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.: