In the last two seasons we have seen college football's biggest stage, the BCS National Championship Game, host four teams: Alabama twice, plus LSU and now Notre Dame. Three schools, four teams and one theme: defense.
Defense to get you to a championship game, and ultimately, defense to win a championship.
Yet as we watch the latest edition of the coaching carousel, we are seeing fewer and fewer defensive guys get hired. There are just more offensive types popping up to populate the sidelines of major college football.
If you were hiring a coach to build your team which route would you take?
Football is a copycat game, but folks are not copying the championship blueprint. Instead, they are looking at the points being scored, the "yay, fun" offensive numbers and deciding to mimic that formula. Apparently, the answer to "would you rather be Alabama or Oklahoma State?" is somehow, despite the Tide's titles, the Cowboys.
I get it, though. In the battle for the eyeballs of your respective school's fans, you have to have a leg up in the entertainment department. Sex sells, and point-a-minute offenses with explosion plays are the football equivalent of Marky Mark in an underwear ad. Defense, on the other hand, is the guy in stained sweatpants who has let himself go just a bit as the years clicked off.
That sexy offense is a draw. Ticket sales go up. You see instant increases in excitement from the fans. You also see excitement in recruiting as kids get sold on scoring points and putting up big numbers. The numbers go up, and that gets everyone excited. It doesn't matter that you are no closer to a title than you were a few years ago, because points are fun!
Taking a look around the country, Colorado, Cincinnati, Kentucky and Arkansas are the only real pushes into the defensive realms. Given the rebuilds that have to take place in Boulder, Lexington and Fayetteville, success at each will be interesting to watch.
Dave Doeren, at North Carolina State, is a defensive guy by nature, but he was brought to the Wolfpack to help push them into the spread era, much like Larry Fedora was tasked with doing for the rival Tar Heels a year ago.
Meanwhile, Cal, Auburn, Purdue, USF and Tennessee are pushing to jump on the offensive train. Sonny Dykes, Gus Malzahn, Darrell Hazell, Willie Taggart and Butch Jones are coming to town to fix those offenses, turn them into point-scoring machines and make a title push.
Except it is going to take a lot more than offense to do that. You've got to bring defense to the party, and as these coaches assemble their staffs, that will be the part to watch. If you're Auburn, things will be interesting; as the Associated Press reported Monday (via KRQE), Malzahn hired Ellis Johnson to work the defensive side of things.
Johnson's a good hire; he's already worked with an intensely offensively-focused head coach in Steve Spurrier at South Carolina, and he has fought to get elite talent on to his side of the ball. Jones, Hazell, Taggart and Dykes will have to do the same from a hiring standpoint in order to have a shot at truly achieving at a high level on their new jobs.
No where will this dynamic be more interesting than at Tennessee. The Volunteers hired Butch Jones, and while he's followed in Brian Kelly's footsteps recently, he does not exactly have his own Bob Diaco. Taking over at Tennessee and fixing the 112th-ranked defense in the nation and the clear worst in the SEC is what Jones is tasked with.
Hell, Tennessee's 2012 offense was better, against better competition, than Butch Jones' own unit at Cincinnati. The spread is not what Tennessee needs; that offense was the only thing that Derek Dooley and his staff actually got going the right way. Now the Vols are starting over with a new coach, a new offense, some new personnel and their third defensive scheme in as many years.
So no, folks are not exactly following the championship blueprint that we have seen recently. There is no rush to become a great defensive team, one that plays with power and forces the opponent to earn every yard. No push to build a team from the inside out with a physical presence.
Offense is the LL Cool J of it all, licking its lips and making the ladies go nuts. Defense is Steady Eddie. Defense pays the bills on time, shows up for work every day, travels when it has to and is not afraid to get dirty when it has to.
Oh, and when push comes to shove, defense beats offense. As Bear Bryant said, "Offense sells tickets, defense wins championships."