ACC vs. SEC: Who has the better defense?

The SEC has had an incredible run with four straight BCS national championships. Alabama is the preseason No. 1 and a strong favorite to win a second straight BCS title, something that hasn’t been done since Nebraska in 1994-95.

While we all like to talk about offense because it’s fun to watch, the SEC’s unprecedented run of success, I believe, was built on defense. You don’t need any more proof than last season.

Consider this: In the final NCAA statistics of 2009, six of the Top 26 and 10 of the top 58 defenses in college football were from the SEC. Only Auburn and Arkansas fell outside that top 58.

 Here is a breakdown of 2009’s top 60 defenses by conference. The SEC, with 10, and the ACC, with eight, led all conferences. These are statistics for total defense and the national ranking is in parentheses:

 SEC (10): Alabama (2), Florida (4), South Carolina (15), Ole Miss (21), Tennessee (22), LSU (26), Georgia (38), Kentucky (53), Vanderbilt (56), Miss. State (58).

ACC (8): North Carolina (6), Virginia Tech (12), Clemson (20), Boston College (26), Miami (29), Virginia (52), Georgia Tech (54), N.C. State (55).

BIG 12 (7): Texas (3), Nebraska (7), Oklahoma (8), Oklahoma State (31), Kansas State (39), Texas Tech (49), Colorado (57).

PAC-10 (6): Arizona State (13), Arizona (25), UCLA (32), Oregon (35), USC (40), Oregon State (46).

BIG EAST (5): Rutgers (18), Pittsburgh (23), USF (24), West Virginia (36), Syracuse (37).

BIG TEN (5): Ohio State (5), Penn State (9), Iowa (10), Wisconsin (17), Northwestern (47).

MOUNTAIN WEST (4): TCU (1), Air Force (11), Utah (19), BYU (28).

Note: The remaining four conferences (MAC, WAC, Sun Belt, Conference USA) plus the Independents had 15 defenses in the Top 60.

Now statistics don’t tell you everything. But it is interesting to note that neither the Pac-10 nor the Big East has a defense that is ranked in the Top 10. It is also interesting to note that the Mountain West, which is knocking on the door of being a BCS automatic qualifier, has the No. 1 defense (TCU) and four defenses in the top 28.

If there is a gap in the quality of a conference, it is usually defined by defense. Note that in the Big 12 Texas, Nebraska and Oklahoma are all in the top eight on defense. The next team is Oklahoma State at 31.

Note that in the SEC Alabama and Florida are ranked in the top four and South  Carolina is next at 15.

Note that in the Big Ten Ohio State, Penn State, Iowa and Wisconsin are all in the top 17. Then the next school is Northwestern is 47.

The point is that at the end of the day the key to winning and competing for championships is not about offense but defense. Great defense is more consistent than great offense. Great defense gives you a chance to win every single game you play. Great offense does not.

A couple of other tidbits while we are taking some time with the numbers:

Is this going to be another good year for defense in the SEC? We’ll see. A total of 70 defensive starters return for the 12 teams. That’s an average of  5.8 starters per team. Alabama returns only two starters from its No. 2 defense while Florida only returns five from its No. 4 defense. Five of those six Florida starters were taken in the NFL Draft.

Here is a breakdown of the returning defensive starters in the SEC by team:

SEC (70): Alabama (2), Arkansas (7), Auburn (8), Florida (5), Georgia (5), Kentucky (7), LSU (4), Ole Miss (6), Mississippi State (8), South Carolina (7), Tennessee (6, it’s really 5 because Vols have already lost a starter in DE Ben Martin ), Vanderbilt (5).

The ACC returns 78 starters on defense. Here is that breakdown by team:

ACC (78): Boston College (7), Clemson (6), Duke (6), Florida State (6), Georgia Tech (8), Maryland (5), Miami (8), North Carolina (9), N.C. State (5), Virginia (6), Virginia Tech (5), Wake Forest (7).

So what do you think? Does the fact that Alabama and Florida have lost so many starters on defense knock the SEC down a peg or two? Will the ACC, led by that rock solid defense at North Carolina, edge out the SEC this season as college football’s best defensive conference? Could that title actually belong to the Big 12 or the Big Ten?

The floor is yours.

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Personal note: I want to thank everybody for the nice notes about yesterday’s Larry Munson column. I got some more emails  last night asking about the book I did with Larry: “From Herschel to a Hobnail Boot.” You can go to my website and get more information about the book and how to purchase it.:

www.tonybarnhart.com

285 comments Add your comment

JB

August 11th, 2010
7:39 am

There’s a reason they say that defense wins championships. It’s just the truth, nine times out of ten.

