We’ve got a lot to be thankful for, SEC fans.

Starting today (Thanksgiving) and through Saturday, we’ve got 3 consecutive days of Rivalry Week action to look forward to ahead of what should be a fascinating, surprising SEC Championship matchup.

Life could be a whole lot worse. You could be an ACC fan who realized that once again, the path to the Playoff is unlikely. Or perhaps you can be a Pac-12 fan in the midst of watching future Big Ten team USC be the last hope for the conference to end the 5-year Playoff drought.

Consider it a time to count your blessings. Even you, A&M fans.

Here’s 1 thing that every SEC team should be thankful for in 2022:

Alabama — Bryce Young was still Bryce Young

He won’t get to end his career with another national championship, but Young was exactly the player that Alabama could’ve hoped for coming off a Heisman Trophy season. Yes, he missed 1 start. No, he isn’t going to repeat as the Heisman winner and Alabama won’t play for an SEC Championship.

But ask yourself this. Without Young’s heroics, where this Alabama team have been? Maybe 8-4? Dare I say, 7-5? No offense to Jalen Milroe, but Young’s ability to make off-platform throws was second to none, and his poise in late-game spots always gave Alabama a chance. Assuming he’s off to the NFL, he deserves to be remembered in the same breath as Lamar Jackson, Deshaun Watson, Tua Tagovailoa and Justin Fields as these remarkable 2-year starters who elevated the floor of their respective programs to such a high level.

Arkansas — Rocket Sanders isn’t even draft-eligible yet

If Sanders averages 134 rushing yards in these final 2 games, he’ll reach 2006 Darren McFadden levels of rushing production. That’s absurd. Sanders has been phenomenal for the Hogs this year. Sure, it helps that Kendal Briles’ up-tempo scheme gets Sanders plenty of volume, but let’s not forget that this was supposed to be a crowded backfield, even with the Dominique Johnson injuries. Sanders emerged as the guy in fall camp and quite literally never looked back.

This was his first time at the high school or college level being a true feature back, and now, the Rockledge, Fla., native is in position to cash in before he’s even draft-eligible. I mean, a potential preseason All-American running back with the nickname “Rocket?” To. The. Moon.

Auburn — Cadillac Williams

Need I say more? OK, I will.

The energy that Cadillac brought after Bryan Harsin was fired was infectious. How many stadiums are selling out for a battle of 3-win teams? Cadillac made that happen. Auburn started playing its best football of the year once he took over. They became a much more ground-focused team — the Tigers are No. 5 in America in rushing yards per game during the month of November — and they finally showed an ability to stop the run.

Even if Cadillac doesn’t get the full-time job, his presence will be invaluable. He reminded the college football world that Auburn isn’t just a revolving door of coaches with absurd buyouts. Cadillac understood the assignment from the jump. If he takes down Alabama in the Iron Bowl in Tuscaloosa, build the statue.

Florida — O’Cyrus Torrence and Montrell Johnson followed Billy Napier to Gainesville

It’s been a herky-jerky Year 1 for Napier and Co., but I can bet he’s glad that 2 of his best players at Louisiana followed him to Florida. Torrence, when healthy, has been one of the best offensive linemen in the country. PFF actually has him graded out as the No. 1 guard in America for a Florida rushing attack that ranks No. 15 nationally.

The other part of that was Johnson, who formed a solid 3-headed rushing attack with Anthony Richardson and Trevor Etienne. Johnson’s patience on those stretch plays has been crucial for the Gator ground attack. He still has a shot to be Florida’s first 1,000-yard rusher in 7 years, but even if he doesn’t hit that mark, he’s been a key addition after losing the underused Dameon Pierce.

Georgia — Kirby Smart isn’t Ed Orgeron

Here’s what I mean by that.

You can say a lot of things about Orgeron. At a specific time, he was exactly what LSU needed. The guy coached arguably the greatest team ever in 2019, and he deserves a ton of credit for the job he did compiling that roster and staff. But Orgeron was clearly a different coach after winning his first national title. He admitted he didn’t interview assistants, and he had no ability to troubleshoot when things started to slip in 2020 and 2021.

