SEC Football Q&A: Florida Winning the East, Texas A&M's Defense and Breakout WRs

Barrett SalleeSEC Football Lead WriterApril 25, 2014

Florida head coach Will Muschamp
Florida head coach Will MuschampUSA TODAY Sports

You have SEC questions, and I have SEC answers. Thank you for your questions. If I didn't get to them this week, they will be saved and used in the future.

And we're off! 

@BarrettSallee If the UF offense takes off, do they win the East if the defense is it's usual?

— David Waters (@GatorEagle7) April 17, 2014

Florida is going to be competitive in 2014 but winning the East? That's going to take a lot of work and a lot of luck.

With a solid foundation, "Buck" linebacker Dante Fowler, Jr., linebacker Antonio Morrison, cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III and a wealth of talent, the Gators defense is going to be just fine. Because of that, all the offense has to do is become adequate under first-year coordinator Kurt Roper in order to be competitive.

Florida QB Jeff Driskel
Florida QB Jeff DriskelPhil Sandlin

They'll be able to do that.

But in order to win the division, they'll have to withstand a brutal schedule that features a five-game stretch (with bye weeks mixed in) at Alabama, at Tennessee, vs. LSU, vs. Missouri and in Jacksonville against Georgia. There's a reasonable chance that Florida could be 0-5, 1-4 or 2-3 during that stretch even if head coach Will Muschamp has a competitive football team.

The offense doesn't have to necessarily take off, but it has to be consistent. If it stays consistent during that stretch, Florida could make a run at the SEC East—especially with wins over Missouri and Georgia in hand.

I don't think that happens though. It will be clear that Florida is headed in the right direction, but that path won't lead to the Georgia Dome in early December.

@BarrettSallee Do you think A&M's D will get considerably better? moderately? stay the same? just don't say worse.

— Cyril Pajestka (@Cyrilpaj) April 19, 2014

OK, I won't say "worse." But that's only because I can't.

It's hard to imagine a scenario where Texas A&M's defense actually regresses from last season's futile performance that saw the Aggies finish last in the conference in total defense (475.8 YPG) and yards per play (6.36 YPP).

Texas A&M LB Darian Claiborne
Texas A&M LB Darian ClaiborneBob Levey/Getty Images

The Aggies defense returns nine starters from last year's squad according to Phil Steele, including linebacker Darian Claiborne and incoming defensive end Myles Garrett. The continuity will absolutely help Texas A&M's defense be consistently better.

The problem for Texas A&M is that it might have to be considerably better. It boasted the SEC's best offense over the last two seasons with quarterback Johnny Manziel, and it's unrealistic to expect it to stay at that level without the most dynamic quarterback in recent college football history. 

A&M's defense will have to pick up some slack, and how much depends on how the offense adapts to its new quarterback.

Ultimately, A&M will likely finish in the bottom half of the SEC in total defense, but defense doesn't win championships anymore; "just enough" defense wins championships. If the offense doesn't suffer a massive drop-off, the Aggies will still be competitive.

Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin
Texas A&M head coach Kevin SumlinScott Halleran/Getty Images

@BarrettSallee: Need one more question for SEC Q&A. Send 'em in! — Stuart Davis (@stu623) April 25, 2014

Man, there are plenty to choose from. If a wide receiver on your team isn't listed, it's not because I am out to get your school. It's just because there isn't enough room.

Auburn WR "Duke" Williams
Auburn WR "Duke" WilliamsUSA TODAY Sports

My five, in no particular order, are Florida's Demarcus Robinson, Auburn's "Duke" Williams, Alabama's Robert Foster, South Carolina's Shaq Roland and Tennessee's Josh Malone.

Robinson is the guy who's going to stretch the field in that new-look Florida offense. Williams, Foster and Malone are, at best, No. 2 receivers in their respective systems, and they will put enormous pressure on opposing defenses this fall. Roland is likely the top option for South Carolina and has had success in the past, but he could dance around the 1,000-yard mark in an offense that will be more pass-heavy with quarterback Dylan Thompson.

That's not to say guys like Texas A&M's Ricky Seals-Jones, LSU's Malachi Dupre and others won't have breakout seasons. They might.

But those five are going to be major pieces of the puzzle for their respective teams in 2014.

 

Do you have a question for next week's Q&A? Send it to SEC Lead Writer Barrett Sallee on Twitter at @BarrettSallee

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All recruiting rankings are courtesy of 247Sports, and all stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com.