SEC preview: Alabama, Texas A&M, Georgia all CFP contenders

By RJ Younger
FOX Sports activities Faculty Soccer Author

It ain’t about if the SEC goes to get a crew within the Faculty Soccer Playoff, it’s about what number of. 

That’s what the convention has turn out to be over the past 20 years — a league that’s, with out query, the perfect within the sport.

In that respect, establishing which crew is the convention’s greatest may very effectively imply establishing which is probably to win the nationwide title. As a lot because it galls the opposite 116 groups, the 2 squads that performed within the SEC title sport final season additionally performed for the nationwide title a month later.

It’s hard-charging, hammer down, high-line operating, ship it and make it stick in the event you’re gonna come out on the entrance of the pack on this league.

S-E-C! S-E-C! Certainly. 

Listed here are the highest 5 SEC storylines we’re watching. 

What’s going to Kirby Good and Georgia do for an encore?

Kirby Good’s Georgia Bulldogs would be the newest defending nationwide champions to start the season with out the crown of preseason No. 1 in most rankings, together with mine.  

They’ve gained 41 out of fifty SEC video games with Good as head coach and misplaced simply 15 complete since he grew to become head coach in 2016. Final month, he was rewarded for a run of success unseen since 1980 with a contract that makes him the highest-paid worker at a public college within the nation.

However starting the season because the No. 3 crew within the AP ballot and No. 4 in my rankings isn’t the snub UGA followers would possibly assume it’s.

The chief cause for that is the lack of seven starters from what most think about the game’s greatest protection within the final decade. Nonetheless, Good has loads of expertise to attract on, with 15 of his 85 scholarship gamers rated five-star recruits in highschool.

Even with EDGE Nolan Smith, defensive again Kelee Ringo and defensive deal with Jalen Carter returning, although, it is not going to be straightforward to switch the expertise of Travon Walker, Quay Walker, Lewis Cine and Nakobe Dean. Dean, who holds a level in mechanical engineering, is likely one of the smartest gamers Good ever had at linebacker. He knew the protection in addition to his defensive coordinator, who’s gone, too.

After Dan Lanning landed the pinnacle teaching gig at Oregon, Good employed Will Muschamp — maybe the one man extra intense than he’s — to coordinate the UGA protection.

How shortly Muschamp adapts to the defensive unit, or the defensive unit adapts to him, will likely be among the many most vital developments for a crew trying to win back-to-back nationwide titles for the primary time since Alabama did it in 2011 and 2012 — with Good as its defensive coordinator.

In actual fact, solely 4 applications have gained back-to-back nationwide championships within the sport’s 153-year historical past: Minnesota (1940 and 1941), Military (1944 and 1945), Oklahoma (1955 and 1956) and people Alabama groups. 

Offensively, Stetson Bennett confirmed that he’s able to main the Dawgs to a nationwide title, attaining folks hero standing within the Peach State. He led an offense that put up 443 yards and 38 factors per sport whereas averaging greater than 10 yards per move try. He handed for two,862 yards with 29 TDs and 7 INTs. 

His weak spot is how he performs towards the category of the SEC. Bennett threw two INTs towards Alabama within the SEC title sport and was harried by the Tide into placing the ball on the carpet within the nationwide title sport. 

With offensive weapons like tight ends Brock Bowers and Darnell Washington, receiver Arik Gilbert, and operating backs Kenny McIntosh and Kendall Milton, Bennett ought to have little hassle serving to the Dawgs put up gaudy numbers in 2022.

However they’ll want to enhance their price of scoring touchdowns. When the Dawgs reached the crimson zone, they scored 86% of the time — in comparison with 92% and 93% by the Ohio State Buckeyes and Tide, respectively. 

Kirby Good is school soccer’s highest-paid coach

Kirby Smart is college football's highest-paid coach

RJ Younger reacts to the information that the Georgia Bulldogs and Kirby Good agreed to a brand new long-term contract that makes Good the very best paid coach in school soccer.

Will Alabama turn out to be the primary crew because the 2017 Tide to start the season ranked No. 1 and go on to win the nationwide championship? 

