The SEC will look significantly different 12 months from now, so consider the 2023 season a final series of sorts for the “it means more” conference. If forecasters are to be believed, the “more” in that phrase could refer to the national title won by two-time defending champions Georgia, who enter this season without many of the key players who have led them to glory in the past two years but with plenty of potential to become This hype is the first team to achieve three peats in the wire service era.
It is, of course, uncertain whether the Bulldogs will win the College Football Playoff, though they will certainly benefit from one of the weakest schedules among the Power Five teams this season. If UGA is going to be ousted before it finishes the SEC game, Tennessee — unanimously projected to finish second in the SEC East — may be the one to get the job done. Georgia avoids Alabama and LSU in regular season play, though hopes are high for the Crimson Tide and Tigers despite both programs facing legitimate hurdles in the campaign.
Whether Florida or Texas A&M rebound from massively disappointing seasons will matter a lot. The Gators are entering their second year under Billy Napier with a seemingly difficult quarterback position, while the Aggies are hoping the Jimbo Fisher-Bobby Petrino marriage will somehow work well enough to remedy what ails their offense. Despite the upside, Kentucky and South Carolina may already be underestimated going into the season, while there is a curiosity about what first-year Hugh Freese will be able to accomplish upon his return to the SEC at Auburn.
College football experts at CBS Sports have submitted their picks and predictions to the SEC ahead of the 2023 season.
The most overrated team
Alabama: Bama replaces two of the top three players selected in the 2023 NFL Draft and both coordinators from a team that didn’t win the SEC West title last season. However, voters at SEC Media Days predicted the Crimson Tide would win the division over defending champion LSU. Alabama also came in fourth in the AP Preseason Top 25 ahead of not only the Tigers but also teams like USC and Penn State, each of whom had fewer personnel questions to answer than the Tide. Nick Saban is the goat, but this depth chart is full of uncertainties and far from locking in to make the College Football Playoff. — David Cobb (Sally Barrett, Will Backus)
Texas A&M: On paper, the Aggies can compete with anyone in college football. Unfortunately, football is not played on paper. Texas A&M’s total defense dropped from No. 14 to No. 51 after Mike Elko left to help revive Duke. Quarterback Conner Wegman showed flashes of brilliance in his five games last season, but also completed just 55% of his passes as he was thrown into the fire to try to salvage a miserable season. The offensive line group is a question mark again after a disappointing effort. To make matters worse, the Aggies’ schedule gets tougher with road trips to Tennessee, Ole Miss, Miami, and LSU. Texas A&M will have a great chance in most of their games, but there is little chance to think that the Aggies are anywhere close to competing for the SEC West, nor are they even a lock to finish in the top half of the division. — Sheehan Gyarraga (Dennis Dodd, Jerry Palm)
Ole Miss: All due respect to the Rebels, but I think the only reason this team is rated to start the year is because when filling out the ballots, voters get into the 20-25 range and have no idea what to do. So, they ask themselves, “Which SEC team have I not rated yet?” The Rebels started 2022 with seven wins before losing five of their last six. After Kentucky and Vanderbilt tied from the East last year, the Rebels will have a road game against Georgia this year. The non-conference schedule also includes a road game against the Cotton Bowl-winning Tulane team. — Tom Fornelli
South Carolina: Voters in the AP Top 25 and Coaches Poll ended up placing South Carolina #27 in their preseason balloting, which is pretty high for a group closer to the preseason 35-40 range. Likewise, a preseason media poll placed South Carolina at No. 3 in the SEC East. Instead, I think it’s a group that will compete with Florida and Missouri for some of those spots in the bottom half of the division. pot team? It sure looks that way. But the offseason saw some big losses at the transfer gate, so there are some points on the list where depth is a real concern. Shane Beamer has worked on The Gateway to address some of these concerns and has a star in the making with Nick Harbor. Overall, though, it’s not enough to get Top 25 people interested. — Chip Patterson
Most underrated team
LSU: The SEC West will again go down to Alabama or LSU. Going into the season, I have a lot less worries about tigers than I do about the tides. LSU has a veteran QB and depth behind him, as well as a talent as a running back and wide receiver. And while there are some concerns about the secondary early in the season, the Seven’s defensive front will be solid. The closer you look at the SEC in 2023, the more you think LSU is a bigger threat than Alabama to not only knock Georgia out in the conference but to win the national title as well. — Fornelli
