How the SEC cornered the market on big-boy football

The Big 12's high scoring football entertains. but on the biggest stages, the SEC imposes its style and will.
by Berry Tramel Modified: August 29, 2013 at 9:00 am •  Published: August 25, 2013
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Alabama center Ryan Kelly: “I think it's the speed, honestly. Obviously, I haven't been in any other conference, but the speed down here…”

Glier, the author: “People always talk about the speed of the SEC. It's not just the speed. It's the size and the speed and the versatility of the offense and defense. That's why the SEC is Goliath. It has taken an imprint of the NFL and laid it over the top of its programs.”

Don't get the wrong idea about the SEC. Just because Alabama and LSU played two epic yawners in the 2011 season – LSU won 9-6 in overtime, then Bama won 21-0 in the title game, and one meaningless touchdown was scored in both games combined – doesn't mean the SEC can't produce offense.

In fact, don't look now, but the SEC clearly will trump the Big 12 in quality quarterbacking for 2013. Georgia's Aaron Murray, Alabama's A.J. McCarron, South Carolina's Connor Shaw, LSU's Zach Mettenberger and the frisky little guy down in College Station that perhaps has caught your eye, Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel.

The SEC's dominance prompted Texas coach Mack Brown to adopt an if-you-can't-beat-‘em-join-‘em philosophy. After UT's 2009 title game loss to Alabama, in which spread-formation quarterback Colt McCoy was injured, Brown decided to move the Longhorns to more of a power-based offense, ala the SEC.

“I've never really said I want to be SEClike,” Brown said. “I think people said that because we wanted to run the ball better, and the SEC is a league that runs the ball really well. The Big 12 has been known for passing.”

“With Colt, when he got hurt in the national championship game against Alabama in '09, they had two backs rush for 100 yards, and we couldn't run the ball.  When we were playing a freshman quarterback, it had us at a true disadvantage in a championship game.

“Our key at that time was to go back and run the ball better, and that hasn't changed.”

That's all that hasn't changed for the ‘Horns. After three seasons that range from disastrous (5-7 in 2010) to so-so (8-5, 9-4), Brown has again claimed the if-you-can't-beat-‘em-join-‘em philosophy. He has Texas running the uptempo, no-huddle that is predominant in the Big 12.

While SEC teams huddle up so they can chant things like fee-fi-fo-fum, Big 12 offenses turn the game into a hockey match, with frantic substitutions and quick snaps. They wouldn't huddle if a dust storm blew in.

It's a fascinating contrast of styles, and clearly, the SEC's style is winning. Has the style created the dominance? Or has the dominance elevated the style?

It's not like the SEC hasn't won with spread offenses. Urban Meyer coached Florida to two national titles with the spread. And Auburn's Cam Newton in 2010 was a quarterback phenom to rival the likes of Vince Young and Robert Griffin III.

But those teams, like LSU in 2007 and Alabama three of the last four years, also had those burly offensive linemen and hard-charging tailbacks and defensive linemen that made NFL scouts drool.

A bunch of big ol' boys who played big-boy football and still do.


by Berry Tramel
Columnist
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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