December 17, 2007

Big Ten = Finesse? Welcome to the "Spread Ten"

In case you hadn't heard Michigan has hired the former West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez. This continues to move the Big Ten to the spread conference.

Spread Offenses

Elements of Spread
Penn State - usually 1 back, 3 WR
Michigan State

Power I
Ohio State

That leaves us with over 1/2 of the conference running versions of the spread offense and a couple more that are pretty close. Just 2 years ago this was still a power conference. But move the gophers from the best running offense in the country to a spread and then move your traditional power team like Michigan to the spread for 2008 and officially the balance of the conference has shifted.

Remember when the Big Ten was considered your typical midwestern, tough guy conference? Those days are getting further away in your rear-view mirror.

In the other BCS conferences you have a handful of teams in each that use elements of the spread but fewer teams that are true spread offenses. The Big 12 for example only has 3 teams that are true spreads, but teams like Texas, Kansas, and A&M use elements of the spread. Gaging which teams are "true spreads" and which teams are using pieces of it is difficult to determine, and I don't watch enough to have a firm grasp on every BCS team, but it is noteworthy that 55% of the conference is running this fashionable offense.

What exactly is my point? Well, as usual I'm not sure I have one, but this brings up several questions in my mind...

Is this just a coincidence that so many Big Ten teams are moving in this direction?

I'm sure every school has a different rea.son they are now spread teams.

  • Minnesota - Brewster wants to use it as a recruiting tool.
  • Michigan - they hired a coach, not a system. The spread just comes with it.
Did the rest implement the system early to try and differentiate themselves from the traditional B10 power? Northwestern rode it to a Rose Bowl berth, Purdue was close but couldn't get over the hump of the big dogs, Indiana was always bad and needed something to close the gap

Is this a sub conscience effort to get the Big Ten back as the best football conference in the country?

The perception that the SEC just has too much speed for the plodding Big Ten is widely accepted as fact (whether or not it is actually true). Is this offense a tool to become more relevant and productive? Will it really make a difference? I believe that it doesn't matter what system you run, if you run it well and have the players to run it then you can win as many games as you want.

The gopher offense under Glen Mason was consistently putting up as many yards and points as the spread offenses around the country. If they would have had some talent on defense there is no reason they couldn't have become more nationally relevant. And to refute the SEC Speed argument they did beat 9-4 Arkansas in 2003 and Alabama in 2005.

I don't think conscientiously this has anything to do with getting back to national prominence as a conference. But will that be a byproduct?

What does this do with recruiting?

Brewster thinks that running the spread is a "fun" offense that will be appealing to kids in recruiting. This may be very true, but will it be hard to recruit the speed and skill position players necessary to succeed with the spread when your recruiting base is the midwest?

While the "southern speed" concept often makes me throw up in my mouth a little bit because it is so overused, but there is some truth to it. Recruiting guru Tom Lemming points out,
"There's a lot of big kids in Chicago. You get a lot of the bigger people living here, like the Germans, Polish, and Scandinavians. It's the same in Minnesota and Wisconsin and around the Midwest. You go to Wisconsin and no matter how many top players you're looking at, a lot of them are going to be big linemen, like 30 or 40 of them. But if you go down south, you'll have like one or two."
The Big Ten made it's name on being big and physical, not fast. Why? Because that is the schools had at their disposal in their recruiting base. I know that recruiting is more national than it used to be but you still make a living with your base. So can 6 teams in the midwest steal enough fast skill position players away from the south? Can 11 teams bring in defensive backs to cover the spread? There is speed in the midwest but not in the quantity that you'll find in the south.

Will the national perception of the conference change?

This is the million dollar question. As was mentioned a few times already the Big Ten is traditionally a power conference. Smash-mouth, tough and full of offensive linemen that will dominate is some of what comes to mind when you hear Big Ten. How long before that changes?

Can you say with a straight face that the Big Ten = Finesse conference? Big Ten = speed? Big Ten = pass happy?

Crazy, but that is what it is becoming.

How long before the spread trend subsides?

Quick answer - when teams figure out how to stop it. Currently you hear all the time like Ohio State can't defense the spread, Michigan wasn't beat by AppState they were beat by the spread. But how long will that take? Will it take a new defensive system? How about the 3-3-5?

I'm actually intrigued by the 3-3-5. The more the spread is proliferated in NCAA football the more a defense like 3-3-5 makes sense. Time will tell.

No comments: