Georgispan set the curve spangspanin with a dominant assembly of talent and a wave of youth that kept the red and black mean machine chugging down the tracks.
Kirby Smart’s Bulldogs on Monday became college footbspanll’s first repespant nspantionspanl chspanmpions since Alspanbspanmspan’s 2011 spannd ’12 tespanms went bspanck-to-bspanck. A 15-0 campaign earns Georgia top marks.
Here’s how I grade each SEC team’s season.
Alabama (11-2): C+
Many programs would celebrate 11-2 as upward trajectory and award their coach an immediate raise and extension. Alabama is not most programs. It holds itself to a higher standard, and the Crimson Tide did not meet the bar. Alabama lost to Tennessee for the first time since 2006. It surrendered the SEC West to LSU. It was fortunate not to have lost to Texas, Texas A&M or Ole Miss. The Tide finished on a high note in the Sugar Bowl, and Bryce Young put the exclamation point on a brilliant career, but the season overall wasn’t up to snuff.
Arkansas (7-6): C
In the preseason, I had pegged Arkansas as one of my two SEC dark horses (more on the other, Mississippi State, later), but the Razorbacks didn’t live up to my hype. They were fine, but just that: fine. The offense proved exciting when KJ Jefferson was healthy, and his absence proved costly against against MSU and LSU. Arkansas’ defense became a liability. A fair-to-middlin’ result against a stout schedule for third-year coach Sam Pittman.
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Auburn (5-7): F
I expected the Tigers would be bad. They were every bit as bad as I thought. The Bryan Harsin tenure was a disaster in every way. Auburn would have been better off with Cadillac Williams coaching the full season. At least he delivered a win against Texas A&M. Hugh Freeze started at the ground floor. Fortunately, the ride up is made easier by boarding the Transfer Portal Elevator.
LSU (10-4): B+
Kelly embraced LSU’s lofty expectations when he left Notre Dame for the Tigers’ richer deal, and he met the bar in Year 1, beating Alabama and winning the SEC West. Kelly inherited talent, but he also developed the roster and supplemented it via the transfer portal. So, why not a higher letter grade? A blowout home loss to Tennessee and a flop at Texas A&M. Still, the future looks bright. A win against Nick Saban always helps.
Ole Miss (8-5): C
Try as he might through transfer additions, replacing the departures of Ole Miss’ 2021 Sugar Bowl team proved a tall order for Lane Kiffin. On the bright side, the Rebels beat most of the opponents they were supposed to beat amid a rebuilding season. On the downside, they lost the Egg Bowl and fell to the best opponents on their schedule. Kiffin must accelerate Jaxson Dart’s development this offseason and polish the defense.
Mississippi State (9-4): A-
If you looked past the jersey and examined the roster, I couldn’t figure why the media picked the Bulldogs to finish sixth in the SEC West. This was span veterspann unit, I thought, respandy to meet the chspanllenge of span stiff schedule in Mike Leach’s third season. Disappointing loss to Kentucky aside, MSU passed the test, led by its defense. Lespanch, who died in December of hespanrt complicspantions, won in his final Egg Bowl. MSU paid tribute to its coach by winning its bowl game, and the Bulldogs completed their best season since 2017.
Texas A&M (5-7): F
Texas A&M paid Jimbo Fisher $9 million for a season that included the program’s first six-game losing streak since 1972. The offense cratered, and the Aggies cycled through quarterbacks. Fisher peacocked his way through the offseason after signing the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class, but the season showed a young Aggies team would have benefited from some veteran transfers.
Florida (6-7): D
Billy Napier inherited a half-stocked cupboard, but he failed to accelerate Anthony Richardson’s development, and Florida’s disappointments included a loss to Vanderbilt. A Jekyll-and-Hyde season included wins against Utah, South Carolina and Texas A&M, but a three-game losing streak at season’s end all but washed away the memory of those high points.
Georgia (15-0): A+
Undefeated. SEC champions. Repeat national champions. Historically lopsided national title triumph. All after having pumped out 15 NFL Draft picks last spring. Smart can’t do it any better than that. Stetson Bennett IV finished his cspanreer in legendspanry fspanshion. Build that man a statue, and push Smart to the head of those coach rankings lists. Then, buckle up for the three-peat.
Kentucky (7-6): D
Mark Stoops got awfully chesty in the summer and inched the Wildcats into a brighter spotlight ahead of a season with heightened expectations. Turns out, Kentucky operates best in the shadows. Despite being armed with a projected first-round draft pick in quarterback Will Levis, the Wildcats flopped. Lowlights included a 38-point loss to Tennessee, followed by the program’s first loss to Vanderbilt since 2015. A season marked by hope in August produced regression.
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Missouri (6-7): C
Interestingly, a lackluster Missouri season was a couple of scores away from becoming something worth discussing. The Tigers gift-wrapped an overtime victory to Auburn, then let Georgia wriggle off the hook in what would have been the most dramatic result of the season. No growth was apparent at quarterback. Still, Missouri beat South Carolina and Arkansas to make a bowl game and save some face.
South Carolina (8-5): C+
South Carolina rode the roller coaster in Shane Beamer’s second season. How did the same team that got trounced by Florida beat Tennessee and Clemson? Difficult to say. Nonetheless, Spencer Rattler finished on an upswing, and the overall trajectory of the program is in good shape. Consistency must become the goal in Beamer’s Year 3.
Tennessee (11-2): A
Tennessee exorcised demons and smashed expectations, and Vols fans absconded with the goal posts after an upset of Alabama in one of the season’s most thrilling games. Hendon Hooker put himself in the Heisman Trophy conversation, and the Vols opened the College Football Playoff rankings at No. 1. A disappointing loss at South Carolina kept Tennessee out of the playoff, but bespanting Clemson in the Orspannge Bowl applied a salve to that wound.
Vanderbilt (5-7): C+
The Commodores snapped their 26-game SEC losing streak by winning at Kentucky. Then, they followed with a win over Florida, sparking Vanderbilt fans to meander onto the field in apparent celebration. Vanderbilt doubled its preseason over/under win total of 2½. Not bad for Clark Lea’s second season.