Many believe that the Big 12 Conference has evolved into a conference of track meets. No, I am not talking about the spring sport, I mean the football schedule.
Lets be clear here, when a football coach says “track meet” in the fall, it is usually not a good thing. Football coaches often use this phrase to describe football games that seem like the defenses never even got off the bus. The offenses are simply running up and down the field as if it were a spring competition.
Contrary to popular belief, even modern-day football coaches do not like track meets. Heck, even offensive coordinators dislike it when their defensive counterparts are getting torched for hundreds of yards and 30-plus points, yet many fans feel as though defense in the Big 12 doesn't matter.
A look at the statistics seems to support this notion. Oklahoma, the conference champion ranked 48 nationally in defensive efficiency behind West Virginia (29), Kansas State (30), TCU (36), and even Texas (40). The number two team in the conference, Oklahoma State ranked below Oklahoma at 52. Based on that, it does seem that teams with mediocre defenses can win the Big 12. It also shows that being ranked higher in the conference in defensive efficiency does not necessarily mean a winning record — TCU was 6-6 in 2016, but lets not get ahead of ourselves, defense matters.
Not only does defense matter in the Big 12, it matters on the national level. Despite being undefeated in Big 12 play, it is highly unlikely that Oklahoma will be offered a bid to the football playoffs this year. Why? Two non-conference losses to very good football teams, Houston and Ohio State. In those games, the Oklahoma defense gave up 33 and 45 points, respectively.
But refusing to give up points is not the only thing great defenses do. Great defenses score points. Championship defenses score points. Earlier this week, new Texas head coach Tom Herman stated that he wanted to run his program similar to the way Nick Saban runs his program in Alabama.
What is the running theme through Saban’s thirteen-year dynasty that includes four national championships? Defenses that score points. In 2016, Saban's defense is ranked number one nationally in defensive efficiency at 98.2.
Alabama's defense has given up 11.4 points per game, not including the SEC Championship game. That is an interesting statistic, but even more telling of the importance of Alabama's defense to their success is even bigger than those 11.4 points per game. Coming into Saturday's contest, Alabama had scored 12 times on defense, first nationally.
To put that in perspective, Alabama has averaged one touchdown per game defensively this season, while giving up under two touchdown’s per game. If you just look at averages, Alabama’s defense is netting -4.4 points per game. That means the offense can win a game simply scoring a touchdown or two field goals. This shows that a solid defense, a scoring defense gives the offense a head start. Mack Brown knows this, as his defenses were perennially the best in the conference in scoring.
A deeper look at the claim that defense wins championships reveals just how true it is. The top 10 in defensive inefficiencies has Alabama first, followed by Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan, Florida, Washington, Colorado, LSU, Clemson, and Virginia Tech. Based on the information available at the time of this article, it appears that every team who can make the playoff is in the top 10 nationally in defensive efficiency. This further supports the statement that while a solid defense may not be necessary to win the Big 12, it is necessary to win, or even make the College Football Playoff.
Many believe that Tom Herman will win a national championship at Texas in the next few years. Herman has stated that he expects to compete for national championships at Texas. If Herman wants to put his actions behind his words, he must understand the importance of championship-quality defense.
Given his track record, and his training under Urban Myer, it is likely Herman fully understands this concept, and improvement on the defensive side of the ball should be expected in 2017.