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SEC Preview


Alec Smith
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2023 By the Numbers – SEC Preview

            If you are anything like me, you are first and foremost a Georgia Bulldog fan but are also a fan of college football in general. If there are two teams, 22 young men, and a football, I will be watching. With that being said, I always enjoy taking a little time to read up on other teams, especially those that are relevant to Georgia’s schedule. In this edition of 2023 By the Numbers, we are going to dive into win totals, key returning players, national championship odds, and more for all 14 member institutions of the SEC.

 

East Division

School

Head Coach

Preseason Win Total

National Championship Odds

2022 Finish

Georgia Bulldogs

Kirby Smart

11.5

+220

15-0 (8-0)

Tennessee Volunteers

Josh Heupel

9.5

+3000

11-2 (6-2)

South Carolina Gamecocks

Shane Beamer

6.5

+15000

8-5 (4-4)

Kentucky Wildcats

Mark Stoops

6.5

+15000

7-6 (3-5)

Missouri Tigers

Eli Drinkwitz

6.5

+15000

6-7 (3-5)

Florida Gators

Billy Napier

5.5

+15000

6-7 (3-5)

Vanderbilt Commodores

Clark Lea

3.5

+30000

5-7 (2-6)

 

            We know all about what Georgia is capable of in 2023. Kirby Smart brought in the 2nd overall recruiting class in the 2023 cycle and the Bulldogs are coming fresh off back to back national championships. They are the favorite to win the whole thing again and have a good shot at a third consecutive undefeated regular season. The question is can anyone in the East give them a push?

            Tennessee had a very good outing in 2022, finishing 2nd in the East and a New Year’s 6 Bowl victory over Clemson. The Vols have lost star QB Hendon Hooker to the NFL along with standout WR Jalin Hyatt. Joe Milton looked very good when he came in for an injured Hooker, throwing for 971 yards, 10 touchdowns, and 0 interceptions. Milton is the best bet to start under center for Tennessee, but former 5* Nico Iamaleava is waiting in the wings for his chance to shine.

            Tennessee’s 2022 season made the SEC East appear to be a two horse race for the immediate future, but I would not count out teams like South Carolina or Missouri to be in the mix come the fall of 2023. Missouri’s likely QB next year will be incumbent starter Brady Cook, who has been out for the spring with injury. Missouri also did some work in the portal this offseason and added depth at QB, WR, and OL. Theo Wease transferred in from Oklahoma and seeks to replace the production of  WR Dominic Lovett who is now on Georgia’s roster. Coupling Wease with former 5* Luther Burden makes Mizzou’s offense more dynamic than it has been, and adds another threat to the only other team outside of Ohio State to play the Dawgs close in 2022.

            South Carolina is another interesting team to watch out for next year. The Gamecocks have seen consistent improvement under HC Shane Beamer. SC finished last year at 8-5 which is their second-best record since 2013. The Gamecocks thumped playoff hopeful Tennessee and then beat in-state rival Clemson to finish their season. Returning starter Spencer Rattler will try to build off of an impressive finish to 2022, but will have to adjust to a new offensive coordinator and a lack of returning production.

            I’ll be the one to say it, Mark Stoops is one of the most underrated head coaches in college football right now. Kentucky has gone from a near abysmal level football program to a respected SEC team and near lock for a bowl game every year. In 2023, Kentucky has a tough stretch of SEC play that gives the Wildcats a four week run of Tennessee, Mississippi State, Alabama, and South Carolina. Incoming transfer Devin Leary started 26 games (17- 9) for NC State before making the move to Lexington, Kentucky. Leary has 6,807 career passing yards and a TD/INT ratio of 62-16, appearing in 30 games total for the Wolfpack. If Devin Leary can reach similar levels of production, he will fill the shoes of NFL draft pick Will Levis very well and can give the Wildcats a legitimate shot at 8-10 wins.

            As much as I would like to skip straight to Vanderbilt, I suppose we must discuss that team from Gainesville just a little bit. Billy Napier is going into his second season as the head coach at Florida and is looking to right the ship of the once prestigious program. Florida lost a very talented QB in Anthony Richardson to the NFL along with many other key starters, but Napier has done a good job of bringing in replacement talent with the #14 recruiting class and the #21 ranked transfer portal class. The Gators biggest question mark, not unlike many other SEC schools, will be at the QB position. Graham Mertz, who started for Wisconsin last year, hit I-75 down to Florida and comes in looking to be the guy under center for the Gators. Billy Napier finished year one at Louisiana with a 7-7 record, followed by a jump to 11-3 in year two. We will see if a similar turnaround can be made for Florida.

            Vanderbilt is one of two SEC schools that return their QB, HC, and both coordinators, with LSU being the other. Clark Lea has the Commodores trending in the right direction after a 5-7 record in 2022. Vandy has a very favorable start to the season with 4 very winnable OOC games before SEC play. With a 4-0 start and two conference wins, Coach Lea could send the ‘Dores bowling for the first time since 2018.

