Mike Gundy was a little bit sorry, maybe even a little bit embarrassed by the whole thing.
His Oklahoma State team beat Savannah State 84-0 on Saturday. It was a record point total for a Big 12 team. Gundy pulled most of his starters after the first quarter, then pulled the second-teamers. Pretty much everybody on Oklahoma State’s roster got to play and still: 84-0.
The Cowboys literally couldn’t help it.
“We weren’t gonna just take a knee,” Gundy said. “We had to run our plays.”
And with that, the Big 12’s offensive identity was re-enforced yet again. For at least one more season it appears the Big 12 will boast the nation’s best offenses. Baylor scored 59 points on the opening weekend. West Virginia scored 69, Kansas State 51 and Texas Tech 44. TCU, which is expected to have one of the conference’s most explosive offenses, hasn’t even played yet.
Big 12 teams averaged 48.5 points over the opening weekend, by far the most of any of the six major conferences. The next closest was the SEC, which averaged 34 points per game, though it should be noted the SEC’s highest-scoring team last weekend was Missouri, which scored 62 points in its first game since leaving the Big 12.
It is a small sample size, to be sure. And we can’t assume that all opponents are created equal. Nobody in the Big 12 played another major-conference team last weekend, while Michigan was facing Alabama, Clemson played Auburn, Miami played Boston College, Northwestern played Syracuse, and so on.
But this isn’t just a one-week thing. If the Big 12 has had a collective identity the past 10 years or so, it has been that it is the conference in which you will see the most progressive and the most explosive offensive play. It has gotten to the point the Big 12 offense has become something of a regional export.
Mike Leach, who popularized the Air Raid offense at Texas Tech, is now in the Pac-12 at Washington State. West Virginia coach Dana Holgersen, who coached under Leach from 2000-07, then under Gundy in 2010, put 70 points on Clemson in last year’s Orange Bowl, then brought the Mountaineers to the Big 12 and debuted with a 69-point game against Marshall. Then there is Texas A&M offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury, who played for Leach in the early 2000s, and led the nation’s No. 1 offense at Houston last season. Oh, and Texas A&M’s head coach? It’s Kevin Sumlin, who was once the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma.
Although all those coaches don’t run the same scheme, what they do have in common is that their offensive philosophies are built on spacing and tempo. They aren’t so much trying to fool the defense as they are trying to challenge its stamina and ability to make plays in open space.
It isn’t a chess match; it’s checkers at 100 miles per hour. And nobody is better at it than the Big 12.
There are those out there who think this is changing, and those out there actively trying to change it. Texas coach Mack Brown is one of these people. He recently has said he is trying to move the Longhorns toward a more SEC-style game – stout defense, a good running game and the play-action pass. Now, he may be saying that because it happens to be the kind of team he has ended up with this season. But football is cyclical in nature. Today’s Air Raid is yesterday’s Run-N-Shoot. Ten years into the big offense era in Big 12 football, most of the conference’s defenses have now been recruited and trained to stop the spread. It may be that a school that can recruit the biggest and best offensive linemen, the speediest and most durable running backs and the most versatile tight ends – schools like Texas and Oklahoma – can re-assert their physical advantages by cycling back to the kind of football they played 10 or 15 years ago.
And it could be that this is the way the Big 12 is heading.
It could be that way. But isn’t that way just yet.