The high-powered SEC offenses of days gone by – with Danny Wuerffel, Peyton Manning, Tim Tebow, Johnny Manziel and company – took a year off in 2016.
This time, the conference’s offensive units were more likely to wind up at the bottom of the national standings than the top.
Only one SEC school – Missouri, which finished rock bottom in the SEC East standings – ranked among the top 20 in the FBS in total offense. The Tigers placed 13th overall with 500.5 yards per game.
Conversely, three teams, including SEC East champion Florida, ranked outside the nation’s top 100 – among the 20 least productive units in the country.
It’s the first time since 2011 that no SEC school has made the top 10 nationally in total offense, and the first time since 2005 that no team currently in the conference has earned a top-10 offensive ranking. (In 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2011, Texas A&M or Missouri placed in the top 10, but those schools hadn’t yet begun competing in the SEC.)
The roll call from the last five years: Ole Miss (10th in 2015), Mississippi State (eighth in 2014) and Texas A&M (third in 2012 and fourth in 2013).
And this year… nobody.
Even Alabama, the reigning national champion getting set to defend its title in the College Football Playoff against Clemson on Monday night in Tampa, couldn’t crack the top 30. The Crimson Tide placed a fully-respectable 31st in total offense at 460.9 yards per game, but it was a pulverizing, best-in-the-nation defense – Jonathan Allen, Reuben Foster, among others – that did most of the damage for Alabama.
The rest of the bunch: Texas A&M (24th), Ole Miss (26th), Tennessee (40th), Auburn (43rd), Mississippi State (44th), Arkansas (54th), LSU (59th), Kentucky (61st), Georgia (87th), Vanderbilt (110th), South Carolina (115th) and – bringing up the rear – Florida (116th).
That’s a pretty broad range, from good (but not overwhelming) to downright dreary.
Part of these statistical struggles come down to a schedule that includes eight games a year against SEC defenses. Those defenses, in 2016, have clearly had the upper hand in the SEC. But it’s not just the level of the opposition – some SEC offenses just didn’t click this year.
Even when they did, the results didn’t always show up on the field.
The key to Missouri’s statistical success was its passing attack with quarterback Drew Lock, which averaged more than 295 yards per game. But the reasons for Missouri’s lack of real-life success included shaky ball control (28 fumbles in 12 games), special teams miscues (only six made field goals, as well as poor kick coverage) and a woeful defense that gave up points faster than the Tigers could score them. The result: a 4-8 season.
The good news for SEC fans, though, is that the trends point in a positive direction, especially at quarterback.
Freshman quarterbacks Jalen Hurts (Alabama), Jacob Eason (Georgia), Jake Bentley (South Carolina) and Shea Patterson (Ole Miss) showed real promise in 2016. Mississippi State’s yardage machine Nick Fitzgerald returns, as does Mizzou’s Lock. And the Ed Orgeron/Matt Canada regime in LSU will be expected to install a more explosive approach for 2017, quite possibly with a freshman quarterback at the helm.
Can they turn the SEC’s offensive picture around? The conference’s fans will be waiting.
As long as SEC teams are ending up at the wrong end of the NCAA’s offense rankings, the memories of the conference’s high-scoring offenses of the past – Steve Spurrier’s Fun ‘n’ Gun at Florida, Urban Meyer’s title-winning spread option, the A&M Air Raid of the Manziel era – will seem more and more distant by the year.
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