Offense sells tickets, Bear Bryant once said, but defense wins championships. That quote has been adopted as gospel, largely because its author was the greatest college football coach of his time. With six national championships to his name, Bear Bryant knew a thing or three about what it took to win titles.
Bryant's wisp of back-porch wisdom may have been true at the time, but it's not anymore. In 2021, offense wins championships.
Look no further than Bryant's own Crimson Tide. Alabama romped to the 2020 title thanks to, arguably, the greatest offense in college football history. The Tide led the country (minimum five games) by scoring 48.5 points per game. Their 7.81 yards per play were the second most in the country. Their 198.99 passing efficiency was the highest in college football.
"It used to be if you had a good defense, other people weren't going to score. You were always going to be in the game," Nick Saban told ESPN this fall. "I'm telling you. It ain't that way anymore."
Saban rode his record-breaking offense to his seventh national title, passing Bryant for the most in college football.
Looking back to 2019, the team with the nation's best offense also happened to be the nation's best team. LSU led FBS with 48.4 points per game on their way to the 2019 crown.
In the NFL, four teams are still alive to win Super Bowl LV: Kansas City, Buffalo, Green Bay and Tampa Bay. As it happens, those teams are four of the top six on the NFL's scoring charts:
1. Green Bay -- 31.8 points per game
2. Buffalo -- 31.3
3. Tampa Bay -- 30.8
4. Tennessee -- 30.7
5. New Orleans -- 30.1
6. Kansas City -- 29.6
In 2019, the Super Bowl participants were San Francisco (29.9 points per game, No. 2) and Kansas City (28.2, No. 5).
The four conference finalists are quarterbacked by the most accomplished player in NFL history (Tom Brady), the most efficient quarterback in NFL history (Aaron Rodgers), the youngest MVP and Super Bowl MVP in league history (Patrick Mahomes) and a first-round pick (Josh Allen).
In college, Joe Burrow won the Heisman in 2019, and Mac Jones finished third and might've won the award if not for his own wide receiver, DeVonta Smith.
None of this is new, secret information. I'm under no illusion that I'm breaking your brain with earth-shattering insight. Quite the opposite. The only injury to your brain here should be the force with which your palm smacks your forehead with how mind-thuddingly obvious this all is.
Of course scoring is important. Of course it's important to have elite quarterback play.
And, no, by telling you that offense is important, I'm not saying defense is not important. You won't see many teams lift trophies by winning 52-49 each week, just as you didn't see many champions of the 1950s, 60s and 70s scraping by with 10-7 win after 10-7 win.
You'd rather be elite on both sides of the ball, because of course you would. Alabama was 13th in scoring defense this fall, and LSU was 31st a year ago. Not elite-of-the-elite, but certainly not bad, either. Kansas City finished seventh in scoring defense last year, and this year's four finalists are eighth, 11th, 13th and 16th. If you'd like to bring a counter-point to this argument, you'd say Clemson led FBS in scoring defense en route to their 2018 title and Alabama did the same in 2017.
Defense still matters, but if you could only be elite on one side of the ball in 2021 and beyond, you'd pick offense every time.
Because offense wins championships.