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December 29, 2008
Are Big 12 defenses getting a bad rap?
Jeremy Maclin, Missouri's elusive, big-play receiver, was getting defensive.
Critics would say that was one of the few times this season that "defense" and the "Big 12" were linked. There is a perception that the Big 12 is a conference rife with explosive offenses and exposed defenses. The implication is that if they were facing stronger defenses, like those in the SEC, Big 12 offenses wouldn't be so high-scoring.
That's why Maclin was upset.
"I'm an offensive guy and I take that as an insult when people say that," Maclin said. "I think [Big 12] defenses are just about as good; they're just different. The Big 12 is more about passing and the SEC is more run-based, so you can't compare the offenses that way. We have so many good offenses that put up numbers, so even if you blow somebody out you can still give up 350 yards passing."
And a lot of points, too. The Big 12 boasts seven teams that rank among the nation's top 19 in scoring offense. But the flipside is that seven of its teams rank 85th or worse in scoring defense.
"It's all talk. It really doesn't matter," Texas All-American defensive end Brian Orakpo said. "Just let two teams play and see whoever comes out on top. All the defensive stats don't matter. We play high-powered offenses each and every week. … Stats don't matter. Wins and losses are the only things that count."
The questions persist, though. Are Big 12 offenses so strong because they face Big 12 defenses that are weak? Or could it be that Big 12 defenses are underrated because they face Big 12 offenses? The Big 12 opens its postseason Monday night in the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio, with Missouri playing Northwestern of the Big Ten.
"The Big 12 defenses get overshadowed by the offenses, but they're good, too," said Texas quarterback Colt McCoy, who is one of five Big 12 quarterbacks ranked among the nation's top 10 in passing efficiency. "We'll see when the bowl season comes around. I think the Big 12 will do well."
The bowls should indeed be the Rosetta stone. Four bowls will match Big 12 teams against top-15 defenses: Nebraska vs. Clemson (15th) in the Gator Bowl, Texas Tech vs. Ole Miss (14th) in the Cotton Bowl, Texas vs. Ohio State (eighth) in the Fiesta Bowl and Oklahoma vs. Florida (ninth) in the national championship game.
A year ago Big 12 teams went 5-3 in bowl games, with four opponents scoring 28 or more points. That included Oklahoma, which allowed 48 in a Fiesta Bowl loss to West Virginia. This season, Big 12 teams faced 15 "Big Six" opponents in non-conference games – and allowed at least 31 points in eight of them. Big 12 teams that will appear in bowls went 5-2 in those non-conference games.
"The offenses are just that good," Maclin said. "Big 12 quarterbacks – if you go down the list, you can see how good they are. There are so many good ones, and the offensive coordinators use different schemes. They do a good job with the schemes.
"The Big 12 has great tight ends and receivers and even running backs, even though they don't get as much praise. There are athletes on defense and they can show big time. OU has done it twice against us and Texas Tech."
The Sooners held Texas Tech and Missouri to 21 points each. That almost qualifies as a shutout in the Big 12. The Sooners also scored more than 60 points against those teams.
"I have to give it to the SEC because they're great with defenses," said Oklahoma State wide receiver Dez Bryant, who has 1,313 receiving yards and 18 touchdowns this season. "But Big 12 teams have some very talented and explosive offenses. I feel like I'm an offensive guy, and with an explosive offense you can get to any defense."
Who has the edge?
Missouri run offense vs. Northwestern run defense
Missouri pass offense vs. Northwestern pass defense
Northwestern run offense vs. Missouri run defense
Northwestern pass offense vs. Missouri pass defense
Missouri special teams vs. Northwestern special teams
Missouri coaches vs. Northwestern coaches
X-factor: Missouri entered the season with aspirations of a Big 12 championship and possibly a national title. The Tigers fell way short. They lost their last two games, including a blowout at the hands of Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game. Will the Tigers be fully interested and focused on the bowl game? The answer may determine the outcome.
Missouri will win if: Daniel, Coffman and Maclin (if he's indeed headed to the NFL draft) need to be intent on finishing their careers with a blaze of glory. When Daniel is at his best, the Tigers are difficult to stop and can score enough to compensate for their disappointing defense.
Northwestern will win if: Getting pressure on Daniel and forcing turnovers should be the top priority. Daniel has thrown eight interceptions in the Tigers' four losses. The Wildcats also must avoid turnovers to keep from giving Mizzou's offense more opportunities with the football. If Sutton can play and has a strong game, it obviously will enhance the Wildcats' hopes.
Olin Buchanan is a senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.