DALLAS — One after another, Big 12 coaches took their turn at the microphones Monday and Tuesday, spewing superlatives about the league's offenses.
And dodging questions about their lacking defenses.
What has this modern Big 12 become, the old WAC?
In a sense, yes.
“When you're happy to win a game 56-50,” said Texas coach Mack Brown, “things have changed.”
That's the way it was in the Wild, Wild WAC of the 1970s, '80s and '90s. Offense rolled and ruled, with a surplus of passing and points at a time when the power conferences were generally still grinding out games on the ground.
Maybe the WAC was just ahead of its time. Spread offenses have made passing — and scoring — the priority at so many schools across the country. And nowhere, it seems, is the theme more embraced than the Big 12.
A year ago, nine of the conference's 10 squads scored at least 51 points in a game, and several did it multiple times. Six league schools finished among the top 20 nationally in scoring offense, with five ranking among the top 10 in passing offense. Contributing to the firepower are offensive schemes that take advantage of no huddling and fast-tempo, limiting what defenses can do in terms of substitution and down-to-down adjustments.
“I do think the offenses in the Big 12 are the most difficult to defend in the country,” Brown said.
They are certainly difficult for Big 12 teams to defend. Because all those points have to come at somebody's expense. And nine league defenses surrendered at least 49 in a game.
And that's the rub. The proliferation of spread offenses has proved to be an equalizer in the Big 12, with more shootouts resulting in more upsets, if they can even be called that. Parity has clearly arrived, making it harder and harder to venture unscathed through the conference schedule, thus making it difficult to factor in the national title chase.
It's possible that the offensive explosion has raised the Big 12's floor, but lowered its ceiling.
Oklahoma State and Kansas State have claimed conference titles the past two seasons, ending a Texas and Oklahoma stronghold. Baylor has become a dangerous offense and team. Same for West Virginia and expect it again with Texas Tech, now that Kliff Kingsbury has returned to reinstitute the spread in Lubbock.
This year's preseason Big 12 media poll shows six teams receiving first-place votes.
And it's all because of the offenses.
“We'll see how the defenses do against the offenses this year in the Big 12,” said TCU coach Gary Patterson. “We'll see if we've caught up any.”
And Patterson didn't sound optimistic.
Among the league's coaches, the predominant storyline — and it may just be spin — is that the Big 12 doesn't so much have a defensive problem, as a defensive perception problem. The faster play of the offenses results in more plays. And new math or old, more plays equals more yards.
“I think the style of play dictates a lot of times how one side of the ball is predicted,” said Baylor coach Art Briles, whose 2012 team led the league in touchdowns (78) and finished second in scoring (44.5).
“In the Big 12, there's guys on offense trying to score every snap.”
Also in the Big 12, there are elite quarterbacks.
“I think you have to give credit to every year, it seems, in our league there's some incredible quarterbacks,” said Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops. “You see a good number of them littered throughout the NFL once they leave here.”
Last year in the NFL, three conference quarterbacks started as rookies. And among the NFL's 32 franchises, six starting quarterbacks are recent Big 12 alums. And more are either on the verge, or backups.
“To me, the better the quarterback, whether it's in the NFL or in college football,” Stoops said, “the harder they are to stop.”
That's the way it was in the WAC, too, where BYU churned out NFL quarterbacks like Steve Young, Jim McMahon and Ty Detmer and the league's other schools had QBs making runs at the NCAA record books.
Maybe the Big 12 is ahead of its time.
NFL teams are employing more and more no-huddle and hurry-up concepts. And it's leading to more plays and yards and points.
“The offenses have pretty much taken over football,” said Eddie George, the former college and NFL standout who is now a television analyst for Fox. “You look at it, the up-tempo offense is being incorporated into a lot of different teams. A lot of teams are going with the no-huddle, even going into the NFL.
“You're going to see teams like Jacksonville run a no-huddle offense. You're going to see the New England Patriots doing it. You see Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos do it. It's really become the trend in football period, and I think the Big 12 does it the best.
“Every single week, as an analyst, I love it because it's never a dull moment. I love the scoring.”