Between the baseball playoffs, auto racing and NFL games, it was a heck of a Sunday to do some channel surfing.
But turning the channel at my house was a bit tough after injuring my arm patting myself on the back on Saturday.
It won’t happen often. I’m rarely right about much of anything, but a world I hinted of in this space last week became the national reality on Saturday as college scoreboards everywhere resembled the national debt clock. And everywhere means everywhere.
Even in that vaunted SEC. Consider that matchups between Texas A&M and Florida, Alabama and Ole Miss and LSU and Missouri combined to pile up 3,380 yards of offense with 276 points scored. Three games. Premier games. Premier teams. No “D,” no fence. More like a swinging gate straight to the end zone.
But it’s far from a southeastern thing. How about in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where North Carolina outlasted Virginia Tech 56-45? That 111 combined points represents more than 43 teams in FBS have scored all season.
While AP voters still don’t seem to be fully catching on — although kudos for finally dropping LSU from the poll — social media portrayed a picture of changing minds on Saturday. One thing is for sure, coaches were paying attention.
How bad has it gotten? It has Kansas feeling sorry for the likes of Alabama.
“I almost felt sorry for defensive coordinators to be honest with you,” Jayhawks DC D.J. Eliot said with a chuckle.
Eliot has a fairly unusual perspective when it comes to the offensive explosion that’s suddenly hampering all leagues instead of just the Big 12. Eliot has served as an assistant in four of the Power Five leagues with stints at Colorado of the Pac-12, Kentucky of the SEC and the ACC’s Florida State directly preceding his time in Kansas. Before that, there were also stints in Conference USA and the Mountain West.
Needless to say, Eliot is a traveled man. And from his perspective, offensive football trends are breaching the walls of conference affiliation, like an ice cube tray filled from one side.
“The up-tempo spread attack is popular and I think it’s going to trickle into other conferences as we saw this weekend,” Eliot said. “And I think it’s not only trickling into other leagues, but it’s trickling into the NFL.”
There’s plenty of truth to that. NFL teams are averaging 25.7 points per game, which would be a league record by more than two points if that number holds throughout the year, breaking the previous record of 23.6 points per game set in 1948. But perhaps more telling, counting this season, seven of the seasons representing the highest scoring averages per team have come since 2012.
West Virginia University coach Neal Brown was watching on Saturday, too. The Mountaineers, like their next opponent Kansas, had a bye week before they collide in Morgantown at noon Saturday. The game will be aired on Fox.
What Brown sees is a bunch of offenses catching up to the Big 12 instead of defenses falling back to it.
“I think what you’ve seen in the Big 12 is just incredible quarterback play,” Brown said. “If you look at the bowl games, the scoring has not been the same. When we play other leagues or out-of-conference games or bowl games, there’s been a couple of outliers, but for the most case, our teams in the Big 12 have played very well in those games defensively.”
That may be partly true, but there’s also no denying the quick spike in yards and points across the board in this particular season. So what’s different?
Well, obviously, everything.
COVID-19 obviously put coaches and players behind the eight-ball from the spring, and no one was quite sure what the ramifications would be once the season started. Brown believes national defensive problems are one of those direct results.
“You had limited practice, you didn’t have a spring and that’s where you work a lot of contact and tackling because you have more days in between practices,” Brown said. “Then in fall camp, with COVID, everybody was concerned with getting guys close to each other.”
In the end, does it even matter? After all, a shootout win and a shutout win count just the same.
But if the Big 12 is being at all justified for years, even decades, of pilings of points that were judged at the time as lackluster defense instead of innovative offense, what time is better for some perception than 2020?
Either way, nothing lasts forever, and Brown believes some normalcy could be coming with a bit of November rain.
“I think the unpredictability of college football is going to continue until teams and leagues can get into some kind of rhythm,” Brown said. “My expectations, when you get into November, it’s going to clean up some and the style of play and quality of play will resemble what we’ve all been accustomed to.
“There’s still a lot of people playing really good defense. I think our league as a whole — Iowa State, Kansas State, TCU, Oklahoma State — those are some guys that I watched last Saturday that didn’t have many problems tackling.”