Five teams capable of ending SEC's BCS championship winning streak
Part I of our case study: Establishing the blueprint for the past six BCS champions
Part II: Breaking down the most likely 2012 contenders to emerge from the SEC
Part III: Examining five teams from other leagues that could end the win streak
It's going to happen. At some point a conference other than the SEC will, for the first time since 2005, produce the BCS champion. It could be this year.
First, of course, a non-SEC team will need to qualify for the game. Since last year's Alabama-LSU rematch required a rash of late-season upsets in other leagues, we're unlikely to see a repeat this season. But barring an unforeseen outbreak of SEC parity -- and even then, remember that a two-loss SEC team has finished No. 1 before -- it's safe to assume one of the teams that takes the field Jan. 7 in Miami Gardens will hail from Mike Slive's dynastic conference.
The question is whether some other league's representative can actually win the big game.
According to the preseason magazines' consensus rankings, the most viable contenders are USC, Oklahoma, Oregon and Florida State. BCS history says any team in the preseason top 20 is capable of rising to No. 1. But ending the SEC's streak won't come down to which challenger is the best or most talented. It'll be a matter of which team matches up the most.
To figure out which team that is, we must first look back and examine how exactly the past six BCS champions vanquished their title-game foes. We will then analyze which of this year's SEC contenders best fits its predecessors' prototype. And then, we'll survey the rest of the field to identify the most capable adversaries.
By now, we know well the traits most commonly associated with the SEC's recent dominance: speed and elite defensive linemen. Among the most common threads shared by the SEC's six consecutive national champions:
All six finished among the top 15 nationally in run defense, and three finished in the top five. None allowed more than 3.4 rush yards per attempt.
Five of the six ranked among the top five in pass efficiency defense, with 2010 Auburn (No. 76) the lone outlier.
Five of the six ran for at least 200 yards per game, with 2006 Florida (160.0) the lone outlier.
Only two of the six had a starting quarterback (Tim Tebow in 2008, Cam Newton in 2010) who ranked among the nation's top 20 in pass efficiency.
All had a positive turnover margin, with four of the six ranked in the top 25 nationally.
The teams combined to produce nine NFL first- or second-round defensive linemen, including at least one from every team except 2011 Alabama.
The teams outscored their opponents by an average margin of 37-15 during the regular season.
And now, let's examine some commonalities among the five Big Ten/Big 12/Pac-12 opponents these SEC champions vanquished (2011 LSU excluded).
Four of the five rushed for fewer than 200 yards per game, with 2010 Oregon (286.2) an extreme outlier.
All five had a quarterback ranked among the top 20 in pass efficiency.
Four of the five ranked in the top 20 in run defense, with none lower than 27th.
Four of the five ranked in the top 15 in turnover margin, with 2007 Ohio State (No. 76) an extreme outlier.
Four of the five ranked in the top five in sacks, with 2010 Oregon (No. 21) the lone outlier.
The teams combined to produce just two NFL first- or second-round offensive linemen -- both from 2008 Oklahoma.
The teams outscored their opponents by an average margin of 43-16 during the regular season.
While each title game played out differently, there are some notable general contrasts between the SEC teams and their non-SEC opponents. The non-SEC teams relied on highly efficient passers more than prolific rushing attacks, which came back to bite them when they couldn't protect those passers. The SEC teams ran the ball more consistently. While the SEC is known for its defensive linemen, the league's opponents generally racked up more sacks during the season. The opponents were also slightly better during the season at protecting the ball. And the NFL numbers confirm there's been an indisputable mismatch at the line of scrimmage.
Here's how that all played out on the field when the teams met for the title.
The SEC teams won by an average margin of 32-18 (excluding Alabama-LSU).
The SEC teams combined for an average of 3.8 sacks. Their foes managed five total.
Three of the five SEC teams ran for at least 200 yards; only one opponent did (2010 Oregon).
Only one SEC opponent (2010 Oregon) matched or exceeded its season passing average.
None of the SEC opponents gained more turnovers than it lost.
In summary: Over the past six years, the SEC's BCS champions have generally excelled by controlling the line of scrimmage, running the ball better, neutralizing the opposing quarterback and protecting the football.
With that blueprint established, it's time to examine which SEC team is best equipped to replicate the formula in 2012.