We’ve always associated a certain image with SEC football. Something ferocious and toothy with a snarl so knee-weakening that it feels like you’re permanently walking on ice.
Lovably violent in a traditional football sort of way.
For decades, with an emphasis on the most recent of decades, we’ve looked at the conference as a whole as one that gives credence to the idea that defense wins championships.
After all, SEC defenders are bigger, stronger and faster. Until tonight.
Now, that’s not so much to say that SEC defenses have fallen behind defenses elsewhere as it is to say that SEC offenses seem poised to take the torch and run.
It’s a trend we’ve seen for years now, and it’s been gaining momentum rapidly since the league expanded to 14 teams with the additions of Texas A&M and Missouri in 2012. However, tonight, as we watch the Aggies sans Johnny Manziel (hello there, Kenny Hill) absolutely demolishing a defense we all assumed capable in South Carolina, it’s clear that the foundation SEC football has built itself upon is crumbling.
The concept of SEC defense no longer has a pulse. It’s time we declare it dead.
It’s been a more gradual process than we’d like you to believe. In 2012, we assumed it was the newcomers that diluted the brand. Last year, it was because of the unusual number of superstar signal-callers that called the SEC home.
However, leading into tonight we were told that we’d see the offense regress to the norm. We were told that it’d be the SEC defenses that reined supreme once more.
Yet, as Hill explodes for 299 yards passing in the first half against South Carolina in the very first game of the SEC slate, it’s clear to me that the tide (not the Rolling kind) isn’t receding, it’s rising.
— ESPN CollegeFootball (@ESPNCFB) August 28, 2014
When it’s all said and done, we may look back at the 2014 season opener as the game where the SEC stopped smoking their offense with a pipe and started melting the offense down and shooting it directly into their veins to keep the scoring high.
Improving coaching and quarterback play have made this league as offensive as any in the country and for the first time in the history of the league, it feels like the better overall athletes aren’t all congregating to the defensive side of the ball.
That certainly scares some people, and with good reason.
Leagues like the Pac-12 and Big 12 have earned reputations as innovative offensive conferences for good reason, and it’s hard not to feel like the SEC is a bit late to the party. However, rather than fear the philosophical shift, it’s important to embrace it.
The gap is undoubtedly narrowing, but, for now, it’s still the South that’s producing the country’s best athletes and the massive stadiums and unbridled passion of the region still make the SEC the dollars and cents destination conference for the best coaches in the country.
If you welcome offense openly rather than treat it like an illicit substance, you can still be dominant. You can still call your league elite and have a leg to stand on.
If you don’t, you’ll die an unceremonious death, buried in an unmarked college football grave not too far from the Big Ten.
For SEC football, while there may still be great defenses on occasion, they’ll no longer define the league. At least not until defensive innovation reverses the cycle and makes them more valuable once again.
And, since we don’t appear to be on the precipice of any defensive resurrection anytime soon, I think it’s best we take SEC defenses off life support.
Time of death: Roughly 8:30 PM EDT, Aug. 28, 2014.