Missouri, Texas A&M prepare for SEC transition; more Walkthrough
Missouri defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson boasted last week that new competition in the SEC shouldn't alter the Tigers' mindset. "If we execute," Richardson told
We'll pause here to give the folks in Tuscaloosa and Baton Rouge a moment to stop laughing before we forge ahead with a serious discussion about whether Missouri and Texas A&M will have to adapt to fit the SEC or whether SEC teams will have to adapt to beat them as the newbies move from the Big 12 to their new home. The answer, as is typical in these cases, lies somewhere in between. But in this clash of cultures, chances are the Tigers and Aggies will have to change more than their new rivals will.
SI.com asked Texas Tech coach Tommy Tuberville, who won an SEC title at Auburn in 2004, to explain the differences between the two leagues. "The difference is the talent on the defensive side of the ball in the SEC," Tuberville said. "In the Big 12, you're going to have better skill players, for the most part, and more quarterbacks. That's more because of the league's philosophy of offense. Here, it's just wide open. Over there -- not everybody, but most people -- play it closer to the vest and rely on their running back instead of their quarterback. But definitely the defenses are more physical because of what they have to recruit for."
Tuberville explained that the proliferation of the spread offense in Texas high school football has raised a generation of Big 12 players trained to run full-throttle, no-huddle offenses. Meanwhile, the variety of schemes employed by high school coaches in the Southeast -- spread, pro-style, option, Wing-T -- produces less sophisticated skill players but far more physical defenders.
Missouri, which opens SEC play Saturday against Georgia, and Texas A&M, which opens Saturday against Florida, each run different variations of the spread. Missouri quarterback James Franklin can run and throw well and will do both often in coordinator David Yost's offense. In his first year as Missouri's starter in 2011, Franklin threw for 21 touchdowns and ran for 15 more. Such quarterbacks have run the spread successfully even against ferocious SEC defenses. Florida's Tim Tebow and Auburn's Cam Newton won national titles running offenses not that philosophically different from Missouri's. Of course, Tebow and Newton would be the first to admit that without the efforts of linebacker Brandon Spikes (for Tebow) and defensive tackle Nick Fairley (for Newton) on the other side of the ball, they might not have enjoyed so much success.
The catch? All that running against SEC defenses can damage a quarterback, even a physically dominant one. In 2007, Tuberville's Auburn staff watched Tebow rack up 27 carries at Ole Miss and then designed a game plan to force him to run even more when the teams met at The Swamp the following Saturday. Auburn pounded Tebow every time he carried, and the Tigers pulled off a 20-17 upset. "When you start a philosophy on a football team, it's great if you've got you a Cam Newton," Tuberville said. "I've watched a lot of people try to do that where they've got their quarterback as their tailback. I cringe every time I see our quarterback cross the line of scrimmage. Because they are hard to train, and they are hard to find -- and there's always a dramatic drop-off from the first to the second."
First-year Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin favored a more pass-heavy attack at Houston. Sumlin is a disciple of Mike Leach, who is a disciple of former Kentucky coach Hal Mumme. While in Lexington in the late '90s, Mumme and Leach ran an offense that made the Wildcats successful -- by Kentucky standards -- but never allowed them to compete for an SEC title. Sumlin runs a more evolved form of that offense, and because of A&M's proximity to talent hotbeds Houston and Dallas, he'll be able to run it with better players than Mumme and Leach had at Kentucky.
Those high-powered offenses will still get stuffed by better SEC defenses, and that's where adaptation comes into play. Missouri and Texas A&M will not only have to recruit better on defense, they'll also need to change the way they think about recruiting. "In the SEC, you look at defensive tackles and linebackers," Tuberville said. "Here, you look at defensive ends and cornerbacks."
Against pass-happy Big 12 offenses, defensive ends and corners are the most important defenders on the field. Because quarterbacks play in the shotgun and get rid of the ball so quickly, dominant defensive tackles are negated unless they are otherworldly talents such as former Nebraska star Ndamukong Suh. Tall, speedy defensive ends have a chance to reach the quarterback, but even if they can't, their length and leaping ability allow them to bat down passes at the line of scrimmage. Missouri has a pair of quality ends in Kony Ealy and Brad Madison, while Texas A&M has one in Damontre Moore. Meanwhile, corners in the Big 12 have little choice but to play on an island. With so many potential receiving targets, a defensive coordinator can't always afford to keep a safety over the top to help.
