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SEC vs. Big 12: What they're saying about the future of the Big 12

by Jenni Carlson Modified: August 25, 2013 at 10:00 am •  Published: August 25, 2013

With the stranglehold that the SEC has on the national championship, what does the future look like for the Big 12?

We asked three football analysts:


Former NFL running back and current ESPN analyst

Q: Up-tempo, spread offenses have become the rage in the Big 12. Could that help the league end the SEC's run?

A: “I don't know that up-tempo's going to be the answer because a lot of other teams are using it, even inside the SEC now. Hugh Freeze at Mississippi. Auburn's going to have Gus Malzahn. Of course we saw what Texas A&M was able to do in their first year in the conference. It's not like (SEC defenses) are going to be surprised by what they see.”

Do you think they were last year by A&M?

“A little bit. You look at the beginnings of the Florida and the LSU games, you look at the beginning of the Alabama game, down 20-0 ... everybody watches film, but it's something different to see it on game day. Your guys don't run it with the same tempo in practice. And even if they're trying to get the same tempo, they don't run it with the same efficiency because it's not the offense that they run.”

Sort of like trying to prepare for a bowl game against Navy and the triple option?

“Exactly. The triple option's a great example. But I think it's going to take some defensive improvement (in the Big 12). You're going to need to get some of those guys, especially on the defensive line, that the Big 12 just doesn't seem to have as much of these days. You had the (Alex) Okafors, you had the Gerald McCoys, you had some guys sprinkled here and there in the last couple years, but you haven't seen them across the board, so you're going to have to have some kind of presence like that. The offenses are going to be fine, but you're going to need more of a defensive presence.”

Lots of high schools in the Big 12 footprint run spread offenses, and kids who could be defensive linemen might say, “I want to be part of that instead of defending it.” Does that add to the struggle of recruiting game-changing defensive linemen?

“There aren't a lot of those guys in the country, first of all. There a lot of 6-foot-3, 6-foot-4 guys. There are a lot of 300-pound guys. There are very few that combine that with athleticism. They're not easy to find. They can be found, but it's not always easy. And of course, you have up-tempo offenses, you've got to have more than one or two of them because you've got to be able to rotate them throughout the course of the game. They're out there to be had, but you have to find them and you have to bring them in and develop them. A lot easier said than done.”

If you're a defensive line recruit and you see how many plays you may have to play in the Big 12, is that a tough sell for coaches?

“Very interesting question. It might have been more of an issue two or three years ago again because you're seeing it more and more around the country now. You go to the SEC, you're going to have to face it. You go to the Pac-12, you're sure going to have to face it. Big Ten's really the only conference that you don't have more than one team doing it consistently. I guess you had Michigan with Denard (Robinson) and now Urban (Meyer) at Ohio State, but I think it could discourage some guys. But the key is to get that momentum. Get one or two guys in there, then they get some people to follow, then you get that depth and those guys know they don't have to take 60, 70 of those snaps themselves. You're going to have 80 or 90 snaps defensively, but you're not going to have to take more than 75 or 80 percent of them.”

Look into the crystal ball. Five years from now, what does the Big 12 look like?


Is it still all about spread offenses? Does it crack the SEC stranglehold on titles?

“First of all, I think there will be a national championship appearance at least in the next couple years. Kind of hard to tell who that is. (Laughs.) The crystal ball is not that clear. But as far as what college football is going to look like, I think the spread offenses are here to stay, the up-tempo is here to stay. You're going to see more and more of it, especially as you see the league incorporating more of those principles. High schools are already doing it. A lot of the players are going to want to do it in college because they're familiar with it, and then the college players, they're going to make part of their decision — ‘Can I go to a place that's going to prepare me for the NFL?'”


Former NFL running back and current Fox analyst

Q: The up-tempo and spread offenses, when you look into the future for the Big 12, do you see even more of it?

A: “Yeah, and that's one reason why I think (Alabama coach) Nick Saban raised that question — the uptempo offenses are leading to more injuries, which I don't think is true. What it does is it puts a lot of pressure on the defense. If you're a bigger defensive lineman, it's tough for you to get more sacks, it's tough for you to stay on the field because it's wearing on your conditioning. And that's due to the fact that those schools like the Alabamas and LSUs have better athletes depth-wise on the offensive and defensive lines. In order to compete with them, up-tempo offense and the pace puts a lot of pressure on them. It's a totally different style of play. I think Texas A&M and (Kevin) Sumlin really surprised a lot of people with their pace with what they were able to do and caught a lot of teams off guard, especially Alabama. It took them toward the second half at that game in Tuscaloosa to really catch on to what they were doing. You start to get the athletes that you're recruiting at Alabama and LSU to A&M and schools in the Big 12, then it could be a problem.”

If the Big 12 continues the trend toward up-tempo and spread and scoring a bunch of points, is that the answer to stopping the SEC's run of national titles?

“You have to win. It puts pressure on, but you ultimately have to beat those teams. It hasn't been close the last few years. I see a lot of teams doing it. The Pac-12, they're doing more spread offense. The Big Ten is starting to do it a little bit more. You see Ohio State do it a little bit. Michigan has certain nuances of it in their offense. Northwestern and so forth. But I think this is an evolution of offense that we're going to see for quite some time. The traditional way of lining up in the I and coming down hill is becoming a thing of the past.”

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by Jenni Carlson
Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football...
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