Tuesday, August 02, 2011

SEC Football Started in 2006? Who Knew?

Heisman Pundit, allow me to introduce you to Stephen Orr Spurrier.  For ease of reference, here is his Wikipedia page.  You may remember him from such awards as the 1966 Heisman Trophy, the 1988 and 1989 ACC Coach of the Year, and the 1990, 1991, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2005, and 2010 SEC Coach of the Year.  I suggest that you familiarize yourself with Mr. Spurrier’s body of work because you attempt to tell the recent offensive history of the SEC without reference to Spurrier.  This is a little like telling the story of the Civil War without mentioning Abraham Lincoln.

Heisman Pundit’s thesis is that everything changed for the SEC when Urban Meyer came into the league because Meyer brought the spread offense with him.  With a keen ability to confuse correlation and causation, HP then claims that the league’s five straight national titles is the direct result of the spread’s arrival.  This argument is wrong for a variety of reasons:

  1. Urban Meyer won his first national title in 2006 with a stumbly-wumbly version of the spread that never scored more than 28 points in any SEC game.  Florida was out-gained on a per-play basis by LSU, coordinated by Jimbo Fisher whom HP thinks is a dolt, and equalled on a per-play basis by an Arkansas offense that HP dismissed at the time as a high school offense.  (Funny how things have changed now for Gus Malzahn, the offensive coordinator of that team who feuded with the rest of the staff, and David Lee, who came up with the Wildcat concept for that team.)  Meyer’s first national title came not as a result of his offensive scheme, but rather because of other strengths as a coach, such as making good staffing decisions on the defense, as well as the good fortune of following a head coach who was a very good recruiter. 
  2. Les Miles won the national title in 2007 with a gumbo of offensive concepts, coordinated by a guy whom HP and I would agree is no savant.
  3. Nick Saban won the national title in 2009 with a pro-style offense that HP tries to shoehorn into his world of sophisticated offenses by confusing formations with schemes, thus rendering the distinction between offenses meaningless.  (If use of the Pistol and Wildcat is evidence of a spread offense, then so would use of a shotgun, four-wide formation.)
  4. HP tried to dismiss the SEC has having won only two national titles in the seven years before Meyer’s arrival.  However, the seven-year period in question also saw Auburn go unbeaten and not get a shot at the title (I assume that HP thinks that Al Borges runs a sophisticated offense, as evidenced by the fact that he listed Brady Hoke as one of the ten best coaches in college football and Hoke relies on Borges for his offenses) and Georgia go 13-1 and meet the same fate.  Both Auburn and Georgia were simply unlucky in that they had great seasons in years in which two major powers went unbeaten.  The seven-year period also includes the 2001 Florida team that was one of the best teams of the decade, but managed to lose two games because of a weak defensive coordinator (I thought that SEC teams only lost in this period because of backwards offenses?) and Ernest Graham getting hurt twice.

The funny thing is that HP could actually tell the story he’s trying to spin if he set 1990 as his starting point instead of 2005.  When Steve Spurrier came to the conference, it was in the throes of basic I-formation football.  The 80s were dominated by Vince Dooley early and Pat Dye late, with Johnny Majors having some success sprinkled in the middle.  Running and defense was the dominant style.  Spurrier’s passing attack took the conference completely by storm and his teams proceeded to finish first in the conference for six of the next seven years.  Spurrier’s success led the rest of the league to innovate, with such examples as the Hal Mumme/Mike Leach Air Raid offense at Kentucky, Auburn going spread-ish with Dameyune Craig, and Tennessee modernizing its offense with David Cutcliffe.  Spurrier had a massive impact on the SEC and opponents either imitated or died.  Thus, the conference that Urban Meyer joined 15 years after Spurrier’s arrival was anything but the backwater that HP imagines.

Two other unrelated notes:

1. HP thinks that Florida is insane to turn its offense over to Charlie Weis, but he also holds Bobby Petrino in high regard.  Schematically speaking, how much difference is there between the Petrino and Weis offenses?  When answering this question, consider Mike Lombardi’s statement that Petrino’s offense is the closest simulation to modern NFL offenses.

2. In the realm of statements that reflect that HP doesn’t understand his own purported specialty, check out this gem:

If John Brantley couldn’t complete throws in a passing scheme as simple as Urban Meyer’s spread, I’m not sure how he’s suddenly going to do so in the far-more-complicated Charlie Weis system.

The Meyer/Rodriguez/Kelly variant of the spread has simple passing concepts because of the running threat that it poses.  Specifically, the offense is so good at running the ball based on its ability to use the quarterback as a runner and therefore outnumber the defense in the box that it causes opposing safeties to freak out.  Thus, receivers are open and quarterbacks have easy throws to make.  This is how Alex Smith because the top pick in the draft.  The offense didn’t work with Brantley because Brantley can’t run and therefore, receivers weren’t as open as they were for Tim Tebow.  (The comic stylings of Steve Addazio were also a factor in the Florida offensive Gotterdammerung.) Weis’s offense does not rely on the quarterback as a running threat in order to pressure a defense, so it ought to be a better fit for Brantley.  If producing NFL busts by making quarterbacks look much better than they are is the measure of a good college offensive mind, then Weis is right up there with Jeff Tedford.*

* – This argument would have worked better before Aaron Rodgers.


