SEC mailbag: Can Auburn come back?

You ask for people to write into the mailbag and there's no hint of hesitation.

The mailbag is back this week and we were bombarded with questions. The pages went on for a while, so I'm sorry if I couldn't get to all of them. Keep them coming, though, because there's always next week.

Let's get to this week's questions:

Ethan in Cullman, Ala., writes: With the recent dominance of Alabama and Coach Saban do you see Auburn and Chizik really being relevant nationally? I realize they have recruited fairly well but I think we all know without Cameron Newton the 2010 Auburn Team was a 6-7 7-5 football team and in all honesty I don't see them improving their win-losses as long as Gene Chizik is the head coach. Take away the 14-0 season and Chizik has a total record of 21-29 as a collegiate head coach. Lets just be honest in the world of college football everything runs through Tuscaloosa, Alabama and I don't see that changing anytime soon. RTR (:

Edward Aschoff: Man, Auburn fans will love you now. I'm sure the Christmas cards are being written as we speak. While I don't see Auburn surpassing Alabama this season, or really next season, I don't think Auburn is going to fall off the map without Newton. Like you wrote, Chizik has recruited well and the team he has now is pretty young. It's going to take more time for this team to crawl back up the SEC standings, but I don't think it's going to take years and years. Auburn has the young talent to challenge some teams in the West this year. Yes, even Alabama. I'm one of the few still on the Auburn bandwagon. I see improvement on the offensive line, quarterback Kiehl Frazier really came along stronger this spring with Scot Loeffler's help and the defense can only get better after a lousy 2011 showing. I wouldn't be surprised at all if Auburn made more news nationally in 2013.

Jmathews in Weslaco, Texas, writes: Do you think Kevin Sumlin is going to surprise some teams this year with his offensive plan?

Edward Aschoff: It's a little unorthodox by SEC standards, for sure, but I'm not sure if SEC defenses will be confused by that air game. Sumlin and offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury will have to run the ball more in order to catch some defenses off guard. I know that flashy passing game was fun at Houston, but you have to run the ball to survive in the SEC. Balance will be key because we all know that Sumlin is going to want to throw the ball as much as he can. I don't think we'll truly see what all Sumlin wants to do because he's working with such young quarterbacks. That will restrict a lot of it and could make Christine Michael that much more important at running back. Once Sumlin has the right pieces in place then you'll see some offenses have to plan differently. For now, I think it's a work in progress.

Jimmy in Pikeville, Ky., writes: Do you believe that Joker Phillips will be able to get the Kentucky Wildcats back to a bowl game this season?

Edward Aschoff: Phillips thinks he's found more offensive playmakers this spring, with youngsters such as Demarco Robinson, Daryl Collins and Ronnie Shields stepping up, and that's huge for the Wildcats. They didn't have many at all last year and that was a main reason Kentucky's offense was so bad. But we still need to see what those players can do against SEC competition in October. And a consistent quarterback has to step up. Maxwell Smith has the lead, but the race isn't over. The schedule is going to be tough for the Wildcats, as well. I think Kentucky needs to sweep nonconference play to ensure a bowl birth. That means beating Louisville to start the season. The Louisville loss was a big one for the Cats last year and right now, Louisville is still a better team. Getting those four nonconference wins will go a long way for Kentucky.

Reed in Beijing, China, writes: Ex-pat hog fan here in Beijing. I wanted to get your opinion on how Arkansas will split carries between Ronnie Wingo, Knile Davis, and Dennis Johnson this year. Also, who besides Cobi Hamilton do you think will step up to fill the void at receiver?

Edward Aschoff: If Davis is healthy, he'll get the majority of the carries. I don't think there's any debate there. He is in another league compared to the other backs. After that, I think Arkansas goes Johnson then Wingo. Johnson came on during the second half of the season, while Wingo was inconsistent in my opinion. As for receiver, I think Marquel Wade could have a big year, along with tight end Chris Gragg. Wade is a very good athlete and the coaches loved what he did in practice last year. He's someone who has that dynamic feel in the offense and can make big plays. Gragg is big, athletic and tough. Tyler Wilson will key in on him a bunch this fall. He's probably the top returning tight end in the league.

Ryan in Anaheim, Calif., writes: Is it safe to say that Vanderbilt will have one of the best offenses in the SEC this year? Returning Rodgers, Stacy, Matthews, and Boyd, while also getting Norman back and explosive freshman in Kimbrow. The only weakness I see is the O-line which will be inexperienced, but will that hold them back that much?

Edward Aschoff: That line barely got through spring practice, so it's a problem. Injuries and numbers really hurt the line. The good news is that six true freshmen will be on campus this summer. The bad news is that they are true freshmen. Jordan Rodgers still has to be more comfortable in the pocket. He can be really sporadic at times and coach James Franklin knows it. If he can't improve on the mental side, this offense will struggle. Brian Kimbrow is someone who can be used all over the field, so that will really benefit this offense. The other playmakers you mentioned are solid, no question, but there are some good offenses to battle near the top, such as Arkansas, Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina.

Kyle in Gainesville, Fla., writes: The Gators haven't had many people drafted in the past two years, but next year will be much better. Who do you think could be drafted in the top 2 rounds next year? Bostic, Jenkins, Powell, Easley, Floyd, Elam, Nixon, Debose, and Reed are all guys I think can if they have a big year.

Edward Aschoff: Well, if Ronald Powell doesn't come back from his knee injury don't count on him heading to the draft. NFL scouts love Dominique Easley's potential. He's so strong and athletic and just pounds his way through offensive lines. He did suffer that knee injury, so his health will be monitored closely. Elam will compete to be the top safety in the SEC, but his name hasn't been thrown out as much as someone like Eric Reid. Jelani Jenkins is someone scouts like because of his speed and strength. He isn't the biggest linebacker, but he's extremely smart and that will help him a lot. Jon Bostic is getting some attention and a big year will boost his stock for sure. Xavier Nixon has to improve on a bad 2011 and Andre Debose and Jordan Reed have to be more consistent. Of all of them, I think Easley and Jenkins are Florida's top pro prospects.

Brad in Longview, Texas, writes: If you could take one player from the SEC, outside of a QB, who would it be?

Edward Aschoff: Last year, the answer was easy: Trent Richardson. This year, it's a little more difficult. I don't think I'd go with another offensive player, so I'm going to go with Georgia's Jarvis Jones. He was one of the best players in the nation last year and was the SEC's top defensive player, after getting 13.5 sacks and 19.5 tackles for loss. He's a superb athlete, has tremendous speed and has a relentless attitude. He's also a great leader. He commands respect in the locker room and on the field. It's hard to find a better linebacker out there.