Harris: SEC football faces a new threat — from within

Milling around near the Southeastern Conference’s throne, the court of conference fan bases is derisive in its assessment of the rabble pounding at the gates.

The monarch’s ultimate authority yields a morale-crushing belief in the superiority of defense coupled with risk-averse offense. It’s effective in its oppressive glory, and it plays well into regional pride — one proudly announced with chants of S-E-C.

That’s why fans from the Ozarks to the Lowcountry might be ill at ease this autumn. Possibly in store is a style predicated on aerial instead of ground delivery.

Blame it on Texas A&M, Missouri, Ole Miss, Auburn and Tennessee — fiefdoms led by spread offense gurus — for an SEC primed to be the nation’s top source of quarterbacks.

The statistics show the SEC leads the nation’s power conferences in returning starters who rank in the top 50 in completion percentage (six) and passer rating (five). It’s second in passing yardage behind only the ACC.

A brief glimpse might come next week in Thibodaux at Nicholls State, home to the Manning Passing Academy.

Ten starting quarterbacks might be counselors and available for an hour of media interrogation. Given it’s July and the calendar is light, the scrutinizing mob with recorders should be ample.

There’s little doubt about the merits of Alabama’s AJ McCarron, Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel and Georiga’s Aaron Murray. Instead, it’s the middle class signal callers — let’s call them the SEC’s bourgeoise — threatening a cultural shift.

At South Carolina, can Connor Shaw’s production (177.8 yards per game) expand to match his efficiency, hinted at by a 67.5 percent completion rate and a 158.1 passer ratting? Ole Miss’ Bo Wallace passed for 2,994 yards and 22 touchdowns last season, but will he pare down his 17 interceptions with prudent judgment? Florida’s Jeff Driskel is an able game manager, evidenced by his averaging only 137.2 yards per game and totalling 12 TDs last season, but is he the next Tim Tebow — all grit with scattershot arm?

And LSU’s Zach Mettenberger, who at 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds possesses coveted physical traits, is striving for consistency after putting up 2,609 yards but a pedestrian 58.8 completion percentage and 12 touchdowns against seven interceptions.

The ascent of potentially elite arms arrives as the SEC’s stable of running backs has ebbed.

South Carolina’s Marcus Lattimore and Alabama’s Eddie Lacy jumped to the NFL. Florida’s Mike Gillislee and Vanderbilt’s Zac Stacy graduated. At LSU, sophomore Jeremy Hill’s status is unclear after an arrest after an off-campus bar fight left him suspended indefinitely. Only Alabama’s T.J. Yeldon and Georgia’s Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall are ready-made ball-carriers rolling off the assembly line.

Entertaining as a shift might be, will changing the nature of the SEC’s seven-year BCS reign leave it vulnerable to a coup d’état?