I assumed that Smart wouldn’t be like that based on his track record and the whole “spending nearly a decade with Nick Saban” thing. But man, complacency is the last thing we’re seeing with the 2022 version of Georgia. To be unbeaten at No. 1 in the country with 2 decisive wins over teams currently ranked in the top 10 of the Playoff poll is darn impressive. We’re heading into the regular-season finale and UGA has a Playoff berth all but locked up. Smart’s squad even lost Nolan Smith to a season-ending injury after having 8 players drafted off the defense alone, yet the Dawgs have the No. 1 scoring defense in America and they’re the clear favorites to win a national title.

You couldn’t have drawn it up any better for UGA’s encore after ending the 1980 jokes.

Kentucky — Those true freshman receivers are going to sell the next QB1

I truly believe that as frustrating of a year as this has been for the Kentucky offense, the silver lining is that Barion Brown and Dane Key both look like future stars. They’re getting a ton of reps trying to get separation lined up on the outside, which has proven to be a challenge at times. But they combined for 995 receiving yards and 8 touchdowns. Brown’s speed is second to none, and we just watched him have a career day against that loaded Georgia defense.

With Will Levis expected to leave for the NFL, Brown and Key should play a pivotal role in whatever quarterback Kentucky chooses to pursue out of the transfer portal. Getting to have multiple years to throw to those guys is a major boost that a pre-2021 Kentucky probably wouldn’t have been able to sell.

LSU — Brian Kelly just did that in Year 1

Hand up. I had LSU going 7-5.

Wrong, I was. Right I was to say that LSU was the most unpredictable team in America, but wrong I was to be so conservative in my overall projection for Year 1 of the Kelly era. I would’ve said 7-5 was too ambitious after the opener. Instead, all LSU did was right the ship thanks to an improving Jayden Daniels and a disruptive defense with emerging true freshman superstar Harold Perkins. Remember that LSU lost Maason Smith on the first series of 2022, too. Kudos to Matt House for that.

It’s wild to think that LSU is an A&M win away from a 6-0 mark against the West with a potential Playoff-or-bust game in the SEC Championship against Georgia. Kelly already stared down Saban and beat him. Could he do it to Smart, too? Whatever the case, that locker room could’ve splintered. Instead, Kelly showed exactly why he’s 1 of the 5 best coaches in the sport.

Mizzou — Blake Baker completely overhauled the defense

Yes, it’s been a disastrous year offensively. Eli Drinkwitz desperately needs to hire an offensive play-caller and he’s likely looking at a new QB1. But man, Mizzou’s defense quietly had one of the biggest year-to-year turnarounds of any SEC team with Baker running the show. Look at these numbers:

Mizzou defense
Points/game allowed
Rushing/game allowed
Yards/play allowed
30-point games allowed

Baker has been a godsend since coming over from LSU and getting promoted after Steve Wilks’ departure for the Carolina Panthers. To say that Baker has been an upgrade would be a wild understatement. It’s a good thing Baker got extended the same day that Drinkwitz did. Now all Mizzou has to do is hope that the young defensive coordinator doesn’t bolt for a head coaching gig. He’s certainly earned it.

MSU — Zach Arnett is still in town

I don’t know that he will be in a couple of weeks, but the coveted defensive coordinator has been an ideal complement for Mike Leach, who has only coached 1 team with a top-20 defense ever. This year’s MSU defense won’t finish with that, but it improved for the 3rd consecutive year. It ranks No. 4 in the SEC on opposing 3rd down conversion percentage and it ranks No. 2 in the SEC in forced turnovers.

Arnett’s ability to implement the 3-3-5 defense gave MSU a steady foundation that it desperately needed. Those offensive droughts have still been there in Year 3 with Leach. Granted, that was probably never going to be enough to beat the likes of Alabama and Georgia, but there’s still a chance that MSU can win the Egg Bowl and get a 9th win in a bowl game. Arnett would deserve plenty of credit for that.

