Where the Real S.E.C. Shift in the Balance of Power is Taking Place

In response to College Football Resource's claim that the S.E.C. is caught in the grip of an Al Borges-instigated offensive shift, I offered a retort . . . in two parts.

I apologize if I'm hammering this point home a bit too emphatically, but, emboldened by Peter Bean's praise, I felt the need to forge ahead, especially now that I have been given this ammunition by Sunday Morning Quarterback (with emphasis added):

Florida under Zook and OC Ed Zaunbrecher moved the ball every bit as well overall as under Meyer and his right hand coordinating/quarterbacking guru, Dan Mullen, more effectively when passing (Leak's attempts remained steady), and scored at about the same rate (remember scoring was down across the board last year because of the recently revoked clock rules). Meyer's effect on the offense has been to balance it with slightly better running and ball control, but it hasn't led to gains on the scoreboard. Meyer and Mullen don't look any more like geniuses in this big picture than Zook and Zaunbrecher. . . .

The [defensive] coordinator, Charlie Strong, has not changed since 2003. His was the only unit last year among the top half dozen in the country in rushing, pass efficiency, total and scoring defense, better than any defense of Steve Spurrier's, or certainly of Ron Zook's, and significantly better than the offense's production by comparison. Meyer's most dramatic influence has been to turn Florida into a defensive team.


Precisely! (Likewise, just as Urban Meyer was no improvement upon Ron Zook offensively, neither is Gary Crowton an improvement upon Jimbo Fisher.)
 

Rather than focusing on the supposed Pacification of S.E.C. offenses, then, we should turn our attention to the other, and generally more significant, side of the ball. Since that fateful 2004 season---Al Borges's first on the Plains and the one that preceded the articulation of the "Gang of Six" theory---11 new defensive coordinators have been hired at Southeastern Conference schools: Steve Brown, by Kentucky in 2007; David Gibbs, by Auburn in 2005; Reggie Herring, by Arkansas in 2005; Willie Martinez, by Georgia in 2005; Greg Mattison, by Florida in 2005; Will Muschamp, by Auburn in 2006; Tyrone Nix, by South Carolina in 2005; Ed Orgeron, by Ole Miss in 2005; Bo Pelini, by L.S.U. in 2005; Kevin Steele, by Alabama in 2007; and John Thompson, by South Carolina in 2005 and by Ole Miss in 2007.

(A few words of explanation are in order here. Coach Mattison and Coach Strong have served as the Gators' co-defensive coordinators during the Urban Meyer era in Gainesville, although Coach Strong had the position all to himself in 2003 and 2004. Coach Nix and Coach Thompson, by contrast, were the Gamecocks' co-defensive coordinators in 2005, but Coach Nix has had the position all to himself since. Coach Orgeron served as his own defensive coordinator during his first two seasons in Oxford.)

It seems safe to say that any conference whose recent coordinators have included the likes of Gene Chizik, Will Muschamp, Tyrone Nix, Bo Pelini, Charlie Strong, and Brian VanGorder has a strong claim to being as innovative defensively as Mountain West, Pac-10, and W.A.C. teams are innovative offensively. When such longtime league mainstays as John Chavis, Joe Kines, and John Thompson are factored into the mix, it becomes clear that the S.E.C.'s reputation for defensive prowess is as deserved as the Western teams' reputation for offensive aptitude.

Whence has the rising generation of S.E.C. defensive gurus come? Coach Brown and Coach Martinez were promoted from within their respective programs. Coach Gibbs, whose ties to the Colorado Buffaloes and the Denver Broncos gave him the most Western resume of the bunch, also was the worst of the lot not named Mike Archer. Coach Herring's prior billet was at N.C. State and Coach Mattison's was at Notre Dame.

Coach Pelini has a Big Ten degree and a Big 12 resume. Coach Steele came to Tuscaloosa by way of Tallahassee, having served previously as Florida State's linebackers coach. Coach Muschamp is a Georgia alumnus and former L.S.U. defensive coordinator, Coach Nix arrived in Columbia fresh from Southern Miss, and Coach Thompson's S.E.C. credentials are almost too lengthy to list. Coach Orgeron, a former defensive line coach for Southern California, served as his own defensive coordinator before sacking himself following the 2006 season.

