Pac-12 defenses are soft. SEC defenses would dominate those fancy West Coast offenses.
The Pac-12 has been running complex offenses for years, and SEC defenses wouldn't be able to match up. All they do in the South is run the "footbaw."
Turns out, it's the Southern folk who are right.
The good people at Football Outsiders have a metric called F/+ that combines two rankings systems: Brian Fremeau's FEI, which measures drive efficiency, and Bill Connelly (of SB Nation)'s S&P+, which measures explosiveness, per-play efficiency, and drive success. The key to using these stats is that they are adjusted for opponent strength, so the judgments are no longer reliant on the eye test of a message boarder.
F/+ gives a rating based on how much better or worse a team is than average. For example, 2012 Alabama's defense was the best at 27.8 percent better than average. Colorado's was the worst at 16.7 percent below average.
A look at defensive F/+ for the big five conferences over the last five years is not kind to the Pac-12. On the other hand, it is music to the ears of the SEC. As the chart below shows, the league that has won the last seven BCS titles has also been the dominant defensive force over that time (numbers are the average of defensive F/+ for each team in the league):
The Big 12, Big Ten, and ACC have all taken turns being second-best, but none has came close to the SEC recently. Meanwhile, the Pac-12 has been hovering near the bottom, and finishing as the worst among the major five conferences in three of the past five seasons.
The good news for the Pac-12? The league's defenses are on the rise, largely boosted by the improvement at Oregon and Stanford. Those two schools have produced dominant defensive squads recently, and that has helped the West Coast get out of the major conference cellar.
The Pac-12's institutions may have learned a few lessons from their defensive struggles, and appear to be making some better hires on that side.
Above all, they did leave behind an important valuable lesson for future conferences to follow:
Never let an alum coach your team
It doesn't take advanced statistics to know that some of the worst defenses in recent memory have come from Washington State and Colorado. Under Paul Wulff's 9-40 reign at WSU, the Cougar defense was 11.5 percent worse than average. The only thing that saved Wazzu from being the worst school over the past five years was Mike Leach and Mike Breske's work in 2012 (that title goes to Indiana).
Then there is Jon Embree at Colorado. His defenses were nearly 15 percent worse than average in two seasons with the Buffaloes.
Those two aren't the only Pac-12 coaches to head up cover-your-eyes awful defenses. Arizona, UCLA, and Washington have all had teams more than 10 percent worse than average recently. The benefit of going back to 2008 is that the statistics can show Ty Willingham's work in all its glory.
Washington's 2008 defense ranks among the top five worst of the last five years, and that helped lead it to a winless record. Hats off to Mr. Willingham. He should take solice in the knowledge that there is no need to play defense in college golf.
Of course, these numbers are just about cautionary tales on coaching hires, there are some positives to glean from the data as well. For example, the SEC's defensive dominance all but confirms one important thing:
Alabama has been at the top of the recruiting world under Nick Saban, and that has translated to some dominant defenses. The Crimson Tide have led the SEC's charge to the top of the defensive ranks with the country's best athletes, and that has helped them claim three of the league's string of titles.
There have been 12 different major-conference teams that were 20 percent better than average on defense over the last five seasons, and seven of them played in the SEC. Florida and Alabama claim six of those squads, with LSU's 2011 club being the other. Those teams also consistently rank in the top five recruiting classes, and the conference has dominated that realm as a whole.
The SEC has also been the top recruiting conference on Scout.com since the website starting ranking the leagues in 2002. That talent certainly hasn't gone to waste.
The 2013 recruiting cycle likely ensured that the SEC's defensive dominance will continue in the foreseeable future. Five of the top 10 classes on 247 Sports' composite team rankings were from the league, and many of the nation's top defensive players committed to the likes of Alabama, LSU, Florida, Texas A&M, and even Ole Miss.
The Pac-12 may be on the rise defensively, and 2013 may even see them surpass the Big Ten. However, it is still the SEC and everyone else among the major conferences, and that won't be changing any time soon.