Some football truths we hold to be self-evident. Like this one: Offensive lines are the broad shoulders to success. The coal miners and meat packers who determine victory or defeat while the pretty boys receive the cheers. Only one problem. It’s not so evident anymore. Oh, they still make blockers like they used to. Even better. Bigger, stronger, quicker, tougher. Smarter, too. Smartest guys on the field, next to the quarterback. It’s not the linemen who have changed. It’s the game. Spread formations. Quick passes. Quarterbacks who wouldn’t know a pocket if you sewed one on their forehead. College football has changed, and offensive line play isn’t as valuable as it once was. "To a certain degree, absolutely,” said Oklahoma defensive coordinator Brent Venables. "You can perform at a higher level with less up front, no question.” Many of Venables’ comrades disagree. Some of his players aren’t buying it. "Offensive line is huge for every team,” said Sooner linebacker Ryan Reynolds. "The game starts up front. Without a good offensive line or defensive line, you can’t go very far.” Well, we’re not talking about D-lines. We’re talking about O-lines. We’re talking about Texas Tech. Look at Mike Leach’s vaunted spread offense. It’s not predicated on forming a Berlin Wall to keep out the infidels. Tech moves the ball by its formation spreading defenses, its receivers finding open seams and its heady quarterbacks firing quick passes. That’s not to say Tech’s linemen get sand kicked in their face. Leach doesn’t trot out the first five guys who drive in from Abilene. But the Secret Service mentality — five dead-quiet ruffians who will fight to the death to keep the barbarians at the gate — is not necessary in Lubbock. Just get in the way for one one-thousand, two one-thousand, bam! The ball is airborne. Oklahoma State doesn’t use Leach’s offense, but it’s the same effect. Spread the field, build more lanes on the freeway, and traffic isn’t nearly as congested. OSU creates run-game space with its spread. "What offenses have found, when you’re running two-back (non-spread), it goes back to personnel,” said State offensive line coach Joe Wickline. "What you can get on the bus.” But since teams decided to quit losing games before they started, outmanned offenses can spread out, making defenses line up sideline to sideline, and create gaps. "When you get enough of that going on, then you hand it off and run right down the middle,” Wickline said. "That gives defenses problems. Are you going to defend the core or defend the flat?” Please understand. This is no pronouncement that offensive lines don’t matter anymore. Blocking still ranks with tackling as central to this game. "You still gotta get hats on hats, no matter what the scheme is,” said OU O-line coach James Patton. The Sooners know that better than most. Put a hat on Florida defensive tackle Torrey Davis on those two goal-line plays last January, and maybe the Sooners are national champs. OU still likes to play smashmouth on occasional downs, which is why they still make room for Haystack Calhouns on the line. But there is no question that offensive lines’ value has diminished. There once was no other way to move the football other than knock defenders off the ball or give the quarterback ample time to throw. The Big Ten model reigned supreme; 300-pounders with tree trunks for necks opening holes for hard-charging tailbacks. Not so anymore, in these days of Mike Leach and Boise State and Wake Forest making the Orange Bowl. "Lot of ways to skin a cat,” Wickline said. Some of those ways include spreading the field and letting defenders go unblocked, because they’ll be too far out of position to make a play. You don’t need meat packers for that. Berry Tramel: 405-760-8080; Berry Tramel can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including AM-640 and FM-98.1.