Spring practice has already started or will soon for all 14 teams in the SEC for the 2022 college football season. Although it's tough to get an accurate read on teams from practices in the spring, this is the first set of official workouts and provides some insight into the upcoming year.
Georgia is the reigning national champs, but Alabama opens spring practice as the projected No. 1 team in the conference. Even though coach Kirby Smart's team has to reload its standout defense, the Bulldogs will be a heavy favorite in the East. The SEC has a strong middle class for '22, as Texas A&M, Tennessee, Arkansas, Kentucky, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Ole Miss and LSU are all contenders for the top 25. Florida should be much-improved under new coach Billy Napier, while South Carolina is an intriguing team to watch with the addition of quarterback Spencer Rattler.
What are the early storylines to watch and how do the teams stack up in the SEC going into '22? Here are Athlon's top things to watch on both sides of the ball for the conference going into spring practice:
SEC Football: Spring 2022 Power Rankings
What to Watch on Offense: The Crimson Tide return the nation’s top quarterback (Bryce Young) and plenty of promising talent at the skill spots, including Georgia Tech transfer Jahmyr Gibbs at running back. Restocking a receiving corps that loses Jameson Williams and John Metchie III and improving an inconsistent offensive line top the list of spring concerns.
What to Watch on Defense: Not much. Alabama brings back eight starters, but a few key cogs – linebacker Christian Harris, cornerback Josh Jobe and lineman Phidarian Mathis – have departed.
What to Watch on Offense: An offense that averaged 38.6 points a game last season returns quarterback Stetson Bennett, three starters up front, and plenty of weapons at the skill positions. Retooling a couple of new faces up front under recently hired line coach Stacy Searels is the biggest storyline this spring.
What to Watch on Defense: Only three starters are back from last year’s dominant defense. However, considering the talent waiting in the wings, it’s hard to be overly concerned with coach Kirby Smart’s defense.
3. Texas A&M
What to Watch on Offense: This spring is all about sorting out the quarterback battle between Max Johnson, Haynes King and touted freshman Conner Weigman. The Aggies also need to replace standout guard/tackle Kenyon Green up front.
What to Watch on Defense: Talent isn’t in short supply in College Station, but the Aggies have a new play-caller (DJ Durkin) and need to replace a handful of standouts from the defensive front, including linemen DeMarvin Leal and Tyree Johnson.
What to Watch on Offense: What tweaks will new coordinator Rich Scangarello make to the offense? Three standout performers – Dare Rosenthal, Darian Kinnard and Luke Fortner – are gone up front.
What to Watch on Defense: The Wildcats held teams to just 21.7 points a game last year, but coordinator Brad White lost three starters up front and three in the secondary. A good foundation is in place at linebacker, however.
What to Watch on Offense: Quarterback Hendon Hooker ranks among the top returning signal-callers in the SEC. The Volunteers need to continue improving up front, as well as replace receivers Velus Jones and JaVonta Payton this spring.
What to Watch on Defense: How much improvement will this group make in the second spring under coordinator Tim Banks? The Volunteers allowed 33.6 points in SEC contests last fall. Six starters are back, but defensive backs Theo Jackson and Alontae Taylor and lineman Matthew Butler are gone.
What to Watch on Offense: The Razorbacks return one of the SEC’s top quarterbacks in KJ Jefferson. However, receiver Treylon Burks (66 catches for 1,104 yards) won’t be easy to replace.
What to Watch on Defense: There’s room to improve after allowing 6.1 yards per play in SEC contests last year. Each level of the defense has holes to fill with just four returning starters.
7. Mississippi State
What to Watch on Offense: The Bulldogs are largely in good shape going into coach Mike Leach’s third year. Replacing leading receiver Makai Polk and finding replacements for tackles Charles Cross and Scott Lashley are a priority.
What to Watch on Defense: With eight starters back, there’s optimism for Mississippi State’s defense to improve in SEC play after allowing 5.83 yards per play in conference-only matchups. Cornerback Martin Emerson was a big loss in the secondary.
What to Watch on Offense: Rebuilding the offensive line is coach Brian Kelly’s top priority this spring. This unit struggled in ’21, lost four starters, and had to dip into the portal for instant help.
What to Watch on Defense: Even though this unit returns only three starters, new coordinator Matt House should be able to quickly elevate this defense back into one of the best in the SEC. Restocking the corner spots and developing more depth at linebacker are a priority.
9. Ole Miss
What to Watch on Offense: Reload. Quarterback Matt Corral, running backs Henry Parrish Jr., Jerrion Ealy and Snoop Conner and receivers Braylon Sanders and Dontario Drummond have departed. Coach Lane Kiffin hit the portal hard for help, including quarterback Jaxson Dart (USC) and running back Zach Evans (TCU).
What to Watch on Defense: Can the Rebels build off last year’s defensive progress? Six starters are back, but there’s a new play-caller (Chris Partridge) and losses at every level, including end Sam Williams and linebacker Chance Campbell.
What to Watch on Offense: This spring is all about transitioning to a different scheme under new coach Billy Napier. How much improvement will quarterback Anthony Richardson make under the new staff?
What to Watch on Defense: All-around improvement is needed after Florida struggled to stop the run and gave up 26.8 points a game last year. Getting linebacker Ventrell Miller back from injury is huge, but play-caller Patrick Toney has holes to fill up front and also in the secondary after cornerback Kaiir Elam departed.
11. South Carolina
What to Watch on Offense: Landing Oklahoma transfer Spencer Rattler was a huge boost for South Carolina’s hopes of offensive improvement in ’22. The Gamecocks need to develop more weapons at receiver for Rattler and improve a line that allowed 31 sacks last year.
What to Watch on Defense: Improvement. South Carolina allowed 6.1 yards per play in SEC games and struggled to stop the run last fall. Kingsley Enagbare and safety Jaylan Foster leave big shoes to fill.
What to Watch on Offense: The Tigers have a strong one-two punch at running back with Tank Bigsby and Jarquez Hunter. However, can coach Bryan Harsin get consistent quarterback play out of Texas A&M transfer Zach Calzada or another option? More weapons at receiver must be developed.
What to Watch on Defense: This unit was a strength for Harsin in 2021 by holding teams to 21.8 points a game. There’s a new coordinator (Jeff Schmedding) and standouts Zakoby McClain, Roger McCreary and Smoke Monday have departed. Spring practice is all about transitioning to Schmedding’s scheme, as well as plugging key gaps and developing depth.
What to Watch on Offense: There’s a quarterback battle ongoing in Columbia, but a winner may not emerge until the fall with the Tigers potentially pursuing transfers and the arrival of touted freshman Sam Horn this summer. Running back Tyler Badie left big shoes to fill after leading the SEC in all-purpose yards in ’21.
What to Watch on Defense: Can Missouri continue its late-season defensive improvement under new coordinator Blake Baker?
Related: Missouri Tigers 2022 Spring Preview
What to Watch on Offense: Massive improvement is obviously needed after the Commodores averaged only 15.8 points a game in ’21. Will a winner in the quarterback battle between Ken Seals and Mike Wright emerge this spring?
What to Watch on Defense: How big of a jump can this group make in the second spring under coach Clark Lea? The Commodores return six starters from a unit that surrendered 39.6 points a game in SEC play.
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