Okay, hang on though…
As a Texas guy who’s watched the Longhorns languish the entire decade due to self-made problems while the league’s reputation and leverage across the sport has declined, I’ve got a fairly good view of what exactly the Big 12 is and what it isn’t.
It isn’t the SEC, the passion level and interest isn’t there, the investment isn’t there, and the talent isn’t there. Something this decade has made pretty clear is that when Texas or Oklahoma aren’t good enough to snag the blue chip recruits within Texas, those players don’t then say “we’ll, maybe I’ll give TCU or Baylor a look.” I mean some of the wide receivers have, sure, or the occasional Andrew Billings or other 4-star dude, but the majority of them are instead looking out of state to go to LSU, Alabama, Notre Dame, Stanford, or whoever else is offering something comparable to a Texas or OU offer when Texas and OU are on top.
In particular, the SEC has a massive demographic advantage over the B12 which tends to manifest in the SEC having a much larger supply of 250+ pound plus athletes to man their DL. They also tend to have better athletes on the OL and more freak athletes in general.
The SEC generally plays better football than the Big 12, but not really because of tactics or other factors but because of superior resources and talent. The league was circling the drain for a while because everyone was trying to copy Nick Saban and hire all of his assistants which remarkably didn’t serve to weaken Alabama much while also failing to boost their competitors.
Anyways, Senator Blutarksy, Allen Kenney, and myself have been having an indirect, three-way debate over the nature of SEC and B12 defense after Kenney’s boy Lincoln Riley made a comment about Georgia’s defense and how their numbers wouldn’t look so good if they’d been playing B12 offenses rather than their SEC East slate.
The most recent volley I’ve seen on this topic came from the good Senator over on his blog. In this comment he was taking apart a comment by someone called Shane Beamer who’s apparently the son of Frank Beamer and a 2017 Kirby Smart staffer who is now an assistant coach at OU. Beamer’s argument was that the Big 12 runs more plays than the SEC, so of course they give up more yards. Blutarsky noted that this isn’t factual before moving on to my recent piece about the breakthrough of dime defense in the Big 12 in 2017.
Hmmm… so let me see if I’ve got this straight: experience trumps talent and the most successful base defense has been the dime package. No wonder the rest of the world fails to appreciate something special about the Big 12’s defensive prowess.
He also bolded my comment about counting Travin Howard as a LB/S hybrid because he weighed like 210 and was literally a converted safety that played his first year at LB at something like 190 pounds.
Now, some responses:
Of course experience trumps talent.
Georgia just went to the championship game and took a 13-0 lead into halftime before Nick Saban pulled a freshman QB-led comeback out of his butt to save the day with a senior-led defense that included multiple former 3-stars in the starting lineup that included some of the best players. Aaron Davis was a lynchpin to Georgia’s packages and the dude was a former walk-on and 0-star recruit.
Now obviously these guys were pretty dang good, but so are some of the lower-ranked players the B12 leans on in recruiting, especially if they get four or five years in college to develop under good coaching.
There are positions where you can get away with youth at times, but you bet on the team with redshirted upperclassmen 2/3 stars over a team with 4/5 star underclassmen nine times out of ten. I’m sure someone will fire back at this with some example of an SEC team that featured a few 4/5 star player in a crucial role that was excellent, that example will also invariably be of a team where those blue chippers were surrounded by experience all around them.
Skill development and maturity is extremely important, 34-year old LeBron James was arguably the best one yet (outlier, I know). In the Big 12 this is particularly true because the high volume of deep passing and spread spacing means that success and mistakes count for more.
Dime defense was an integral part of both Georgia and Alabama’s runs.
Georgia had a 3-2-6 that they leaned on very heavily against spread sets and on passing downs all season long. Alabama spent nearly the entire playoff in either nickel or dime.
If either team had been in the Big 12, regularly facing four-wide sets and tempo with deep shots from Mason Rudolph to James Washington, they’d have played a lot more dime than we even saw in 2017.
People think that SEC defenses built around big DL and LBs is superior but that’s only because those teams aren’t defending as many great spread teams and when they do they play a lot more nickel and dime and people just don’t notice it.
Clemson beat Alabama on that fateful drive in 2017 facing a dime package from Saban and Smart. It’s really freaking hard to stop a high level passing game, particularly if the QB is mobile. More Big 12 fans should regret that Colt McCoy went down early in the 2010 Rose Bowl or this fact would be more obvious today.
The B12 is driving strategic and tactical innovations right now, even if their teams aren’t as good.
Something that most fans of all conferences don’t really understand is that if they think the B12 is weak right now, they should try to imagine what it’d be like if the coaching wasn’t so great.
Gary Patterson’s 4-2-5 defense was revolutionary for the college game and Saban runs something very similar today, before that the Stoops brothers and Brent Venables were driving smaller, faster, aggressive defenses at Oklahoma in the early 2000s.
I was watching Arkansas to scout Cole Kelley recently for an upcoming SB Nation piece and I noticed that even BRET FREAKING BIELEMA had his team in the shotgun running RPOs off their runs last season! Nick Saban adopted that with Lane Kiffin several years prior and Missouri set records last year torching the SEC East with a Briles-style approach to offense.
It’s silly for the SEC and their fans to sit back and laugh at the Big 12 all the while stealing all of their tactical innovations, it just is.
Here were the scores from this last bowl season when SEC teams took on spread offenses:
Texas 33, Missouri 16
Wake Forest 55, Texas A&M 52
Miss State 31, Louisville 27
Alabama 24, Clemson 6
Georgia 54, Oklahoma 48
Do you see domination of the spread offense in these scores? Anything for SEC fans to boast about in terms of the superiority of their defensive units in shutting down the offenses that give less talented teams problems? Looks to me like Big 12 offenses, while certainly difficult for the less talented Big 12 defenses to stop, are not terribly easy for SEC defenses either.
Once again, the SEC is basically coasting off the accomplishments of Alabama…