NORMAN — Things change quickly in college football. The Big 12 Conference is the perfect example.
The fact the league is preparing for its final season as a 12-team group isn’t the only alteration for the 2010 season. There’s a strong perception the mighty offenses that dominated for the last several seasons have bid farewell, too.
Texas coach Mack Brown said it’s the natural evolution of the sport. The defenses have finally caught up with the spread offenses that dominated the last decade. He admits the Longhorns spent the spring and will spend the next month trying to rediscover a running game that was dormant the previous four seasons.
“We’re not going to be three yards and a cloud of dust,” Brown said. “We’re just changing our personality. We’re not going to change it entirely, but we are going to tweak it some.”
The Longhorns aren’t the only ones. Just about every team in the league except for Oklahoma State has professed a need to reintroduce themselves to dormant running games.
OU has been one of the few teams that wanted offensive balance over the last five years. Even it got pass-happy last season when injuries forced personnel to change. That won’t be the case this year.
OU running back DeMarco Murray said he’s set a goal for rushing for 2,000 yards this season. It was an incredible feat, considering Murray only rushed for 1,000 yards once in his career.
But don’t discount Murray. The Big 12 could very well be decided by which teams run the ball the best.
Brown is right in one aspect: Defenses throughout the conference have gotten more comfortable defending the spread offense. The biggest change this season, however, is the quarterbacks that will be running those offenses.
Stars like OU’s Sam Bradford and Texas’ Colt McCoy are gone. But those are two of the luckier teams in the league. The Sooners know Landry Jones will be their quarterback this season. The Longhorns have already named Garrett Gilbert as their starter.
They join Texas A&M, Baylor, Oklahoma State, Missouri and Iowa State as the teams who have already named starting quarterbacks. But only Jones, Texas A&M’s Jerrod Johnson, Missouri’s Blaine Gabbert and Iowa State’s Austen Arnuad have full seasons of starting experience.
Gilbert will make his first start in the season opener. Baylor’s Robert Griffin III missed all but three games last season with a knee injury.
Both Taylor Potts and Steven Sheffield made starts for Texas Tech last season, but neither has earned the starting job for this year. The Red Raiders join Kansas, Kansas State, Colorado and Nebraska as teams that still don’t know who will take the opening snap in the season opener.
That uncertainty will bring running backs to the forefront of the conference this season.
Tommy Tuberville, who is entering his first season as Texas Tech’s head coach, is going to strive to bring balance to the Red Raiders’ offense for a simple reason.
“You can’t expect a quarterback to throw it 70 times a game, because he’s not going to make it through the whole season,” he said. “We want to protect our quarterbacks. We want to be more balanced, and we want to give the defenses something to think about other than just rushing the passer every time.”
Maybe that wasn’t the case the last five years. Going all the way back to Josh Heupel in 2000, quarterbacks have been the stars of the Big 12. Each year the best in the conference was always considered one of the best, if not the best, in the country.
Heading into the season, the conference doesn’t have that one special player who has proven he can run an offense on brains, mobility or on a strong arm.
That might change over the next four months. Jones and Gabbert displayed plenty of talent last season. Griffin, if he’s fully recovered from last season’s knee injury, could be one of the most exciting players in college football.
“There will never be a lack of talented quarterbacks in the Big 12,” Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman said.
But the lack of proven quarterbacks who’ve shown they can lead a team to a championship means coaches are looking to take pressure off their shoulders instead of heaping into on them.
John Shinn 366-3536 firstname.lastname@example.org