Friday, September 07, 2012

Why I'm Rooting for Missouri

I'm not usually one to go for catchy headlines for my pieces.  In fact, I typically struggle to come up with good headlines at all.  My writing process is often such that I write the entire piece and then stare at the screen for a few minutes when I'm done trying to come up with a clever title before beating a retreat to to let the bard do my work for me.  This piece, however, was an instance where the title came to me first and then the rest of the piece flowed from the title premise.  The themes that have been most interesting to me this year have been: (1) SEC offensive regression; and (2) the idea that athletic department budgets are big bubbles that are going to burst unless ticket prices come down and schedule quality goes up.  Thus, it was inevitable that I would write something like this:

There are a pair of good reasons why successful seasons from the Aggies and Tigers will benefit the SEC. First, if you want to tell a story as to how the league would lose its perch as the best conference bar none, it would go something like this: Alabama dominates the SEC. The league is filled with teams trying to imitate the Tide and falling short. Bama wins every other national title, which hides regression in the rest of the conference. All of a sudden, Nick Saban accepts the richest contract in football history from Jerry Jones to coach the Cowboys. The SEC is left with a bunch of teams that squander their talent with second-rate imitations of what NFL offenses used to be before Tom Brady, Drew Brees, and Aaron Rodgers started setting passing records. The teams remain stout on defense, but lack the punch to win big games consistently. In the end, the SEC looks like it did in the 1980s: a bunch of very good, but not elite teams that watched as Miami and Florida State passed them because those programs were better as using their athletes on offense.

Second, did you happen to glance around at SEC stadia over the weekend? Florida's imitation of their 1989 offense was watched by whole sections of empty bleachers at the Swamp. The crowd for Tennessee and NC State was about 20,000 below capacity at the Georgia Dome. As Pat Forde notes, there was only one capacity crowd among the eight SEC home openers. I am not pretending that the state of SEC offenses is the only reason for this result. Among the factors causing the empty seats are higher ticket prices (along with required donations for season tickets), a soft economy, bad non-conference opponents, the ability to buy tickets for big games online, and the improved experience of watching at home on a flat-screen TV. Forde points out that attendance was down in other conferences, so offensive regression cannot be the sole factor. However, one of the SEC's selling points is the passion of its fans. It ought to be doing better than other leagues in attendance. The march towards a more defensive conference has to be included in the list of explanations for empty seats.
Similarly, it was inevitable that I would turn Chris Brown's piece of Package Plays into a plea for SEC offenses to quit it with their homages to Pat Dye:

The query that comes to mind now is when packaged plays will come to the SEC and which teams will be the ones to first exploit them. SEC offenses have been going backwards in recent years as coaches mimic Nick Saban, not quite understanding what makes Saban's teams so successful. Gary Danielson has taken Auburn's and Florida's decisions to move from the spread to a pro-style approach as the occasion to do a victory dance for his prediction that the spread would recede in the SEC. After all, we are a whopping one season removed from Auburn winning the national title with an unstoppable spread and a mediocre, Ted Roof-coached defense (a pair of redundant adjectives, I know), so why wouldn't Gary claim victory now? And Auburn and Florida only combined to win three of the last six national titles using the spread, so the offense is clearly never going to work against SEC defenses.

One of the joys of packaged plays is that Danielson's Luddite views on offense do not justify the SEC ignoring this trend. The SEC can combine its traditional strengths in recruiting and defense alongside a cutting edge offensive approach. If Danielson is right that SEC teams should not use the spread because it is harder to recruit when you run an offense that is not common in the NFL, then there is no reason why they cannot use a concept that can be run out of any formation. In fact, as Brown points out in his piece, NFL teams also run packaged plays. What better way is there to prepare a quarterback for the NFL than to say "we trained him to run the same plays and make the same decisions as Aaron Rodgers?"
I might end up being a stuck record on this subject.  I might be giving too much power to Gary Danielson and Tony Barnhart to get inside my head.  But this is the direction in which I am going this season.


4.0 Point Stance said...

I don't buy the correlation between the "offensive regression" -- if there is one, which I kinda doubt, but don't have stong feelings about -- and the bubble about to burst in athletic ticket sales, which I agree is a very real thing. Here's why, from the Forde article:

"Attendance was down at six out of eight Big 12 home openers from 2011. Five out of eight Pac-12 schools had smaller crowds as well, and Oregon's 13-year sellout streak was in jeopardy until game day."

You kind of acknowledge this in the article but handwave it away, but it's obvious that increased offensive production won't solve your attendance woes if two notably offense first conferences including Oregon -- Oregon! -- have the same problems.

Anonymous said...


Go Dawgs.

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