After a very long hiatus, our SEC mailbag is back this week to celebrate the first day of summer!
We've missed you guys, but we can't do it without you, so don't forget to send in as many questions as you want each week. We get comments a lot, but questions get published. Remember that.
On to the questions:
Phillip in Little Rock, Ark., writes: Every year we hear how the gap between the SEC and the rest is narrowing and every year that prophecy proves incorrect. The SEC always has seven or more teams in the Top 15 in recruiting every year. What is your take on this? Do you think the gap is narrowing, and if not how much longer can it go on?
Edward Aschoff: Well, if you look at the SEC recruiting classes right now, it doesn't look like that trend is going to end in 2014. Nine SEC teams are currently ranked within the top 15 of the ESPN class rankings, and one of those teams is Kentucky. South Carolina and Vanderbilt will push to get in there as well, as the year goes by. I think the SEC could be in store for its toughest few years coming up. There are maybe five or six legitimate national championship contenders in the SEC right now and I think the league will be even better next year.
Alabama will still be elite, while Florida and Georgia could be very, very good in 2014. LSU will be more experienced, South Carolina might get hurt along the defensive line, but should return a lot of talent pretty much everywhere else. Texas A&M will likely lose Johnny Manziel, but will be stacked at the skill positions and in the front seven. Vanderbilt will be good again, Tennessee should be better, Auburn could be a real threat in the West and Ole Miss will display more of that impressive 2013 class.
But the league could really beat up on itself in the next few years. The good news for the conference is the first two years of the playoff will come with only eight conference games. You'll see the SEC champ in the four-team playoff, but getting a second team in the playoff could be tough if the conference gets 10 legit BCS conference games before the SEC championship.
dropkicked meeko in Atlanta writes: In regards to your recent future power rankings, how far will UK rise if they have two top 10 classes back to back, and do you think they can keep these guys from switching commitments to other SEC powers?
Edward Aschoff: Interesting choice in your name there. Meeko is actually looked at as a hero on the blog. You must be a rookie or just learning your way around the blog. You'll learn to love him. As for Kentucky, I think you'll only see the Wildcats rise in the power rankings if the defense can look out for the offense more often than not. The defense is in very good hands with Mark Stoops in charge, but the Wildcats have to find consistent playmakers on offense. There are no true go-to guys on the roster at the skill positions. The good news is that running backs Raymond Sanders and Dyshawn Mobley really impressed this spring and incoming freshman receiver Ryan Timmons could be a stud. There are some youngsters who have shown flashes here and there, like Demarco Robinson and Daryl Collins, but consistency has been an issue for this offense the last couple of years.
Development is key. Stoops will be able to recruit, especially in and around Ohio, but he and his assistants have to start developing because they just didn't happen before he got there. Players have to buy in and they have to mature on the field or the wins won't come. It can't just be about recruiting. If Stoops continues to recruit well and real development takes place, Kentucky will move up.
Caleb in Big Rock/TN writes: Do you think Tennessee can sustain the recuiting success they are having this season over the next couple of years?
Edward Aschoff: It's hard to say right now because no games have been played. I think Butch Jones has brought some real excitement to the program and the recruiting trail. But we all know that this is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately world, and if recruits aren't impressed with the Vols this fall or start paying attention to other, more successful schools, it could hurt Tennessee next year. One thing he can sell is that there is plenty of playing time out there for prospects to have once they get on campus. That will really help. I think Jones is doing a great job, but wins and losses go a long way, and fans have seen Tennessee reel in top recruits with little results coming on the field.
Bruce in Osceola, Mo., writes: Do you think Missouri will be bowl eligible this year? When do you think Missouri will be competitive in the SEC?
Edward Aschoff: If the offense stays healthy and quarterback James Franklin plays with the confidence he had in 2011, the Tigers will go bowling. I think the defense will be fine. The defensive line played pretty well this spring and has good depth, and the secondary should be decent. I worry about the youth at linebacker, but a good front can hide those issues. For me, it's about that offense getting its act together. It has to be a tougher unit all around. This team just wasn't built for SEC play last year. There is so much talent at receiver and running back, but inconsistency and those injuries to Franklin and the offensive line killed the receiving corps last year. Running back Henry Josey has what it takes to be a star, but he can't do it alone.
There are four nonconference games out there for this team to win, leaving just two SEC games. The game at Vanderbilt is big, along with the home game against Tennessee and the trip to Kentucky. There are two wins there if the Tigers can stay healthy. If not, it's going to be tough with the rest of the SEC slate that Missouri has. I think the Tigers squeak by with six wins.
As for finally becoming truly competitive, it'll happen when the lines get bigger, more SEC-caliber players get on campus. Missouri was behind in the physical department last year. Recruiting has to get better from here on out, too.
Dave in Belton, Texas, writes: The August date for the Aggies and Tide in College Station is interesting to me. Both are working in new-but-good offensive lines, and both are retooling defensive lines. D-Line wasn't necessarily the strength for either team last year, and now it's an open question for both. Is it going to be harder for the Aggies' new D-Line to stop the Bama power game, or for the new Bama D-Line to keep their contain on Manziel? Which team would benefit the most from moving this game to November?
Edward Aschoff: I think Texas A&M will have a tougher time stopping Alabama because that running game just pounds and pounds and pounds. The Aggies lost so much in that front seven, especially along the defensive line. Replacing Damontre Moore will be tough enough, but two senior tackles are gone as well. Kirby Ennis started 11 games last year, but ran into legal trouble before spring practice and was suspended. Youngsters like Alonzo Williams, Tyrone Taylor and Tyrell Taylor will be thrown right into the fire this fall. You'll see some growing pains up front for the Aggies against Alabama. Alabama's defensive line isn't great right now, and playmakers still have to step up, but I think having a solid linebacker corps coming back and Kirby Smart running the defense will go a long way to stopping Manziel. Now, I'm not saying Manziel will be ineffective against the Tide, but I do think Alabama's defense will be much better prepared to defend him. Remember, Smart and his defense made great adjustments in the second half of this game last year.