BTW, NC could be missing some additional starters, as we all know. That in mind, have you heard anything more on what is transpiring, up in Athens, in that regard?

HBTD!!!

Go Tigers, CU

August 11th, 2010
7:40 am

First? Really? ACC by a long shot.

Go Tigers, CU

August 11th, 2010
7:40 am

Dog Island Gator

August 11th, 2010
7:44 am

SEC. Returning players are very important. But the quality and athleticism of todays freshmen they can be coached to make an impact. Watch the Gators and Tide this year.

Beast from the East

August 11th, 2010
7:49 am

Look for Bama and Florida to both be in the top 10 again in defense. I’d say the SEC will once again be the dominate conference on the defensive side of the ball. Nothing has happened over the past year to predict it will be any different than in the past.
By the way, Dawg fans. UF returns 5 from the number 4 defense while UGA returns 5, as well, from the number 38 defense, yet there are a lot of Dawg fans that say their defense will be better this year. Can someone explain that to this simple-minded, jort, mullet-wearing Gator?

hoss

August 11th, 2010
7:51 am

The ACC can win every game against the SEC and it won’t matter in the minds of delusional SEC fans. I’m not saying they will – it just won’t matter if they do.

There is nothing to explain, Beast from the East...

August 11th, 2010
7:51 am

…you can make statistics “mean” anything you want – just ask Enron, Obama, and most Democratic politicians…

Ash

August 11th, 2010
7:56 am

If defense wins championships, explain Tech’s ACC title last season with a truly horrendous defense. The only reason they were in the top 60 defensively is because their offense kept the ball out of their opponents hands for so long.

Scoring more points than your opponents wins championships.

Andy

August 11th, 2010
8:02 am

If you think Republicans don’t manipulate statistics, you have your head in the sand.

Topp Dogg

August 11th, 2010
8:04 am

Tech nerds that only works till you play with the Dawgs.

5IML

August 11th, 2010
8:04 am

Ash,

In the article, Tony eludes to the BCS championship. I believe that what he means when he says “Defense wins championships.” The rankings he presents are national, not conference.

leland

August 11th, 2010
8:05 am

Use a colon only at the end of a complete sentence.

dap01

August 11th, 2010
8:05 am

SEC and it not close enough to even discuss.

JB

August 11th, 2010
8:06 am

You’re kidding right…….did you see what the SEC’s middle of the pack Georgia team did to Tech, the ACC ’s BEST, on their home field ? Held them to 200 yards below their season average. A fired Willie Martinez coached defense….. A chest thumping,nerd filled, this is the best we got, ACC champ Tech team. Imagine what Bama would have done to the ACC champs ( Never mind, look at the Iowa/Tech Bowl game for that train wreck vision………………………You are kidding Tony.

Beast from the East

August 11th, 2010
8:06 am

Ash,
I belive Tony was referring to the National Championship….not the ACC championship. Defense DOES win championships. Spurrier had the most prolific offenses in the country but needed to hire Stoops to win the big one. Bama’s team was built around the defense last year. Florida’s in ‘08 and ‘06. Believe what you will, but most of the time the team with the dominant defense will prevail.

Dirty Harry Reed

August 11th, 2010
8:07 am

Not even close…SEC The reason Tech won the ACC…easy…the league has no defense!

JB

August 11th, 2010
8:10 am

Crap, I think King just scored again……………….Tech= ACC Champs= What Defense?

JB

August 11th, 2010
8:13 am

PSA……..This blog will be pulled shortly and rewritten………………………

Mikey in SAV

August 11th, 2010
8:16 am

I’m not a big 10 fan but they play pretty decent D there too… just sayin.

JB

August 11th, 2010
8:17 am

This column would be like comparing Attendance in the ACC/SEC…………..4 cokes, 4 hot dogs
vs. returning 6,000 season ticket request… LOL
……………………………

Reg

August 11th, 2010
8:18 am

Florida put up 43 points a game on offense in 2008 the year they won the National Championship. If you score that many points, and play even ok on defense, you’ll win about every game.

But yes, in the big games, defense, and special teams, win ballgames, which is why most like Georgia in 2010.

richard cranium

August 11th, 2010
8:18 am

GT will beat UGA this year due to a strong defense. UGA will have a hard time this season with a new, inexperienced QB…

Reg

August 11th, 2010
8:20 am

McElroy at Bama proved you don’t need great QB play to win in the SEC, good defense in the SEC is enough, if your offense is decent.

Nick Saban

August 11th, 2010
8:21 am

Like to get my hands on that Tech Defense and get me some style points. They are the ACC’s best ?

T3

August 11th, 2010
8:22 am

Tony,

What ever happened to Juice Newton? I really like her music.

