Spring has sprung, and with it the first official batch of very early college football rankings and predictions for what figures to be an exciting 2022 season.
Especially in the SEC, whose stranglehold on the national championship race was strengthened last season by Georgia, who won the natty for the first time since 1980.
The defending champs figure to open as the favorite in the SEC East again this year, but as always, there's a Nick Saban-shaped shadow hovering over the conference.
Can the Bulldogs stay ahead of the curve and finally supplant the Crimson Tide as the kings of the SEC? Or will Alabama do what it's done for 15 years: re-load, re-stock, re-boot, and slug its way through this conference en route to the College Football Playoff again?
Scroll through to see where each SEC teams stands going into the 2022 season, from worst to first.
SEC power rankings for 2022 college football season
14. Vanderbilt Commodores
2021 record: 2-10 (0-8 SEC)
Where Vanderbilt is right now: Vandy needs all the help it can get with trips to Alabama, Georgia, and Kentucky, and with Ole Miss and Florida coming to Nashville.
This offense accounted for just under 16 points per game a year ago and this defense allowed almost 40 points each time out against SEC opposition. Everywhere you look, Vanderbilt, which hasn't won an SEC game since late in 2019, needs major surgery, especially after losing star offensive tackle Tyler Steen to Alabama.
13. Missouri Tigers
2021 record: 6-7 (3-5 SEC)
Where Missouri is right now: Eli Drinkwitz has to break in a new quarterback after Connor Bazelak transferred to Indiana this offseason. And a new running back following the departure of Tyler Badie, the SEC's all-purpose yardage leader in 2021.
Missouri will welcome 5-star wide receiver Luther Burden into the fold, but there are still some structural issues on this roster to solve before it can throw some elbows in the SEC East.
12. South Carolina Gamecocks
2021 record: 7-6 (3-5 SEC)
Where South Carolina is right now: Shane Beamer outdid expectations in Year 1, finishing over .500 and clinching statement upset victories over Florida and Auburn, and the Gamecocks became bowl-eligible for the first time since 2018, beating rival North Carolina in the Mayo Bowl.
Now comes a pair of major Oklahoma transfers in quarterback Spencer Rattler — who came into 2021 a Heisman favorite — and tight end Austin Stogner. But can Beamer and his staff develop its receiver corps and better protect Rattler after surrendering 31 sacks last fall? If not, signing Rattler will seem like an awful waste.
11. Auburn Tigers
2021 record: 6-7 (3-5 SEC)
Where Auburn is right now: A solid defense that allowed about three TDs per game loses some playmakers, and this receiver room will have to be developed, not to mention a major decision at quarterback. Quite the laundry list for an already embattled head coach in Bryan Harsin entering Year 2 on an increasingly hot seat.
Auburn plays its first five games at home with dates against Penn State and LSU before trips to Georgia and Ole Miss in consecutive weeks, and it plays the Iron Bowl on the road this year. Add in games against Arkansas and Texas A&M, and Harsin will have a very bumpy road to prove he's taking this thing in the right direction.
10. Mississippi State Bulldogs
2021 record: 7-6 (4-4 SEC)
Where Mississippi State is right now: The Bulldogs came away with three statement wins against ranked SEC opponents last year (Texas A&M, Kentucky, and Auburn).
Mike Leach has pieces coming back on offense that should be able to replicate their 2021 production, including quarterback Will Rogers, a 4,700-yard passer with 36 TDs, and this defense — 4th overall in the SEC last season — brings back eight starters. MSU draws the Aggies, Auburn, Georgia, and Arkansas at home this fall.
9. Florida Gators
2021 record: 6-7 (2-6 SEC)
Where Florida is right now: New coaches, new scheme, and a new outlook for Florida, who pulled the plug on Dan Mullen and took a flier on Billy Napier, the former Louisiana coach with some solid recruiting connections in the Sunshine State.
He'll have a decision to make at quarterback between Anthony Richardson and Ohio State transfer Jack Miller. Richardson likely takes the job, but the real pressing question is whether Napier and his staff and stitch up a defense that allowed almost 27 ppg last fall and needs difference-makers up front and in the secondary.
8. Tennessee Volunteers
2021 record: 7-6 (4-4 SEC)
Where Tennessee is right now: UT placed in the top 10 across college football last season in total offense and scoring per game thanks to the play of quarterback Hendon Hooker.
He's one of the SEC's best returning players at the position, but the Vols need to ensure quality replacements for talent lost at the receiver position. Signing USC transfer wideout Bru McCoy is a good start.
Second-year coach Josh Heupel needs answers for a defensive unit that allowed almost 34 points per game to SEC opposition a year ago and has holes to fill in the secondary.
