Can the Spread Offense Work Long-Term in the Big Ten?
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Two weeks into the 2013 season and Indiana, Northwestern and Ohio State have put up a ton of points. What do those three teams have in common?
Each of them run a version of the spread offense and each fly in the face of the image of the Big Ten as a three yard and a cloud of dust conference.
They all also happen to be what some are pointing to as the future of the Big Ten. According to some, the answer to the Big Ten's problems on the national level is eschewing the pro-style offenses played around the conference in favor of becoming a "spread conference."
Or, in other words, the Big 12 lite.
It's truly amazing how those people fail to realize a few simple things about history and present trends in the conference and nationally. If they did, the picture of how awesome the spread offense is would look a lot less rosy.
Yes, some version of the spread offense is all the rage across the nation and in the Big Ten. However, the question is, does it produce results that matter?
By results that matter, of course we are talking about conference and national championships.
So, it got me to thinking. Are those advocating for the Big Ten to be a "spread conference" right and I missed something about history? So, I went digging into that way back machine—all the way back to the year 2000, where the spread offense made it's presence really felt in the Big Ten.
Yes, that's right folks, the spread offense has been in the Big Ten for over a decade now. In reality it started back in 1999 when Joe Tiller became head coach at Purdue, but didn't really make its mark until Kevin Wilson helped Randy Walker move to it at Northwestern in 2000.
So, what does history tell us about just how effective the spread offense is inside the Big Ten and on the national stage?
Well, what it tells us is that the spread offense is completely the opposite of where teams in the Big Ten should be heading to get to national relevance. Why?
Should the Big Ten become a Spread Conference
Over the past 13 years the Big Ten has produced 18 champions or co-champions. How many of them have been spread teams? Just two and they happened to be in the same year, 2000. That's the year Northwestern and Purdue tied with Michigan for the conference crown.
So, that leaves 16 teams in the past 12 years that have all been those pesky outdated pro-style offenses. It's been those plodding Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Ohio State and Wisconsin teams winning conference titles—not the high flying offenses put in place at Purdue, Northwestern and a few other places on a changing basis by coach.
Additionally, do we really need to give you the example of the Rich Rod era at Michigan? Not every program is a fit for the spread style of offense either.
The point of the spread is to score points in bunches and put pressure on opposing defenses on every play. Except for the fact that over the last 13 years of champions in the Big Ten, the reality is that those pro-style offenses have scored plenty of points too.
Over that period of time the 16 teams that won or shared titles with a pro-style system averaged 33 points a game throughout their championship seasons (bowl games included). Northwestern and Purdue averaged just 1.25 more points per game in their 2000 championship year—not exactly an earth-shattering difference.
Then there is the final point about the numbers behind the reality. Who has won the last three Big Ten championships? That "boring" Wisconsin team.
Except for it hasn't been all that boring, with the Badgers scoring an average of 41.4 points during the 2010 season and a paltry 44.1 points in the 2011 championship season. Those two averages happen to be the only time a Big Ten champion averaged over 40 points a game during our sample period.
So, about that boring offense that can't score any points again?
The other part of the formula of a Big Ten champion also seems to be ignored by those advocating for the spread offense on a massive scale in the Big Ten. All of those 16 champions happen to have also played some of the best defensive football in the conference and nationally those years as well.
It's not just offense that wins you championships. The defensive style played is just as important.
But, that's just the Big Ten and it hasn't been relevant on the national stage in over a half a decade, who cares, right?
Of course, the spread offense would win you national championships since the boring Big Ten hasn't done it since 2002 and everyone is running the spread these days, no?
History tells us a completely different story there as well. Just four of the past 13 national champions ran a spread offense—Oklahoma (2000), Florida (2006, 08) and Auburn (2010).
The rest of the list reads like a who's who of the college football world in the past decade and a half and they all ran pro-style offenses. Miami (2001), Ohio State (2002), LSU (2003, 07), USC (2004), Texas (2005) and Alabama (2009, 2011, 2012).
So, while teams like Oklahoma State, Texas A&M, and others have become all the rage and the "cool kids' of the college football world, the reality is that the stogy and boring pro-style offense along with a stingy defense is what wins the important titles the majority of the time.
The other reality of the situation is that trying to fit a specific style of play to a specific conference because it seems cool at the time isn't wise. If so, why aren't more teams running the wing-T, veer, or wishbone offenses?
Perhaps it is because, just like the spread, they are all gimmick offenses designed to hide flaws more than exploit extreme talent advantages and eventually defenses will catch up and adjust.
It's also not to say that it doesn't have a place in the Big Ten either. In fact, one could argue that the Big Ten is in a great position right now because there is a great variety of offenses across the conference.
From spread attacks at Illinois, Indiana, Northwestern and Ohio State, and multiple set offenses at Minnesota and Nebraska, to pro-style attacks at Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State, Purdue and Wisconsin—the Big Ten is in a position to play entertaining football going forward.
So, while some believe the Big Ten needs an image makeover and needs to embrace the spread on a bigger scale the reality of history tells us that until proven wrong, the spread doesn't exactly produce desired results—a.k.a conference and national championships.
You'd be hard pressed to tell three-time defending Big Ten champion Wisconsin that playing run first, pro-style offense doesn't work these days and you'd be hard pressed to tell Michigan that the spread offense experiment is worth it.
Some say perception is reality, but when faced with facts and rings, perception of the spread offense as the savior of the Big Ten isn't reality. The chances of it being a long-term solution to what seemingly ills the conference today are very slim, save for Ohio State.
Give me an offense that stands the test of time along with great defense over the latest and greatest trendy offense any day of the week.
*Andy Coppens is the lead Big Ten writer for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter to continue the Big Ten debate.
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