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SEC Preview and Predictions: Week 1

After an abbreviated start last week that saw the Predictions Dept. get off to a quick 0-1 start on the 2022 season, it’s time to turn our attention to the first full slate of games now that September is upon us. The SEC’s first full weekend features no marquee matchups, although there are a handful of solid interconference matchups that will give teams a good first-week test. Among those, Georgia and Oregon is probably the most impactful, while Cincinnati faces off against Arkansas.

Week 0 record: 0-1 (0.00%)
Last season’s record: 85-28 (75.2%)

We don’t think Billy Napier’s debut at Florida is going to come off very well. Florida will be facing a veteran Utah team coming off a narrow loss to Ohio State in the Rose Bowl. Utah was a top-10 program last year and while it had some key losses (LB Devin Lloyd chief among them), the Utes return the vast majority of their offensive weapons and enough experience on defense to make Florida sweat. The Gators figure to be improved in the long run with Napier taking over for Dan Mullen, but Utah isn’t the kind of first opponent Napier really needed here.
Utah 34
Florida 24

See our extended preview!

OREGON vs. GEORGIA (at Atlanta, Ga.)
Georgia lost a lot from its 2021 National Championship team, but Oregon lost more and is going through a coaching change. Former Georgia defensive coordinator Dan Lanning takes over the Duck program, hoping for a quick springboard to success off the back of several solid recruiting classes put together by the previous administration. Former Auburn QB Bo Nix is now under center for the Ducks. Oregon has the talent to pull off this upset, and the Ducks have a sizable advantage in experience especially in the trenches. But this is a de facto home game for the Bulldogs and unless Georgia is suffering from an extended hangover following the national championship game, the Bulldogs have the edge in both talent and continuity.
Georgia 41
Oregon 28

The RedHawks had a respectable season in 2021, going 7-6, and a majority of starters on both sides of the ball return. The quarterback is Brett Gabbert, younger brother of NFL QB Blaine Gabbert, and he’s coming off a solid season throwing for nearly 3,000 yards and displaying good decision-making skills. Kentucky is in a pretty good spot in its own right, needing to answer questions at receiver and defensive line, but otherwise a solid SEC team. Miami-Ohio has a bright future and may end up keeping this game closer than Kentucky would like, but the Wildcats shouldn’t find themselves in trouble in the fourth quarter. If they do, it won’t bode well for a team trying to position itself as a consistent No. 2 in the SEC East.
Kentucky 34
Miami-Ohio 20

Louisiana Tech has a history of putting scares into SEC opponents looking for an easy win. If that happens this year, it will be because new coach Sonny Cumbie and a new quarterback were able to rekindle some of the Bulldog magic of the past. The Bulldogs are coming off a 3-9 season and not much more is expected this year from a team with a porous defense and a rebuilt offensive backfield. Missouri, though, must atone for its own defensive miscues in 2021, find new offensive skill position starters, and generally take a step forward in the nation’s most competitive conference. Consider Louisiana Tech to be Conference USA’s own version of Missouri – and that’s probably not good enough to get the job done here.
Missouri 45
La. Tech 17

Georgia State made one of the biggest splashes for small schools in 2021 not by what it did, but by what it almost did. The Panthers went into Jordan-Hare Stadium and nearly knocked off Auburn, ultimately losing by 10 points thanks to a late score in a game the Panthers mostly dominated. Nearly the entire Panther offense from that game returns, and a defense that was saltier than it had any right to be also returns mostly intact. Rare do you find trap games in Week 1, but that’s where South Carolina finds itself. The Gamecocks overachieved in 2021 just to get bowl-eligible, and added Oklahoma QB Spencer Rattler over the offseason. But there are questions all over the field on defense, and Rattler needs better help from his offensive line than Luke Doty, Jason Brown and Zeb Noland got last year. Don’t be surprised if this one is pretty close.
South Carolina 31
Georgia State 23

Tennessee picked its non-conference opener well; Ball State was barely viable as an FBS school in 2021 and head coach Mike Neu enters the season as one of probably the 10 most vulnerable coaches at this level. The Cardinals need to get better on defense but may have as many as eight new starters on that side of the ball. Offensively, the Cardinals are a bit old-school in philosophy and simply won’t have the dynamic ability to keep up with the Volunteers. There’s too much speed on the Vol side of the field and the Hendon Hooker-for-Heisman campaign will get off to a roaring start in Week 1.
Tennessee 59
Ball State 10