Begin with this: That is the fifteenth 12 months Saban and Alabama have been ranked because the No. 1 crew within the nation in some unspecified time in the future.

They return the reigning Heisman winner at quarterback in Bryce Younger, plus three starters on the offensive line from a crew that put up 488 yards and 40 factors a sport.

UGA wideout switch Jermain Burton and former Georgia Tech operating again Jahmyr Gibbs have obtained many of the consideration from informal school soccer followers. However the addition of former Vanderbilt offensive lineman Tyler Steen may very well be much more important to Bama’s success, very similar to the addition of Florida State heart Landon Dickerson was to the 2020 nationwide title crew. 

With Evan Neal and Chris Owens gone to the NFL, Steen’s 33 video games of expertise within the SEC will likely be pivotal — particularly with two years of eligibility remaining. As a former defensive lineman, he’ll even have a specific understanding of what defenses will try to do towards Tide O-line coach Doug Marrone. 

Nick Saban says 2021 season was a ‘rebuilding 12 months’

Nick Saban says 2021 season was a 'rebuilding year'

Alabama coach says final season was a “rebuilding year,” but the Tide managed to take Georgia to the wire within the nationwide title sport.

Burton caught 53 passes for 901 yards for UGA over two seasons in Athens, and he’ll must be much more productive in Tuscaloosa with John Metchie, Jameson Williams and Slade Bolden gone to the NFL. 

Saban additionally added former LSU and All-American cornerback Eli Ricks to a protection that may very well be one of many nation’s greatest — if Ricks and defensive backs Jordan Battle, Malachi Moore and Brian Department can hold a lid on the secondary — as a result of the move rush is elite.

Led by Heisman candidate Will Anderson, the 2021 protection was the perfect Bama has fielded since 2017. Anderson recorded 17.5 sacks and a gaudy 34.5 tackles for loss. 

Anderson leads a defensive entrance seven that options stars DJ Dale, Dallas Turner and Henry To’oTo’o. If the protection forces extra takeaways — in comparison with 22 final 12 months — it’s not exhausting to see how the Tide find yourself taking part in within the nationwide title sport for the third time in three years. 

Will Texas A&M comply with by way of? 

Since bolting from Florida State, the place he led the Seminoles to a BCS nationwide title, for the hills of Texas, Jimbo Fisher has put collectively a 34-14 file with three bowl wins. 

That’s good. It’s not ok — not for Ampersand U followers. 

The twelfth Man hasn’t shelled out hundreds of thousands to Fisher and in NIL collective to be the second- or third-best crew in its personal division. They need a nationwide title, which might be their first since 1939. 

However, to do this, they first need to not less than make the SEC Championship Sport, if not win the damned factor. That’s powerful when 23 out of their final 26 seasons have include 4 losses or extra. 

Jimbo Fisher: Why Texas A&M has ‘full package deal’

Jimbo Fisher: Why Texas A&M has 'complete package'

Aggies coach joins Colin Cowherd to debate the most recent in school soccer, together with his No. 1-ranked recruiting class.

Including insult to harm? Six different SEC applications have gained the nationwide title within the BCS or CFP period — together with Auburn — and its two latest members coming in 2025 — rivals Texas and Oklahoma — have, too.

This implies A&M shares actual property with Arkansas, Kentucky, Ole Miss and Vanderbilt — all groups which have by no means proven their face within the SEC title sport. 

Ampersand U followers can solely reside with that for thus lengthy. Even with all that strain, I nonetheless assume the Aggies are a greater crew than all however two and able to not simply attending to the SEC title sport, however profitable the nationwide title. Irrespective of who Fisher picks at quarterback — whether or not it’s Haynes King, Max Johnson or Conor Weigman — they’ve obtained expertise at each offensive and defensive place.

Between true freshman large receivers Evan Stewart and Chris Marshall and excellent playmakers Ainias Smith and Devon Achane, they’ve obtained gamers who can put the ball in the long run zone.

Even with Isaiah Spiller carrying the rock because the characteristic again final season, it was Achane who led the Aggies in speeding with 910 yards, seven yards per carry and 9 touchdowns. 