Bippity Boppity Boo Boo

August 11th, 2010
8:23 am

Todd the bod’s defense will have huge growing pains this year for the dogs. Hutson Mason will end up leading the dogs to a 5-7 season after the midget gets hurt. Bank on it!

GeoffDawg

August 11th, 2010
8:24 am

I’m just surprised we were ranked that high last year. I keep thinking about Mallett heaving bombs all over the field.

hammerhead

August 11th, 2010
8:24 am

While it’s true you can make statistics say anything you want, if we’re talking BCS Titles; how can anyone argue with the dominance of the SEC?

See saw

August 11th, 2010
8:24 am

The best offense is a great defense. On the other hand, the best defense is a great offense.

JB

August 11th, 2010
8:26 am

Mr. cranium………………………Just who will Tech have on D this year that they didn’t have last year? You did see that game ? ALL of Georgia’s offense including those two track star running backs your D met will be back. Murray will have 11 games under his belt……Who has Tech got coming back to stop that? I think the game plan will be the same. run the ball ( ya’ll can’t stop it)
and watch Nesbitt and company “stove up” from sitting on the sideline watching.

Mike

August 11th, 2010
8:27 am

The defensive stats Tony cites are only interesting. Most SEC teams play their league schedule and then games against absolute nobodies. It tends to pad their stats.

SEC has the perception of being the dominant league primarily because they have been successful at producing the top team (BCS Champion), NOT because they are the best league top to bottom. iN MATCHUPS AGAINST ALL OTHER bcs CONFERENCES (PLUS THE mwc) TH

JB

August 11th, 2010
8:29 am

Mike, the “nobodies” the SEC plays is normally ACC teams…LOL

#1 BAMA FAN

August 11th, 2010
8:30 am

You do not have to be a “starter” to get quality playing time. I would rather have four and five star recruits that are coachable then returning starters that did not perform that well the year before. Man…I am ready for some CFB. RTR

Smash

August 11th, 2010
8:32 am

People talk about SEC speed, but really it’s SEC depth. Especially on the Defense. Even with more returning starters I still expect the SEC to be better defensively than the ACC mainly because of the returning ACC qbs. (Ponder, Jacory, Parker, Wilson, Joshua etc.)

BAMA STAN

August 11th, 2010
8:32 am

13 NATIONAL TITLES – 22 SEC TITLES!!!

DEFENSE is the key!!

BEAST FROM THE EAST – I would like to answer your question – regarding Florida returning 5 players from the #4 ranked defense – and Georgia returning 5 players from the #38 Defense – how do UGA fans justify there defense being better?

1. Coaching – UGA is going to a 3/4 defense – which is more of an attacking style defense – and more prone to produce turnovers – particularly INT’s.
– Under UGA’s OLD 4-3 scheme – they played a lot of zone and soft zone. Very maddening for my UGA friends to see the defense in a 3rd & 3 – yet the corners are playing 8 yards off the wide receiver. Read and React vs ATTACK.
– Coach Grantham will prove to be a better coordinator than the previous coach – even though UGA will go through some growing pains during the transistion. His staff will prove to be better than the previous staff – this is HUGE!!!
2. Athletes – UGA is athletic at LB – and the 3 DT will be very good – over the long haul. The 3-4 scheme is great for atheletic LB’s – and UGA is very atheletic at this position. Secondary will be good as UGA will have 2 very good safetys and CB’s will be good as well.
3. OFFENSE – UGA’s defense was put in bad positions as the offense did not click through the first half of the season – and turned the ball over very often and in bad field position – this put a lot of pressure on the defense. If the offense is better – it puts less pressure on the defense – and keeps them off the field. UGA will be balanced – using more TE sets – good running game – and have a great WR in AJ Green – not to mention good RB’s and potentially a great OL – this all adds up to ball control – a defense’s best friend.
4. Offensive Turnovers – if the offense does a better job of not turning over the ball – this is huge for the defense.

As for Florida:
Florida will also be very athletic – and I think very good on defense.
Losing Charlie Strong as your DC will have an impact – to what degree I am not sure – but I think Coach Strong was incredible – and will be missed. I think Florida will still be a top 15 defense when it is all said and done. The impact on how the offense performs will also be key. But let’snot kid ourselves – Florida is talented and has a great HC – they will be a good team!

As for Alabama – same as Florida – we are reloading to a degree – but this unit will have to learn to work as a team – a cohessive unit. I do not think our defense will be as good – but I do think our defense will turn out to be extremely good.

Bottom line – UGA will be an improved team in 2010.

