2023 NCAAF: Southeastern Conference Preview

August 26, 2023


The SEC hardly needs an introduction, but we’ll provide a short (albeit, blunt) one anyway.

This conference is stacked. Yes, possibly a bit unbalanced, but stacked nonetheless. There are national title contenders on both sides of the conference, and plenty of opportunities for those contenders to be knocked off by capable underdogs.

At the same time, the reputation of the conference affords teams that may not qualify for the conference title game an opportunity to still sneak into the College Football Playoff. More on that later (and kudos to you if you catch where that is evident in Around The Corn’s predictions).

Teams I Like


What’s not to like about the Bulldogs? They’ve got the best tight end in the country, the best cover corner in the country, one of the best linebackers in the country – oh, and back-to-back national titles to their name. The only thing they don’t have is a proven quarterback.

Alright, so maybe that is a pretty big deal. But new man Carson Beck had to win the job in the spring to be put into this position, and he has plenty of veteran contributors to help him with the transition of being the most targeted man in the country. Georgia may be starting with a relative unknown at a very important position, but it is still a bona fide national title contender.


Brian Kelly defied expectations last season by winning the SEC West, after suffering a heartbreaking defeat on the last play of the first game of the season. The Tigers’ dispatching of Alabama in similar fashion was all the proof needed that Kelly is capable of winning in this conference, and now he has a team capable of doing much more.

The development of Jayden Daniels has progressed as hoped, and now the Tigers have a proven leader behind center with the raw talent to make things happen by himself if needed. The schedule is no easier in 2023, but LSU is right up there with the Bulldogs in terms of favorites to win the conference.


The Wildcats were in unfamiliar territory in 2022, managing high expectations that are usually reserved for the school’s basketball team rather than its football team. Unfortunately for Mark Stoops & Co., Kentucky didn’t quite deliver on those expectations last season. The positive heading into the 2023 campaign, however, is that the Wildcats will now operate as something they know best: an underdog.

The loss of Will Levis may not be as damaging as once thought, with North Carolina State transfer Devin Leary stepping in to take Levis’s place. Leary was the top-ranked quarterback in the transfer portal at the time of his decision, and will be joined by many other portal additions in Lexington. Do not be surprised if Kentucky is just a year late making good on the expectations created for the previous season.


Much like Kentucky, the Razorbacks failed to deliver on higher than usual expectations in 2022, but in Arkansas’s case there was good reason for it. Team leader KJ Jefferson was banged up for much of the season, which left Dan Enos’s team in a precarious position offensively. Precarious position, to be clear, because the defense couldn’t stop anyone.

A lot of new pieces will be expected to improve upon last season, but the big win is that Jefferson is healthy and happy to be back in Fayetteville behind center. Outside of road trips to LSU and Alabama, the schedule is manageable and nine or even 10 victories is not out of the question.

Not High On

South Carolina

A lot was made out of South Carolina’s finish to the 2022 season, which included victories over Tennessee and Clemson to end the regular season and a tight loss to Notre Dame in its bowl game. The resurgence was ignited by the play of quarterback Spencer Rattler, who reminded the country why he was so highly touted at Oklahoma before settling in Columbia.

We need to pump the breaks on this one a little, though. Prior to those final three games, the offense struggled at points and a re-tooled offensive line suggests there could be some growing pains again in 2023. The schedule is unforgiving, with three preseason AP Top 25 opponents in the first five games (none at home).


The Gators didn’t exactly light the world on fire in 2022, and that was when they had Anthony Richardson behind center. This year, Wisconsin transfer Graham Mertz appears poised to assume the starting QB role, and word is that he was not particularly sharp in the spring. He struggled at Wisconsin with accuracy and may not have ample time in the pocket if a nearly entirely new offensive line doesn’t gel quickly.

Florida’s success seems to hinge on the defense, which admittedly should be strong and can keep the Gators in games. Staying in games may not be enough, however; Florida lost three games in 2022 by seven points or fewer.


Lane Kiffin’s teams are oft a mystery – and he seems to like it that way. There’s enough talent within this group to win ten games and vie for a conference championship, and an equally decent chance that the team implodes at some point during the season and barely makes a bowl game of any kind.

Maybe it’s conservatism talking, but this is not a team that the faint of heart should be betting any serious money on. The ride will undoubtedly be interesting, but there’s no telling whether it will end with a trophy or somewhere in a ditch.

