For the better part of the century, the Big 12 has been known for two things: high scores and lackluster defenses. Even the best in the league have been known to give up quite a few points, despite being able to score at will. Whenever an offensive player is highlighted from the Big 12 for a performance they put on, it is always met with the same retort, “Well he’s in a conference that plays no defense!” or, “He would be the fourth-string on any SEC team!”
However, in ultimate 2020 fashion, things are not what they used to be. After Week Four, the Big 12 now has four teams in the Top 20 for total defense: West Virginia (6), Oklahoma State (7), Oklahoma (14), and Baylor (16), while the powerhouse alpha conference SEC has just two.
Now, it could just be the competition has been lacking. After all, this is the conference that took L’s to both Arkansas State and Louisiana Week One, but besides the non conference games, these teams have just been playing each other so far. Keeping Big 12 offenses at bay is no easy task unless your name is Nick Saban or Joe Burrow, and the majority of teams in this league have managed to do so despite the wacky, light tackling offseason.
But even this week, TCU wide receiver JD Spielman, who is a grad transfer who spent most of his career at Nebraska, noted the obvious difference between the Big 12 and the Big Ten.
So when you consider the speed that the Big 12 plays with compared to the other Power 5 Conferences, the early season returns are even more impressive on the defensive side of the ball.
The four teams mentioned earlier have given up an average of 4.7 yards per play so far this season. The only SEC teams with a better average are Georgia and Arkansas. So, it seems as if the Big 12 is playing better defense than the conference with “real football” [insert eye roll here].
This started changing for the Big 12 in recent years with the coaching hires. The Big 12 was no longer just looking for the red-hot offensive coordinators like, say, Kliff Kingsbury and Dana Holgorsen. Baylor hired Matt Rhule, who built up an excellent Baylor defense. Iowa State brought in Matt Campbell, who puts a premium on that side of the ball. Chris Klieman at Kansas State is continuing the defensive efforts from the Bill Snyder era. Neal Brown at West Virginia had underrated defenses at Troy and Baylor’s new head coach Dave Aranda won a national title with a stellar LSU defense.
These hires made the Oklahoma and Oklahoma State’s of the world also put an added emphasis on that side of the ball, which has helped improve the conference across the board.
Times are changing, my friends. We may be the most bipolar conference in Division I football, but by golly we’re ready to play some defense finally.
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