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SEC Football: 10 Storylines to Watch in 2022

Kirby Smart, Georgia Bulldogs Football

The SEC doesn't lack for storylines or intrigue going into the 2022 college football season. Georgia aims to repeat, but Alabama is loaded and primed to take over the top spot in the nation with Bryce Young and Will Anderson back in Tuscaloosa. The Bulldogs and Crimson Tide are clearly the class of the SEC, but there's a strong middle class with Texas A&M on the rise, along with Tennessee, Kentucky and Arkansas likely to garner preseason top 25 consideration. Also, expect LSU and South Carolina to take a step forward, adding to the league's depth that includes Florida, Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Auburn. 

What are the biggest storylines surrounding the SEC for the 2022 college football season? Matt Hinton examines the conference's QB turnover, players with Heisman hype, the new head coaches and more:

SEC Football: 10 Storylines to Watch in 2022

1. Transfer QBs Take Over

In the olden days, replacing the starting quarterback was the biggest wild card a college coach could face. Your options tended to be unproven, with little or no meaningful playing time under their belt at the college level, and if they left you with a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach at the end of spring practice, well, tough luck. You ride into the season with the talent on hand.

These days? If you're not casting as wide a net as possible for the next man up, you're at serious risk of falling behind. In just a few years, relaxed transfer rules have thoroughly upended the way rosters are built and rebuilt, nowhere more so than at the most important position — and nowhere more aggressively, naturally, than in the SEC. At least half of the league's 14 teams this fall are likely to feature a transfer QB as their opening-day starter. Most of them will be new faces in 2022, and all of them come with prior starting experience at their old schools.

Tracking the offseason movement at this point is like keeping score in a game of musical chairs. South Carolina landed one of the crown jewels of the free-agent market, Spencer Rattler, a former five-star prospect who went 15-2 as the starter at Oklahoma before losing his grip on the job midway through last season. LSU and Ole Miss raided the Pac-12 for Jayden Daniels (Arizona State) and Jaxson Dart (USC), respectively. Auburn stayed in the SEC West, adding Zach Calzada from Texas A&M to replace the Oregon-bound Bo Nix; A&M kept it in the division, too, replacing Calzada with former LSU starter Max Johnson. (It's probably no coincidence that Calzada and Johnson were both winners against their new teams in 2021.) Florida lost last year's starter, Emory Jones, but spiced up its spring competition with the arrival of Ohio State transfer Jack Miller III. And among the incumbents, former transfers Hendon Hooker and Will Levis are fully entrenched at Tennessee and Kentucky, respectively, after seizing the job last year in their first season on campus.

Only one SEC team, Missouri, opened the spring on track to fill a vacancy behind center the old-fashioned way, with actual Mizzou recruits Brady Cook and Tyler Macon vying in the spring to replace outgoing starter Connor Bazelak following Bazelak's transfer to Indiana (Cook was named the starter in early August). Even there, the Tigers added one quarterback (Jack Abraham) this summer. Why settle for the status quo when an upgrade could be just a phone call away? In the age of the transfer portal, the music never stops, and the business of getting better never sleeps.

2. Heisman Hype for Will Anderson Jr.

The Heisman Trophy has always been an ­offensive award, and since the turn of the century it's essentially been reserved for quarterbacks: QBs have accounted for 18 of the past 22 Heisman winners and a majority of the finalists in that span. If you play defense, forget it. Since Charles Woodson's historic win in 1997, only five defenders have made the finalist cut — including LSU's Tyrann Mathieu, who, like Woodson, owed much of his place in NYC in 2011 to his contributions in the return game — and none of them have seriously threatened to win it. Alabama linebacker Will Anderson Jr., who finished fifth in last year's vote, didn't even get a token invite to join teammate Bryce Young at the ceremony.

If there's even a remote possibility of a defender breaking the streak, though, clearly Anderson is the dude to do it. As a true freshman in 2020, he started every game and led the nation in QB pressures, according to the film-eaters at Pro Football Focus. As a sophomore, he was the most unblockable player in America, by far, setting the FBS record for tackles for a loss (34.5) since the NCAA began tracking the statistic; for that, he became the first Alabama edge rusher in Nick Saban's tenure to claim the title of consensus All-American. You can go ahead and mark him down next year as the first edge on Saban's watch drafted in the first round, too, and possibly as the first Saban player at any position to go No. 1 overall.

In his last go-round on campus, Anderson has the advantage of being a known quantity with no shortage of preseason hype or goodwill in light of last year's snub. On the other hand, he also faces two distinct disadvantages: One, he's still forced to share the spotlight in Tuscaloosa with a much more conventional candidate in Young; and two, measuring up to his own lofty benchmarks on paper will be close to impossible even if he stays healthy. Compared to his iron-man workload in 2021, Anderson also figures to yield more snaps to a stacked group of underclassmen led by sophomore Dallas Turner. Still, when the time comes to settle on the most outstanding player in the country, Anderson's talent and production might just be too obvious to deny.