O versus D

A lot of nonsense has been written about Pac 10 offenses versus SEC defenses over the last few weeks. I have my own opinions on this debate, but I think it’s necessary to first introduce some facts into the discussion rather than throwing out a bunch of unsupported theories. The one assumption that I’d like to make, that I feel most people will agree to, is that the two most important factors in this debate are talent and coaching.

In search of at least a somewhat objective source on talent, I’ve turned to the NFL. Since this offense versus defense phenomena isn’t new, it’s appropriate to look at a little history to see how things shake out.

Since 2000, the SEC has put more defensive players in the NFL draft, per school, than any other BCS conference – on average 11.25 players per school compared with 8.4 in the Pac 10. In fact, when looking at defense by position, the SEC has put more players into each individual position group – DT’s, DE’s, LB’s, and DB’s – than any other conference. The Pac 10 is last or second to last both in each category and in total defensive players drafted over this period.

On offense, the Big 10, surprisingly, leads the way with 9.09 players per school. Coming in second is the SEC with 8.25 players just ahead of the Pac 10 at 8 players per school. It is important to note that the Pac 10 does lead with both QB’s and WR’s.

Not surprisingly, the Big 12 is by far the worst on both offense and defense, and is dead last in every position group except offensive center, DT, DE, and DB (as you may know, I don’t count the Big East when I say BCS conference). The ACC finishes a respectable 2nd or 3rd in most categories and 3rd overall behind the SEC and Big 10. Miami, VPI, and BC are all included as ACC teams for the entire period.

One could make the case that these results are the effect of strong offensive coaching in the Pac 10 or lack thereof in the SEC and/or strong defensive coaching in the SEC. However, statistics don’t workout at a combine or on film, and the NFL is sophisticated enough at evaluating talent that on average, these stats are reflective of the underlying talent in these conferences.

Now, to put the coaching myth to bed… Unfortunately, this evidence is more anecdotal than statistical but convincing nonetheless. Many people have mentioned coaching as the culprit for the SEC’s offensive struggles, but let’s face it, if you’re an SEC school paying $2 million a year for a head coach with $200K to spend on a coordinator, you’re going to get the best you can. Current offensive architects Urban Meyer, Mike Shula, Jimbo Fisher, Steve Spurrier (round II), Mark Ritch, Al Borges (Pac 10 guy), and Noel Mazzone have been extremely successful in other conferences or the NFL despite some low offensive output in the SEC this year. These guys didn’t all forget how to coach this year. Oh yeah, offensive “mastermindâ€? Bobby Petrino, while moderately successful in the SEC, didn’t have the dominant offense that he enjoys at Louisville though he certainly had the talent.

So much for the facts, here’s my take. The SEC is much better than the Pac 10 on defense from a talent standpoint. That’s not to say that USC from 2002 – 2005 or last year’s Cal team couldn’t compete in the SEC defensively, but most of the rest of the conference is pretty unimpressive on defense. As a result, the Pac 10 offenses are geared to take advantage of those weaknesses by using a more high risk approach rather than the ball control offenses seen in the SEC. This is what most teams playing against bad defenses do. Pac 10 scores more closely resemble mid major scores; whereas, SEC and ACC scores look more like NFL games where the average score this year was 25 – 14.

Despite all this, it is true that SEC offenses are slightly down this year. A variety of reasons are behind this. Florida’s implementation of a new system; Tennessee coaching incompetence; Auburn breaking in new starters at QB and RB for the first time in years; LSU recovering from a hurricane; and LSU, Tennessee, Georgia, Florida, Alabama all dealing with injuries, in many cases season ending injuries, to key starters.

To end with some stats… Looking only at games against DI non-conference opponents, the Pac 10 only held ONE opponent to less than 10 points (2-6 Idaho). One additional opponent (0-9 New Mexico St.) was held under 15 points. Three other teams Temple (0-10), Arkansas (2-6), and Hawaii (3-6) were held under 20 points.

In the SEC under the same criteria and similarly bad competition, eight teams were held to 10 or fewer points and four more to 15 or fewer points and one more under 20. The Big 10 also held eight teams to 10 or fewer with seven teams at 15 or fewer. The ACC was even better with ten teams under 10 points and five more under 15.

On offense, against DI non-conference opponents, the Pac 10 racked up 40+ points 10 times. The Big 10 was even better at 14 times. The SEC comes in at 7 times while the ACC brings up the rear at 5 times.

In the end, the SEC defenses are that good and the Pac 10 defenses are that bad. At the same time, the Pac 10 offenses are performing much better than the struggling but talented SEC offenses.


3 Responses to O versus D

  1. SaccoV 11/12/2005 at 8:55 AM #

    I don’t think this logic holds up. You’re basically saying schools are better because they have more NFL talent than others, and I think that’s short-sighted. Look, we can all take our own example of Dick Sheridan, who had some good NFL players (Jefferies, Kramer), was 4-3 versus Danny Ford, who had some exceptionally good defensive players (Buckner, Perry Brothers, Trapp). Regardless of the NFL talent you have, that doesn’t mean that at the college level, those attributes generally set one team apart from another. Even though Miami had a national championship team in ’95 (with Sapp and Lewis on Defense), Alabama beat their daylights out with guys like Jay Barker and David Palmer, both NFL back-ups.

    I agree with you whole-heartedly that the PAC-10 is and has traditionally been a weak defensive conference and that USC’s offense (and others) have been inflated by the lack of defense played by all the teams. I think this accepted fact (all though your numbers and some I’ve put together are certainly telling) is probably what drives guys like Chow into the NFL, because in the PAC-10, there is no way to honestly test your talents as an offensive genius. It’s also becoming increasingly difficult to give USC their credit when you know that no other team in the conference is going to give them a defensive game. As a result, USC may be more vulnerable now than ever to a Texas or Alabama, because those teams play very solid defense. This of course hasn’t been a problem for USC recently, as Oklahoma was obliterated by USC last year. Texas and Alabama, though, are better this year than Oklahoma last year on the defensive side. USC still might win the championship easily, but I’m hoping they get smacked around for a few hours.

  2. TigerFan 11/12/2005 at 10:28 AM #

    Think of the NFL talent as an indicator rather than an exact measure of the total talent on the team. That is, on average a team that recruits and develops better players will put more players in the NFL; therefore, the number of players going into the NFL is an indicator of the overall talent level on the team not just the talent level of the players that make it to the NFL. Statistically the relationship between NFL talent and team performance holds up very well. It’s not exact as other external factors (coaching, scheduling, injuries) also affect team performance, but it’s highly likely that the NFL data is an extremely good measure of team talent especially considering that these other factors are also involved.

    One note on Bama, the Tide offense did not have great NFL talent; however, the Tide defense in 1992 was one of the best of all time and had guys like Eric Curry, John Copeland, Antonio Langham, Antonio London, Derek Oden, Lamanski Hall, Tommy Johnson, Damian Jeffries, Sam Shade, George Teague and maybe some others who went to the NFL. Hall, Shade, Langham, Copeland, Curry, London, and Teague each spent between 6 and 9 years in the NFL.

  3. BJD95 11/12/2005 at 11:57 AM #

    Very interesting read. I wouldn’t include Noel Mazzone in the same sentence as “successful,” though.

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