Players to Watch

Jayden Daniels, LSU quarterback

The senior signal-caller has nearly completed the evolution that many expected of him, from flashy yet inconsistent young talent during his days with Arizona State, to veteran leader with improved decision-making skills and the wherewithal to let his raw athleticism take over when required.

Daniels is a big reason why LSU is a serious national title contender in 2023, and one of the few teams in the country (let alone the conference) that should scare Georgia and its defense.

Brock Bowers, Georgia tight end

It’s rare that a tight end is a true star in the college game, but such is the case with Bowers. The junior is the top returnee in receiving yards for the Bulldogs this season, and is fewer than 200 receiving yards away from 2,000 for his career. While many tight ends have multiple responsibilities (typically catching and run blocking), Bowers adds that of rusher to his resume, eclipsing over 100 yards in that category as well.

Bowers will be key to helping Carson Beck transition as a starter, and barring some unknown circumstance, will be a first round draft pick in 2024.

Joe Milton, Tennessee quarterback

The Volunteers have an athletic freak at quarterback (watch the video of him throwing an orange on a football field, if you haven’t seen it already), but feel that his decision making in the pocket is quickly on the rise as well.

Tennessee got a taste of Milton at the end of the season when Hendon Hooker went down with a knee injury, and it’s safe to say the preview was received well. The Volunteers will go about as far as Milton’s arm will take them, which, referencing that video again, seems like it could be pretty far.

Quinshon Judkins, Mississippi running back

Judkins is going to be a household name in the SEC for awhile yet – he’s only a true sophomore – as the feature back within an Ole Miss rushing attack that ranked third in the nation in 2022.

While the Rebels loaded up at the quarterback position over the offseason (adding former Oklahoma State and LSU signal-callers Spencer Sanders and Walker Howard, respectively) to challenge incumbent Jaxson Dart, Judkins should still be the focal point of the offense. An offense, it should be noted, that racked up nearly 500 yards per game last season.

KJ Jefferson, Arkansas quarterback

It became evident during Jefferson’s absences in 2022 just how integral he is to Arkansas’s success. The senior has seen just about everything during his time in Fayetteville and is the unquestionable leader in the locker room for the Razorbacks.

Despite his size and preference for using his arm over his legs, Jefferson tends to take a beating and it would be nice to see him make it through an entire season without any injuries preventing playing time. Arkansas will be a very tough team to play if that ends up happening.

Games to Watch (Non-Conference)

North Carolina vs. South Carolina [game in Charlotte, NC] (September 2, 7:30 PM ET)

Just how much to expect from South Carolina following its previous end of season spark could be determined early in a ‘neutral site’ game against the Tar Heels

LSU vs. Florida State [game in Orlando, FL) (September 3, 7:30 PM ET)

Last year’s game came down to the final play, and this year both teams have expectations of making the CFP playoff. It doesn’t get much better than this in Week 1.

Texas at Alabama (September 9, 7 PM ET)

The Longhorns nearly took down Alabama in Austin last season, and probably would have had not for an injury to Quinn Ewers. Exacting revenge in Tuscaloosa is the consolation.

Games to Watch (Conference)

LSU at Mississippi (September 30, TBA time)

At some point, the Rebels are going to take down a national title contender. Could this be the one?

Tennessee at Alabama (October 21, TBA time)

These two programs played the game of the year in Knoxville in 2022; anything remotely close to that would still be a treat.

LSU at Alabama (November 4, TBA time)

Similarly, a close-to-repeat performance of the 2022 edition of this game is all that any neutral party could ask to see.

Georgia at Tennessee (November 18, TBA time)

If the Bulldogs are to lose any regular season games this season, this mid-November fixture on the road seems like the most logical time for it to happen.



  1. Georgia (11-1, [7-1])
  2. South Carolina (8-4, [6-2])
  3. Kentucky (8-4, [4-4])
  4. Tennessee (8-4, [4-4])
  5. Florida (4-8, [2-6])
  6. Missouri (4-8, [1-7])
  7. Vanderbilt (5-7, [1-7])


  1. Alabama (11-1, [7-1])
  2. LSU (11-1, [7-1])
  3. Mississippi (9-3, [5-3])
  4. Arkansas (9-3, [5-3])
  5. Texas A&M (6-6, [3-5])
  6. Mississippi State (6-6, [2-6])
  7. Auburn (5-7, [1-7])

Conference Title Game

Alabama vs. Georgia

Conference Champion: Georgia

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