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.