Uncle Mike said...

So what you're saying is, Southeastern Conference football is awesome?

Stuck here in New Jersey with the terminal lameness that is Rutgers and Greg Schiano's fading promises, I am obligated to agree.

Anonymous said...

He also has Tennessee finishing second in the East, which um huh.

HP said...

First off, thanks for not slandering me in your headline this time. That wasn't so hard, was it?

Second, this post is so long as to be almost impossible to respond to, but I'll try.

1. If Spurrier started an offensive revolution in the SEC, it sure didn't show up much in the offensive data for other teams.

2. Yes, Meyer won his first national title in 2006. But of course I didn't confine my thesis to just that year, as you do, but point out that over the course of a few years beginning with the arrival of Meyers, the spread made a big impact on the league.

3. Yes, LSU won a title in 2007. Who was the coordinator? What kind of offense did he run? Hint: He didn't run a pro-style offense.

4. Nick Saban's offense in 2009 was not a pro style offense. It has basically zero relation to the WCO that is run by the majority of NFL teams. It is a mish-mash of college offensive concepts and it featured a lot of spread. They ran almost 40% out of the Pistol and Wildcat. When you see the pistol and Wildcat formations (yes, I know they are formations, but the spread is also a formation as well as an offense), are you thinking in your head that this is a pro-style offense? Are you aware that the terminology of Bama's offense is nothing like a pro team?

5. Yes, the SEC won two titles in the time period I described. Auburn went undefeated in 2004, but so did TCU last year. What's your point? Even giving Auburn the title, that's 3 in seven years, not five in a row. Clearly something changed.

7. Your claim that Spurrier changed offenses more than Meyer did in the league is absurd. The proof is in the offensive numbers, the titles and the Heisman winners. For instance, the Heisman is only won with superb offensive numbers. That's a truism. So, it's no shock that the only SEC Heisman winner between 1986 and 2007 came from Florida, the only SEC school that had outstanding offensive production. Of course, since 2007, there have been three SEC Heismans, which coincides with the league's offensive explosion (as I demonstrated by the numbers in my post). Do you think it's all just a cosmic coincidence?

8. I grant you that Spurrier did introduce the forward pass to the SEC. But those offenses that started passing were nowhere near as innovative as Spurrier's and they did not keep up with some of the other leagues and that is reflected in the national offensive numbers during that time (as I pointed out, only 1 SEC team averaged over 35 ppg from 1998 to 2005, and 10 have since...another coincidence?)

9. On Petrino. Lombardi is wrong. For instance, Petrino's offenses don't really utilize a true inline blocking tight end or a fullback, like most NFL teams do. The reads are very simple and he uses far more varied formations.

10. You apparently forgot to watch the actual games last year. Brantley couldn't hit wide open targets much of the time if his life depended on it. Regardless of whether he was an effective runner or not, the passing game reads are FAR easier in that offense than they are in the Weis offense. Brantley said as much after spring ball. Note that Chris Leak in '06 was a far more effective passer in the same system. But just because Brantley is a better fit for the Weis offense (no argument there) does not mean it wasn't a moronic thing to do to move to that offense when you also have ideal spread QBs in Jordan Reed, Trey Burton and, now, Jeff Driskel.

In the end, you are just dead wrong on this subject. I know it must gall you that I basically predicted five years ago that all this would happen in the SEC, but the crazy crusade gets a little old.

Unless you can explain a better reason why the SEC is suddenly scoring a lot more points, producing a lot more yards, winning a lot more Heismans and winning a lot more titles than it ever has before, then it's time to just come to terms, man.

Hawksdawgs said...

I see your point. I think the spread has had a large impact on the SEC and if you want to give credit to Meyer for it, so be it. I see where your opinion comes from.

But no way the spread happens without the OBC. It is like saying grunge changed the landscape of rock music in the early 90s and never mentioning punk. Yes, grunge killed hair metal not punk but it never happens without punk and a thesis is too simplistic if it does not acknowledge the change before the change.

So if you build a thesis from a bigger picture, I think Spurrier, Meyer, the spread, all of those things are factors in the SEC dominance, but those just built upon the underlying reasons that dominance can occur which are talent base, fan support, money, money, and money.

Will said...

Wouldn't a better metaphor have Spurrier as Robert E. Lee, the nominal villain who remains remembered for his strategic brilliance?

Michael said...

I always saw Spurrier as Sherman, a guy who took superior talent and used it better than his predecessors, specifically to lay waste to the State of Georgia. The key element with Lee is that he was always able to do more with less, which doesn't describe the coach of the Florida Gators.

sagrada familia said...

This won't succeed as a matter of fact, that's exactly what I consider.