Seems like everybody has a preseason poll these days, and they come out early and often. Typically, the initial "too-early" college football polls for the upcoming year are unveiled within hours of a season ending.
By this point in the preseason, group-think tends to occur. It can be difficult to separate your own predictions from the amalgam of other picks floating around.
But on "SEC Football Unfiltered," a podcast from the USA TODAY Network, hosts Blake Toppmeyer and John Adams aim to do their own pontificating, independent of any accepted preseason narrative. On this episode, they each offer three predictions that go against the grain.
Here's their upstream predictions.
Six bold SEC football predictions for 2022
Group-think says: Texas A&M will finish No. 2 in the SEC West and contend for a spot in the College Football Playoff.
Toppmeyer rejects this. His take: I'm as impressed with the Aggies' 2022 signing class as anyone, but I think it may take another year before many of those ballyhooed recruits are ready for starring roles. Plus, who is A&M's quarterback? It has multiple options, but question marks surround each. Also, the Aggies' crop of returning starters ranks among the fewest in the SEC, and they were quiet in the transfer portal. The departures of running back Isaiah Spiller, tight end Jalen Wydermyer and offensive lineman Kenyon Green are being overlooked, too.
Group-think says: Arkansas will continue to ascend in Sam Pittman's third season.
Adams rejects this. His take: Arkansas may have a similar talent level to last year, but I don't think they'll repeat their nine victories. Why? Blame the schedule-makers. Along with facing the usual challenges in the SEC West, the Razorbacks must play Cincinnati at home and BYU on the road. A Week 2 game against South Carolina on the heels of opening against the Bearcats will be no cupcake, either.
Group-think says: Mississippi State will finish sixth in the SEC West.
Toppmeyer rejects this. His take: The Bulldogs are a dangerous team that returns eight starters on each side of the ball, including third-year starting quarterback Will Rogers. They should finish higher in the division than sixth. An unpredictable team? Yes. A team capable of beating Top 25 foes? Also yes. N.C. State, Texas A&M and Kentucky fell victim to the Bulldogs last season. A more veteran roster should allow for more consistency.
Group-think says: Kentucky is a Top 25 team and has a case to being No. 2 in the SEC East.
Adams rejects this: His take: I expect UK to take a step back in its defensive and offensive lines. The Wildcats also will miss dynamo wide receiver Wan'Dale Robinson. Expecting Virginia Tech transfer Tayvion Robinson to replicate Robinson's production is a tall order, and having to replace so many faces on the defensive line will affect a unit that ranked fourth in the SEC in scoring defense.
Group-think says: Tennessee is ready to take another step forward in Josh Heupel's second season
Toppmeyer rejects this: His take: While I don't expect UT to regress after Heupel's seven-win debut, I'm also skeptical that the Vols are poised for a big step forward. Toss-up games against Pittsburgh, LSU, Kentucky and South Carolina will be critical for a team that always must play Georgia and Alabama. Tennessee’s offense will remain a juggernaut, but the Vols’ defense must replace its three best performers from a unit that may not position UT for success against good teams. Remember, Purdue accumulated more than 600 yards against UT in the Music City Bowl.
Group-think says: LSU is not a Top 25 team.
Adams rejects this: His take: Few did better than Brian Kelly at accumulating talent through the transfer portal. Those transfers should address glaring needs and supplement a team with a loaded receiving corps and fearsome defensive line. Kelly is a proven winner, and LSU is talented enough to finish as high as second in the SEC West.
[ WANT MORE OPINIONS FROM BLAKE TOPPMEYER AND JOHN ADAMS?: Subscribe to the SEC Unfiltered newsletter for exclusive columns each week ]
Later in the episode
Neither Toppmeyer nor Adams understand what the big deal is about Nick Saban dubbing the 2021 season as "a rebuilding year" for Alabama. Saban's remark shouldn't cheapen Georgia's national championship, and when you consider all that Alabama lost from its 2020 team, it was, in fact, rebuilding last year. It's simply that Alabama has repositioned what a team can achieve during a rebuilding year.
Dan Mullen is reportedly in talks with ESPN about a television analyst position, but Adams and Toppmeyer think this won't be the end of Mullen's coaching career. They expect him back on a Power Five sideline in the years to come, and Toppmeyer even suggests an SEC school as a possible fit.
Where to listen to SEC Football Unfiltered
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY NETWORK: From Vols to Aggies, 6 bold SEC football predictions going against the grain