Dominant defense common theme in SEC success

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BATON ROUGE, LA. (AP) - When Alabama’s Greg McElroy turns on an NFL game, it reminds him of some of his worst moments as a Southeastern Conference quarterback.

“There’s a lot of guys that I see on Sundays that have hit me or tackled me or intercepted me or made things difficult for me,” McElroy said.

And McElroy is not exaggerating.

Heading into last weekend, players from the SEC had made more NFL starts since 2000 than players from any major BCS conference. According to STATS LLC, SEC players had combined for 4,729 NFL defensive starts since 2000. The Big Ten was second with 3,540, followed by the ACC, Big 12, Pac-10 and Big East.

SEC alum have also combined for more NFL sacks (1,045.5) and more interceptions (343) the past decade. Big Ten players combined for the second-most NFL sacks (778) during that span, but ranked fourth in interceptions. ACC players had combined for the second-most interceptions with 299.

LSU left tackle Joseph Barksdale says it’s the main reason the SEC has won four consecutive national titles.

“You are playing against potential All-Americans every weekend,” said Barksdale, whose No. 12 LSU squad has won non-conference games over North Carolina and West Virginia on its way to a 4-0 record.

“North Carolina and West Virginia had very capable defensive linemen. But the SEC teams have great starters and great depth,” Barksdale said. “Every week in the SEC, it’s like you’re coming out of a dogfight.”

McElroy, whose father is an executive with the Dallas Cowboys, says people understand the talent in the SEC on defense.

“Those guys are pretty fast and pretty athletic players,” he said. “The fact that they start more so than any other conference in the NFL is not surprising to me, having played against them.”

This year, LSU is undefeated and climbing the national rankings _ relying heavily on its SEC-leading defense. Quarterback Jordan Jefferson hasn’t thrown for 100 yards or a single TD in any of his past three games, the Tigers rank second-to-last in the conference in total offense, and yet they keep winning.

“You don’t see big-time offenses in the SEC like the Big 12 where Texas Tech would score a million points,” said LSU center T-Bob Hebert, son of former NFL quarterback Bobby Hebert. “The SEC has more conservative styles of offense. SEC defensive linemen are close to NFL ready. The defensive linemen are beasts. They are 6-3, 300 pounds. That’s solid pounds of muscle.”

The second- and third- ranked defensive teams in the SEC are Alabama and Florida, both giving up fewer than 300 yards per game and both unbeaten _ at least until they play each other this weekend.

“If you’re going to win championships, you’ve got to be good everywhere, but ultimately it comes down to stopping people,” said LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis said. “It doesn’t matter how many points you can put on the board. If you can’t stop people and get the ball back for the offense, you can’t expect to win, particularly at the highest level.”

It’s hard to argue with Chavis’ logic, given that SEC teams that have won the past four national titles all had excellent defenses.

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