The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Sports

October 10, 2012

Pass defense will play key role in SEC title race

Pass defense quietly has played a major role in who wins the national title.

During the Southeastern Conference's run of six consecutive championships, five of those champions ranked among the top two teams in the conference and the top four teams nationwide in pass efficiency defense.

The run-first SEC isn't known for throwing the ball all over the field, though that is changing. But SEC quarterbacks are effective when they do throw.

South Carolina's Connor Shaw and Alabama's A.J. McCarron are two of the nation's most efficient passers, and they could end up meeting in the SEC championship game.

Who wins the matchup — or even the chances of such a matchup occurring — likely depends on how well their respective teams defend the pass.

"I've always said I thought the thing that's different about this league was the pass rushers and the cover guys," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "The combination of those things was a little better than other places. Everybody's got good receivers. Everybody's got good runners. There are lots of good quarterbacks. But I thought those two things were something that was a little better in this league."

There's no doubt SEC quarterback play has improved this year.

McCarron, Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel and Georgia's Aaron Murray all rank among the nation's top 16 quarterbacks in passing efficiency. Shaw would rank second nationally in that category, but he's one pass attempt shy of qualifying.

Even so, the conference race often comes down to which team has the best pass defense. Of the last six national champions that all came from the SEC, the only one that didn't finish among the nation's top four teams in pass efficiency defense was the Cam Newton-led 2010 Auburn squad that ranked ninth in the SEC and 76th nationally in that category.

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