SEC: Alabama, Georgia, Texas A&M in search of national title

The rest of the Southeastern Conference isn’t going to throw a pity party for Alabama and Georgia, no matter how many stars they lose to the NFL.

Everyone else in the league is still chasing last season’s top two teams, with Jimbo Fisher and Texas A&M leading the chase. It hardly matters that Alabama lost some of its best offensive playmakers and Georgia must replace some of its best defensive backs with 15 picks in the NFL draft.

The preseason No. 1 Crimson Tide, third-ranked Bulldogs and sixth-ranked Aggies have a wealth of talent and the desire to win a national championship. Georgia was ranked No. 1 last season and, like Bama, wants to remain consistent contenders rather than, as coach Kirby Smart put it, “one-year wonders.”

“This program was built to be here for a long time,” Smart said.

Alabama, which lost to Georgia in the national championship game, has two of college football’s biggest stars in Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Bryce Young and National Defensive Player of the Year Will Anderson. The Tide turned to the transfer portal to replace quarterback Brian Robinson Jr. and top receivers Jameson Williams and John Metchi III.

The Bulldogs have All-American tight end Brock Bowers, linebacker Stetson Bennett and a still well-rounded defense.

“We have a lot of talent,” Smart said. “What we lack right now is experience.”

Alabama is still reeling from that 33-18 loss to Smart and the Bulldogs that ended a 41-year national title drought.

As always, anything short of a national title in Alabama is disappointing in Tuscaloosa. As a daily reminder, a “participation trophy” is displayed in the cafeteria where the players eat.

Saban recently called last season a “rebuilding year” after a massive loss of talent in the NFL, and this season’s Georgia team can relate.

Safety Jordan Battle said Alabama is looking to fix one glaring flaw from 2021.

“We’re trying to bring back the brotherhood mentality,” Battle said. “I feel like that’s one thing we didn’t do last year. I feel like we didn’t have the leadership we had in 2020 (the title team).”


East: Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Florida, South Carolina, Missouri, Vanderbilt

West: Alabama, Texas A&M, Arkansas, Mississippi, Mississippi State, LSU, Auburn

The best players

Will Anderson, LB, Alabama: The 6-foot-4, 243-pounder was the national leader in sacks and a consensus All-American. Additionally, he finished fifth in Heisman Trophy voting.

Kyshawn Booth, WR, LSU: Led the Tigers in receiving despite missing the last seven games with an ankle injury. Scored 14 touchdowns in 16 career games. Brock Bowers, Texas State, Georgia State: A second-team AP All-American as a freshman, Bowers had his most productive season as a Bulldogs tight end with 56 catches for 882 yards and 13 touchdowns.

Nick Brooker, MS, MS: Two-year starter at left tackle moving to guard. Western Kentucky transfer Mason Brooks could take one of the spots with Jeremy James.

Jalen Carter, DL, Georgia: Considered the next big star on the Bulldogs’ defensive line, he was still a potent force in a loaded front. Made 33 quarterback hurries and blocked two punts despite starting just two games.

Jalen Catalon, South, Arkansas: Made 46 tackles in six games last season before a shoulder injury and intercepted two passes against Rice. Antonio Johnson, S, Texas A&M: Leads the veteran secondary after starting every game as a sophomore. Johnson had 79 tackles, including 8.5 at the line.

Hendon Hooker, QB, Tennessee: In his sixth year, Hooker set program records for passing efficiency (181.4) and completion percentage (68). Scored 31 touchdowns against just three interceptions.

Chris Rodriguez Jr., RB, Kentucky: A first-team AP All-SEC selection, Rodriguez had 2,740 yards and 26 rushing touchdowns last season.

Bryce Young, QB, Alabama: The Tide’s second-straight Heisman Trophy winner set school single-season marks with 4,872 passing yards and 47 touchdowns.

New faces

Billy Napier (FL) and Brian Kelly (LSU) are trying to get their programs back into contention after 6-7 seasons. Thanks to the transfer portal, all the teams are hoping to immediately fill the voids with experienced players. The most notable is South Carolina linebacker Spencer Rattler via Oklahoma.

Alabama’s title hopes could hinge on five transfers: quarterback Jameer Gibbs, receivers Jermaine Burton and Tyler Harrell, cornerback Eli Ricks and defensive end Tyler Steen. Texas A&M has landed transfer LSU quarterback Max Johnson. Ole Miss could start USC transfer Jaxson Dart at QB.

To a hot place

Auburn coach Brian Harsin should be at the top of this list, even though it’s only his second season. The Tigers finished last season on a five-game losing streak before changing coaches and players. No other head coaches appear to be in immediate danger, barring a meltdown. Missouri’s Eli Drinkwitz and Mississippi State’s Mike Leach are both just under .500 after two seasons, but there is reason for optimism.

The biggest games

Alabama vs. Texas A&M on Oct. 8 has it all. The Aggies handed Alabama its only regular-season loss in 2021, and then Fisher and Saban strengthened the SEC West rivalry with back-to-back offseasons. Georgia opens in Atlanta with No. 11 Oregon, while Bama faces Texas on Sept. 10. Texas A&M hosts No. 16 Miami on Sept. 17.

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