Touchdowns flowed and constantly flipping numbers gave scoreboards a look of pinball machines.
And across the country, critics cried out a defining theme on the 2011 Big 12 football season: Where's the defense?
When the scoring trend hit the SEC this season, even delivering a 59-42 conference championship clash, those same critics sounded off again:
What a game!
In a highly partisan college football universe, the spin always shines favor on the SEC. So even if their defenses took a statistical dive in 2013, the SEC offenses sure were divine.
Yet here in the Homeland, Sooners and Cowboys dig past the spin and the SEC adoration seeking optimism for their underdog tasks taking on Alabama and Missouri in January bowl games.
And maybe, just maybe, that hope is defense — both their own, and their foes.
“I've had the chance to watch some of those SEC defenses,” said OSU linebacker Shaun Lewis, “I mean, they're good, but I think we can compete over there, too.”
We're about to find out.
“It's going to be a good challenge,” said OU defensive back Gabe Lynn, “but yeah, we're kind of sick of being overlooked.”
Recalling 2011, the tipping point turned on defense. Perception was, the SEC had it; the Big 12 did not.
So instead of an OSU inclusion in the BCS championship game, LSU and Alabama played an all-SEC rematch, avoiding altogether any intrigue into how they might handle a conference that delivered NFL quarterbacks in Robert Griffin III, Ryan Tannehill, Brandon Weeden and Landry Jones, not to mention current SEC sensation James Franklin of Missouri, whom the Cowboys will now have to contend with in the Cotton Bowl.
The result, of course, was a yawner, 21-0 Bama.
Meanwhile, OSU did its thing in the Fiesta Bowl, winning 41-38 in an overtime thriller against Stanford. And the question of what the Cowboys might have done against LSU — the Tigers were No. 1 entering the postseason — was left to wonder.
Alas, the Big 12 and SEC can finally address that old argument, although the storyline has flipped.
The 2011 national commentary centered around the SEC defenses, which featured six teams in the top 25 of the national rankings in scoring defense.
The Big 12 offered no defenses for the top 25 that year, with the Sooners representing the best at No. 31 — OSU was down the list at 61 — yet featured five top 25 scoring offenses and four in the first 11, with the Cowboys No. 2 and the Sooners No. 10.
Meanwhile, no SEC offenses made the top 10, with Arkansas tops at No. 15.
Two years later, the Big 12 has more teams in the scoring defense top 25, although Bama still holds strong at No. 2. And the SEC boasts six of the top 21 scoring offenses, with only Baylor and OSU among the group.
What has changed?
“The scores are increased by two things, in my opinion,” OSU coach Mike Gundy said of the SEC. “The teams don't huddle up and they have NFL-type quarterbacks.
“When I did have time to watch SEC games, their scores were higher than what I ever remember them being.”
Among immediate NFL draft prospects at quarterback, LSU's Zach Mettenberger, Alabama's A.J. McCarron, Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel and Georgia's Aaron Murray are all highly rated. From the Big 12, only Baylor's Bryce Petty is considered a next-level signal caller.
The new SEC now resembles the 2011 Big 12, having moved away from power offenses to more spread, no-huddle attacks that feature playmakers in space.
“They understand schemes very well and how to attack coverage and how to attack weaknesses of certain coverages,” OU defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said of the Crimson Tide. “You have to be aware of what's going on.
“There's a lot of movement in their offense. And understanding where we need to be and why we need to be there, I think, is critical.”
At least it's a look the Sooners and Cowboys are used to seeing.
“The coincidence is,” said Lewis, “those are the same offenses that are run over here for the most part.”
Within that lies the bad news for the Sooners and Cowboys, considering the SEC now has the NFL-style quarterbacks, while the Big 12 does not.
So what do the numbers really mean? Are the SEC defenses still stout, yet now reflective of what happens when you face elite quarterbacks at the controls of spread offenses? And likewise, are the Big 12's improved defensive statistics simply a result of a drop-off behind center?
The updated storyline, it seems, has yet to fully play out.
Alabama surrendered 42 points in a win over Texas A&M and 34 in their lone loss to Auburn. And because of SEC scheduling, the Tide avoided the strong offenses of Missouri, South Carolina and Georgia.
Missouri thrived in outscoring foes, although it was on the losing end of that 59-42 SEC championship shootout with Auburn.
So maybe, just maybe, the hope for the Cowboys and Sooners is defense — both their own, and their foes.