Last year, the Big 12 was a flutter with big time scoring led by big time spread offenses. This year, it’s more of a sputtering of offense here and there. Sure, there have been big scores but it’s mainly been in the form of blowouts. Shootouts are rare this year as we’re seeing scores like last week’s 10-7 barn burner in Lincoln. Where did the offense go? Did the defense show back up? A couple of factors help lead into why we are seeing such a down turn in offense this year.
First off, let’s take a look at last year. It was a wild west shoot out for the year of 2008. Quarterbacks like Sam Bradford, Colt McCoy, Graham Harrell, Chase Daniels, Josh Freeman, Zac Robinson, and Todd Reesing lit up the scoreboards. People were wondering where the defense went. It wasn’t uncommon to see 40 plus points on both sides of the field. The action was exciting and you never new when a big play would pop and change the outlook of the game.
So what happened between the end of last year and this year. Well, first off, about half of last years quarterbacks graduated and left for the NFL draft. Some of them were drafted, others got jobs in the league. If it wasn’t for both Colt McCoy and Sam Bradford returning, the league would be even weaker in terms of quarterback play. Also, defensive minded coaches took jobs here. Bill Snyder 2.0 returned for the trenches to boot out hack Ron Prince at Kansas State. Paul Rhoads traded jobs (sorta) with Gene Chizik for Iowa State and Auburn, respectively.
Now let’s take a look at this year. Right out of the gates, trouble was brewing. Sam Bradford eating a soon to be college career ending shoulder injury tripped up Oklahoma. Texas Tech’s Taylor Potts suffering a concussion also tripped up Mike Leech’s squad. Nebraska’s quarterback situation never solidified. Chase Daniels replacement, Blaine Gabbert, is playing like a freshmen. Todd Reesing lost his mojo fast. The only high powered offenses that are still chugging along are Texas and Oklahoma State’s.
Defense is coming back. Paul Rhoads led a decent SEC defense in Auburn and is turning that around at Iowa State. In his first year as head coach, they are one win away from bowl eligibility. Speaking of being bowl eligible, Bill Snyder 2.0 brought back fundamentals (ball control and defense) and is poised to win the Big 12 North in his first year. Bo Pelini was a defensive guy at LSU and the black shirts are back in Nebraska. If they beat Kansas State and one other team, they will win the Big 12 North. The pendulum swings back to defense this year.
So where do we go from this year? Chances are the seeds planted for defense will bloom fully next year. We will also see some of the younger quarterbacks mature and take their place in the league. Blaine Gabbert is a little injured but he will have a year under the belt. Landry Jones took over for Sam Bradford and actually leads all freshmen in touchdown passes. So there’s hope for some offense, just not as much as last year.
This is what makes the league more entertaining. Shootouts are fun, but it doesn’t compare to the drama of hard hitting plays and defensive stops. The scores mean more when it happens less and less. It also toughens up the teams so when they go to bowls, they can take it out on the other leagues. Balance has returned to the Big 12 and even though it makes the conference as a whole look weaker, it will pay off in the years ahead.