I think it deserves to be mentioned that the Gators not only are the team that has improved in each category, but they lead in each category as well, including YAPP. (And though this article was about defense, since you mentioned losing Jeff Driskel, please allow me to point out that through two SEC games Tyler Murphy leads in the total QBR stat and it's not even close.)
You’ve seen it with your own eyes. You’ve read about offensive explosions and quarterback duels in SEC contests. Now you can take a quick gander at the stats below and see just how down the SEC’s defenses really are in 2013.
And at this stage of the season… they’re down. Way down.
Granted, it’s early in the season and many SEC squads have yet to play more than one or two games against BCS-level competition. But the nearly across-the-board decline in defensive play is still alarming. That’s especially true when you consider the fact that the SEC’s recent dominance at the top of the college football food chain has been attributable largely to the league’s brand of stiff defense.
As of today, eight of the SEC’s 14 programs are allowing more points per game against BCS foes than they did last season.
Ten SEC schools are giving up more rushing yards than they did last season.
Ten are allowing more passing yards per contest.
And eleven are yielding more offensive yards overall to BCS opponents than they did in 2012.
See for yourself (italicized numbers are used to denote a decline in defensive performance). (More analysis after the jump.)
SEC Scoring Defense Vs BCS-Level Foes
SEC Rushing Defense Vs BCS-Level Foes
SEC Passing Defense Vs BCS-Level Foes
SEC Total Defense Vs BCS-Level Foes
Remarkably, only one SEC school — Florida — is better in every key defensive category year-to-year. Unfortunately for Gator fans’ championship hopes, UF’s offense already fumbled away one game at Miami before losing its starting quarterback for the year. And with freshmen charged with replacing star defensive lineman Dominique Easley, some of those defensive numbers could take a hit.
Of the six programs expected to be top 10 or national title contenders this year — Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, Texas A&M and LSU — the Gators are the only squad that hasn’t shown a massive decline on defense during the season’s first month. Georgia and LSU are worse in three of the four main statistical categories. Alabama, South Carolina and Texas A&M are performing worse in every single area.
They’re not alone. Arkansas, Tennessee and Vanderbilt have also dipped in every area.
Whether this is a one-time blip remains to be seen. A number of the league’s top schools have had to play more youth than they would like on defense this season. Couple that with a bumper crop of skilled quarterbacks — AJ McCarron, Aaron Murray, Zach Mettenberger, James Franklin, Bo Wallace, Connor Shaw (when healthy), and Johnny Manziel — and you’ve got a prescription for big points and big yards.
The fear, however, is that even the proud SEC — the last bastion of old-timey defensive power — has finally succumbed to the surge of up-tempo offenses. More and more of the league’s own schools are running no-huddle systems. And just last week, even Nick Saban talked about using more no-huddle at Alabama. (Somewhere Gus Malzahn chuckles.)
Southeastern Conference fans should hope that the Great Defensive Drop-Off of 2013 is just a glitch, rather than a switch in the league’s DNA. The SEC has thrived in the BCS era thanks to bigger, stronger, faster defenses. The BCS era will end and a new playoff era will commence next season. That in itself could make title-chasing tougher for the SEC. But if the league is shifting from one of defense to one of offense, that could make next few years’ transition even more difficult.