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Ask Not For Whom the Bell Tolls; It Tolls For Offensive Chic

In his recent hodgepodge, College Football Resource had this to say:

Congratulations to the Super Bowl champion Indianapolis Colts, although you'll have a hard time convincing me they're the best team in the NFL. San Diego and Baltimore made a great case during the regular season before the apparent randomness of playoff football saw neither team even make the Super Bowl. Remind me again why you want a playoff in college football?

Upon that point, I believe CFR to be entirely correct, and I applaud him for continuing to lead the charge in support of the proper position.

Why are playoffs a bad idea? Six words: "The 1997 World Champion Florida Marlins."

Unfortunately, instead of quitting while he was ahead, CFR went on to offer the following paean to Offensive Chic:

Say what you want about the Gang of Six but five of the original six have now appeared in and won BCS games, including championships from USC and Florida. Three of the original six (USC, Boise State, Louisville) plus 2005 entrants Florida and Notre Dame were in this year's series of BCS games.

And about Boise State... I never got to it around bowl time, but I ended up being a year early on my whole bold prediction thing. Boise slayed their dragon alright, it just took another year and for Jared Zabransky to do something other than melt down. There was an article by Austin Murphy in last week's Sports Illustrated documenting the in's and out's of their Fiesta Bowl victory over Oklahoma that might be worth a look.

One can be good for a long time in college football with talent and a mundane offense, but the innovators alone are the ones who move the wheels of history.

Let's start with CFR's "whole bold prediction thing." While he now claims credit for being a year ahead of his time, CFR told a different story in the wake of Georgia's 48-13 dismantling of the Broncos, when he wrote:
I was wrong about the UGA/Boise game.

Dead wrong.

Wrong about the outcome. Wrong about Boise's performance. Wrong about UGA's performance.

Granted, CFR then moved directly into finding a way to prop up his discredited theory about the coming offensive revolution, but these efforts were dispatched in short order by The Lawgiver.

For anyone unfamiliar with the so-called "Gang of Six," here is how I broke it down at my old site, Kyle on Football, in November 2005:

The Gang of Six consists of Boise State, California, Florida, Louisville, Southern Cal, and Utah.  These are the offensive juggernauts whose innovations are transforming the college football landscape.

For the record, boring ol' plain vanilla Georgia (whose head coach once was the architect of a pretty potent offense at Florida State, by the way) has gone up against one-third of the Gang of Six and the 'Dawgs gave up a gaudy 13 points to the Broncos and an eye-popping 14 points to the Gators.

That's right, these revolutionary offenses hung point totals in the low to mid teens on a hopelessly overmatched Georgia D. I break out in a cold sweat just thinking about it.

Clearly, reports of the arrival of the offensive revolution were greatly exaggerated. The spread option ranks right up there with the hula hoop, the pet rock, and the Members Only jacket on the list of short-lived fads that took the nation---well, all right, not exactly the nation; more like the W.A.C. and the Mountain West, but, anyway---by storm before dissipating quickly and leaving only shame and embarrassment in their wake.

A couple of years from now, admitting that you were sold on the spread option will invite ridicule and derision of the sort normally reserved for those who confess that they miss Color Me Badd and Wilson Phillips. A couple of years after that, the phrase "spread option" will be used by college football fans to describe the choice between mayonnaise and Miracle Whip during their pregame rituals and social interactions.

If it wasn't clear beforehand that the new paradigm in offense was sheer gimmickry and sleight of hand, it became clear in Jacksonville last Saturday, when Florida---the team Heismanpundit added to his personal "Fab Five" to form the "Gang of Six"---caught Georgia completely by surprise by running a real offense for the first time under the Urban Meyer regime.

This point is so obvious that it could not be missed even by the New York Times, where it was reported: "Florida essentially scrapped the wide-open offense that made Urban Meyer famous and ground out a victory over Georgia. Instead of taking the Southeastern Conference by storm with his spread-option offense, Meyer decided after two SEC losses that if his team could not fly past competitors in this hard-nosed league, it might as well play like them. The Gators used multiple tight ends and a blocking back and abandoned the option, the play that had defined Meyer's attack."

In other words, Coach Meyer's spread option had about the same lifespan in the S.E.C. as Hanson's "Mmm Bop" had on Casey Kasem's countdown . . . and each was equally incoherent during its mercifully brief existence.

CFR's cohort in craziness, Pundit Galore, subsequently acknowledged Coach Meyer's abandonment of his innovative scheme, admitting:
Going into most conference games, Meyer knew that the other team couldn't score against his defense, so why open things up? He played the percentages.

In Gainesville, therefore, "the innovators" are not "the ones who move the wheels of history"; astoundingly enough, in the Southeastern Conference, defense still wins championships.

Offense, by contrast, gets tackled.

What about the rest of the Gang of Six, though? The sextet of movers and shakers was identified in the aftermath of the 2004 campaign, in which Southern California and Utah led their fellow revolutionaries in setting the world on fire. That year, the undefeated Trojans hung 55 points on Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl and the undefeated Utes scored 35 points against Pitt in the Fiesta Bowl, adding an exclamation point to assessments of their offensive prowess.

