The SEC has deserved its acclaim as college football’s best conference of the BCS era. In a burgeoning world of spread and quick-strike offenses, the SEC prides itself on winning championships with large, fast NFL-ready athletes.
But just how great is the SEC? Their monopoly of Top 10 BCS teams continues on the strength of human voters in the USA Today Coaches poll and the media-driven Harris poll. The theory is that the week-to-week grind and talent of the SEC would swallow up other conference champions, and that teams like Oregon and Kansas St. would not finish unblemished in the SEC.
Last week, CBS color commentator Gary Danielson appeared on the Dan Patrick Show and said that the spread offense is good for teams like Oregon, Purdue and West Virginia, “but not for some of the elite schools.” He added that Oregon could not go through the SEC undefeated.
But would Danielson alternatively believe Alabama, Florida, Georgia or LSU survive a Big 12 or Pac-12 schedule? Could their defenses handle the week-to-week preparations against wide-open offenses?
Texas A&M’s free-flying offense championed the West’s attempts to cross the iron curtain and face SEC defenses on a regular basis. The recently departed Big 12 Aggies have shown ample examples of explosiveness and a host of problems to SEC powers.
The Aggies are averaging 43 points, 303 yards passing and 243 yards rushing a game. Of note, a healthy portion of this scoring has also occurred against SMU, South Carolina St. and Louisiana Tech. However, they’ve also battled Florida, LSU, Mississippi St. and Alabama. All this has occurred while freshman sensation quarterback Johnny Manziel has come of age.
Maybe the Aggies’ success can be attributed to SEC defenses needing opportunities to make adjustments and get a book on their new nemesis.
Behind Manziel, the Aggies started quickly against Alabama with three first-quarter touchdowns en route to the 29-24 upset. Crimson Tide fans will also point out that this adds up to only nine points for the last three quarters combined.
The Aggies also moved the ball in dominating fashion in the LSU game but were unable to capitalize on early scoring drives. Ultimately, LSU pulled its game together and squeezed out Manziel’s offense in the second half.
Big 12 Boost for Kansas St.
If Texas A&M has been a thorn to the SEC, how much better could Kansas St. perform against Alabama or LSU on a “neutral site” bowl game? Like Texas A&M, the Wildcats have averaged 42 points a game.
The Wildcats have exploded for close to 50 points per game against most of its competition, but only scored 24, 27 and 23 against Oklahoma, Iowa St. and TCU.
Nevertheless, the Big 12’s propensity for more offense than the SEC may not be as simple as having weaker defenses. Texas A&M has suddenly had a much stingier defense in 2012, much of it due to the SEC’s more methodical and ball-possession approach to offense.
Kansas St. has shown a remarkable ability to both explode and to grind. Its defense has ranged from solid to spectacular in flattening many explosive Big 12 offenses, and their control and execution has been near-flawless on both sides of the ball.
The Wildcats' offense behind dual-threat and Heisman candidate quarterback Collin Klein would also likely present many problems for the great SEC defenses. It can be argued that their physical play is the most balanced in the country, and perhaps would lead them to an undefeated season if they were to play in the SEC. To prove otherwise is a much weaker argument now than just one week ago.
Quack Attack Flying Higher
If Texas A&M can successfully defeat Alabama with a spread offense under new coach Kevin Sumlin, what could Oregon do to the Crimson Tide?
Chip Kelly’s system has now evolved into a sixth season of explosive scoring that has found little resistance from opponents. It has evolved with greater athletes, speed and size than even two years ago.
Most of all, freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota has added a superior dimension of passing and running to Oregon’s offense, and has yet to be stopped. He is currently rated the top passer in the NCAA with a 177 rating, well ahead of No. 8 quarterback Klein and No. 27 Manziel. His efficiency is perhaps only topped by his ability to make plays with his feet. Mariota may be an upgraded version of Manziel with an even speedier and more potent supporting cast.
It’s easier now to see Oregon putting up 30 or 40 points on Alabama. Whether it could or not will never be known unless such a matchup occurrs, but certainly the Crimson Tide defense showed its vulnerability against the Aggies.
Could Oregon or Kansas St. play an undefeated SEC schedule? Perhaps not, but the possibility seems more likely now. Their fans might wonder if elite SEC defenses could prepare and handle spread offenses on a week to week basis. Could Alabama could go undefeated playing a Big 12 or Pac-12 schedule? Perhaps not.
For now, the Big 12 and Pac-12 can at least thank Texas A&M for showing some SEC vulnerability. The gap between these conferences may not be as wide as human voters and programmed computers have loudly suggested.