Here is a list of teams that had a better offensive game plan than us on our relative game days:
Yet we're currently undefeated and coasting towards a national championship berth.
The spread gets credit for bringing offensive football into the modern times, allowing smaller teams access to the whiz-bang gadgetry that up until now only the big boys got to play with. Think of offense as a Sharper Image catalog, we're the douchebags walking around with laser etched-money clips that transforms into a goatee comb. Baylor had a bulky wallet that gives them spine problems.
The spread, though, isn't a panacea of development. It's actually just reset everything. Offenses that fell out of favor for one reason or another are making a roaring comeback thanks to the discovery that it's a good thing to keep defenders far, far apart from each other.
Florida, thanks to a complete lack of playmakers, is now just a wishbone team. We're running an offense from 1989. The wildcat is just the wing-t, our 4 vertical play is an old run and shoot staple, and that newfangled motion-into the-backfield triple option is nothing that Georgia Southern wasn't doing in the early 90s.
Put simply, anybody can do anything. A game that used to be about innovation suddenly isn't. All the best teams do different things, but they have on thing in common (well, two, but more on that in a second) -- they execute.
The first spread team I remember was Purdue's Joe Tiller teams with Drew Brees. With the benefit of hindsight we now know that Purdue and Tiller weren't anything special, they just had on of the best decision-making QB of our era. Oklahoma won an MNC on the back of another one doing many similar things. See if you can spot the pattern:
- Tiller kept his offense, and Mangino took his to Kansas. Both teams plateaued well below their previous high levels without making major changes.
- Florida State dominated the landscape until they stopped recruiting NFL WRs that could erase the mistakes of its QBs and coaches. After that they fell off a cliff.
- Cal's fortunes rise and fall based on how good their QB is. Aaron Rodgers? Great. Nate Longshore? Not so great.
- Florida might be the best team ever . . . until they lose the one guy that can do anything with the ball in his hands.
A cookie for you if you can see what is so plainly obvious -- players doing their jobs are more important that what their jobs actually are. Good players can thrive (almost) anywhere, and furthermore, we're learning just what makes a good player good. It isn't size or speed, it's nothing more than the ability to be where you are supposed to, when you are supposed to. Physical traits are a tool you use to to that job, like a high powered drill.
So when Texas outscores two decent teams 59-14 in the first halves of the games, it's not so much that Bill Walsh's spirit got bored whining about a lack of respect to Vince Lombardi and came to inhabit our playcaller. We're doing fairly simple things -- run this way, pass the other way. But these fairly simple things allow Jordan Shipley juke the ever-loving shit out of Perrish Cox then not be met by two safeties and a linebacker after he leaves. He can do his thing, Colt can find him, and we can score.
Nobody can make a coherent argument that Greg Davis is a better designer of offenses than Mike Gundy or Les Miles, and yet he sports a legitimately impressive 12-0 record against them. Mack Brown stopped developing his offensive mind in the 80s, and it shows. Yet he's won against Leach, against Mangino, against Stoops and against Gundy.
That should go to show that there is a fairly low threshold for schematic effectiveness when you're dealing with talented players. Vince young played in a high school offense here yet set records that included maybe four 2nd halves that he played hard. Colt plays in an offense less complicated than the one they run at Southlake Carroll, yet he'll probably graduate as the most accurate QB of all time, and the winningest. Why? Because Jordan Shipley and Quan Cosby know where to be, and they don't drop passes. Because Colt makes fast decisions and finishes them. Because he can hold onto the ball and make a play. There is nothing special about what we do, but there is a lot of special about the guys we have (and Mack's still underrated eye for talent and team building).
The defense is the same lesson. We're running NFL coverages, but so do lots of teams. When Curtis Brown jumped that slant he did something that less than ten other corners in the country could do. Earl Thomas' pick of that slant came off a pattern read that he pattern read so well that he didn't even catch the ball on the run. It looked like, on first viewing, that Robinson threw it right to a stationary guy, but he didn't. Thomas had done something that NFL safeties do, not college ones.
Thomas is an eraser that makes plays nobody else does. So is Lamarr Houston and most of our LB crew. That's why the defense is good, and why Muschamp is a great coach. It's why I believed so strongly in Urban Meyer, who is of the same mold. They get guys to play hard and take pride in what they do every day, so their players execute and execute fast. His goofy offense is a sideshow. Meyer could run Fred Akers' offense and still be successful.
The offense is now mostly staying out of its own way. The defense is free to dominate as its leisure. We are going undefeated because because we know, purposefully or not, the secret to winning college football: recruit the fast ones, coach 'em up, and don't let Greg Davis stand in your way.