During former Trojan assistant Ed Orgeron's two seasons as a Southeastern Conference defensive coordinator, Mississippi posted a 7-16 record. (In a related item, the over/under on the number of comments affixed to this posting claiming that the Pac-10 doesn't play defense is five.)

Half of the teams in the S.E.C. had entirely different defensive coordinators in 2005 from the ones they had the year before. Did it make a difference? It sure did for Auburn: Coach Borges's offense was as productive two seasons ago as it had been in 2004, but the Tigers went from being an undefeated conference champion to a thrice-beaten team that failed even to make it to the league title tilt.

In the Plainsmen's case, the difference started with D, as the '04 squad held 12 of its 13 opponents to 20 or fewer points and kept seven of them to 10 or fewer points. The following fall, the War Eagle went 7-0 when limiting the other team to 18 or fewer points . . . but Auburn was 2-3 when surrendering 20 or more ticks on the scoreboard.

After the Tigers upgraded from Coach Gibbs to Coach Muschamp, their '06 squad won 11 games despite scoring more than 27 points just four times over the course of the campaign. (Three of those four offensive outbursts came against Buffalo, Tulane, and Washington State.) In the Plainsmen's two losses, Al Borges's vaunted offense scored 10 and 15 points; in Auburn's 11 wins, Will Muschamp's defense gave up 14, 0, 3, 7, 17, 17, 13, 17, 0, 15, and 14 points.

Because Georgia promoted from within, the Bulldogs' transition went more smoothly than most, allowing the Red and Black to post consecutive 10-win seasons in '04 and '05. Under Coach VanGorder, the 'Dawgs held 11 of 12 opponents to 24 or fewer points and prevented seven of them from scoring more than 17. Under Coach Martinez, the Classic City Canines kept 10 of the 13 teams they faced from passing the 17-point threshold, but two of Georgia's three losses came in games in which the Bulldogs scored 30 and 35 points but came up short because they surrendered 31 and 38, respectively.

The spread option had its way with Southeastern Conference defenses for exactly as long as Frog's Broadway career in "Smokey and the Bandit" . . . for about 15 minutes. In the final 44 minutes and 10 seconds, Georgia outscored West Virginia 35-10.

During Lou Holtz's final season on the South Carolina sideline, the Gamecocks held four of their first five opponents to a touchdown or less and leapt out to a 4-1 start before giving up 29 or more points five times during their 2-4 finish. Under Steve Spurrier's co-coordinators in 2005, the Palmetto State Poultry were 4-1 when holding opponents under 17 points, but they conceded 37 points to Alabama, 48 points to Auburn, and 38 points to Missouri in the course of losing as many games as they had the year before.

In 2006, with Coach Nix serving as sole defensive coordinator for the Big Chickens, South Carolina again lost five games but began by going 5-2 through their first seven contests. During that successful stretch, the Evil Genius-captained Gamecocks scored more than 27 points just twice (against Florida Atlantic and Vanderbilt) but held six opponents to 20 or fewer points. In their last six outings, they gave up 31 points to Tennessee, 26 to Arkansas, 28 to Clemson, and 36 to Houston while going 3-3.

It is a common theme that we see repeated throughout the league. Coach Pelini's first Bayou Bengal D limited 10 of 13 opponents to 17 or fewer points and kept six of those in the single digits, losing only when surrendering 30 points to Tennessee and 34 points to Georgia. Florida added Coach Mattison as a co-coordinator and the Gators gave up more than 14 points in only half of their games and won every contest except the ones in which they gave up 31 points to Alabama, 21 points to L.S.U., and 30 points to South Carolina. Coach Orgeron's initial defense at Ole Miss allowed 27 or more points six times and the Rebels lost all six games.

In the face of such facts, it is ludicrous to claim that there is "a dramatic shift" in the S.E.C. "actioned mostly on the offensive side of the ball" or that this purported trend "has the power to reshuffle the deck completely." No, there isn't and, no, it doesn't.

Go 'Dawgs!

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