In the spring of 2009 – I wrote that in 2009 season – UGA would lose 5 or 6 games due to declining defense, losing Stafford, Moreno, and MOMass – and a tough schedule. Pretty much got crucified as an ALABAMA homer and had a great deal of insults thrown my way. It was obvious to anyone that actually pays attention that UGA was going to be average – not special.
However – I predicted this past spring that UGA would win 9 games minimum with a chance to win 10 or 11 games. Got to give Richt credit for making the needed changes on his coaching staff and the fact that UGA’s offense is back – and will have an improved QB – and an easier schedule…… means to me that UGA should have a better win loss record this year than last.
Will UGA beat Florida??? maybe – but after two years of blow out losses – and the fact that Florida has an open weekend before JAX this year – I am going with Florida.

Just calling it the way I see it – and one more thing…………….

ROLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL TIDE!!!

NoGaGator

August 11th, 2010
8:34 am

Must be a slow day for you Tony, to have to come up with this column.

This one’s not even close. The only ACC Defenses that would do well in the SEC are VT and UNC (of late).. Every other team in the ACC had their D shredded last year by various teams.

JB

August 11th, 2010
8:34 am

Mike….. Go to Rivals today and read the article about the SEC playing OCC games ( facts, not commentary)………… Best OCC record against BCS teams also………. They mention the ACC and it’s not pretty…….do a little homework before making a dumb statement…….Go to Yahoo home page, go to left and click on sports and that will take you to Rivals, then click on “college Football’ and read away…… It’s titled SEC vs the rest………………..Nice little read for the ACC crowd

Mamia

August 11th, 2010
8:36 am

ACC for certain.

UGA will be 7-5 or worse, not surprising once Murray shows that he’s not an SEC quarterback, even wearing his magic red panties.

Mike

August 11th, 2010
8:36 am

Sorry for the computer problem……. in matchups against all other BCS conferences (including MWC) in the last 5 years, the SEC is 32-31 while the ACC is 40-37 (NB, this data excludes SEC vs ACC). However, the SEC has dominated the inter-conference rivalry with the ACC almost exclusively because of Uga over GT (4-1) and UF over FSU (5-0) to make the overall record 28-16 (19-15 aside from those two). Florida has that kind of record against a lot of SEC teams as well, and UGa’s record against GT recently has been an somewhat inexplicable, but sometimes one team goes on a run over the other.

Bottom line is that the SEC is best at producing the top team ,but not necessarily best top to bottom. It is competitive, but not much better (top to bottom) than the other BCS leagues. They own losing records in the last 5 years against the Big East, the Big Ten, and the MWC.

Vince

August 11th, 2010
8:36 am

How long does it take to learn——You win football games with 1.A good defense 2.A good running game and 3. Good special teams play—–always been, always will be.

Joey

August 11th, 2010
8:36 am

Yeah, Reg, especially if your QB is handing off to the Heisman winning RB . . .

VDawg

August 11th, 2010
8:37 am

I’m glad GT has 8 returning starters. We’ll run it down their throat again!

JB

August 11th, 2010
8:38 am

Thank you Bama Stan…….. A real football fan and student of the game….not a hater……

Joey

August 11th, 2010
8:38 am

Here is the best stat for the making of a champion: Tournover/Takeover Ratio.

SEC fan

August 11th, 2010
8:39 am

STAN-

First learn to count and then learn to read. I believe Beast from the East was questioning how UGA fans can think their defense will be better than UF’s. He wasn’t questioning if UGA’s defense will be better than last year’s UGA defense.

DawgFan

August 11th, 2010
8:40 am

I seem to recall once being told that Clemson would “whoop-up” on ‘Bama because their defense was better. Turns out the Tid laid a beating on the Tigers and it was downhill for the ACC the rest of the way. If LSU puts the hammer down against UNC opening weekend, expect much the same.

SOGADOG

August 11th, 2010
8:40 am

Amen, Defense and the running game win championships.

REALIST

August 11th, 2010
8:41 am

Tech winning the ACC…it’s like being the best baseball player in France. Tech wasn’t a bonafide top 20 team last year and they won’t be this year either. SEC football is is like ACC basketball…year in and year out just better.

goldwreck

August 11th, 2010
8:41 am

Statistics are like a girl in a bikini,what is revealed is interesting but what is concealed is vital.

Habersham Dawg

August 11th, 2010
8:42 am

A great, opportunistic defense gives the offense a short field each and every game. That’s why Florida averaged so many points in 2008. When you only have to drive 40 yards for a touchdown, you can score a lot of points.

Can’t wait to see if Grantham’s D puts Georgia up there with Florida and Alabama.

Also, I believe Tech’s D will be much improved this year. I believe Georgia’s going to beat them, but it won’t be a spanking and we’ll have to hear the mites grumbling about how close it was.