2022 NCAA Football preview - SEC West
After our trip through the SEC East let’s move to the West even though, geographically, Missouri in the East and Alabama and Auburn in the West makes zero sense.
Alabama is back and the way that HC Nick Saban runs his program, I would feel foolish betting against them getting back to the College Football Playoff. Texas A&M has something to prove, and it’s not just that they didn’t just flat-out pay players to come to A&M, it’s that they belong in the elite of College football. Arkansas won’t be sneaking up on anyone this season, but the way they’ve been recruiting, they don’t need to.
LSU and Ole Miss will both be good, but maybe not “contending for the division”-good. HC Mike “the Pirate King” Leach is always interesting and will usually play teams tight (at least through the 3rd quarter). And lastly, we have Auburn and the HC that nobody (in the athletic department) wanted.
It’ll be interesting in the SEC (wild) West this season, get your popcorn ready.
Alabama Crimson Tide (13-2, 2021 SEC Champion)
Head Coach – Nick Saban (183-25 in 15 seasons, 21 bowl games)
Top Recruit – Jeremiah Alexander – EDGE – 5 stars
Biggest question for 2022 – Will HC Saban take Alabama to its 7th National Title in his 16 years? Seriously, there are no other questions for this roster, barring a catastrophic injury to QB Bryce Young (JR), this team is as good as any in the country. As an opposing coach said in Athlon Sports' breakdown of the Tide “they aren’t new faces so much as players who haven’t beaten you yet.” Sounds about right.
If things go right. . . Undefeated in the regular season and headed to Atlanta for another SEC Championship game. After that, a likely CFP slot, and then we can have the yearly debate about adding more teams.
If things go wrong. . . someone in Texas, either @Texas or Vs. A&M takes them down and then the Iron Bowl (which always manages some intrigue) results in Auburn handing the Tide another loss. That might, MIGHT, be enough to push the Tide out of a trip to Atlanta. . . maybe.
Likely outcome for the season. . . It’s possible that someone trips up the Tide, Texas A&M and HC Jimbo Fisher did so last season becoming the first former Saban assistant/Coordinator to beat him. But even if they had lost in the Iron Bowl, they would have gone to Atlanta. Face it, Saban will be retired before there is doubt about a football season in Tuscaloosa; they’re going to the CFP playoff and probably doing it in style.
Head Coach – Sam Pittman (12-11 in 2 seasons, 1 bowl game)
Top Recruit – Isaiah Satenga – WR – 4 stars
Biggest question for 2022 – Can the Razorbacks maintain the momentum from last year and build on it?
If things go right. . . the Hogs could end up 11-1 with their only loss being at home Vs. Alabama. I just don’t see a path for Arkansas to beat the Tide barring a complete meltdown by Alabama.
If things go wrong. . . I could see Arkansas dropping back-to-back games Vs. Texas A&M and Alabama, discounting BYU in a trip to Provo and dropping that. A winning streak that nets them some confidence but then losses at home to LSU and Ole Miss. If that happens you could see a demoralized Razorback squad traveling to @Missouri the day after Thanksgiving and losing. This is definitely a "trial by fire"-type schedule.
Likely outcome for the season. . . a 9-3 season sounds right. Alabama is a loss for virtually every team in the country. Texas A&M could be a loss, but so could LSU and Ole Miss, they could also all be wins. The point I’m making is that there just aren’t many “gimmes” in SEC play, especially not in the West.
Auburn Tigers (6-7)
Head Coach – Bryan Harsin (6-7 in 1 season, 1 bowl game)
Top Recruit - Robert Woodyard - LB – 4 stars
Biggest question for 2022 – It seems like an odd question to ask of a team that went to a bowl game, but will the Auburn Tigers be looking to hire their third coach in three years by the time bowl season rolls around?
If things go right. . . either Zach Calzada (QB-SO) or T.J. Finley (QB-JR) exceed everyone’s wildest expectations and the Tigers manage to win all the games they are expected to plus take a pair of upsets to get to 7-5, ensuring a winning season.
If things go wrong. . . Missouri comes in and steals the game between Vs. Penn State and Vs. LSU setting up a potential six-game losing streak before a trip to @Mississippi St. However the last three games are Vs. Texas A&M, Vs. Western Kentucky, and @Alabama. Not exactly a soft landing.
Likely outcome for the season. . . No matter how I look at Auburn’s schedule, I can’t get them to 6 wins without a serious upset. 5-7 is a real possibility with wins over Mercer, San Jose State, Missouri, @Mississippi State, and Western Kentucky. On the upside, the Iron Bowl is always full of surprises.
Louisiana State Tigers (6-7)
Head Coach – Brian Kelly (first season)
Top Recruit – Harold Perkins – LB - 5 stars
Biggest question for 2022 – Will the amount of roster turnover this offseason (15 players in and 14 transferring out, and they may not be done yet) combined with the 15 incoming freshmen allow for ANY continuity, or will this team simply squeeze out its wins through individual talent? Last week's retirement of QB Miles Brennan raises another big question, though maybe not AS big.
