Georgia reigns at the top of college football, but we’re ready to turn the page to next season. And while we expect the Bulldogs to remain the SEC’s power broker, the competition behind them is heating up.
Will LSU Repeat in SEC West? Can Alabama turn a #1 recruiting class into a trip to the SEC championship? Will Texas A&M Fight Back Behind Young Talent?
Too early you say? Never.
While the #1 and #14 spots in our Power Rankings might seem obvious, several tiers in between offer a chance for a hearty debate between a few teams.
For example, what is the difference between Arkansas, Ole Miss and South Carolina? Not much.
And is Florida spinning its hoops? Sure it seems so.
TOPPMEYER:If Nick Saban wants to sign Jeremy Pruitt in Alabama, he shouldn’t let the NCAA roar stop him
ADAMS:A 12-team college football playoff schedule that should keep SEC fans happy. Thank you, reader
This is how we obstruct the SEC. If you don’t like your team’s reputation, that can change. After all, we are more than seven months away from the start of the season.
The Bulldogs need to replace Stetson Bennett IV and a handful of other pivots, but Kirby Smart has shown he knows how to reload. Also, many national championship stars will return. In fact, Georgia’s future seemed bleaker as it sent 15 players from its championship team to the 2021 NFL Draft. We saw how that worked.
The tigers have star power. You have a proven quarterback in Jayden Daniels. They have a healthy mix of up-and-coming youngsters and proven veterans. And Brian Kelly continues to add talented transfers to the program. LSU is positioned to govern SEC West.
Who is Alabama’s quarterback? His workhorse is running back? His disruptors on defense? Reliable third down target? Alabama needs to answer these questions as Nick Saban heads into the offseason with a touted but unproven roster. An apparent legacy from Bryce Young would allay some concerns.
Will Tennessee’s offense remain as strong after the departure of Hendon Hooker and some leading supporting cast like Jalin Hyatt? Probably not. But as Joe Milton and the Vols proved when they defeated Clemson in the Orange Bowl, that tank doesn’t run dry. Also waiting on the wings is five-star quarterback Nico Iamaleava. However, the Vols’ defense needs to keep a pulse.
yes we know The Aggies were grossly overrated in the AP preseason poll ahead of this 5-7 season. The hype came a year too early. Texas A&M did own plenty of young talent returning in 2023, led by Evan Stewart. And the Aggies beat LSU with Conner Weigman at quarterback. Also, the arrival of Bobby Petrino should benefit the offense. A&M is ready to recover.
6. Ole Fraulein
Jaxson Dart, Quinshon Judkins and a host of familiar faces form an attacking core around which Lane Kiffin can build, and he fills gaps with transfers. But can Dart develop the consistency needed to accelerate the offense? And what about that defense? Newly hired coordinator Pete Golding has a busy schedule.
[ WANT MORE OPINIONS FROM TOPPMEYER AND ADAMS? Sign up for the SEC Unfiltered newsletter for exclusive columns delivered straight to your inbox ]
KJ Jefferson and Rocket Sanders provide a 1-2 punch. Two of the Razorbacks’ losses last season were suffered while Jefferson was sidelined. It’s important to keep him healthy. This also applies to improving an already leaky defense that needs to replace central figures. The Razorbacks will also welcome new Coordinators.
Perhaps we’re underestimating the Gamecocks here, especially when Spencer Rattler maintains the performance he showed in wins over Tennessee and South Carolina late in the season. Antwane Wells offers a reliable target. Still, the Gamecocks have suffered several significant transfer departures and the quest for consistency continues in Shane Beamer’s third season.
Will Levis and Chris Rodriguez go abroad. We looked at Britain without these two in their bowl game. Was not nice. The good news: Inbound Devin Leary and Ray Davis should make up for those departures. The bigger question is whether the Wildcats will improve on the line of scrimmage. Rank 107 nationally in Rushing Offense is not enough.
Robby Ashford should benefit from working with Hugh Freeze, who has a track record of developing quarterbacks. And Jarquez Hunter is a recurring weapon. Auburn has gobbled up transfers that will beef up the squad on both sides of the ball. Expect progress in Year 1 of the Freeze Era.
11. State of Mississippi
Will Rogers is returning as fourth-year quarterback, but so many veteran faces from last season’s nine-winning team are gone. Lead receiver Rara Thomas was transferred to Georgia. Zach Arnett must adjust to being a first-time coach while reloading on defense following the elimination of cogs Emmanuel Forbes, Randy Charlton and others. At least veteran linebackers Jett Johnson and Nathaniel Watson are returning as super seniors.
The university that produced Steve Spurrier, Danny Wuerffel and Tim Tebow is gearing up for a quarterback contest led by Jack Miller and Graham Mertz. RIP, Fun ‘N’ Gun. Billy Napier’s rebuild seems stuck in Phase I. The loss of award-winning quarterback Jaden Rashada from Florida’s recruiting class to a NIL meltdown is the latest gut punch.
Dominic Lovett was the offensively challenged Tigers’ top offensive weapon last season. Lovett is now a Georgia Bulldog. Quarterback Brady Cook underwent shoulder surgery after the bowl game. He’ll be on hiatus all spring. The tigers have been pretty quiet in the portal. So yeah, things are going great in CoMo. All signs point to continued mediocrity.
Want to hear something positive about Vanderbilt? It won back-to-back SEC games in November. Hats off, commodore. Now for the harsh reality: The star of those wins, Ray Davis, is in Kentucky now. And Mike Wright, the starting quarterback in four of Vanderbilt’s five wins, is on the transfer portal.
Where to listen to SEC Football Unfiltered
Blake Toppmeyer is the SEC columnist for the USA TODAY Network. John Adams is senior columnist for the Knoxville News Sentinel. You can subscribe to her podcast, SEC Football Unfilteredor check out theirs SEC Unfiltered Newsletter, Delivered straight to your inbox.