We are already in the hole in regards to Vanderbilt’s season, largely because we didn’t know what to expect regarding its Week 0 opponent Hawaii. The Warriors have long been a trap for suboptimal SEC teams, especially in games played on the island. Vanderbilt had little trouble with them, blowing up a close game with a 35-point third-quarter outburst that featured one of two fumble returns for touchdowns. The Hawaii program has had a rough go of things lately, to the extent that shutting down the program has been considered, although such drastic measures are still unlikely at best. Vandy’s offense ran into little resistance in Hawaii, and probably won’t this week either, but even if the Commodores manage to make it past Elon, Wake Forest and Northern Illinois, it’s going to come to a crashing halt once SEC play starts against Alabama. We’re still sticking with our prediction that the Elon game will be the last game the Commodores win in 2022.
Vanderbilt 45
Elon 10

This won’t be the same Bearcat team that made it all the way to the College Football Playoff in 2021, as anyone who watched the 2022 NFL Draft will attest. Still, the Bearcats return their entire offensive line from a year ago. Unfortunately, every offensive skill position must be replaced, as well as five starters in the defensive front six. Arkansas has its own issues to deal with in regard to replacing key members of its defense, and the Razorback offense, while dangerous at times in 2021, needs more consistency. This will be one of only two really tough games Cincinnati plays in 2022, so a return to the CFP may actually be in the cards if the Bearcats can get past this one.
Cincinnati 38
Arkansas 35

Auburn is already in turmoil thanks to the upheaval of senior leadership in its athletic department, a self-inflicted wound that didn’t have to happen at the start of what already promised to be a difficult season. Head coach Bryan Harsin was already on the hotseat, and it got hotter by several magnitudes when Allen Greene chose to resign ahead of what most observers believed would have been Auburn choosing not to renew his contract at the end of the year. Because Greene was Harsin’s chief advocate, the logical next step is that Harsin will exit at the end of the 2022 season, too. He won’t exit this week, though, as Mercer is not built to stop Auburn, and even with the Tigers being unsettled under center – and suddenly a bit questionable on defense coming out of fall camp – we can’t see an upset happening here.
Auburn 35
Mercer 10

If this game were to occur later in the year, we would take LSU in a heartbeat. But Florida State already has an opener in the books (a 47-7 win over Duquesne) in which it rolled up 638 yards in total offense. Continuity for the Seminoles is what separates them right now from LSU, which will be playing its first game under Brian Kelly and will need all the help it can get while it breaks in new systems. FSU is led by veteran QB Jordan Travis, but the underlying storyline here is head coach Mike Norvell, who is trying to save his job in advance of Deion Sanders eventually and/or inevitably coming home to his alma mater. LSU has questions at quarterback and offensive line but even more in the secondary, which will be tasked with shutting down a veteran Seminole offense. The timing just doesn’t look right.
Florida State 34
LSU 27

Troy has pulled off some SEC surprises in the past, but this likely won’t be one of them. The Trojans were terrible on offense last year but respectable on defense; the bigger issue, long-term, is that new head coach Jon Sumrall’s staff failed to really do much on Signing Day to help speed up the rebuilding process.
Ole Miss 52
Troy 20

Memphis was greater than the sum of its parts in 2021, winning six games despite dismal defensive rankings and an offense that couldn’t run the ball effectively. One of those six wins was a 31-29 upset of Mississippi State in Memphis, which ended up being one of the biggest upsets of any SEC team all year. This game won’t likely be as close, as the Tigers simply have to replace too many parts on defense. Offensively, they will still be able to throw the ball, but the Bulldogs come into this game with revenge on their minds and a defense that shouldn’t allow anywhere near the 31 points of a year ago.
Mississippi St. 38
Memphis 17

Typical creampuff opener here, not much to see. Texas A&M will roll and talking heads will have the Aggies positioned as the second coming by the time the first real test of the season comes along Sept. 17 against Miami.
Texas A&M 59
Sam Houston St. 10

Follow Jess Nicholas on Twitter at @TideFansJessN

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