Suddenly, the SEC Is Becoming a Quarterback's Conference

Barrett SalleeSEC Football Lead WriterSeptember 30, 2013

Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel
Texas A&M QB Johnny ManzielScott Halleran/Getty Images

Remember the days of the 9-6 "Game of the Century" and "defense winning championships?"

After what we've seen in the SEC during the first month of the season, 2011 seems like ages ago.

LSU and Georgia went up and down the field on each other in the Bulldogs' 44-41 win Saturday, and Texas A&M pressed Alabama to the brink earlier in the month in a 49-42 Crimson Tide win over the Aggies.

It this the new normal in the SEC?

LSU head coach Les Miles commented after the loss to Georgia, via Russ Mitchell of CFN:

Les: On if the SEC is entering a new era of high powered offenses? "I hope not."

— Russ Mitchell (@RussMitchellCFB) September 28, 2013

Miles is going to be disappointed, because for this particular season, the SEC is in an era of high-powered offenses.

Nine of the 14 SEC programs are averaging 30 or more points per game, and four of those—Texas A&M, Missouri, LSU and Georgia—are averaging over 40 points per game. Six teams—the four previously mentioned, South Carolina and Mississippi State—are averaging over 450 yards per game.

Think about that for a second. Six teams over 450 yards per game, none of which are Auburn or Ole Miss, and whose head coaches, Gus Malzahn and Hugh Freeze, respectively, are offensive gurus.

Sep 21, 2013; Bloomington, IN, USA; Missouri Tigers quarterback James Franklin (1) drops back to pass against the Indiana Hoosiers during the first quarter at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports
Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

In the four previous years, only about six teams per year scored 30 or more per game, and just about two teams per year gained 450 or more yards per game.

Why the offensive explosion?

Part of it has to do with diverse systems that are designed to limit the impact of defensive coordinators and force coaches to run basic schemes. But for the most part, those schemes are being led by veteran quarterbacks who have learned during their careers what to do—and more importantly—what not to do.

Of the top five offenses in the SEC, only one is led by a quarterback who isn't a senior. That team is Texas A&M, a team led by 2012 Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel who, last time I checked, was pretty good.

Manziel, Georgia's Aaron Murray, Missouri's James Franklin, South Carolina's Connor Shaw (who's been at the helm for the majority of the year) and LSU's Zach Mettenberger all have firm grasps of their respective systems, recognize what opposing defenses are doing and know when it's appropriate to take risks.

Plus, schemes are adapting to personnel rather than vice versa.

It isn't the Xs and the Os; it's the Jimmys and the Joes. The days of Urban Meyer trying to run the Tim Tebow offense with John Brantley at quarterback don't exist anymore. 

LSU QB Zach Mettenberger
LSU QB Zach MettenbergerDaniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

LSU knew it had a quarterback with a big arm and a deep and physical running back corps, so it hired Cam Cameron as offensive coordinator. Cameron's M.O. is to pound the rock and then take the top off a defense. 

The result for the Tigers is a suddenly potent offense that's fully capable of winning shootouts.

Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin got the job prior to the 2012 season because his Houston offenses finished in the top 11 nationally in total offense in three of his four seasons. Case Keenum was his quarterback for the majority of that time, but Sumlin's offense in College Station isn't the same as the air-raid attack he ran in Houston.

Sure, there are elements of that in A&M's offense, and the concepts haven't changed, but Sumlin adapted to Manziel when he won the starting job two summers ago. The results speak for themselves.

Is the sudden offensive explosion in the SEC part of a natural cycle that includes veteran quarterbacks in 2013, or is this the new normal?

Both, really.

It's a product of the conference having talented and experienced quarterbacks at the same time that innovative and flexible offenses are creeping in. That doesn't necessarily mean that 44-41 games are here to stay, but it does mean that 9-6 "Games of the Century" are becoming dinosaurs.

Defense isn't going to win championships in the new-look SEC; "just enough defense" will.