Missouri's Richardson might want to pay attention to this next part, because he can make himself some future NFL money with a great debut season in his new league. In the run-dominated SEC, a great defensive tackle can alter the game on every snap. The Tigers will meet an excellent one Saturday in Georgia man-mountain John Jenkins. The 358-pound Jenkins plays nose tackle in coordinator Todd Grantham's 3-4, and opponents wishing to run the ball up the middle on the Bulldogs usually must dedicate two blockers to Jenkins. Texas A&M, meanwhile, will tangle with Florida's Sharrif Floyd, a 305-pounder physically suited to play tackle in a four-man front. If the Tigers and Aggies want to succeed in the SEC, they'll have to develop or recruit their own versions of Jenkins or Floyd.
Missouri and Texas A&M don't need to fully assimilate. Their entry into the SEC should bring a much-needed infusion of new offensive ideas that could make games far more interesting to watch. But the way they played defense in the Big 12 won't work in their new league, so they'll have to adapt on that side of the ball if they want to survive.
"Well on the bright side this power outage gives me an excuse to light my numerous scented candles and still keep my masculinity..."
There once was a coach from Seattle,
I should have started this feature last week with the random sighting of former Michigan defensive tackle Mike Martin at a Qdoba in Nashville after the South Carolina-Vanderbilt game -- Martin, who plays for the Titans, had just finished a preseason game -- but that chance encounter seemed a perfect way to point out how much better Alabama would be than Michigan on the line of scrimmage. From now on, random sightings will be collected here.
This past weekend's random sighting took place in the sports bar at a Marriott near the Atlanta airport. I realize I usually seek out much more authentic culinary options, but I had just flown in from Michigan after covering Boise State-Michigan State the previous night, and convenience -- and multiple flatscreen TVs -- trumped authenticity. As I sat with ESPN.com's Travis Haney, one guy in a group of Auburn fans at a table behind us seemed way too interested in the Friends of Coal Bowl. West Virginia had long since put the game away, but he was glued to the Mountaineers' backups as they continued to give up points. What does this mean? He had money on the game. (He confirmed this later by yelling, "I've got money on this game" to no one in particular.)
At one point, Haney looked toward the door and said, "Is that..." Before either of us could place the man who had just entered, the gambling fan behind us yelled, "Pat Hill!" Indeed, it was former Fresno State coach Pat Hill, now the Falcons' offensive line coach. Hill had to pick up someone at the airport. He did not seem too crestfallen despite the fact that Auburn defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder's presence in the city that day downgraded Hill's soup-strainer to only the second most spectacular mustache in metro Atlanta. The hospitable Auburn fans welcomed Hill to their table, and thanks to college football -- and gamblers who watch every minute of every weeknight game -- another friendship was forged.
In honor of Saban's, ahem, instructions for Alabama beat writers, here are the top five college football press conference rants (that still live on YouTube).
Texas Tech's 2007 loss to Oklahoma State will always be remembered for Mike Gundy's rant, but Mike Leach delivered a thinking man's rant. The next day, his defensive coordinator resigned.
Les Miles owned the mic even before he arrived in Baton Rouge. Here he is after a heartbreaking loss at Oklahoma in the 2004 Bedlam game.
Houston Nutt tries to ward off the evil spirits that eventually consumed the Ole Miss program.
Former Coastal Carolina coach David Bennett, despite being famous on YouTube, probably wouldn't enjoy
Man. Forty. You know the drill.
A new group of conference rivals will travel to two unfamiliar college towns this weekend. They need to know where to eat. Georgia fans headed to Columbia, Mo., should consume dozens of perfect little burgers at Booches Billiard Hall. Meanwhile, Florida fans bound for College Station should venture about 10 miles outside of Aggieland to Snook, Texas, to