With Auburn’s defeat of Oregon in Monday’s BCS Championship Game, the SEC has now won 5 consecutive BCS titles, two of which came from our very own Florida Gators. In fact, with the national championship on the line, the SEC has now won 8 consecutive times, with Florida taking home three of those eight. Of course, our 1995 Fiesta Bowl debacle was also the reason that streak isn’t longer, but we’ll overlook that.
The streak of 5 consecutive national championships extends what was already the longest in NCAA history (excluding the early years when their were only a few teams and an Ivy League school won every year). The next longest streak is three consecutive championships, which has been done a few times but not since 1971, when there was much less parity in college football. For the SEC to do what it has done now, with scholarships limited and with parity at an all-time high in college football, is truly remarkable.
Oregon came into Monday’s BCS championship game with Auburn ranked 1st in the Pac-10 in total offense and in scoring, and not by a narrow margin. Auburn came in to the game ranked 9th out of 12 teams in the SEC in total defense.
Yet, in spite of that supposed mismatch, the game played out much like it had each of the past 4 years. A supposed top offense was faced with a defense they didn’t know how to combat. Oregon couldn’t handle the strength of Auburn’s front, which was led by Nick Fairley’s dominant play. The way Auburn consistently got into the backfield so quickly that they were hitting Darron Thomas and LaMichael James as they were in the middle of their option read was something I’ve never seen before. Oregon was consistently stuffed in short yardage situations, where they’ve been unstoppable all year.
In the defense of fairness, Oregon’s strength is their running game, and run defense happens to be the only thing Auburn is good at. It was a lucky matchup for Auburn, who would have been in big trouble against a high powered passing (rather than rushing) offense. Nonetheless, the extent to which Oregon’s run game was shut down is beyond what any Pac 10 fan could have imagined. Oregon averaged 303 rush yards per game this year at an average of 6 yards per carry. They ran for more than 230 yards ten times in twelve tries this year. But on Monday night against Auburn, the Ducks managed just 75 yards rushing on 32 attempts, a measly 2.3 yard per carry average.
The result was a game that Auburn controlled the majority of the way. Realistically, Oregon was lucky the game was as close as it was. Darvin Adams couldn’t come up with a long pass on 3rd down of Auburn’s 1st possession that he probably should have caught, Cam Newton and Eric Smith botched an easy touchdown on 4th and goal from the 1 yard line, and Newton later missed Darvin Adams on a long touchdown on a great “in and go” route that left Oregon’s cheating safety 12 yards behind. Oregon’s only offense came on one long pass play and a late turnover by Cam Newton. They were never really able to consistently move the ball long enough to sustain a long scoring drive.
So what is it about these SEC teams that has led to such success in these games? Early on, people thought the answer was speed. But speed wasn’t really a factor either of the last two years, and particularly not this year where Oregon had a clear advantage in that department.
The real answer is defense.
“Defense wins championships”. The motto is as old as football itself, and never truer than right now, which is ironic given that the game has turned towards the offense more than it ever has before. After a run at pure offense in the 90’s, the SEC has been a defensive conference in the last decade. And while things play out differently during the season when you’re matched up with a bunch of teams that know you well and have been playing you for years, when everything is on the line at the end of the year, it’s usually defense that leads the way.
There is no better example of that than Florida themselves. Amid all the talk of Urban Meyer bringing the spread offense to the SEC and people arguing over whether or not it would work in a power conference, it ended up not even mattering because defense ruled the day. In 2007, we had possibly the greatest offense that we’ve ever had at Florida, with only ’96 and ’97 rivaling it. Tim Tebow won the heisman, and we lit up the scoreboard…..and lost four games.
In 2006 and 2008, our offense was actually pretty mediocre (especially in ’06), but outstanding defensive play vaulted us to the top. The 2006 Ohio State team was considered by some to be one of the best teams of all-time headed into the BCS Championship Game, and that was mostly on the reputation of their offense. As you’ll all remember, the result of that game was Ohio State’s offense being unable to match the yardage output of their opening kickoff return. 2008 was similar, with the vaunted Oklahoma offense being held to a paultry 14 points.
The heroes of the SEC’s five straight BCS championship wins are not Heisman winners like Cam Newton, Tim Tebow, and Mark Ingram. Rather, they are defensive studs like Nick Fairley, Joe Haden, Jarvis Moss, Terrance Cody, and many others who rose to the occasion when it mattered most, alongside defensive coordinators that have out-schemed their unprepared opponents..
I also want to touch on one other point that I believe factors in to this SEC streak, and that is passion. I was at the 2006 National Championship game, and Florida fans were outnumbered by Ohio State fans 70/30. But in spite of the huge numbers disadvantage, Florida fans were still so much louder than the Ohio State fans (even before the game got out of hand), and so much more passionate. You could hear this on Monday night as well as my TV was practically shaking when Oregon had the ball and Auburn fans were making noise, while the reverse could not be said.
Say what you will about momentum and the crowd in football, but there’s no doubt that that passion transfers on to the players.
So where am I going with all of this? Well, in my oh so humble opinion, two of the largest factors in the SEC’s unprecedented streak of national championships are passion and defense. Now, assuming that “bad hair” isn’t an option, if I asked you to describe Will Muschamp in two words, what would they be?
Passion and defense.