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Teams on the West Coast always have loved to throw the ball. The Big 12 has become a treasure trove of quarterbacks and has the inflated numbers to prove it. But the Southeastern Conference offenses this season look lost, as if they haven't heard how everyone is playing basketball on grass.
Offenses are suffering in the SEC. The argument that the SEC is the home of great defense, while true, is irrelevant when seven league teams haven't played a conference game. September is the time of the season when SEC teams rent victims, win games and fatten their statistics. Yet only four SEC teams rank among the top 50 in total offense, and only four rank among the top 59 in passing efficiency.
AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis
Tommy Tuberville thinks a strong defense is the biggest SEC key.
Kentucky, Tennessee and LSU all are replacing quarterbacks good enough to be drafted in the NFL, but a lack of experience isn't entirely the issue. Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Ole Miss and Tennessee are installing new schemes. Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville, whose Tigers won at Mississippi State, 3-2, looked at the bright side.
"I'd rather beat someone 3-2 than 41-40," Tuberville said. "I'd rather have a defense than an offense in this league."That is the prevailing sentiment in the SEC, and has been for, oh, the entire 76 years of the league's existence. It comes as no surprise to see that eight SEC teams are in the top 30 in total defense.
Tuberville hired offensive coordinator Tony Franklin from Troy after the 2007 regular season to install his up-tempo spread offense. Auburn, using a rudimentary version of the offense, defeated Clemson in the Chick-fil-A Bowl this past December. But the Tigers have taken several steps backward in their quest to master the full version.
At Starkville, Auburn committed 12 penalties and three turnovers, dropped passes and generally got in its own way. Tuberville said his players are still getting used to the tempo.
"In this heat, when you run a play every 20 seconds, the 300-pounders suffer," Tuberville said. "They lose their concentration. We had three holding calls and six false starts. Seven times we were in first-and-15 or first-and-20."
Don't misinterpret Tuberville's frustration for cold feet. He thinks the Tigers are close to unleashing the offense."It's still got more firepower than what we were doing," he said. "We got the ball downfield a lot better. I like the offense. The players like it. We're in the experimental stage of what they can handle and what they can't. We're trying to settle on a quarterback."
Junior Chris Todd has played most of the past two games. Sophomore Kodi Burns, hampered by an 80-stitch gash on his shin that he suffered in the opener against Louisiana-Monroe, is still learning the offense.
The Crimson Tide, without All-SEC left tackle Andre Smith (sprained knee) in their second game against Tulane, managed only 172 total yards and one offensive touchdown in a 20-6 victory. Smith is expected to play Saturday at Arkansas.The offenses in the league may get better, and no one will notice. The defenses in the league await them.
Mark J. Rebilas/US PRESSWIRE
An early start didn't help Jim Harbaugh (right) and the Cardinal.
Crystal LoGiudice/US PRESSWIRE
Les Miles and LSU will get no off weeks down the stretch.
Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Send your questions and comments to Ivan at email@example.com.
1. In a profile of head coach Jim Harbaugh in the new issue of Stanford Magazine, athletic director Bob Bowlsby estimated that only 400 high school seniors across the nation have a chance of being accepted at The Farm. Said Harbaugh, "The professors here aren't looking for the 15th guy in their classroom, or the fourth-stringer. They don't want to slow their classes down. We're not looking to bring in the 15th guy on the football team, either." That's why Stanford resembles a batter starting every at-bat with an 0-2 count.
2. North Carolina's 44-12 rout at Rutgers didn't look like a fluke, which is what makes the game in Chapel Hill on Saturday against Virginia Tech (ABC, 3:30 ET) so interesting. If the Tar Heels upset the Hokies and go 3-0 for the first time since Mack Brown's last season (1997), watch out Coastal Division. Three of North Carolina's ACC road games are at Miami, Virginia and Duke.
3. Matchup to watch Saturday: Arkansas senior center Jonathan Luigs, the reigning Rimington Award winner, is 6-foot-4 and 314 pounds and gives up 50 pounds to Alabama junior nose tackle Terrance Cody. Listed at 6-5 and 365, Cody has made a tackle behind the line of scrimmage in each of the first three games. You'd think if anyone could handle Cody, it would be Luigs. Watch them for a few plays.
Though wide receiver Preston Parker and defensive tackle Budd Thacker return this week from disciplinary suspensions, 11 other Florida State players have one more game to sit out for their role in an academic scandal. The Seminoles could use them when No. 18 Wake Forest comes to Tallahassee on Saturday night (ESPN2, 7 ET).
Don't think too hard about why the Mountain West went 4-0 against the Pacific-10 Conference on Saturday. It's simple: Three of the four victories came on the MWC campuses. UCLA lost at BYU, 59-0; Stanford lost at TCU, 31-14; Arizona lost at New Mexico, 36-28.
Beano Cook joins Ivan in the ESPNU College Football Podcast to preview a big weekend in the SEC, discuss big problems for the Big East and more. Listen
Florida head coach Urban Meyer told a story at his press conference Monday about how 5-7, 186-pound junior kick returner Brandon James won his job at the 2006 Tennessee game.
Reader Pat Hamblin points out that in one game, UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel has measured up to USC coach Pete Carroll. The Trojans' 14 losses over the course of Carroll's seven-plus seasons have been by a total of 59 points. The Bruins needed only one loss for Neuheisel to tie Carroll.It's probably not the efficiency for which Neuheisel is searching.