As the Southeastern Conference has turned the college football world into its personal playground in the course of the last six years, fans, analysts and the like have come to accept that while SEC-style football may lack the pyrotechnics of offensive-minded conferences such as the Big 12, it is brutally effective.
The league lives – and far less often dies – by the well-worn cliche that running the ball and stopping the run are the keys to winning football. Pass-happy squads such as the Patriots, Saints and Packers have somewhat undermined that notion in the pros. However, despite the huge offensive numbers being put up by the Oklahomas and and Oregons of the world, ground-and-pound still rules college football's roost.
Barrett Sallee, Bleacher Report's newly minted SEC blogger, picked up on that theme earlier this week in an article predicting imminent doom for the Texas A&M Aggies when they join the conference in the fall. Sallee points out that the only programs that have had success with the spread* in the SEC are Florida and Auburn, both of which have won national championships during the league's run of dominance with an emphasis on running the ball. A&M coach Kevin Sumlin and offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury, both offshoots of the Mike Leach tree, prefer the Air Raid flavor known for putting up prolific passing numbers. Therefore, Sallee argues, the Aggies will be in for a world of hurt without revamping their O to make the run a more integral part of their attack:
"You have to run the football in the SEC – no matter what your system is. Kingsbury better realize this before toe meets leather this fall, otherwise it'll be a long season in College Station."
(*There are so many versions of the "spread" as it relates to offensive schemes that the term itself doesn't have much utility now. The offenses run by Urban Meyer and Mike Leach really have little in common. In reality, teams are mixing and matching so many offensive concepts today that trying to fit any scheme into catch-all buckets is generally pointless.)
Sallee is absolutely correct that teams running spread offenses along the lines of the Air Raid generally haven't been found near the top of the SEC standings. But how many have really tried? Sallee points out two notable pass-happy flame-outs: Dave Clawson's offense at Tennessee in 2008 and Tony Franklin's half-season at Auburn.
Personally, I've never been big on the immutable rules in sports like "you have to run to win" and "defense wins championships." The goal is to have at least one more point on the scoreboard than your opponents at the end of the game, no matter how you get there. Too often, I think we all fall into the trap of conflating "style" with "success."
The guys out on the field ultimately win championships. The SEC stands head and shoulders above the rest of the country in that regard. We're talking about a league that oozes NFL talent and pays handsomely to acquire top-notch coaching minds. That matters far more than style.
Within the conference, the same holds true, too – check out the recruiting rankings of LSU, Alabama, Florida and Auburn versus the rest of the league. Look at what the top-tier programs are paying their coaches relative to the middling ones.
The chances that Kingsbury and Sumlin's offense will continue to put up the same Nintendo-like numbers they've become accustomed to are slimmer than the prospects of finding a vegan restaurant in Tuscaloosa. The overall level of talent in the SEC is simply better, and Big 12 immigrants A&M and Missouri, another pass spread team, will find themselves even lower in the talent stack than they were in their previous home. Only the most blatant of homers would expect them to keep on lighting up the scoreboard. Likewise, unless the Aggies and Tigers are able to leverage the move into massive recruiting upgrades, I have strong doubts that either program will match the overall levels of success going forward that they enjoyed in the Big 12.
In the court of public opinion, however, they will provide interesting test cases for the viability of the Air Raid in the SEC. Fair or not, if Mizzou and A&M flop, I suspect the scheme will take a disproportionate share of the blame.
It's a shame that Sumlin forgot everything that he knew about running the football as Texas A&M's and Oklahoma's offensive coordinator ; p Ask LSU what A&M can do when they decide to spend the money--with the highest paid coach in the US (Jackie Sherrill) A&M played LSU for 10 years (1986-1995) and beat them 6 out of the last 7 times they played. They beat down Auburn and Bo Jackson in 1986 (36-16) and averaged 9.4 wins per season for the decade of the 90s. They won their conference 5 times in 10 years. The problem came from NCAA probations in 1988 and 1994, the second of which narrowly avoided being the death penalty. Recruiting went to Hell very quickly during the last 5-year probation (1994-1999) at the same time that the Southwestern Conference disintegrated. It would not surprise me for A&M to eventually have the highest paid coach in the SEC and be back on probation after winning the SEC in 4-5 years. Since the last time A&M won their conference (1998) only 5 teams have won the SEC, so we only have to get into the top 5 to have a shot. While we didn't post stellar records in the Big-XII, A&M did tend to beat the best teams in the conference and lose to the mediocre ones. If we follow our natural history, we will beat Florida, Alabama, LSU, or Auburn in our first year, but lose badly to SMU or Mississippi State.
@BlatantHomerism @BarrettSallee (cont) yhe difference is that SEC defenses are built for it today. The element of surpise is gone.
@BlatantHomerism @BarrettSallee I think a better comparison is when Kentucky had Leach, Franklin, & Mumme. (Cont)
@BlatantHomerism nice job. Interesting here that Strong jettisoned the spread option stuff completely.
@BlatantHomerism @togfootball @rickmuscles @dlharrell I agree that if A&M drops some games people will try to blame the system
@smartfootball @BlatantHomerism @togfootball @dlharrell Guess the question is how do you measure success next year for A&M.
@RickMuscles a&m's recruiting would be somewhere in the lower half of the sec in the last 4-5 seasons so bowl-eligible would be my baseline
@Mengus22 it's funny. Plenty of OU fans clamoring for stoops to incorporate the option into the offense.
@jagvocate noted mumme in the article, but i was hesitant to go too far back. league seems to have changed/improved since spurrier days.
@BlatantHomerism @RickMuscles Are the UF-Steve Spurrier Offenses and Hal Mumme's at UK just too old to mention in the SEC Spread article?