A Eulogy for Defense in the Big 12

I have been saying for a while that defense is dead in the Big 12, but after this past weekend, I think we can say it is really and truly gone.

Seven of the twelve member schools hit the 30-point mark, six of them surpassing 450 yards of total offense. The two showdowns between ranked schools produced 76 and 87 points, respectively. Kansas and Oklahoma surpassed 1,000 yards between them before the third quarter was even over.

Now look, as a Gator fan who grew up in the Steve Spurrier era, I love to watch teams play pitch and catch all over the field. At some point though, you have to stop someone. After all, Spurrer didn’t win his national title until he got Bob Stoops as his defensive coordinator.

How did this happen? The old Big Eight and Southwest Conferences used to be havens of defense and running, not this wide open passing stuff with defenders helplessly waving their arms at receivers as they run by.

Part of it has to do with the pass happy spread offenses that have flourished across the Big 12’s recruiting grounds. To adapt Bill Parcells’ old line, you want to cook recipes designed for the ingredients that you shop for. If all the best high school guys are coming from spread systems, it would make sense to run an offense that fits them so you can get peak production from them.

Ironically enough, on the coaching side it may have actually come to the Big 12 from the SEC. When he took over at Oklahoma, Stoops came back to the Big 12 after being the defensive coordinator under passing game genius Steve Spurrier. He saw how well pass-heavy schemes can work with top players. He also imported Mike Leach from Kentucky to run Leach’s variant of Hal Mumme’s Air Raid offense.

After one season Leach left to take over Texas Tech and Stoops got Mark Mangino as an offensive coordinator to run something similar. That combination resulted in a national championship in 2000.

Even after Mangino left to coach at Kansas, Stoops kept an offensive identity that favored lots of passing. It should be noted that Stoops and Mangino originated from the Bill Snyder coaching tree, and Snyder had some prolific offenses of his own led by guys like Michael Bishop, Ell Roberson, and Darren Sproles.

After OU’s national title, more and more guys with pass-friendly offenses found their way into the Big12, from Gary Pinkel in 2001 to Bill Callahan in 2004 to Mike Sherman in 2008. Now we stand with only three head coaches of the 12 that were not offensive coordinators or offensive assistants before becoming head coaches: Stoops, Gene Chizik, and Bo Pelini. Chizik is of course in the wastelands of Iowa State and Pelini hasn’t had enough time to turn around the disaster that Callahan left him.

Today, the highest-ranked team in total defense from the Big 12 is Oklahoma at No. 34 with 315 yards allowed per game. Only the Sun Belt Conference doesn’t have a team higher than that, and the Sooners just gave up 491 and 438 yards in back-to-back weekends.

The highest-ranked team in scoring defense from the Big 12 is Texas at No. 25 with 17 points allowed per game. Only the Sun Belt Conference and CUSA don’t have a team higher than that, and the Longhorns just gave up 31 and 35 points in back-to-back weekends. That ranking is built on things like giving up 10 points to FAU (116th in scoring offense), 10 to Arkansas (100th), and 14 to Colorado (87th).

Sure, Texas’ defensive line looked great against Mizzou. Brian Orakpo probably is unblockable against any offensive line in the country. We also must consider that the Tigers’ O-line had serious trouble against Oklahoma State, who is 108th in the country in sacks.

I don’t mean to make this out like the Big 12 is the only conference with a problem. The ACC and Big East are mired in general mediocrity all around. The Big Ten is a two-team conference thanks to the meltdowns at Michigan and Wisconsin. The Pac-10 is currently owned by the Mountain West, and despite the Trojans’ loss it looks like USC and the Nine Dwarfs again. The SEC is undergoing a lot of offensive transition, with seven schools having had a quarterback controversy at some point.

Still, for all the great quarterbacks the Big 12 has, they alone are not the reason why the Big 12 has had exploding offenses lately. There has been plenty of bad defense going around too, and it’s been that way for a couple of years now.

Say hello to the new WAC-y conference, the league that assumes the Pac-10’s old stereotype of all offense and no defense. Big 12, you’ve earned it.

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