The Heisman Trophy has essentially become a race to determine the best quarterback and running back. Much of the media attention is bestowed upon these two positions as well.
Solid play from both the quarterback and running back positions is critical to any team’s success, but the defensive line positions have changed the college football landscape and are the biggest reason for the SEC’s recent dominance.
The SEC has been described as a defensive league that plays at a breakneck pace. The conference’s defensive line players are responsible for this moniker. SEC teams, more so than teams in any other conference, are loaded with players on the line that are quick off the blocks.
This is not groundbreaking news, but this depth of speed and talent needs to be analyzed closer to fully understand a defensive end or tackle’s impact on a game.
These players are able to get to the quarterback quicker once the ball is snapped. If the quarterback is throwing it, he must make a decision quicker, which increases the margin for error.
Because the quarterback needs to get rid of the ball quicker, the wideouts and tight ends have to make a conscious effort to make their routes a step or two quicker as well.
If the quarterback is handing the ball off, he must now make the handoff even faster because of the pressure coming from the defensive end.
Just because the ball is handed off doesn’t mean the offense is in the clear either. The problem has just been dumped onto the running back. Even if the running back is able to move past the defensive end coming from the outside, he still has to worry about the tackles that are coming for him right up the gut.
Just based on the line’s ability to get into the backfield, they have now changed the way the offense plays its game. All the skill players on the offensive side are forced to adjust because of this pressure. The SEC historically has been better at applying this pressure than anyone else.
The past two national title games are a prime example of this speed at work. I don’t mean to use these examples to deride Ohio State, because in both years they had solid seasons. These were just two instances in which the SEC really showcased its premier position.
In 2006 Jarvis Moss and Derrick Harvey terrorized Troy Smith all game. What makes this more intriguing is that Smith was a mobile quarterback who up until this point had been able to run out of trouble if need be.
Fast forward to 2007. Ricky Jean-Francois and Glenn Dorsey had their way with the Ohio State offensive line and forced the quarterback to make hasty decisions.
The result proved to be SEC blowouts both years, and I attribute the play of the defensive line as the prime reason for both victories.
This tradition of stellar line play continues today in the SEC. Talented players such as Sen’Derrick Marks of Auburn, Tyson Jackson of LSU, Terrence Cody of Alabama, and Jeff Owens of Georgia continue to rule the roost in the SEC.
It is players such as these that dictate the pace of play in the conference, which in turn places the SEC at the top of the heap.