SEC football: From Heisman to Georgia repeat, 22 questions for 2022 – USA TODAY

What better way to get the SEC football season underway than a 9:30 p.m. CT kickoff featuring the Vanderbilt Commodores?
Well, I can think of about 200 ways, but I wasn’t consulted. After all, Hawaii was 6-7 last season and the Commodores are coming off a 2-10 performance in 2021.
Still, the window for preseason musings closes with “Week zero” – the pre-Labor Day weekend – when Vanderbilt clashes with Hawaii on Saturday in Honolulu, so here are my final 22 ponderings for the 2022 season of Southeastern Conference football.
1. Can Georgia reload for another national championship run?
Kirby Smart’s recruiting and player development make the Bulldogs built to last, but losing 15 players to the NFL draft would be a hurdle for any program.
2. Can a defensive player win the Heisman Trophy? Alabama’s Will Anderson Jr. is college football’s best player, but Heisman voters adore quarterbacks more than outside linebackers.
3. Will Texas A&M reach new heights? Jimbo Fisher’s bravado and recruiting momentum suggest the Aggies are ready to vie for the College Football Playoff. His A&M record, though, suggests he’s Kevin Sumlin 2.0.
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4. Can Kentucky become more than a subplot? The Wildcats won 10 games twice in the past four seasons, a testament to their growth under Mark Stoops. Now, it’s time to elevate expectations and expect more success against ranked opponents.
5. Does Tennessee have a defense? Josh Heupel’s warp-speed offense works against SEC defenses. What remains unproven is whether the Vols’ defense can give the offense a chance against Top 25 opponents.
6. Will Lane Kiffin’s “Portal King” strategy pay off? Ole Miss assembled enough transfer talent to avoid a substantial drop-off after stinging departures from last year’s Sugar Bowl team. But even Kiffin admits he’s unsure how his transfer-laden strategy will affect chemistry.
TOPPMEYER: Can Ole Miss football be Lane Kiffin’s mecca? The idea intrigues him
7. Is Brian Kelly ready for the SEC? Honeymoons don’t last long in the SEC. Kelly beefed up LSU’s roster with transfers ahead of his first season. He’ll face demanding expectations and a more rugged schedule than he grew accustomed to at Notre Dame.
8. Does Bryan Harsin reach December with Auburn? Harsin beating back Auburn’s winter tribunal earned him support from some AU fans, but that goodwill could evaporate quickly. A rugged October schedule could crank up the heat on Harsin’s already warm seat.
9. Who joins Harsin on the hot seat? Other than Harsin, the temperature isn’t too warm on any SEC coach, but Dan Mullen can attest to how quickly that can change.
10. Will Arkansas upset Alabama? The offseason dustup between Fisher and Nick Saban puts eyes on the A&M-Alabama game on Oct. 8, but I think the Tide is more vulnerable the week before, at Arkansas. Razorbacks quarterback KJ Jefferson dazzled in a one-touchdown loss to Alabama last season.
TOPPMEYER: How Sam Pittman became Arkansas football’s jukebox hero and rebuilt Razorbacks
11. Is Will Levis the real deal? Levis is undeniably more talented than a typical Kentucky quarterback, but that big arm didn’t always come with good decisions last year when he threw an SEC-high 13 interceptions. The hype for Levis is off the chart. His improvement is key to UK becoming a legit contender for a spot in Atlanta. 
12. Will Anthony Richardson stay healthy? Florida has depth concerns, and any chance for a strong debut under Billy Napier will require its talented but injury-prone quarterback to stay healthy.
13. Will Mike Leach have a Texas Tech moment? Leach’s third season as Texas Tech’s coach in 2002 produced nine victories. Entering Leach’s third season at Mississippi State, the Bulldogs return 16 starters, but they’re flying below the radar, picked to finish sixth in the SEC West.
14. Will Spencer Rattler regain his form at South Carolina? Focusing on the fact that Rattler lost his starting job at Oklahoma ignores what’s more relevant: For much of his time at OU, including throughout 2020, Rattler was very good – and certainly an upgrade over the Gamecocks’ quarterbacks last season.
TOPPMEYER: Inside South Carolina football’s ascent and ‘great vibes’ under Shane Beamer
15. Does Alabama have an offensive line? Alabama is loaded for a national championship run. A potential hiccup, though, is whether the offensive line will protect Bryce Young well enough.
16. Does Georgia have a defensive line? Jalen Carter is a first-round NFL talent, but the strength of Georgia’s D-line last year was its seemingly unending depth of stars. Carter’s supporting cast is unproven.
17. Does LSU have a quarterback or a line? LSU might have a claim to being the SEC’s third-most-talented team behind Alabama and Georgia, but that will hardly matter unless it can develop a quarterback and protect him.
18. How much will Ole Miss miss Matt Corral? Corral ranked among the most impactful players on any team last season. Kiffin did well to restock the cupboard, but replacing Corral may not be as simple as adding a transfer.
19. Is there a surprise Heisman contender? I’d expect Alabama’s Young and Anderson to be in the Heisman conversation, but this award isn’t required to go to a player from the No. 1-ranked team. A big season for Tennessee, South Carolina or Arkansas could elevate Hendon Hooker, Rattler or Jefferson into the conversation.
20. Any movement on Oklahoma and Texas? The SEC company line remains that their two prizes from the Big 12 will join in 2025. But the SEC and the schools would like the arrival to happen sooner, if only they could navigate around the Big 12’s roadblock.
21. Do playoff expansion talks produce anything tangible? Playoff expansion dialogue isn’t going away, and if Alabama and Georgia were to claim 50% of the playoff spots for the third time in six years, it once again would spotlight the issue.
22. Is Vanderbilt better than Hawaii? At least we’ll get an answer to this burning question this weekend.
Blake Toppmeyer is an SEC Columnist for the USA TODAY Network. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @btoppmeyer.

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