The offensive explosion was primarily associated with the quarterback play within the league as five of the top 12 rated quarterbacks in the country started for SEC teams.
Even with all the success found in the passing attacks this past season, the SEC also produced more 1,000-yard rushers than any other conference. The other nine FBS leagues averaged four 1,000-yard rushers per conference in 2013 while the SEC produced eight. Auburn, which had two 1,000-yard rushers in Tre Mason and Nick Marshall, has fielded at least one 1,000-yard rusher during the past five seasons.
The 2013 season was considered the "Year of the Quarterback" in the Southeastern Conference, but the league's top five rated quarterbacks have moved on to the NFL. Four were taken in the draft and the fifth was signed as a free agent. With their departure the door of opportunity is now open for the running attacks to take center stage.
Last season teams in the SEC averaged more than 40 rushing attempts per game. It was the first time this happened since 1994. Half the teams in the conference averaged at least 40 rush attempts per game for the first time in a decade. Prior to 2004 the last time half the teams in the SEC averaged at least 40 rushing attempts per game was during the 1993 season.
Offenses in the SEC will likely be more reliant on their running games in 2014 with most teams having to replace their starting quarterback. Auburn could be an exception to the rule after leading the nation in rushing last year because of the return Marshall, the highest rated returning passer in the league. However, even if that happens look for the running game to continue to be the heart and soul of Auburn's offense with Gus Malzahn the head coach.
From 1990-2012 the highest number of teams in the SEC to average at least 170 yards per game during an entire season was six. Last season 10 teams in the league averaged more than 170 yards rushing per game. Since 1992 SEC teams have compiled a winning mark of 76 percent in conference play when rushing for at least 170. Auburn has won 84 percent of its conference games during the same time period when reaching the 170 mark on the ground.
In terms of personnel for the 2014 season, Alabama (205.6 yards per game) leads the conference in returning rushing yardage from 2013. The Crimson Tide is followed by Auburn (192.3), Arkansas (189.2), South Carolina (155.5), Georgia (153.5) and Mississippi State (147.1). Last season during league play in the Southeastern Conference teams that rushed for at least 170, while holding their opponent under 140 yards rushing, won 87 percent of their games.
Add run defense to the equation and you begin to see which teams have the highest potential for success in 2014. Those teams are South Carolina, Georgia and Florida in the East along with Auburn, Alabama and Mississippi State in the West. LSU has the fewest returning rushing yards in the SEC, but possesses great untapped rushing potential.
During the past decade 38 teams from the SEC ranked in the nation's top 50 of both run offense and run defense during the same season. Those 38 teams won 79 percent of their games. Those teams produced eight SEC titles and seven BCS Championships while having only two losing records.
Auburn will likely field a top 10 running offense in 2014 so a major key to success will be defending the run. The Tigers improved from No. 100 in run defense during 2012 to No. 63 in 2013. If Auburn continues to improve on the defensive side of the football, the Tigers will be one of the heavy favorites to win the SEC Championship again in 2014. The Tigers' offense alone should give them the opportunity to beat anyone on their schedule.