Is a High-Powered Offense or Vaunted Defense More Desirable in College Football?

Brandon Burnett@B_Burnett49Contributor IIINovember 27, 2012

The Irish are headed to the National Championship Game thanks to a stout defense allowing just 10.3 points per game.
The Irish are headed to the National Championship Game thanks to a stout defense allowing just 10.3 points per game.Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Say you're constructing the ultimate college football team with intentions of competing for a BCS National Championship. First, you must decide whether to build it around an explosive offensive like Oregon's or a smothering defense similar to Notre Dame's. 

Having both is not an option, so which do you take?

To generalize, would you prefer a high-powered offense or a vaunted defense to lead you into the promised land?

It's a topic that typically arises this time of year. The old adage has always been "defense wins championships". But in an age where teams are putting 50 or more on the scoreboard week after week, that idea is being put to the test more than ever before.

Or is it?

The Fighting Irish, led by All-American linebacker Manti Te'o and what is arguably college football's most dominant defense, are 12-0 and will occupy a seat in this year's BCS title game. ND is No. 2 in the country in points allowed, surrendering just 10.3 PPG. 

The Alabama Crimson Tide, No. 2 in the BCS rankings, are No. 1 in scoring defense, allowing a mind-boggling 9.3 PPG. 

In other words, the No. 1 team in the nation has the No. 2 defense, and the No. 2 team has the No. 1 defense. 

It was only this past January that  'Bama shut out LSU 21-0 to win its 14th national title. The Tide finished the season with the best overall defense in 2011 as well, allowing just 8.8 PPG. LSU finished No. 2 at 10.5 PPG. 

If Alabama defeats Georgia in the SEC Championship game this weekend, the nation's top two defenses will once again square off for all the marbles. Doesn't that say enough?

Not exactly. 

After all, it was only a year prior to 'Bama's title-game shutout that Oregon's top-ranked offense (scoring 46.8 PPG) found itself battling for a national title against Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Cam Newton and the Auburn Tigers' fourth-ranked offense (41.6 PPG). 

Only Auburn didn't take home what was then the SEC's fifth straight championship by simply unleashing its powerful offense. Rather, it was defensive tackle Nick Fairley and co. refusing to let the Ducks' potent attack reach the end zone. 

Fairley dominated, earning Defensive Player of the Game honors as Auburn took down Oregon 22-19. It was a game in which the total score combined for less than what each team was averaging during the regular season. It wasn't until less than three minutes remained that the Ducks scored their second TD of the game.  

Point being, a high-scoring offense can thrust you into the national spotlight, but defense will crown you king of the mountain.

In my opinion, it is much more difficult to obtain a dominant defense than it is a high-scoring offense. 

Freakishly athletic offensive skill players are entering the collegiate ranks at an unbelievable pace. Offensive coordinators are brainstorming never-before-seen ways to embarrass the opposition as we speak. 

Coaching staffs are becoming more diverse with their playbooks by the day, and the weapons they need to execute their exotic offensive schemes are being replenished year after year. 

While defense remains the answer to winning football games at any level, college programs continue to hit the recruiting trail hard in search of offensive stars, neglecting defense in the process. 

Partly because there just aren't enough high-caliber defensive players to go around.

Schools that pride themselves on defense do not fall into that category, however. 'Bama, Notre Dame, LSU, Florida, Florida State and Ohio State continue to eat up the nation's top defensive recruits. 

Each of the previously mentioned teams annually rank atop FBS schools in points allowed. 

Of course, the top SEC schools land their fair share of 5-star offensive recruits as well. But less fortunate schools attempt to mask their defensive inefficiencies by loading up on offense and outscoring the opposition.

For example, let's look at this year's 70-63 shootout between West Virginia and Baylor.

How in the world do two teams—I don't care if it's FBS football or Arena League football—account for 1,507 yards of offense and 133 points in one game? 

It's rare, but this type of outcome can occur when two high-scoring teams meet and neither brings a competent defense to the party. 

A big part of college football continues to trend toward this as each year passes. The spread offense is spreading across the nation like wildfire. Screw defense, we'll just score our way into the national title picture, some of them say. 

While it has been proven—even in recent history—that offense may get you to the big game, it's defense that wins it. A dominant defense can prevent points and even create scoring opportunities for the offense. But a high-powered offense can do nothing to prevent the opposition from matching it shot for shot.

That said, would you rather have a quick-strike offense like the Ducks, or a vaunted defense like Te'o and the Irish?

I'll take the latter. 


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