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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.)
- 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.