SEC expert picks 2023: Most overrated and underrated teams, projected order of finish, bold predictions – CBS Sports

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The SEC is going to look notably different 12 months from now, so consider the 2023 season a series finale of sorts for the conference that claims, “It Just Means More.” If prognosticators are to believed, “more” in that phrase might be referring to national title won by two-time reigning champion Georgia, which enters this season without many of the starters that led it to glory the last couple of years but with plenty of hype to potentially become the first team to three-peat in the wire service era.
Whether the Bulldogs go wire-to-wire and prevail in the College Football Playoff is uncertain, of course, though they will surely benefit from one of the weakest schedules among Power Five teams this season. If UGA is going to be toppled before it ends SEC play, it might be Tennessee — unanimously predicted to finish second in the SEC East — that gets the job done. Georgia avoids Alabama and LSU in regular-season play, though hopes are raised for both the Crimson Tide and Tigers despite both programs facing legitimate obstacles entering the campaign.
Whether Florida or Texas A&M rebound from massively disappointing seasons will be of significant interest. The Gators enter Year 2 under Billy Napier with a seemingly rough situation at quarterback, while the Aggies are hoping the Jimbo Fisher-Bobby Petrino marriage somehow works well enough to cure what ails their offense. Despite trending upwards, Kentucky and South Carolina may actually be underrated entering the season, while there is a curiosity as to what Hugh Freeze will be able to accomplish in Year 1 as he makes his return to the SEC at Auburn.
Our CBS Sports college football experts have provided their picks and predictions for the SEC ahead of the 2023 season.
Alabama: Bama is replacing two of the first three players selected in the 2023 NFL Draft and both coordinators from a team that didn’t win the SEC West last season. Still, voters at SEC Media Days predicted the Crimson Tide to win the division over reigning champion LSU. Alabama also came in at No. 4 in the preseason AP Top 25 ahead of not only the Tigers but teams like USC and Penn State, each of whom have fewer personnel questions to answer than the Tide. Nick Saban is the G.O.A.T., but this depth chart is full of uncertainty and far from a lock to make the College Football Playoff. — David Cobb (Barrett Sallee, Will Backus)
Texas A&M: On paper, the Aggies can compete with anyone in college football. Unfortunately, football isn’t played on paper. Texas A&M’s total defense slipped from No. 14 to No. 51 after Mike Elko left to help resurrect Duke. Quarterback Conner Weigman showed flashes of brilliance in his five appearances last season but also completed just 55% of his passes as he was thrown into the fire to try and save a miserable season. The offensive line group is a question mark once again after a disappointing effort. Making matters worse, the Aggies’ schedule is tougher with road trips to Tennessee, Ole Miss, Miami and LSU. Texas A&M will have a puncher’s chance in most of their games, but there’s little chance to believe the Aggies are anywhere close to competing for the SEC West, nor are they a lock to even finish within the top half of the division. — Shehan Jeyarajah (Dennis Dodd, Jerry Palm)
Ole Miss: All due respect to the Rebels, but I figure the only reason this team is ranked to begin the year is because when filling out ballots, voters get to the 20-25 range and have no idea what to do. So, they ask themselves, “which SEC team have I not ranked yet?” The Rebels began 2022 with seven wins before losing five of their last six. After drawing Kentucky and Vanderbilt from the East last year, the Rebels get a road game against Georgia this year. The nonconference schedule also includes a road game against the Tulane team that won the Cotton Bowl. — Tom Fornelli
South Carolina: AP Top 25 and Coaches Poll voters ended up putting South Carolina at 27th in their preseason balloting, and that’s too high for a group that’s closer to the 35-40 range heading into the year. Similarly, the preseason media poll has South Carolina third in the SEC East. Instead, I believe it’s a group that’s going to battle with Florida and Missouri for some of those spots in the bottom half of the division. A bowl team? Definitely looks that way. But the offseason saw some high-end losses to the transfer portal, so there are some spots on the roster where depth is a real concern. Shane Beamer worked the portal to address some of those concerns and does have a star in the making with Nick Harbour. Overall, though, it’s not enough for top 25 consideration from me. — Chip Patterson
LSU: The SEC West will once again come down to Alabama or LSU. Going into the season, I have far fewer concerns about the Tigers than I do the Tide. LSU has a proven veteran QB with depth behind him, as well as talent at running back and wide receiver. While there are some concerns about the secondary early in the season, the defensive front seven will be solid. The closer I look at the SEC in 2023, the more I believe LSU is a bigger threat than Alabama to not just dethrone Georgia in the conference but win the national title as well. — Fornelli
Arkansas: The Razorbacks are going to be extremely difficult to game plan for this season. Quarterback K.J. Jefferson is especially near impossible to prepare for with his ability to run between the tackles and outside, 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 Raheim Sanders will make this one of the most entertaining offenses in the country. If defensive coordinator Travis Williams can get the passing defense — worst in the country last season — playing just a bit better, this team could push for a New Year’s Six bowl. — Sallee
South Carolina: Since Beamer took over from Will Muschamp in 2021, he’s won 15 games in his first two seasons and finished in the top 20 of the rankings last season. The Gamecocks will have star QB Spencer Rattler back 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. — Palm
Kentucky: UK is a perennial dark horse in the soon-to-be defunct SEC East, but this might actually be the year to buy the hype. The Wildcats get three of their five most difficult games at home, though that October road trip to Georgia is a beast. Kentucky is a strong candidate to reach at least 10 regular-season wins — something it has not done since 1977 — while confidently pushing back into the top half of the SEC. — Backus (Jeyarajah, Cobb)
Missouri: I’m buying a little Missouri stock, at least given its preseason media poll position of sixth in the SEC East with a pretty large margin between the Tigers and fifth place. I think Missouri’s defense is going to cause some real problems for opponents and keep the team in games against most conference foes. The corners are excellent, and there’s a ton of production returning 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 come up with enough plays in games the defense keeps close, the Tigers could be closer to the top four than bottom two in the SEC East standings. — Patterson
Mississippi State: Mike Leach’s spirit endures. The late Bulldogs coach made a career about tweaking the noses of powerhouses. New coach Zach Arnett will carry on that tradition, at least in the short term. Look for a couple of upsets from a team led by a young, aggressive staff in transition from the loss of Leach. LSU and Alabama visit Starkville (just sayin’). The man who threw more times than anyone, quarterback Will Rogers (610 attempts), will guide a more balanced offense. This is good news for RB Jo’quavious Marks (582 yards in the Air Raid!) running behind an experienced offensive line. You know the defense will be stout with Arnett elevating Matt Brock as coordinator, plus the Bulldogs return the SEC’s top two tacklers: Jett Johnson and Nathaniel Watson. — Dodd
Georgia: The Bulldogs are just too deep and talented. The receiving corps will take a massive leap with two big-time additions from the transfer portal. The running back room is stacked, and the defensive depth is second-to-none in the sport. The switch from Stetson Bennett IV to Beck at quarterback will be fascinating, but there are plenty of options if Beck struggles in his first season as the starter. The regular-season schedule is a cake walk, and Georgia is just far more talented than whomever emerges from the SEC West. — Sallee (unanimous)
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