sling it, but I worry about the talent at wide receiver. If the defense can continue improving, this will be a dogfight with Tennessee for second place. Get back to me after week two in Gainesville.
Billy Napier walked into a culture rebuild in Gainesville, needing to right the ship after Dan Mullen left it in pieces. Having Anthony Richardson at quarterback will help the offense immediately – if the Gators can stretch the field. Louisiana transfer Montreal Johnson and Nay’Quan Wright will help a backfield that lost a good chunk of yards. But will it be enough is the question. The defense will be a work in progress, with Ventrell Miller leading the way at linebacker. Playing Kentucky and Tennessee in September, along with Georgia and Texas A&M late in the season will present the challenge. The Gators will win a game they’re not supposed to, but don’t expect it to be against the Aggies or Bulldogs. We’ll see how quick Billy Napier can build his culture in Gainesville.
Bottom Half Of The East Division
5. South Carolina
Bring on the Spencer Rattler era. I am fully onboard to see what the Gamecocks can put together in 2022 with this offense, along with Austin Stogner at tight end. What worries me is long-term defensive production, especially playing Arkansas and Georgia in back-to back weeks. South Carolina will surprise folks this year, but not enough to be in play for a division title. I am not down on this team and think they could battle Florida. But, head coach Shane Beamer needs to prove he can continue building, which I think he can. Don’t sleep on the Gamecocks knocking off a few unsuspecting teams.
Eli Drinkwitz needs to figure this thing out pretty quick. Naming Brady Cook the starting quarterback is a nice start, but having to replace Tyler Badie will be a tall task. The schedule doesn’t do them any favors and the trip to Kansas State in Week Two could be an early loss. They’ve got work to do on defense, which was the common theme in 2021. Sadly, I don’t see it getting much better in 2022.
Credit the Commodores for going on the road and beating up Hawaii. They saw the opportunity to put their foot on the throat and didn’t let up. I enjoy watching Mike Wright scramble and make plays with his feet down the field. After their all-but-certain upcoming win against Elon, they play Wake Forest and Northern Illinois. Then Vandy enters SEC play. The over/under on wins this season was 2.5 and I am certainly taking the over. If they can go 3-1 in September, this would be a fantastic start for Clark Lea’s second year.
Here is what Glen Guilbeau thinks about the SEC East Division.
- South Carolina
Stay tuned to OutKick for our SEC West predictions, coming Wednesday.