For the first time in five seasons, the Southeastern Conference in 2013 came thisclose to not leading the Power Five leagues in average scoring defense.  If you think back over the SEC's seven-year run of BCS championships, you'll inevitably think of strong defenses.  Even Cam Newton's Auburn team and Tim Tebow's Florida teams had future NFL picks and playmakers on the other side of the ball.  Defense, cliched as it may be, won championships for the SEC.

But look at the numbers below and you'll find that SEC defenses allowed more points per game last season -- 24.9 -- than they did in any of the previous four seasons.

 

2009 Season

Conference Avg. Pts Per Gm Allowed Difference
SEC 20.99  
Big 12 22.86 -1.96
Big Ten 22.98 -1.99
ACC 24.44 -3.45
Pac-12 25.20 -4.21

 

2010 Season

Conference Avg Pts Per GM Allowed Difference
SEC 23.78  
ACC 24.22 -0.44
Pac-12 25.53 -1.75
Big Ten 25.57 -1.79
Big 12 25.98 -2.20

 

2011 Season

Conference Avg Pts Per Gm Allowed Difference
SEC 20.88  
Big Ten 23.58 -2.70
ACC 24.83 -3.95
Pac-12 28.74 -7.86
Big 12 30.04 -9.16

 

2012 Season

Conference Avg Pts Per Gm Allowed Difference
SEC 23.28  
Big Ten 24.45 -1.17
ACC 27.17 -3.89
Pac-12 27.75 -4.47
Big 12 29.48 -6.20

 

2013 Season

Conference Avg Pts Per Gm Allowed Difference
SEC 24.90  
ACC 24.91 -0.01
Big Ten 25.86 -0.96
Big 12 27.28 -2.38
Pac-12 27.80 -2.90

 

As you may have noticed, the SEC's defensive scoring average has risen each of the last two years, coinciding with the entry of Missouri and Texas A&M into the league.  It's too soon to say whether or not this is a statistical blip or a trend.  Either way, the league was simply not as dominating last year as it had been the previous four.  It was fitting, then, that the league's run on BCS crowns ended with Auburn's defense blowing an 18-point lead and surrendering a last-minute touchdown to Florida State in January's title bout.

For those wondering, these numbers are not simply a reflection of the SEC's strength at the quarterback position a year ago.  Below you'll find that we've compared the SEC's overall defensive numbers to its non-conference defensive numbers over that same 2009-2013 span.

 

Season Overall Avg Pts Per Gm Allowed Non-Conf Avg Pts Per Gm Allowed
2009 20.99 17.00
2010 23.78 18.93
2011 20.88 17.24
2012 23.28 18.79
2013 24.90 19.13

 

As you can see, the non-conference numbers rise and fall right along with the overall number.  Yes, good quarterback play inside the SEC put pressure on the league's defenses, but the league's teams have allowed an increased number of points to non-conference foes each of the past two years, as well.

One possible reason for the SEC's decline on defense?  NFL early entrants.  

In 2012, the league lost 12 underclassmen to the pros and half of them played on the defensive side of the ball.  In 2013, 18 of the league's 32 early exits were made by defenders.  Look at the list below and see if you don't think Southeastern Conference defenses would have been better had these 24 early departees stuck around instead...

 

SEC Defensive Early NFL Entrants

School Position Player
Alabama (2013) CB Dee Milliner
Alabama (2012) LB Dont'a Hightower
Alabama (2012) DT Michael Brockers
Auburn (2013) DE Corey Lemonier
Florida (2013) S Matt Elam
Florida (2013) DT Shariff Floyd
Florida (2013) LB Jelani Jenkins
Georgia (2013) DT Kwame Geathers
Georgia (2013) LB Jarvis Jones
Georgia (2013) LB Alec Ogletree
LSU (2013) DT Bennie Logan
LSU (2013) DB Tyrann Mathieu
LSU (2013) DE Barkevious Mingo
LSU (2013) LB Kevin Minter
LSU (2013) DE Sam Montgomery
LSU (2013) S Eric Reid
LSU (2013) CB Tharold Simon
LSU (2012) DT Michael Brockers
LSU (2012) CB Morris Claiborne
Miss. State (2012) DT Fletcher Cox
Missouri (2013) DT Sheldon Richardson
S. Carolina (2012) CB Stephon Gilmore
Tennessee (2013) DE Darrinton Sentimore
Texas A&M (2013) DE Damontre Moore

 

That's a lot of talent to lose ahead of schedule.  Unfortunately, the league lost 13 more such defenders to this May's NFL draft.

As we've already broken down for you, a large number of upperclassmen quarterbacks -- if form holds -- figure to make life tough on the SEC defensive coordinators in 2014.  They may be no-names at this point, but the league's crop of QBs includes many veteran no-names.  Factor in another group of defensive playmakers jumping early to the pros and there could be some serious struggles.  

Overall, we believe SEC defenses will show slight improvement over their performance a season ago.  It's hard to imagine a league as talent-rich as the SEC allowing an average of nearly 25 points per game two years in a row.  But slight is the key word.  Older quarterbacks inside the league, defensive playmakers who've left the conference early, and a continued rise in the number of no-huddle teams will likely prevent a return to the heady days of 2009 and 2011 when league defenses were allowing fewer than 21 points per game.