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SEC Football: Ranking the Rosters for 2022

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Kirby Smart and Nick Saban, 2021 SEC Championship Game

Kirby Smart and Nick Saban have combined to win the last two national championships while helping the SEC dominate the recruiting trail over an even longer period

There are a number of factors that go into building a successful college football program and recruiting sits right at the top of the list. It is the lifeblood of the college game. And there is no denying the correlation between success on the recruiting trail and success on the field. History has shown us that teams that boast the most talented rosters, typically find themselves competing for conference and national championships. That is particularly true when it comes to teams in the SEC.

There isn’t a conference in college football that places more importance on recruiting than the SEC, where the yearly grind to secure the signatures of elite high school and junior college talent across the land can be almost as compelling as the game itself. And no conference does it better than the SEC, which has claimed the top spot in the national recruiting rankings for each of the last 14 years. During that span, five different schools from college football’s premier conference have brought home 10 national titles, led by Alabama with six.

So, now that National Signing Day is officially in the books, and the new-look rosters are starting to take form, there’s no better time to take a closer look at which SEC teams will be in the best shape heading into the 2022 season.

Below are the national recruiting ranking averages for SEC schools over the last five (2018-22) classes, according to 247Sports' Composite Team Rankings, and each team's record over the last five (2017-21) seasons. Obviously, this doesn't take into account roster attrition, but, over time, this should be considered relatively even across the conference.

Ranking the SEC's College Football's Rosters in 2022

RkTeam2221201918AvgWLConf

1T

Alabama

2

1

2

1

5

2.2

64-6

38-4

1T

Georgia

3

4

1

2

1

2.2

58-10

36-5

3

Texas AM

1

8

6

4

17

7.2

41-20

25-16

4

LSU

12

3

4

5

15

7.8

45-19

27-15

5

Florida

16

12

9

9

14

12.0

39-23

24-18

6

Auburn

19

19

7

11

12

13.6

39-25

23-18

7

Tennessee

17

22

10

13

21

16.6

27-33

14-28

8

Ole Miss

24

17

34

22

32

25.8

30-29

16-25

9

Mississippi State

27

26

28

24

27

26.4

34-29

18-24

10

Kentucky

13

35

25

34

37

28.8

40-23

21-21

11

Arkansas

28

25

30

23

45

30.2

20-39

8-34

12

South Carolina

26

79

19

21

18

32.6

29-32

17-25

13

Missouri

14

27

51

37

43

34.4

32-29

19-23

14

Vanderbilt

32

49

53

58

41

46.6

16-42

5-36

Georgia joins elite company at the top with Alabama

Kirby Smart and the Bulldogs have been slowly but surely closing the talent gap on Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide over the last few seasons. And while the Dawgs have yet to surpass the Crimson Tide on the recruiting trail, they can finally say that they are on par with the perennial juggernaut in that regard. Both schools sport identical recruiting class rankings over the last five years at 2.2, which is the best average of any team in the country. In fact, Alabama and Georgia are the only two programs in all of college football that have signed top-five classes in each of the last five recruiting cycles. That has clearly paid big dividends on the football field with those two schools combining to claim three of the last five national championships and four of the last five SEC titles. And with Alabama and Georgia splitting their two matchups this past season, the identical recruiting rankings for these two programs seem to line up nicely with the results on the field. The Crimson Tide knocked off the Bulldogs to claim SEC supremacy, while Georgia secured its first national title since 1980 with a victory over Alabama in the College Football Playoff National Championship. The scary part is that both schools are showing no signs of decline on the recruiting trail or on the gridiron for the foreseeable future.

Texas A&M coming on strong

Georgia isn’t the only SEC program poised to make a serious run at the Alabama dynasty. Texas A&M has already surpassed LSU as the biggest threat to the Crimson Tide in the SEC West. And if last season’s 41-38 win over Alabama is any indication, Jimbo Fisher’s Aggies may be on their way to conference and national supremacy in the not-so-distant future. Another indication would be Texas A&M beating out both Alabama and Georgia on the recruiting trail for the No. 1-ranked class in the nation for 2022. And it’s not just the top recruiting haul in the country for 2022, it’s widely regarded as the best recruiting class of all time. One that features seven five-star prospects and 17 players ranked in the top 100 nationally, per 247Sports Composite. Much like Alabama and Georgia, Texas A&M has plenty of talent on tap for the upcoming season and is quickly transcending into a team that reloads year after year.

Will LSU get back on track under Brian Kelly?

The last couple of years have been pretty rough for the Tigers, who have posted back-to-back lackluster seasons after dominating their way to a national championship in 2019. The sudden downturn not only cost head coach Ed Orgeron his job, but it also took a toll on recruiting, as LSU fell out of the top five in the national recruiting rankings for the first time in four years. New head coach Brian Kelly was able to salvage the No. 12-ranked class for 2022. And while there are some big voids to fill, there is still more than enough talent in place for the Tigers to be very competitive in 2022 and beyond. Only time will tell if Kelly is the right fit to bring LSU back to prominence, but his track record speaks for itself. And with talent-rich Louisiana and Texas providing fertile recruiting grounds, Kelly should have the Tigers back to top-five form on the recruiting trail in short order.

