Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Big 12 Teams Play No Defense, Sooners' Dominance Based on Skewed Statistics

Oklahoma is hanging its claim on a shot at the national championship based in large part on the fact that they have scored more than 60 points in each of their past four games. It’s evidence, says coach Bob Stoops, of momentum and superiority. We won’t dispute that the Sooners are swamping their opponents, but do points mean dominance when you play in a conference where nobody plays any defense??

I jumped on the Big 12 bandwagon myself after watching Texas Tech defeat Texas 39-33 on Nov. 1. That was a very exciting game, and both Tech’s Graham Harrell and the Longhorns’ Colt McCoy looked like supermen, standing back in the pocket (with seemingly all the time in the world), eyeing their receivers with precision and then zinging the ball with frozen-rope accuracy. Entertaining stuff.

But has it ever occurred to anyone that maybe the high-profile Big 12 quarterbacks—McCoy, Harrell, Sam Bradford, Zac Robinson—put up all those unreal numbers not because they’re so otherworldly great but because no one in the Big 12 gives a hang about putting a kickass defense on the field? Heck, even the vaunted Sooners routinely give up 30 points a game (except when they’re playing such challenging out-of-conference opponents like Chattanooga).

This line of inquiry induced me to take a look at a list of the current active NFL quarterbacks. My premise: If the Big 12 is so darn great, and so dominant offensively, how many quarterbacks from the conference are presently playing in the NFL, and at what level?

The answer is four, and not that prominently: Sage Rosenfels, Iowa State (Texans), Chris Simms, Texas (Titans), Seneca Wallace, Iowa State (Seahawks), Vince Young, Texas (Titans). Not exactly a collection of world-beaters. And not a one from Oklahoma. Or Texas Tech.

Young in particular stands out: an impressive physical specimen who wowed college sports in leading the Longhorns to the national title following the 2005 season. After some exciting performances with the Titans in ’06 and ’07, Young played himself off the field in ’08, and in fact he had showed signs of difficulties in running a pro offense long before that. Simms looked promising a few years ago with the Buccaneers, but now he sits waiting for a chance along with Young in Nashville, both eclipsed by an aging Penn State product, Kerry Collins. Wallace has never risen above the level of a mobile QB who occasionally makes plays. Only Rosenfels actually looks like a first-string pro, though he sits behind Matt Schaub when Schaub is healthy.

Fact is, when you randomly riff through the names of the all-time-great pro QBs, past and present, the Big 12 rarely comes up. Starr (Alabama), Marino (Pitt), Favre (Southern Mississippi), Namath (Alabama), Bradshaw (Louisiana Tech), Staubach (Navy), Montana (Notre Dame), Tarkenton (Georgia), Unitas (Louisville), Fouts (Oregon), Young (Brigham Young), Jurgensen (Duke), Brady (Michigan), Manning (Tennessee/Ole Miss), Bob Griese (Purdue), Phil Simms (Morehead State)—not a one of these guys played in the Big 12. And here’s an interesting tidbit: Troy Aikman, who excelled at UCLA and became an NFL great, actually began his college career at Oklahoma before transferring. One wonders what might have happened if he’d stayed in Norman.

Could it be that the factory football school mentality found in the Big 12 is not conducive to producing creative, inventive quarterbacks who can lead on a bigger stage? I’m just asking.

In any case, now that the Sooners have been crowned, as it were—and presuming they can get past Missouri in the Big 12 title game (I’m praying for an upset, of course)—I’m definitely looking forward to seeing them play Florida or Alabama in the title game. And actually, it's too bad USC is probably out of the title picture. Those guys know defense.

The best teams play D—except in the Big 12. Sam Bradford, beware.

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