Ole Miss — Quinshon Judkins is only a freshman

He’s 2 rushing yards away from true freshman Todd Gurley and he’s 167 rushing yards away from true freshman Nick Chubb. Judkins has been a revelation for Lane Kiffin. The Pike Road, Ala., native bypassed Zach Evans as the go-to player in a backfield that lost the likes of Jerrion Ealy, Snoop Conner and Henry Parrish. Judkins not only leads the SEC with 1,383 rushing yards, he’s also No. 10 in FBS in that category and he’s 5th in America with 16 rushing scores.

Of course, a lot will be made about Judkins’ status with Ole Miss based on Kiffin’s next move. In this era of the transfer portal, we probably shouldn’t assume that anyone is locked into any specific place, especially if a coach leaves. But still, Ole Miss couldn’t have asked for a better year from the true freshman. He led the top non-service academy rushing attack in America, and if Kiffin returns, that title could belong to Ole Miss for the foreseeable future.

South Carolina — The Tennessee game happened

Here’s something to consider. Think about all the success Clemson fans have had in the Playoff era. The Tigers have won plenty of huge games, including a pair of national championships. How many times did their fans get to celebrate a top-5 win at home during that stretch? Once. That was the 2016 Deshaun Watson vs. Lamar Jackson game.

I say that because South Carolina fans deserve to soak in that Tennessee win for a very long time. It was an out-of-body experience. The Gamecocks could do no wrong. It felt like an NCAA ’14 simulation. Spencer Rattler was every message board fantasy come to life, Juice Wells was Randy Moss and the offensive line blocked like its life depended on it. For all the frustration with Marcus Satterfield’s decision-making throughout 2022, that 63-point offensive outburst felt like an apology to the South Carolina faithful. The Gamecocks’ biggest home victory in the decade will be tough to top anytime soon.

Well, I suppose ending Clemson’s Playoff hopes and 40-game home winning streak would do the trick.

Tennessee — The Alabama streak is dead and the offense is alive

If I told Tennessee fans in August, “hey, you’re gonna beat Alabama and Florida with a chance to clinch a New Year’s 6 bowl with a win against Vanderbilt,” every last one of them would’ve been giddy. Yes, it was a crushing way to see Playoff hopes die and the fact that Hendon Hooker’s Heisman Trophy campaign ended with a torn ACL was a massive bummer. It was indeed a missed opportunity, and maybe we’ll always wonder what it could’ve looked like if Tennessee got that Georgia rematch on a neutral site.

Having said that, there’s no longer a question about Tennessee’s future. Josh Heupel’s offense is No. 1 in America. Alabama couldn’t stop it. LSU couldn’t, either. Even though the offense will look much different next year in the likely event that those top 3 receivers are all gone, the Vols are in a much better place than at any point in the post-Phillip Fulmer era. This year was a massive success on Rocky Top.

Texas A&M — The season ends Saturday

What else do you want me to say? Even though I said/wrote I thought A&M was the most overrated team in America entering 2022, I had the Aggies going 8-4. In no world did I see a collapse like this. Sure, some of these losses could be attributed to injuries, but the fact that Jimbo Fisher’s play-calling hasn’t led to a single 30-point showing against an FBS opponent this year is an awful pill to swallow. The Aggies are now tasked with making sure they don’t have a mass exodus after 1 year with that historic recruiting class on campus.

The good news is that A&M can simply turn the page to 2023 once Saturday is over. Fisher is a master at coming up with a spin zone, and I’d expect that to be on full display once A&M is put out of its misery on Saturday.

Vanderbilt — The trenches play is finally at an SEC level

It took long enough, right? Why did Vandy finally end the SEC losing streak at 26 and beat Kentucky and Florida? It finally showed that it could look like an SEC team in the trenches. Against one of the best rushing attacks in the nation, Vandy out-ran Florida 175-45 in a game that it totally controlled. Against Will Levis, Vandy dominated up front and put him in the dirt to stun the Cats in Lexington.

Clark Lea deserves a ton of praise for that because in the middle of the season, Vandy looked poised to go another full year without an SEC win. But credit an offensive line that lost its best player to the transfer portal (Tyler Steen went to Alabama) and dealt with a bit of a rotating quarterback situation. There’s no world in which I would’ve predicted that the Dores would have a realistic chance to clinch a bowl berth against Tennessee, but here we are.

If that’s not something to be thankful for, I don’t know what is.