Can Florida bounce back with Billy Napier?

Just one season removed from winning the SEC East title, Florida took a dramatic turn for the worse, winning just two conference games in 2021. The Gators’ disappointing record this past season was just one of several reasons why the Gators decided to part ways with head coach Dan Mullen. Mullen’s diminishing returns on the recruiting trail are another reason for his firing, as the Gators have fallen out of the top 10 in the national recruiting rankings in each of the last two years. The good news is that new head coach Billy Napier is considered an ace recruiter with a real eye for talent. Napier’s reputation as a top-notch coach and recruiter, combined with the fertile recruiting grounds of Florida, paints a bright picture for the Gators’ future. But it may take a couple of years to get the roster back to elite form.

Things didn’t exactly go according to plan for Auburn this past season under new head coach Bryan Harsin, who went 6-7 overall and 3-5 in the SEC. As a result, the Tigers fell from the top 15 in the national recruiting rankings for the second year in a row, coming in with the No. 19-ranked class in the 247Sports Composite for 2022. The cupboard is far from bare on The Plains. However, there isn’t as much talent in place as we have seen at Auburn in years past. It’s too soon to hit the panic button, but Harsin will have his work cut out for him to get the Tigers back on track in the highly competitive SEC West.

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No one has done less with more than Tennessee

Tennessee has had plenty of success on the recruiting trail over the last few years. Unfortunately, that has not translated to success on the field. Adversity and attrition have wreaked havoc on the Volunteers' roster, also playing a key role in Tennessee’s uninspiring overall record over the last five seasons. Nevertheless, the future bodes well for the Vols following a much-improved seven-win season under first-year head coach Josh Heupel. That success helped Tennessee garner the No. 17-ranked recruiting class for 2022. And while the defense is still short on talent and depth, the Vols return plenty of firepower from one of the top offenses in the nation last season.

No one has done more with less than Kentucky

Kentucky has never really excelled in recruiting, at least not compared to the top teams in the SEC. However, no team in the conference has found more success on the football field with less talent than the Wildcats, who have now made six straight bowl appearances (four consecutive bowl wins). That is a credit to head coach Mark Stoops and his ability to develop talent at an elite level. And top prospects across the country are starting to take notice. Kentucky brought in the No. 13-ranked recruiting class in the nation for 2022 – by far the best class of the Stoops’ era and possibly ever.

A step backward for Lane Kiffin and Ole Miss?

The Rebels’ recruiting efforts haven’t been quite as fruitful as most of us expected under Lane Kiffin. But considering Kiffin helped Ole Miss match its highest win total (10) in school history this past season, the Rebels are clearly in good hands. That said, Kiffin will be losing a wealth of talent from last season’s 10-win squad. And even with his successful exploits in the transfer portal this offseason, Ole Miss will likely take a step backward in 2022.

Arkansas, Missouri and South Carolina on the rise

Arkansas has already made huge strides under head coach Sam Pittman and his all-star coaching staff. That trend should continue in 2022, which will help the Razorbacks further their recruiting efforts and success on the field moving forward.

Missouri didn’t have a lot of success on the field last season, but that didn’t prevent second-year head coach Eli Drinkwitz from bringing in arguably the best recruiting class in program history. Mizzou’s 14th-ranked class should go a long way in helping the Tigers bolster an otherwise lackluster talent pool heading into the 2022 campaign and beyond.

First-year head coach Shane Beamer inherited a South Carolina roster that was severely lacking in the talent department compared to season’s past. And yet, he surprisingly led the Gamecocks to seven wins, including a victory over rival North Carolina in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl. That helped Beamer land the No. 26-ranked recruiting class for 2022. And while that still isn’t great by SEC standards, it’s a vast improvement over South Carolina’s 2021 class, which ranked a dismal 79th nationally. The Gamecocks still have plenty of catching up to do in terms of talent. However, the addition of Oklahoma transfer Spencer Rattler at quarterback should help South Carolina stay on a positive trajectory next season.

Mississippi State: the model of consistency

Mississippi State may not be among the top teams in the conference when it comes to securing elite talent. But the Bulldogs are definitely the most consistent team in the SEC in terms of recruiting, routinely finishing around the top 25 year in and year out. More importantly, Mike Leach doesn’t exactly need top-flight talent to make his unique system work at a high level. Plus, “the pirate” is known to be a great developer of talent. And while it will be a tall order for the Bulldogs to reach the upper echelon in the SEC anytime soon, the Bulldogs have enough talent in place to remain competitive under Leach.

Shout-out to Vanderbilt and Clark Lea

There isn’t a team in the SEC that faces more challenges on the recruiting trail than Vanderbilt. Those obstacles have plagued the Commodores for years, which is why they regularly have the least talented roster in the conference. It’s also why Vanderbilt has the worst record in the SEC over the last five years and by a wide margin. But that just goes to show how impressive first-year head coach Clark Lea’s recruiting efforts were this past season. Lea must be commended for bringing in the nation’s No. 32-ranked recruiting class for 2022 – Vanderbilt's best since 2013.

Podcast: Roster Rankings, Recapping NSD, Overachievers/Underachievers in Recruiting and Jim Harbaugh's Return to Michigan

— Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS.