If you're going to ask FBS coaches whether the SEC's reputation for pure speed on the football field is legitimate -- a reputation pervasive enough to turn the phrase "SEC speed" from chest-swilling boast to hoary cliche in five short years -- you might as well ask the coaches that have coached both in the SEC and elsewhere, right? And if you could find two such coaches who have never been unwilling to go on the record about pretty much anything (especially each other), so much the better, right?
Which brings us to this Tuesday Atlanta Journal-Constitution piece, in which Lane Kiffin and Urban Meyer each agree that "SEC speed" is as much reality as myth--to a certain point, a point named "the front seven."
“I believe there is a difference of speed in the SEC," Kiffin said. "The difference to me is in the front seven, especially the defensive line ... Out here (in the Pac-12) you don't have as many dominant front seven, and specifically defensive linemen. That's not a knock on anyone. That's just studying the NFL Draft.
"The draft will show you that … where out here, you get better passing games sometimes with quarterbacks and wide receivers. You get different things in different areas of the country.”
Meyer echoed his former archenemy's comments.
"I think the SEC's speed is legit," he said. "Certainly, the defensive front seven is at a different level in the SEC. We went and recruited a bunch of good guys for our front seven this year for Ohio State, so I hope we can catch the SEC.”
The 2011 FBS season statistics would seem to bear our Kiffin's and Meyer's convictions: only one SEC offense ranked in the FBS top 40 in passing yardage (league odd duck Arkansas finished 13th), while the conference took up three of the first 11 spots and five of the top 40 in rush defense. While some of that statistical imbalance is open to the old chicken-and-egg question -- are the SEC's defenses that good, or the offenses that bad? -- the presence of the likes of Josh Chapman, Sam Montgomery, Jarvis Jones, Jadeveon Clowney, etc. suggests a lot of it is, legitimately, a result of great SEC players along the defensive front.
But there was one coach to speak to the AJC who disagreed with Kiffin's and Meyer's conclusion--though he did so in a way that seemed to disprove his own point. New Penn State defensive coordinator Ted Roof, late of the same post at Auburn, said this (emphasis added):
“The SEC is certainly a fast, fast league but we've got teams that can run in the Big Ten, too. And when you get on a national scale and talk about winning championships, you have to have a team that can run ... But we've got guys who can run here, too, and we're going to recruit places in the Southeast to get more of them.”
So Roof's strategy for finding "guys who can run" for the Nittany Lions is to go to the Southeast, presumably because there's more of them ... most of which will, no doubt, stay in the Southeast for college rather than come to Big Ten country. Roof can't have his "the fast players are in the Southeast, but we have just as many in our conference" cake and eat it too, can he?
Roof is correct about one thing: the Big Ten has its fair share of outstanding defensive players, as a look as the most recent CBSSports.com mock drafts for the 2012 first round -- where as many Big Ten defensive linemen are mentioned as the SEC's -- could tell you. But until its own coaches can argue that the Southeast isn't producing the fastest recruits, that the SEC has the fastest players along the front seven is probably going to remain nearly as much fact as reputation.Keep up with the latest college football news from around the country. From the opening kick of the year all the way through the offseason, CBSSports.com has you covered with this daily newsletter. View a preview.
Get CBSSports.com College Football updates on Facebook