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Q&A with Ian Boyd, author of Flyover Football: How the Big 12 became the frontier for modern football

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Available now on Amazon. As both an e-book and paperback.

This book is definitely worth your time.

I asked Ian a few questions about it while wearing a smoking jacket.

What was the genesis of this book?

My original intention was to write a book called “the 10 greatest QBs in Big 12 history.” I wanted to explore what makes Big 12 QBs so effective and what really makes the great ones. Because the Big 12 isn’t a terribly old league I figured the research wouldn’t be too overwhelming. I immediately ran into a number of problems though, not the least of which was determining how to valuate the differences between what someone like Vince Young did as opposed to the multifaceted Baker Mayfield. Additionally, Kyler Murray was having a season in 2019 that threatened to make the book quickly out of date while Sam Ehlinger looked like he might do the same in a future year.

Maybe the biggest problem was that I kept writing additional chapters before I even dove into the topic of each quarterback where I explored the evolution of the spread in the Big 12. As difficulties kept emerging, like how high to rank Pat Mahomes, eventually I decided to scrap that whole concept and took a stab at an outline on a historical book about the league’s evolution into becoming a O spread lab. That happened really easily and the book-writing process built a lot of momentum from there.

Is the Big 12 an innovative league because of talent scarcity or is it driven by proximity and spillover from innovative Texas HS football?

The argument in the book is that the Big 8 schools in particular were necessarily going to be a haven for offensive innovation because of the combination of local passion for the programs and talent scarcity. That was already true, especially at Nebraska. There’s a similar phenomenon at play in Texas high schools, but less in terms of talent scarcity and more in terms of an ultra-competitive environment that drags the best out of everyone. Also, the THSCA allows for intensive development to occur in any public school in a community that wants to make a go at football, rather than just the private schools.

Once the spread took hold in Texas and the Texas talent base was married to the Big 8 schools, I think it became inevitable that it would become the premier league for spread experimentation.

You see it happen regularly that solid offensive coaches will come to the Big 12 and become more effective by both forced adaptation trying to keep up with their peers or as a consequence of getting to coach Texas QB/skill talent. The league makes offensive gurus even as it breaks the defensive ones.

I’m not sure if the spread game in particular explodes in the Big 8 without schools like Kansas and Missouri recruiting Todd or Chase Daniel, nor in the SWC without the threat from Oklahoma using the Air Raid to dominate. Certainly not in the fashion we saw unfold in the last two decades.

What’s the next evolution in offensive football?

I think that hinges on what catches hold as the best defensive strategy. The way that Art Briles pushed the envelop with the smashmouth spread was an adjustment to quarters/pattern-matching defenses like Gary Patterson championed that could become a 9-man front against the run and cover 2 against the pass based on cues from the offense. Briles was like, “no, you can’t have it both ways, only I can,” and started to really push the limits with RPOs and play-action with spread spacing.

There’s basically two best practices now on defense. One is to gameplan to personnel much more rigorously like these offensive coaches do, focusing on outnumbering and swarming key players and concepts while giving away easy leverage to a team’s no. 3 and 4 option. The other is to accept the deep field as the new primary point of attack and flood it with as many DBs as it takes to prevent scoring before worrying about having the ideal run defense called.

I think there’s still unexplored potential for the vertical passing attack. Oklahoma really pushes the envelope here more than most and anyone who thinks they won’t push it further when they upgrade from battleship Jalen Hurts to supercarrier Spencer Rattler and quadruple their force projection capacity is fooling themselves. So the next step is probably more adjustment to the ways that OU is changing the game. If defenses can figure that out, I think we’ll see more ball control, pro-style spread passing which is harder to master but even more difficult to fully stop when done right.

In NFL terms, the OU approach is sorta akin to Sean McVay, who’s system builds on itself and burns all the hotter for every adjustment you try to make. Belichik figured out how to throw a wrench in the system without robbing Peter to pay Paul against the run or pass and it came undone. The pro-spread, currently best executed by LSU of all programs, is more like the Tom Brady Patriot offense. “Oh you’ll give us quick outs and check downs and wait for us to make a mistake? That’s fine, we don’t make mistakes, we can do this all day.”

When you watch some of these high schools nowadays it’s clear that we haven’t hit the full potential of what QBs can be trained to do as passers either pushing the ball down the field or hitting speed in the flats with precise timing. Any team that isn’t building their program to make the most of it is going to be left behind in a painful fashion.

Thanks, Ian!

Go buy Flyover Football.

You can also read Ian Boyd on Inside Texas or find him on Twitter @Ian_A_Boyd