What was almost lost in the shuffle, of course, was the fact that Utah also limited the Panthers to a touchdown in Tempe, while the Trojans surrendered just 19 points to a Sooner squad that had scored 28 or more points in 11 of its previous 12 outings. Apparently, there was some defensive dominance going on, as well.

In the absence of such stifling defensive efforts, the reviews of the new paradigm were decidedly mixed. That year's Boise State squad scored 45 points or more eight times in 11 regular-season games, then went on to put 40 ticks on the scoreboard in the Liberty Bowl . . . but the Broncos lost to Louisville in Memphis because B.S.U. allowed the Cardinals to score 44.

That Liberty Bowl effort represented U. of L.'s seventh straight game scoring over 40 points, but the Cards fell short of going undefeated because, against Miami, they scored 38 . . . and allowed 41. The Golden Bears likewise riddled West Coast scoreboards all season long, including a 31-point effort in the Holiday Bowl . . . which they lost because Cal conceded 45 points to Texas Tech.

Oh, I had to go and bring that up again, didn't I?

Despite this dubious record of success, pundits proclaimed the death of defense and put all their eggs in the basket of offensive innovation, counting them as chickens well before they were hatched. Certainly, significant achievements followed, but, somehow, the sultans of shootout seemed to come up short when their high-octane outbursts were not coupled with fundamentally sound defense.

Nancy Meyer's move to Florida and Charlie Weis's arrival in South Bend caused the deck to be reshuffled, with Notre Dame replacing Utah in the Gang of Six. Over the course of the 2005 and 2006 seasons, the new and improved college football cabal lost a combined 28 games. Why and how did they lose them?

In their three losses, the Trojans gave up 13, 33, and 41 points. In their four losses, the Gators gave up 21, 27, 30, and 31 points. In their four losses, the Broncos gave up 27, 27, 30, and 48 points. In their four losses, the Cardinals gave up 28, 35, 45, and 46 points. In their six losses, the Fighting Irish gave up 34, 34, 41, 44, 44, and 47 points. In their seven losses, the Golden Bears gave up 23, 23, 24, 27, 35, 35, and 47 points.

In 18 of their 28 losses over the course of the last two years, the six teams sporting the most revolutionary offenses in college football surrendered 30 or more points to the opposition. For all six of those teams, the majority of their losses during that two-season span came in games in which they allowed 27 or more points. For half of those half-dozen squads, all of their losses over the last couple of campaigns came in games in which they gave up at least 27 ticks on the scoreboard.

Those 38 points came in really handy in the Rose Bowl, didn't they?

CFR boasts that "[t]hree of the original six (USC, Boise State, Louisville) plus 2005 entrants Florida and Notre Dame were in this year's series of BCS games." Well, I wouldn't go so far as to say the Golden Domers were in either of the B.C.S. games in which they have appeared. Oh, sure, Notre Dame got invited to the Fiesta and Sugar Bowls---bowl games are about ratings, after all, and offense sells tickets---but the Irish were blasted by a combined 75-34 final score when they got there.

CFR likewise brags that "five of the original six have now appeared in and won BCS games, including championships from USC and Florida." How, though, were those championships won? Ah, yes . . . the Trojans held 11 of their 13 opponents to 20 or fewer points in 2004, limiting eight teams to two or fewer touchdowns and pitching a pair of shutouts. The 2006 Gators likewise won with defense, keeping two teams off of the scoreboard entirely and allowing 10, 14, 14, 14, 16, and 20 points to L.S.U., Georgia, Florida State, Ohio State, South Carolina, and Tennessee, respectively. (In the aforementioned six wins, Florida scored more than 23 points just once, by the way. Vive la revolucion!)

Admittedly, offensive juggernauts sometimes win shootouts and I take nothing away from the Broncos; indeed, I have stated the case for Boise State. However, we should not be tricked into believing that cutting-edge novelties and great leaps forward are the stock in trade of a team that won the biggest game in school history by running hook-and-ladder and Statue-of-Liberty plays of the sort we all drew up in the dirt and ran in the neighbors' back yard in the '70s. Gutsy? Si. Futuristic and revolutionary? Not so much.

They say the heart of college D is still beating, and, from what I've seen, I believe 'em.

In short, CFR puts forth an admirable effort to prop up the Theory That Will Not Die, despite its having been disproved, discredited, and exposed not only as wrongheaded, but as downright laughable. It is, however, nonsense to claim that the arbitrarily-assembled sextet of Gangsters have "slayed [sic.] their dragon" through earth-shaking offensive breakthroughs.

As evidenced by the 135 years' worth of college football history that preceded the advent of Offensive Chic, the fundamentals remain changeless from generation to generation. No practitioner of the latest wrinkle has slain any dragons, which remain alive and well . . . and, now as always, that dragon starts with D.

Go 'Dawgs!