Georgia football is easily predicted to make Atlanta in way too early 2022 SEC Rankings

The Georgia Bulldogs celebrate after defeating the Alabama Crimson Tide during the College Football Playoff Championship held at Lucas Oil Stadium on January 10, 2022 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images)
The Georgia Bulldogs celebrate after defeating the Alabama Crimson Tide during the College Football Playoff Championship held at Lucas Oil Stadium on January 10, 2022 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images) /
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Georgia football
Head coach Shane Beamer of the South Carolina Gamecocks celebrates winning the Duke’s Mayo Bowl over the North Carolina Tar Heels. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images) /

South Carolina, Kentucky & Tennessee round out the East’s middle tier

South Carolina Gamecocks: 8-4 (5-3)

The Gamecocks could be one of the more exciting teams to watch in 2021, but a grueling schedule could limit their potential to contend in the East.

Shane Beamer has shown early on his ability to coach well in the SEC and recruit at a high level. He gets the best out of his players and implements a culture that can be built upon for the future.

One of the more intriguing storylines out of Columbia so far this offseason was the transfer addition of quarterback Spencer Rattler from Oklahoma.

Rattler has far from lived up to his 5-star rating, but Gamecock fans are hopeful that a change of scenery and new leadership will help him reach his untapped potential.

Rattler has plenty of tools, and if he can limit his mistakes and buy into Beamer’s system, he could potentially revitalize himself for a fun South Carolina team.

Leading receiver Josh Vann will be back for the Gamecocks in 2022, giving Rattler a productive veteran target to throw to. Vann wasn’t the only key returning piece, though, as veteran defensive lineman Zacch Pickens will also be returning.

South Carolina has plenty of foundational pieces returning on both sides of the ball, and its final record likely will not indicate how good the team will be.

Playing against Arkansas, Georgia, Texas A&M, Florida and Clemson in the same season will be a tall task for the Gamecocks to overcome. Even though the team will likely be good enough to win at least one, if not multiple, of those matchups, South Carolina will be on the outside looking in for SEC East contention in 2022.

Kentucky Wildcats: 8-4 (4-4)

The Mark Stoops led Wildcats are fresh off of a 10 win season but don’t expect another in 2022.

Although Kentucky is retaining quarterback Will Levis, almost all of the receiving production from 2021 will be gone.

Star receiver Wan’Dale Robinson declared for the NFL draft after accumulating over 1,300 receiving yards this past season. Josh Ali, the Wildcats’ second-leading receiver, will also need to be replaced for 2022.

The transfer portal helped to make up for some of this lost depth, bringing in veteran receiver Tayvion Robinson from Virginia Tech and Alabama transfer Javon Baker.

Robinson had respectable production for the Hokies in his three years on the team, primarily known for his speed and downfield threat potential.

Baker was lost in the shuffle in the depth at Alabama, as has been the case with many talented Crimson Tide transfers. He is a sure-handed receiver with technical route-running skills and provides a solid complementary option to Robinson.

Stoops has recruited well enough in his stint to replace lost talent, but the Wildcats will be counting on these transfer portal additions along with younger players stepping up at wide receiver.

Leading rusher Chris Rodriguez did announce his plans to return for 2022, however, giving Kentucky a major boost offensively after rushing for over 1,378 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2021.

Defensively, Kentucky will once again be one of the better units in the conference. Multiple key starters have chosen to return for the 2022 season, including two of the team’s top three leading tacklers from 2021, linebackers Jacquez Jones and DeAndre Square.

Kentucky will likely be a team that depends on the success of its defense to grind out hard-fought wins in 2022. Fans should expect a bit of a down year, but as up-in-the-air as other SEC East teams’ records could be, the Wildcats are a prime candidate to outperform these predictions.

Tennessee Volunteers: 7-5 (3-5)

The Vols are in a situation similar to South Carolina for the 2022 season, as their schedule could be quite daunting.

Tennessee has the predetermined disadvantage of playing against Alabama and Georgia yearly, but in 2022, the Vols will travel to Baton Rouge to face LSU before hosting Alabama the following weekend.

On top of that, the Vols will have to travel to face both Georgia and South Carolina.

With a schedule that doesn’t lend itself to easy success, the way Tennessee is viewed in 2022 should be similar to South Carolina, as both teams will likely be better than their records.

Head coach Josh Heupel established a solid foundation in his first year at the helm and has given Tennessee fans hope going into year two.

The emergence of quarterback Hendon Hooker was the driving force behind the Vols’ successes on the field in 2021, and his return for 2022 will keep the team competitive.

The Vols will also retain 1,000-yard wide receiver Cedric Tillman, responsible for 12 touchdowns this past season.

Tennessee’s leading rusher Jabari Small will also be back, helping to solidify the Vols’ offensive core.

Defensively, Tennessee will need to improve drastically from 2021 after finishing third worst in terms of yards allowed per game, ahead of only Missouri and Vanderbilt.

The Vols will have the offense to be an exciting team for fans to watch, but the defense will need to improve dramatically to make any real noise in the East.