"Defense wins championships" may be an oft-used cliche, but in the case of the SEC, it's incredibly accurate.
During the SEC's run of seven straight BCS national championships, a solid defense has been a hallmark of each title team.
SEC speed is no myth; it's a staple of all elite teams from the nation's toughest football conference, particularly in the front seven.
While Alabama boasted one of the top defenses in college football history in 2011—and LSU's 2007 defense was no slouch either—Auburn won the 2010 title with a ton of offense and very little defense.
But that little bit of defense went a long way.
What makes a champion in the SEC? Here's a look at some similarities and differences among the seven BCS national championship teams since 2006.
Stop The Run
In football, you have to do two things to be successful—run the ball and stop the run.
All seven title teams have excelled at stopping the run. Six of the seven finished with either the best or second-best rush defense in the SEC, with the only exception being—wait for it—the 2008 Florida Gators.
Those Gators finished that season fourth in the SEC, surrendering 105.4 rushing yards per game, which was still the 15th-best mark in the country.
You'd think after all the criticism they took that the 2010 Auburn Tigers would be the exception, but that's not the case.
The 2010 Tigers led the SEC in rush defense during their title season, giving up just 109.1 yards per game. Granted, they had very little pass defense, but old-fashioned smashmouth football is something they embraced.
All seven of the title teams finished in the top 15 nationally in rush defense, with Alabama leading the country in 2011 and 2012.
While offenses get more and more complex, teams still have to run the ball well to be successful. The elite SEC teams of this era know this, accept this and game-plan to stop it.
It's further proof that "SEC speed" is no myth.
Lane Kiffin and Urban Meyer—two former SEC head coaches who are now in other conferences—agreed when asked about it by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution last March. The front sevens found in the SEC are bigger, faster and more physical than any other conference in the country, and that directly correlates to success in stopping the run at an elite level on an annual basis.
Ground and Pound
It should come as no shock that the SEC has also succeeded in the other part of the equation.
Over the seven-year span of BCS titles, all seven SEC teams have been able to run the ball at a ridiculously high level, with all seven finishing in the top three in the SEC in rushing offense during their national title years.
The methods that they've used have varied.
Alabama has established a dynasty using one primary running back who is backed up by a younger and often times equally talented player. Auburn and Florida used a different approach, using Cam Newton and Tim Tebow, respectively, as their primary between-the-tackles ball-carriers.
Then, there was the 2007 LSU team, which featured seven players who rushed for more than 200 yards.
For reference, Air Force, Army and Navy—teams that primarily run the triple option—have only accomplished that three times combined over the last five years.
The 2006 Florida Gators—Meyer's first title team in Gainesville, did finish third in the SEC in rushing yards per game. But they were only 38th in the country, averaging 160 yards per game.
Not exactly setting the world on fire, but it was effective enough.
The foundation of that team was its defense. Despite the rather pedestrian rushing numbers, it still achieved significant balance en route to the title, with 40.1 percent of its offense coming on the ground.
The SEC has led all conferences with players selected in the NFL draft after each of the first six BCS national championships during the run, and it will likely continue that streak in April at the 2013 NFL draft.
When one player moves on, there are usually two or three studs chomping at the bit to be the next in line. There is 4- and 5-star talent lined up along the sidelines on each of the title teams, creating a level of depth that is unmatched in college football.
That depth on defense has allowed stars to stay fresh for a full 60 minutes, which is precisely why the top-flight SEC defenses have excelled in the second halves of games.
All seven champs have finished in the top 15 nationally in second-half points allowed per game, shutting down their opposition when it matters most.
Alabama was the most effective of the bunch, leading the SEC in each of its BCS title seasons (2009, '11, '12) and leading the nation in 2011.
It was also surprising to see Auburn ranked second in the SEC in that category during its title year in 2010. The Tigers made a habit out of digging themselves a hole and climbing back out of it. One of those stops was a crucial goal-line stand late in the third quarter versus Oregon in the BCS National Championship Game.
While that defense wasn't considered the nation's best by any means, it acted like it when backed up against a wall.
Red-Zone Touchdowns on the Road/Neutral Site
Admittedly, this is a rather obscure statistic, but one that is very telling.
Points are always at a premium away from home in the SEC, and the top-flight SEC teams have all not only converted their red-zone opportunities in hostile environments into points, but touchdowns.
Four of the seven SEC teams that won national championships led the conference in road/neutral-site red-zone touchdowns, with all seven finding their way into the top four nationally. The 2007 LSU, 2008 Florida and 2012 Alabama teams each led the SEC by scoring 25 red-zone touchdowns away from their home stadiums. The 2009 Crimson Tide team led the conference with 16.
Any road win in the SEC is a quality win, and the elite programs find ways to punch it into the end zone away from home when given the chance.
It's been quite a run for the SEC over the last seven seasons, and judging from the parity within the conference and its dominance on the game's biggest stages, that dominance doesn't look to be slowing down anytime soon.
Although each team has had its own identity, they do share similar traits—traits that have been instrumental during the unprecedented streak of BCS national championships.
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