Like Muschamp, coordinator DJ Durkin must adapt to the protection now-Duke head coach Mike Elko left behind, however a non-conference win towards No. 16 Miami and a vengeful win towards Arkansas may do lots to show to the choice committee that the Aggies are for actual. 

Who could have the perfect Yr 1 within the SEC? 

Billy Napier (Florida) and Brian Kelly (LSU) had been two of probably the most high-profile hires throughout the 2021 teaching cycle. 

Napier has bearing, having coached large receivers for Saban earlier than turning Louisiana into an influence within the Group of 5. 

Kelly constructed his status at Grand Valley State, Central Michigan and Cincinnati, then coached Notre Dame to a number of CFP alternatives, solely to go away South Bend, Indiana, for Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He made the transfer as a result of he believes the SEC — and the gamers he might need the prospect to recruit at LSU — will give him an opportunity to beat Saban, slightly than merely get boat-raced by him. 

In actual fact, profitable the CFP nationwide title is all that’s left for Kelly to perform in what’s going to doubtless be a Corridor of Fame profession.

Each Kelly and Napier should select the perfect quarterback to guide them into their new eras. Napier should select between Ohio State switch Jack Miller and incumbent Anthony Richardson, whereas Kelly will choose between former Arizona State switch Jayden Daniels and gifted sophomore Garrett Nussmeier — whose father, Doug, as soon as coordinated Saban’s offense.

Will Brian Kelly shine at LSU?

Will Brian Kelly shine at LSU?

RJ Younger breaks down who could have a greater debut season — Brian Kelly at LSU or Marcus Freeman at Notre Dame?

The safer guess may not be Kelly, regardless that he is been to each the CFP and the nationwide title sport within the final 10 years at one of many sport’s greatest manufacturers. The safer guess would possibly as a substitute be Napier, a candy Southern 43-year-old who put collectively three 10-plus win seasons at Louisiana, together with 12-1 in 2021.

The Gators could have an opportunity to point out what Napier’s program can do early with a season-opener towards a Utah program anticipated to contend for its first invitation to the CFP in class historical past.

Can Arkansas get to 10 wins? 

Is it a brief stroll from “Bubba Shot the Juke Box” to “Juke Box Hero” to “Turn That Damn Juke Box On,” or am I simply that excited for Arkansas soccer to seek out its kind? 

The Razorbacks gained 9 video games final season, and two of their 4 losses had been one-possession video games. If the Razorbacks hadn’t fallen aside towards Auburn, they had been looking at a 10-win season.

Not dangerous for a crew that had gained a complete of 11 video games over the earlier 4 years, and by no means greater than eight in any of the earlier 10.

The Hawgs have a shot to point out the nation what they’re product of early, beginning the 2022 season vs. No. 23 Cincinnati, then internet hosting Saban’s Tide on Oct. 1. 

Over the previous two seasons, the Tide have proved susceptible of their first SEC street sport. Their first final 12 months was shut, and their second was their first loss to an unranked crew (Texas A&M) since 2007.

Sam Pittman’s squad added former Alabama linebacker Drew Sanders, too, who ought to show useful to serving to coordinators Kendal Briles and Barry Odom perceive how you can beat Alabama after coming shut in a 42-35 loss at Bryant-Denny final 12 months.

To try this, they only need to be incrementally higher. The Hawgs led the SEC in speeding, put up 441 yards and 31 factors per sport, and have a bona fide star at quarterback in KJ Jefferson — the metal coronary heart beating beneath the struggle cry of woo, pig.

If Jefferson can create the connection with Oklahoma switch and wideout Jadon Haselwood, as he did with Treylon Burks, the Pit Boss and his Hawgs would possibly barbecue the SEC West but. 

RJ Younger is a nationwide school soccer author and analyst for FOX Sports activities and the host of the podcast “The No. 1 Ranked Show with RJ Young.” Observe him on Twitter at @RJ_Young, and subscribe to “The RJ Young Show” on YouTube. He’s not on a StepMill.

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