 

West Division

School

Head Coach

Preseason Win Total

National Championship Odds

2022 Finish

Alabama Crimson Tide

Nick Saban

10.5

+500

11-2 (6-2)

LSU Tigers

Brian Kelly

9.5

+1400

10-4 (6-2)

Texas A&M Aggies

Jimbo Fischer

7.5

+5500

5-7 (2-6)

Ole Miss Rebels

Lane Kiffin

7.5

+15000

8-5 (4-4)

Arkansas Razorbacks

Sam Pittman

7.5

+20000

7-6 (3-5)

Mississippi State Bulldogs

Zach Arnett

6.5

+20000

9-4 (4-4)

Auburn Tigers

Hugh Freeze

6.5

+15000

5-7 (2-6)

 

            The SEC West may be the most interesting division in college football, especially going into next year. Alabama lost their chokehold on the West last season as they failed to make the SEC Championship for only the fourth time since 2012. The Crimson Tide have a monstrous sized question mark at QB going into 2023 after further muddying the waters by adding transfer signal caller Tyler Buchner from Notre Dame. Saban’s squad next year could return to the philosophy employed by Bama teams of old by relying on defense and the running game rather than the dynamic passing attacks that we have seen in recent years. Of the top 7 recruiting classes of all time, 3 of them are currently on campus in Tuscaloosa. Pause, read that again. Yes, 3/7 (2021, 2023, 2022 respectively) of the best recruiting classes in the history of the sport belong to Nick Saban and will be playing in Crimson and White in the fall. This team is still bursting at the seams with talent, making Alabama very deserving of their 2nd best odds to win the CFP.

            Rarely does a head coach make a first year splash in the SEC like Brian Kelly did in Baton Rouge. 10 wins, a division title, a win over Alabama, a top 10 recruiting class in 2023, and a blowout victory in the Citrus Bowl over Purdue all headlined a great start for Kelly’s tenure at LSU. As mentioned above, LSU and Vanderbilt are the only two teams in the SEC who return both coordinators, head coach, and starting quarterback. Couple that with the #6 overall class in 2023, the #10 transfer portal class, and budding superstars Harold Perkins and Maason Smith on defense, the 2023 LSU Tigers are a legitimate contender to not only win the SEC but to win the national championship as well.

            Why does Texas A&M still have the 5th best odds in the SEC to bring home the CFP trophy after having a car wreck of a season in 2022? Texas A&M returns a top ten team talent ranking, along with the #15 recruiting class from the 2023 cycle. Sophomore Conner Weigman threw for 896 yards and 8 touchdowns with no interceptions in a limited capacity last season, and he will pair up with the new offensive coordinator Bobby Petrino to try and revive the Aggies offense. The Aggies still have to march through a challenging SEC slate, including playing Miami, Tennessee, Ole Miss, and LSU on the road.

            Lane Kiffin’s Rebels have finished with a top ten offense three years in a row and will have plenty of talent on that side of the ball next season as well. Sophomore Quinshon Judkins might be one of the best running backs in the nation, and he is accompanied by a deep quarterback room highlighted by incoming transfer Spencer Sanders from Oklahoma State. Sanders joins incumbent starter Jaxson Dart and another transfer, Walker Howard (LSU), to battle it out for the quarterback position. New defensive coordinator Pete Golding looks to change course for the Rebels defense who gave up 25.5 PPG in 2022.

            KJ Jefferson returns as PFF’s highest graded QB in the SEC from 2022 with an overall grade of 88.0. Despite coaching and roster turnover, Jefferson and star RB Raheim “Rocket” Sanders lead an explosive Razorback offense and will try to navigate an extremely competitive SEC West. After the departure of Barry Odom, Sam Pittman brought in Travis Williams to take control of Arkansas’s defense, who ranked among the bottom of the SEC last year.

            Mississippi State has replaced legendary HC Mike Leach who tragically passed away last year with Zach Arnett. Arnett has a tall task ahead of him as he will try to carry the Bulldogs through the crowded SEC West, but he will have some help from returning starter at QB Will Rogers. Will has quietly put together a very impressive career at Miss. State, accumulating 10,689 passing yards and 82 touchdowns over 3 seasons with the Bulldogs. Arnett’s staff finished 26th in the 2023 recruiting cycle but lost a lot of talent via the transfer portal.

            We will conclude with one of the biggest wildcards in the SEC, the Auburn Tigers. After the failed experiment with Bryan Harsin, Auburn brought in storied head coach Hugh Freeze. Freeze got started right away in the transfer portal, amassing the #5 overall portal class, which consists of five 4*’s and fourteen 3*’s. One of the most recent additions is QB Payton Thorne who started for Michigan State last year and will be the expected starter under center for the Tigers this year. Auburn lost a lot of talent in the trenches and will have to reconstruct the offensive and defensive line to make a push through their challenging schedule.

           

           

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