Arkansas: It’s going to be very difficult to plan a game for the Razorbacks this season. Quarterback KJ Jefferson is near impossible to prepare with his ability to run between the tackles and outfield, plus the new offense under veteran coordinator Dan Enos will allow him more freedom in the passing game. The combination of Jefferson and star running back Rhaeim Sanders would make this one of the funniest crimes in the country. If defensive coordinator Travis Williams can get the pass defense — the worst in the country last season — playing a little better, this team can push for a New Year’s Six bowl. — Sally
South Carolina: Since Beamer took over from Lowell Muschamp in 2021, he’s won 15 games in his first two seasons and finished in the top 20 in the rankings last season. The Gamecocks will bring back star QB Spencer Rattler to lead the offense after throwing for over 3,000 yards last season. South Carolina is unranked to start this season and will have to replace a lot of its defense, but I expect the Gamecocks to finish in the top 25 again. — sift
Kentucky: The United Kingdom is a perpetual dark horse in the soon-to-be-ending SEC East, but this might actually be the year to buy the hype. The Wildcats get three of their five toughest games at home, though the October road trip to Georgia is a beast. Kentucky is a strong favorite to post at least 10 regular season wins—something it hasn’t done since 1977—while confidently returning to the top half of the SEC. — Backus (Giarraga, cup)
Missouri: I’m a little buyer of Missouri stock, at least given its position in the preseason media poll which finished sixth in the SEC East by a very large margin between the Tigers and fifth place. I think Missouri’s defense will cause some real problems for opponents and keep the team in games against most conference opponents. Corners are excellent, and there’s plenty of production coming back from last year’s defense, including linebacker Ty’Ron Hopper, the SEC’s returning leader in tackles-for-loss. If quarterbacks Brady Cook or Sam Horn can put in enough play in games the defense stays close, the Tigers could be closer to the top four than the bottom two in the SEC East standings. — Patterson
Mississippi: Mike Leach’s spirit remains. The late Bulldogs coach made a career about tweaking the noses of the big powers. New coach Zach Arnett will continue that tradition, at least in the short term. Look out for some surprises from a team led by an aggressive young action team going through the transition from losing Leach. LSU and Alabama visit Starkville (just saying). The man who has thrown more times than anyone else, quarterback Will Rogers (610 tries), will drive a more balanced offense. That’s good news for RB Jo’quavious Marks (582 yards in Air Raid!) who runs behind an experienced offensive line. You know the defense is going to be gritty with Arnett promoting Matt Brock as coordinator, as well as bringing back the Bulldogs two of the SEC’s top tackles: Jet Johnson and Nathaniel Watson. — Worms
- Dennis Dodd: LSU would go 11-1 and win the West in consecutive years for the first time never before losing to Georgia on a field goal in the SEC Championship game. Brian Kelly would then move to the NFL looking for his next challenge.
- Tom Fornelli: Not only will Georgia remain undefeated, but they will win every match by at least 10 points.
- Chip Patterson: Carson Beck will be a contender for the Heisman Trophy. Every year, a favorite Heisman preseason team is disrupted by a quarterback — or two — who was at the bottom of the prospect board. This year is preparing for Beck to be that player. There’s a lot of confidence in what he can achieve in 2023, and Kirby Smart has given him a boost in the passing game with the transfer-gate additions of Dominic Lovett (former WR captain Missouri State) and Rara Thomas (ex-WR captain Mississippi State). With Ladd McConkey and Brock Bowers as proven teammates and a schedule setting up for some stat wins, Beck’s star will rise as the Dawgs strive for their third straight national championship.
- Sally Barrett: Alabama will lose its home games to Texas and LSU. The Crimson Tide will struggle to keep up with these two giants, and they’ll be out of the national championship race in early November.
- Sheehan Giyaraga: No SEC West team will be in line for a College Football Playoff berth heading into the SEC Championship game, leaving Georgia as the only national title contender. The division champion would suffer multiple losses, including a non-conference fumble.
- Jerry Palm: The pairing of Fisher and Petrino wouldn’t work out well for Texas A&M. Since it would still be too expensive to get rid of Fisher, Petrino would be let go at the end of the season, if not sooner.
- David Cobb: Alabama would lose two regular season games for the second straight season. As a result, he will miss the SEC Championship Game and the College Football Playoff again.
- Will Backus: Kentucky would finish in the top three for total offense and offense. Offensive coordinator Liam Quinn is back, Devin Leary is a quarterback upgrade, and the offensive weapons are among the best in the entire conference.
The SEC expected the order to be completed
Georgia: Bulldogs are very deep and talented. The receiving team would make a huge jump with two big additions from the transfer gate. The running back room is stacked, and the defensive depth is unparalleled in the sport. A switch from Stetson Bennett IV to Beck in the quarterback position would be great, but there are plenty of options if Beck is struggling in his first season as a starter. The regular season schedule is pretty easy, and Georgia is far more talented than anyone coming out of the SEC West. — Sally (unanimously)