The rough-and-tumble Big Ten can put up gaudy score lines, too.
Ohio State scored 63 points last weekend, Michigan 44. After a paltry start, Penn State is pouring it on with 34 points or more in three of its last four games. Nebraska has yet to dip below the 30-point mark. As the season approaches its midway point, half of the teams in the conference so gritty the colors of its logo are black and blue are averaging 30 points or more.
"I think that's where college football is today," Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said Tuesday. "Just to watch the way everybody is in a spread mentality, is playing with tempo, it's just a matter of time until teams score when you've got the defense out there as long as you are."
Scoring has been on the rise across the nation, thanks largely to the proliferation of spread and pro-style offenses and the introduction of the running 40-second clock. Three years after Boise State and Houston were the only two teams to average more than 40 points a game, at 42.2 each, 17 schools are scoring 40 or more. Five teams are scoring in the 50s, led by Oklahoma State with 55.8 points per game.
It's not only the traditionally prolific schools piling up the points, either. Texas A&M, better known for its "Wrecking Crew" defense, is averaging almost 45 points a game, eighth most in the country.
"Football is a trendy sport, by nature," Penn State coach Bill O'Brien said.
Yes, but trendy and Big Ten don't usually go together.
Scan the yearly list of the Big Ten's leader in scoring offense, and you'll see a lot of numbers in the 20s and 30s. Oh, sure, a 40 would show up every once in a while (40.0 by Ohio State in 1969 or 48.1 by Penn State in 1994). Most years, however, reflected the conference and its grind-it-out nature.
Then, in 1997, Joe Tiller arrived at Purdue, bringing his "basketball on grass" offense — and a kid named Drew Brees — with him. Pretty soon, that old notion that pro-style, pass-happy offenses couldn't work in the snow and cold of the Midwest had been turned on its head. Same for the idea that the only good football game was a 9-6 slugfest.
Wisconsin led the league with 43 points per conference game last year, and 45.2 the year before that. It was the first time ever the league's scoring average leader had topped 40 in back-to-back years. And it could be three in a row, with Nebraska currently averaging almost 44 points a game, 10th highest in the country.
"With the rise in talent level offensively and the things people are doing conceptually, it's been a big positive," Michigan State coach Mark D'Antonio said. "The defense is working in those same realms. But ... since I was a defensive coordinator back in '02, 03, the game has changed dramatically."