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Defense wins championships. It has been proven time after time in the sports world. For years, the SEC has been known for its fast, powerful defenses. Now, after disappointing losses by the number one team in the country, Kansas State, and the number two team, Oregon, the SEC is back in the championship chase. The winner of the SEC championship between Alabama and Georgia will almost certainly take one spot in the BCS title game, while a Notre Dame upset loss could open the door for a possible second consecutive all-SEC championship game. But which defense is the best? From the worst of the worst to numero uno, the Gamedayr Statistics Department breaks down the numbers to rank the SEC defenses.
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The Tennessee defense has certainly lived up to their team name, the Volunteers, as they may be the only players in the SEC who do not deserve to be paid. They are last in the SEC in points allowed, giving up 37.4 points per game - six points more than any other team in the SEC. They have given up 476.7 yards per game, which is also last in the conference. Even Troy, a 5-6 Sun Belt team averaging 31.5 points per game, put up 48 points on this Volunteers defense. The one thing this defense has done right is force turnovers: they are tied for fourth in the SEC with 12 interceptions.
[Related: Tennessee fan goes off on Derek Dooley and Co.]
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Next up in the rankings is another team with an explosive passing attack that cannot stop any opposing offenses. The Hogs are second from the bottom in both yards and points allowed. They have given up 31.4 points and 419.4 yards per game. Teams have moved the ball at will through the air on the Hogs, to the tune of 292.1 pass yards per game. Only five FBS teams in the nation have allowed more passing yards.
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12-Ole Miss Rebels
The Rebels are eleventh in the SEC in scoring defense and total defense. They head into rivalry week allowing 28.9 points and 389.7 yards per game. Similar to Tennessee, Mississippi has forced 12 interceptions, but the other aspects of the defense have not been there this season. The Rebels are in the middle of the pack in the conference in rush defense, but tied for eleventh in pass defense, so it is clear what this team needs to work on in the offseason.
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Auburn has had an absolutely abysmal season by any measure, and their defensive stats only reinforce how awful they have been. They are twelfth in the SEC in total defense allowing 414.8 yards per game, and tenth in scoring defense with 26.5 points per game allowed. The Tigers have not been able to force turnovers either, as they are tied for last in the country with only two interceptions on the season.
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The Wildcats are twelfth in the SEC in points allowed per game, giving up an average of 30.5 every time they take the field. They are a tad bit better in yards allowed per game, giving up an average of 385 yards per contest, good for 10th in the conference. The rush defense has been especially terrible at twelfth in the conference, allowing 161 yards per game on the ground. Not even the defensive prowess of Anthony Davis could turn this defense around.
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Mizzou is ninth in the SEC in scoring defense, giving up 25.6 points per game. They are seventh in total yardage allowed with 367.4 yards per game. Perhaps the move to the SEC was a failed attempt to move up in the college football world, but at least it should benefit them in basketball.
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8-Texas A&M Aggies
Despite all the talk about Johnny Manziel and the Aggies offense, this defense has largely underperformed this season. Texas A&M is eighth in the SEC in scoring and ninth in yardage. They allow 21.9 points per game on 382.5 total yards. Not great numbers when you play against a number of inept SEC offenses.
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7-Mississippi State Bulldogs
The Bulldogs are right in the middle of the SEC in most statistical defensive categories, which explains why they sit right in the middle of the SEC standings as well. They are seventh in the conference in scoring defense, allowing 20.7 points per game, and eighth in total defense, allowing 377.5 total yards per game. Their pass defense (seventh in SEC) is much stiffer than their rush defense (eleventh in SEC).
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This is where the second tier begins. Not elite defenses, but very good, SEC-quality defenses. The Commodores numbers are remarkably similar to the next team on our list, the Georgia Bulldogs. The difference between the national title hopeful and this four-loss team is the offensive play. On defense, Vandy has allowed just six passing touchdowns, tied for third-least in the nation. They are fifth in the SEC in scoring defense, allowing just 18 points per game, and fifth in the SEC in total defense, giving up 327.9 yards per game.
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The reason Georgia’s defense is ahead of Vanderbilt’s is their offense. The Bulldogs score a ton of points (ten more per game than the Commodores) and they have long, quick touchdown plays, meaning their defense is on the field for more snaps and more possessions. Despite giving up slightly more yards and points than Vandy, the Dawgs defense typically has to face more in any given game than the Commodores. Georgia is sixth in the SEC in both scoring and total defense, allowing 18.4 points per game and 329.8 yards per game.
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4-South Carolina Gamecocks
The Gamecocks offense took a huge hit in the loss of RB Marcus Lattimore, but their defense stepped up to save the team. South Carolina is fourth in the SEC in scoring defense and total defense, allowing 17.5 points per game and 310.8 yards per game. They allow opponents just 3-yards per rush, which is the ninth best average in the nation on defense.
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The Tigers’ defense won the team a number of games early this season, as it took first year starter Zach Mettenberger a while to get into a groove under center. LSU ranks third in the SEC in defensive scoring and yardage, allowing 17.3 points per game and 282.9 yards per game. The Tigers defense is tied for sixth in the nation with 17 interceptions this season, including three returned for touchdowns.
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The next two teams are on a short list of elite defenses in the nation, along with the likes of Notre Dame and Florida State. The Gators are second in the SEC in most defensive statistical categories behind the team that will appear next on this list. They are third in the nation in scoring defense, allowing only 11.7 points per game, and fourth in the nation in total defense, allowing 281 yards per game. Florida is one of just eight teams in the nation holding opponents under 3.0-yards per rush. On top of the run defense, they are excellent against the pass, allowing opponents just four passing touchdowns all season - second fewest in the country - and forcing 16 interceptions. This Saturday we will see a matchup of two of the top five defenses in the nation when Florida takes on Florida State in Tallahassee.
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1-Alabama Crimson Tide
After a loss to Texas A&M, the Tide may have dropped from the top spot in the BCS, but they remain atop the nation in most statistical defensive categories. Since they lead the SEC in almost all relevant defensive categories—points, pass yards, rush yards, total yards, rush yards per attempt, rush touchdowns—we will instead compare them to the nation’s top defenses. Alabama is tied with Notre Dame for the fewest points allowed in the nation, giving up just 10.1 points per game. Alabama is second only to FSU in total defense, allowing 240.1 yards per game. They are the only team in the nation in the top three in both pass yards allowed and rush yards allowed. They are second in the nation to FSU in yards per rush, allowing a ridiculously miniscule 2.31 yards per rush. Of course, we know FSU plays in the terrible ACC, so their numbers are awfully skewed. In short, Alabama clearly has the best defense in the nation's best conference.
Sources: Rivals.com and Espn.com
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