7. LSU Tigers
2021 record: 6-7 (3-5 SEC)
Where LSU is right now: A long-time head coach starting at a new program and a recruiting base bursting with game-changing talent at every position. That's the situation Brian Kelly and LSU find themselves in this season.
Kelly, Notre Dame's winningest coach who also struggled against ranked and Southern teams, brought on a decent haul from the transfer portal and performed well enough on his first recruiting effort, but this roster needs an overhaul.
Especially in the secondary, a season-defining move at quarterback, and on the offensive line, which just lost four starters. LSU goes to Auburn, Florida, Arkansas, and Texas A&M, and hosts Alabama, Ole Miss, and Tennessee.
6. Arkansas Razorbacks
2021 record: 9-4 (4-4 SEC)
Where Arkansas is right now: One of the biggest surprises in college football last season, the Hogs started off 4-0 and went into the Georgia game ranked No. 8 in the country. Then came a three-game losing skid before finishing off 5-1 with a bowl win over Penn State and a No. 24 ranking.
KJ Jefferson — one of the SEC's top quarterbacks a year ago — will return, but he won't have star Treylon Burks, a thousand-yard receiver in 2021, to lean on. He does get Oklahoma transfer Jadon Hazelwood, a former 5-star recruit who had seven TDs and 736 yards in his career with the Sooners. Watch how the Razorbacks patch up some holes on defense with four returning starters.
5. Ole Miss Rebels
2021 record: 10-3 (6-2 SEC)
Where Ole Miss is right now: The Rebs lost a ton of that offense that ranked No. 1 in the SEC a year ago (and No. 6 in college football), but scored two noteworthy transfer players in former USC quarterback Jaxson Dart and TCU running back Zach Evans.
Expect a slight step back offensively, but there's still enough speed here to keep Ole Miss undefeated or at one loss heading into mid-October. This team improved defensively last season and should have six starters back, but has to restock at most positions.
4. Kentucky Wildcats
2021 record: 10-3 (5-3 SEC)
Where Kentucky is right now: Statement wins over LSU and Florida — in the latter case a first at home since 1986 — and knocking off No. 15 Iowa in the bowl were all positive steps forward. As is the return of quarterback Will Levis, a 2,800-yard passer with 24 TDs last year, and lead rusher Chris Rodriguez, who ran for 1,379 yards and nine scores (and over 100 yards in all but three games) in '21.
But gone is Wan'Dale Robinson at receiver, three O-line starters, and six defensive contributors. A home tilt in November against Georgia could go a long way in sorting out the SEC East race again.
3. Texas A&M Aggies
2021 record: 8-4 (4-4 SEC)
Where Texas A&M is right now: Jimbo Fisher has recruited this program into College Football Playoff contention, but it can still get beat on any given Saturday. Last season was proof of that, as the Aggies both beat No. 1 Alabama but still lost four other SEC West games, including at Ole Miss by 10 last November.
There are some good receivers to work with and a room full of talented quarterbacks, including LSU transfer Max Johnson, who could take the gig away from Haynes King and 5-star signee Conner Weigman.
But can this team really slug its way through an SEC West schedule? A&M lost twice to ranked conference teams, both by 10 points each, and to a pair of unranked teams by a combined 10 points. Look out for a stretch of three straight road games, at Mississippi State, Alabama, and South Carolina.
2. Georgia Bulldogs
2021 record: 14-1 (8-0 SEC)
Where Georgia is right now: For the first time in 40 years, Georgia comes into a football season as defending national champions. And while the Bulldogs are the easy favorite to win the SEC East again, it'll take some doing to re-stock the shelves on that great defense.
Kirby Smart's recruiting machine is among the nation's most aggressive and has ensured there's more than enough to choose from among the replacements. And Stetson Bennett returns at quarterback, armed with the likes of Brock Bowers, Darnell Washington, and Arik Gilbert on the receiving end.
Georgia has a talent edge just about everywhere, can generate pressure at the line like few teams can, and boasts perimeter speed that's hard to stop. Don't be surprised if the Bulldogs run the table en route to Atlanta again this year.
1. Alabama Crimson Tide
2021 record: 13-2 (7-1 SEC)
Where Alabama is right now: Eight starters coming back on defense, including college football's leader in sacks and TFLs in linebacker Will Anderson, and Heisman-winning quarterback Bryce Young round out a customarily stacked Crimson Tide roster.
And the defending SEC champions scored some choice transfer players, too: former LSU cornerback Eli Ricks, Georgia's leading 2021 receiver in Jermaine Burton to open some lanes downfield, and Jahmyr Gibbs, the former Georgia Tech back who comes in as the nation's current active leader in total yards.