It got me thinking. Is the defense in the SEC so incredibly good, or have the offenses been awful? Best I can tell it's equal portions of both.
Defensive Numbers Simply Staggering
If you go by numbers alone, the SEC might be playing as good a level of defense as has ever been seen in one conference. The SEC has six of the top nine teams in the nation in scoring defense, led by #2 Alabama (9.2 ppg). The numbers are almost impressive in total defense where SEC teams claim six of the top 17 spots, with Alabama again setting the pace. The Crimson Tide has allowed just 262.1 yards a game, which is third-best in the country.
Week in and week out as Florida's offensive staff will tell you, each team in the SEC sends out a number of talented athletes on the defensive side of the field. People are quick to tab Auburn's defensive ends as the best in the SEC until they see Georgia's. South Carolina's Ko Simpson is the best safety out there. Or is it Jarvis Herring? Greg Blue, perhaps?
One of my honors as a member of the college football media is that I have been chosen to vote for the Heisman Trophy as well as the Butkus Award. I can tell you I don't see a single SEC offensive player with a prayer of being considered for the Heisman. But you could spend hours debating the merits of SEC linebackers from Demeco Ryans to Moses Osemwegie, Patrick Willis to Kevin Simon, Brandon Siler to Cameron Vaughn and so on.
The SEC has plenty of talent in the trenches as well. Jesse Mahelona is a stud at tackle are Kyle Williams and Marcus Thomas. Willie Evans, Quentin Moses, Melvin Oliver and Mark Anderson represent just a sampling of the talent at defensive end. On talent, the SEC's defensive players are quite impressive. In April, the SEC had four defensive players chosen in the first round of the NFL draft. That number may go up a bit next year, but not a lot.
Offenses Are Making Their Contributions
As they say, it takes two to tango. And for the purposes of this discussion, it takes bad offense to work alongside excellent defense to produce the kind of scores we are seeing in the SEC this year.
The conference has not team in the nation's top 20 in scoring and only three in the top 60. As for total offense, it's somewhat better with six SEC squads in the nation's top 60, but none of those is in the top 30. Not a single SEC runner has ten touchdowns and only one receiver does. No SEC quarterback has thrown as many as fourteen touchdown passes.
It starts with the quarterback play and its getting to the point where you might feel the All-Conference team shouldn't have one. Brodie Croyle and D.J. Shockley probably have the best numbers, but both have major issues that tarnish their candidacy. Croyle led 'Bama to a single touchdown in the two games that followed the Florida contest. Shockley is below 60 percent completions and missed the big one in Jacksonville. The only SEC QB with 2,000 yards (Vandy's Jay Cutler) throws a TD pass ever 35 attempts. There is not an All-American candidate on any offense in the league.
Dramatic Change From Last Year
It's not like the great numbers on defense and lousy ones on offense represent a pattern in SEC action. Last year, the SEC had two offenses in the top 20 for scoring and six top 40 squads in total offense. SEC defenses were good last year, but only three cracked the top ten in scoring defense.
Three SEC runners scored ten touchdowns last year, while three quarterbacks threw 20 or more touchdown passes. Last year the SEC featured studs like Ronnie Brown, Carnell Williams and Ciatrick Fason --- all superior to what 2005 runners have done. The top returning quarterbacks, Chris Leak and Jay Cutler had better passing efficiency numbers last year.
Last spring the SEC had six offensive players who were NFL first-round picks. It's not out of the realm of possibility that number could drop to ZERO in 2005.
Look For Changes Next Year
SEC defenses may be every bit as good in 2006, but they won't be as dominant. Several teams seems to be in very good position to expect dramatic improvement on that side of the ball next year. South Carolina has a second year of Blake Mitchell learning from Steve Spurrier, and almost all the top talent on offense will be back. Florida should be much more productive in running Urban Meyer's spread option in year two as has been the case at his other two stops. Replacing Randy Sanders and ending the Ainge/Clausen controversy has to spring Tennessee to more success. And a year's experience as a full-time start should let JaMarcus Russell exploit all the weapons in LSU's arsenal.
Brandon Cox (Auburn) and Andre' Woodson (Kentucky) are just sophomores and ought to improve in running their respective teams. In fact, only Vandy (Cutler), Georgia (Shockley) and Alabama (Croyle) will head into the off-season with significant quarterback issues. And when the quarterback position is stable, good offense is much easier to find.
So, SEC defensive coordinators, enjoy it while you can. You are enjoying, collectively a great year in putting your offensive counterparts on their (collective) butts. But here's one prediction that things will return to normal in '06, and SEC won't be winning games when they score 14 points or less.
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