If things go right. . . things may look pretty damn good up until November dawns in Baton Rouge bringing games Vs. Alabama, @Arkansas, and @Texas A&M. If the Bayou Bengals can pull an upset they may see 9-3 or 10-2 which feels like a big win for Kelly’s first year.
If things go wrong. . . that same November schedule caps off a pretty sorry season that may include losses Vs. Tennessee, @Florida, and Vs. Ole Miss. If that happens Kelly’s seat will be considerably warmer in Death Valley.
Likely outcome for the season. . .there’s enough talent on this roster left over from former HC Ed Orgeron’s tenure to make this team competitive week-to-week, can Kelly harness it and integrate the new player though? 9-3 seems like their ceiling but I think 8-4 is more realistic while 7-5 wouldn’t shock me.
Mississippi State Bulldogs (7-6)
Head Coach – Mike Leach (11-13 in 2 seasons, 2 bowl games)
Top Recruit – Trevion Williams – DL – 4 stars
Biggest question for 2022 – this one is a twofer. Can the Bulldogs turn some of the close losses of 2021, outside of the Alabama game they lost 4 regular season games by a total of 18 points, into wins? The second question is, can the Bulldogs achieve a higher level of consistency in their play? Some weeks the Air Raid offense looked like it could play with anyone (won @Texas A&M) and some weeks it looked like it would never get off the ground (lost in Liberty Bowl to Texas Tech 7-34).
If things go right. . . HC Leach could have them as high as 8-4 come the season’s end. That would require a couple of upsets, but the Pirate King is no stranger to those.
If things go wrong. . . State will be clanging their cowbells at home during bowl season going winless for October (Vs. Texas A&M, Vs. Arkansas, @Kentucky, and @Alabama) and only Vs. East Tennessee State looking like a win in November.
Likely outcome for the season. . . I want to convince myself that 7-5 is probable, but I just can’t. 6-6 feels like the finish line for the Bulldogs this season and that’s already with me splitting the Texas A&M/Arkansas games assuming that they’ll find a way to win one of those two and figuring that Auburn will be a hot mess by the time November gets here.
Ole Miss(issippi) Rebels (10-3)
Head Coach – Lane Kiffin (15-8 in 2 seasons, 2 bowl games)
Top Recruit – Davison Igbinosun – CB – 4 stars
Biggest question for 2022 – Will the Lane Kiffin-era recruits perform at a level (17 freshmen or sophomores on the two deep roster) high enough (collectively) to make up for the loss of Matt Corral (QB-Carolina) to the NFL?
If things go right. . . the Rebels march through to November with only one loss (I’m picking Vs. Kentucky Oct 1) and the remaining schedule all SEC West opponents, including the top 3 teams Vs. Alabama, @ Arkansas, and @ Texas A&M. If that happens, they will control their own destiny and a trip to Atlanta doesn’t seem too farfetched.
If things go wrong. . . Kentucky and @LSU are losses in October and the Rebels go 0 for November with a loss in the Egg Bowl Vs. Mississippi State.
Likely outcome for the season. . . if the Rebels can pull off an upset (or two) in November they could find themselves at a very respectable 8-4 in what I view as a rebuilding season.
Texas A&M Aggies (8-4)
Head Coach – Jimbo Fisher (34-14 in 4 seasons, 3 bowl games)
Top Recruit – Walter Nolen – DL – 5 stars
Biggest question for 2022 – Can the Aggies hold the line in 2022 until their incoming freshmen (#1 recruiting class in the country) begin to contribute next season, or will the lack of returning starters (only 9 of 22 starters return) sink the Aggies in a brutal division?
If things go right. . .2021’s losses to Vs. Arkansas and @Mississsippi State turn into wins and they can beat @Alabama for the second year in a row. Even if they manage that, it’s a hard road in the SEC
If things go wrong. . . the season opens with cupcake Vs. Sam Houston State and then a solid Appalachian State team visits College station; those games should both be wins. From there the difficulty rating makes a leap with Miami (FL) coming to Texas and then Arkansas at a neutral site in Arlington. Follow those games up with a trip to @Mississippi State (who beat A&M last season) and @Alabama and you suddenly have a 2-4 team flailing and only games @South Carolina and Vs. UMass as very likely wins and a 4-8 season kills that Aggie momentum (and likely, the 2023 recruiting class.
Likely outcome for the season. . . 8-4 to 7-5 is where I’m falling on this team. They had a chance to use the Alabama win as a catapult to a 10-2 season last year but dropped road games to Ole Miss and LSU down the stretch.
2023 Division Predictions (Bowl teams in italics)
Tennessee Texas A&M
Missouri Ole Miss
South Carolina Mississippi State
SEC Championship Game
Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, GA
Saturday, December 3 @ 4pm on CBS
Georgia Vs Alabama (Champion)
That's it folks, time to take a trip up Nort' and see what's shaking in the Big 10 West.
I'm sure that most people have it as either Iowa's or Wisconsin's race to lose, but I feel like there might be more of a fight than expected out West.