Remember the days when defense won championships and divisions were decided by 9-6 field-goal kicking contests?
Times, they are a-changin'.
The remarkable absence of star power in the SEC heading into the 2014 season suggests that the offensive power we saw last year—when nine teams averaged more than 430 yards per game—might not exist in 2014.
That'd be wrong.
"There's a bunch of players sprinkled through our league, and we're going to continue, because of the recruiting area, to be able to always have really good players," Florida head coach Will Muschamp said at SEC media days in July. "That's just part of the Southeastern Conference every year. The names may change, but the production is going to be the same."
While the absence of star power—which is due in large part to substantial quarterback turnover—won't help, it's mitigated by the presence of innovative, flexible and creative offensive coaches who know how to get the most out of their players and put their quarterbacks in the proper positions for success.
|SEC Total Offense—Last 6 Years|
|CFBStats.com / B/R Research|
The 2012 season didn't just mark the arrival of Texas A&M and Missouri to the SEC; it ushered in a new offensive era in the SEC.
Aggies head coach Kevin Sumlin, Missouri's Gary Pinkel and Ole Miss' Hugh Freeze—three brilliant offensive minds—joined the conference. The next season, Auburn hired former coordinator Gus Malzahn, Tennessee hired Butch Jones, and Kentucky went back to the air raid with coordinator Neal Brown. Florida and Alabama continued the trend this offseason when Kurt Roper and Lane Kiffin were hired to run the respective offenses at those two traditional powers.
Quarterbacks play a part, no doubt. But the offensive renaissance in the SEC is more due to coaching than anything else.
These aren't pro-style caretakers who rely on defense. They were all hired to push the envelope offensively and challenge the old and outdated notion that defense wins championships.
Defense doesn't win championships anymore. Just enough defense wins championships, and the influx of brilliant offensive minds within the SEC has made the definition of "just enough" a moving target based on the specific offensive scheme a team runs.
Sumlin has won big with a dual-threat quarterback (who took over as a redshirt freshman) when the Aggies and Johnny Manziel took the SEC by storm in 2012. He also won consistently with pro-style quarterback Case Keenum at Houston.
Malzahn won a national championship in 2010 as Auburn's offensive coordinator with eventual No. 1 draft pick Cam Newton and came within 13 seconds of doing it with again last year with Nick Marshall—who was playing defensive back at Georgia 18 months prior to arriving on the Plains. Malzahn even made Chris Todd look good when he turned around the Auburn offense as the offensive coordinator in 2009.
Will the SEC touch the total offense mark it set last year at 432.5 yards per game? Probably not. But don't be surprised if it's close.
The coaches within the conference—both at the head coach and offensive coordinator levels—have changed the game. If offenses take a step back in 2014, it will only be a small one—and it will only be temporary. Unless a rule change like the ill-fated 10-second rule comes to fruition, there's too much coaching talent in the SEC to step back into the defensive dark ages.
Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.
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