Mailbag: Is Tennessee for real yet?

It's time to kickoff the weekend with some questions from our faithful readers:

Marcus in Jacksonville, Fla., writes: Is there something from Tennessee this year that I'm not seeing? Obviously they should be improved over last season, but the start of the season so far has been just like last year. They blow out Montana and Cinci and Bray throws for 700 yards and 7 touchdowns in two games, then they go on to a 5-7 record. Why are people so high on them this year when the start of the season has looked much the same?

Edward Aschoff: I think the main reason people are higher on this team is that there is actually depth on both sides of the ball. That's something Derek Dooley just hasn't had in Knoxville. His offensive line entered the season with 99 combined starts and against NC State I saw Tennessee rotate in and out as many players as possible at nearly every position. But to tell you the truth, we really don't know how good this team is because of its first two opponents. NC State didn't look great in the win over UConn, so we're nearly back to square one with the Vols. We know there is talent on offense, especially in the passing game, but the running game still has to prove it can get the tough yards when needed. And lets see the defense adjust against a good offense. I think Tennessee is a much better team because of depth, but I'm curious to see what happens this weekend against Florida. That will tell us a lot. It's also interesting to look at Tyler Bray's SEC stats. In his seven league starts, he's 4-3 with 13 touchdowns to 10 interceptions.

Wolf writes: Ed, before Petrino's departure national champ talk surrounded Arkansas. Is it coaching/injuries, combination, overhype, or what the heck happened? Are they just dangerous spoilers now?

Edward Aschoff: I think you have to look at coaching first because Bobby Petrino is gone. He gives you at least seven points just by being on the sideline. His loss really hurt this team mentally, and while the players did a great job of masking their pain, I think it caught up to them when the season started. Arkansas had the offensive talent to compete for an SEC title, but the defense was always suspect. We found out exactly why last weekend. With Tyler Wilson out Saturday, we're really going to see what this team is made of. Can this team rally? Can John L. Smith motivate these players the right way? Can he command respect after that embarrassing loss? I don't know. I really don't. But we'll know Saturday. As far as being dangerous, I don't think this team is without Wilson under center.

Matt in Memphis, Tenn., writes: How hard of a time do you think Mississippi State will have in getting recognition? Clearly they have a straightforward schedule to possibly go 7-0. When will they receive the rewards for finally starting to put this program together? Do you believe it will take something major, like a win against an Alabama or LSU?

Edward Aschoff: I think a 7-0 start (which means beating Tennessee) is a great start. Listen, the stigma that Dan Mullen couldn't beat a West team not named Ole Miss is gone, so that helps. This team has been far more entertaining and respectable under Mullen and it's slowly starting to garner more national recognition. Just look at Johnthan Banks. But to truly start getting the respect I think you're talking about, this team has to beat one of the big guys -- Alabama, Arkansas or LSU. Getting a win like that this season or getting to 10 wins for the year would be huge for this program. As long as Mullen is around, this team will only get better, but he needs that bigger signature win.

Will in Jackson, Miss., writes: What is your opinion of the Elston suspension in terms of the SEC arbitrarily applying this by-law. There have been at least 2 hits on national TV that were far worse than this, yet Elston is the first suspension, and probably will be the only this season. What are you thoughts?

Edward Aschoff: Honestly, I don't think Trae Elston should have been suspended. Was UTEP's Jordan Leslie defenseless when Elston hit him? Yes. But was it a dirty hit? No. And there wasn't even a flag thrown. In the video, it looks like he hit Leslie with his shoulder first and then there's contact with his helmet. But there isn't much contact at all with Leslie's head. If Leslie catches that ball and Elston still hits him, this is a non-issue. The fact that Leslie held up to embrace the hit is probably the issue the league had. Now, what if Leslie catches the ball and Elston doesn't go for him? Then, coaches and fans are getting onto him for not making a play and allowing a touchdown. I think with all the concern around leading with your helmet and head/spinal injuries associated with football, the league looked to make a statement about safety.

Ned in Atlanta writes: You should stick LB Javis Jones on that Heisman List, much more deserving than the QB/RBs at this point. Best player right now in the SEC.

Edward Aschoff: Not a question, but a suggestion I've heard a lot since I put my list up. I almost put him on. I think he's the best player in the league, but I just don't know if he's Heisman worthy just yet. Sure, he's had two very good games and was particularly excellent against Missouri, but it's going to be tough for a linebacker to be a serious Heisman contender. I mean, he didn't even score a touchdown on his interception return! Ask Charles Woodson or the Honey Badger about that. Look, Jones is great --the best defensive player in the country. But I want to see another big game from him. The ball is in your court, Mr. Jones!

Daniel in Seattle writes: C'mon guys, you said that all of your picks were not the same for week 3. But the only difference is the UF & UT game. That is sad, one of you needs to go on a limb here if and I quote "We'll have some separation this week, because our picks aren't all the same." Give us an upset or something.

Edward Aschoff: I don't pick for fun. I pick to win. Same as Chris. I'm competitive, and I hate losing. Just ask my soccer team and my softball team. Or any of my friends. I could go out on a limb, but what's the point in picking something that I don't believe will happen? I can't help it if Chris cheats and looks at what I pick beforehand. You'll have to take that up with him. Also, if I start picking random upsets and I get them wrong, then I'm having to hear about how dumb I am for picking them. I know how this works. I pick to win!

David in Nashville writes: I'm a little upset that you posted an article about how the new quarterbacks in the SEC this season are faring and failed to include Vanderbilt quarterback Jordan Rodgers on the list. You yourself defined a new quarterback as someone who, "had never gone into a season in this league as the full-time starter until this year," and if you recall Larry Smith started the first half of last season for Vanderbilt at quarterback before Jordan Rodgers came in to get more playing time. I would have been fine had you placed him on the Slow Start list but to ignore him altogether is downright offensive.

Edward Aschoff: We discussed putting Rodgers on the list, but decided against it because he started seven games last year. He played enough meaningful minutes last year that we didn't count him. While you're right that Rodgers didn't go into last year as the full-time starter, if you continue reading the same sentence in which we state that, you'll also see that we said "or had never been the full-time starter for any length of time." I know I only went to Florida, but by my calculations, starting seven games during a 13-game season is a length of time.