The two best teams in the SEC and the nation in 2011 won football games the old fashioned, SEC way—ball control offense and great defense.
As the following will illustrate, there can be significant differences in offense or whatever area you rely on, and you can still be a champion. Nevertheless, there was very little difference in defense between the two teams that played for it all in 2011.
That's because defense wins championships!
Alabama was within a single yard per game of being 50-50 rush versus pass on offense over 13 games. They averaged 429 yards a game (rush 214 - pass 215). LSU, over 14 games, averaged 355 yards a game (rush 203 - pass 153).
Alabama had a significant difference of 74 more yards per game in offense. However, LSU was more opportunistic. They were +20 in turnovers to Alabama's +8, so the average scoring equalled out. Bama averaged 34.8 points and LSU, 35.7 points per game.
On defense, they were very close in what matters. Alabama averaged giving up eight points a game and LSU averaged only 11.
Once again, I repeat, defense wins championships!
The Gamecocks averaged scoring 30 and giving up 18.4 points a game in 2011. They are close—really close.
Here is what the three deep defense look like going into 2012:
The Line - The Gamecocks run a 4-2-5, meaning they use four down linemen. Two of their four starters return from last year: Devin Taylor, a senior end who was honorable mention all SEC last year, and Kelsey Quarles, a Sophomore at tackle and a third team freshman All-American.
The other tackle is senior Byron Jerideau, who played in all 13 games last year. The other end is Jadeveon Clowney, a sophomore and last year's SEC Defensive Player of the Year. Every starter on the line is a potential All-American this year.
The Linebackers - South Carolina lost a starter and a part time starter at linebacker. Regardless, they return three players who each started four or more games this year. Weak side linebacker Damario Jeffery, middle linebacker Shaq Wilson and Spur linebacker, DeVontee Holloman—all seniors—will likely be the starters.
There are capable backups pushing for more playing time behind these experienced players.
Overall, the 2012 line backing corps will be equal to the very capable group of last season.
Defensive Backs - The Gamecocks lose cornerback Stephon Gilmore this year. He was a NFL first round draft choice of the Buffalo Bills. Steve Spurrier called Gilmore one of the best to ever come to South Carolina.
So, you don't just run out and grab another just like him off the shelf—or do you?
Carolina also lost two part-time starting cornerbacks in Marty Markett and CC Whitlock last year, along with DeVontee Holloman, who moved to linebacker. Still, the Gamecocks return two backs who have been full time starters before.
Senior corner Akeem Auguste, expected to play a lot last year. But an injury requiring surgery on his foot in the first game, ended his 2011 season. Senior safety DJ Swearinger, started all 13 games in 2011 and will start again this year.
Sophomores Victor Hampton at corner and safety Brison Williams, who missed eight games with a broken arm, will likely start at the other two positions.
Overall, if there is a weaker unit, it is in the defensive backfield. Still, this defense could surpass the results of 2011. If so—as indicated earlier—they don't have too far to go to be at the highest level.