Offense is name of the game in Big 12

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) -- More freshmen than ever are playing. Tackling is a lost art. Spread offenses have taken over.

Those are the three reasons Colorado coach Gary Barnett gives for the dominance shown by Big 12 offenses so far this season.

"I see this as a wide-open grass basketball kind of sport, the way it's going now," Barnett said Monday during the Big 12 coaches' conference call with reporters.

Six of the nation's top 15 teams in scoring are from the Big 12. Oklahoma, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State and Texas are averaging 40 points or more. Last year only one team in the league, Kansas State, averaged more than 40 a game.

Texas Tech, at 621.8 yards a game, leads the nation in offense and six other conference teams are averaging more than 400. Last year only three Big 12 teams generated more than 400 yards a game.

Tech, at a nation-leading 519.8 passing yards, is among three Big 12 teams throwing for at least 319 yards a game. Last year Tech was the only conference team passing for more than 300 yards a game.

"The skill is just fantastic," Iowa State's Dan McCarney said. "Good luck trying to pick out who the all-conference players are based on what we've seen."

Kansas' Mark Mangino said offensive coaches are more willing to spread the field and take more risks.

"We're not a three-yard-and-a-cloud-of-dust conference, as we were called in the old Big Eight," Mangino said.

Barnett said college football in general is becoming more offensive. He said the 85-scholarship limit, combined with attrition from injuries and academic casualties, has required more true freshmen to play significant roles.

Because the NCAA has restricted the amount of contact allowed in spring practice, Barnett said, the fundamentals of tackling aren't emphasized as much.

"It's hard for us to find guys coming out of high school who can tackle and it's hard for us now to teach them to tackle," Barnett said.

The influx of spread offenses has required defenses to become more athletic, Barnett said.

"You don't find the big linebackers that can play," Barnett said. "You play more with speed linebackers, guys who can cover on the corners. Trying to find guys who can stand up and tackle, that's hard to do."


NORTH FREE-FOR-ALL: There's a strong possibility that the North Division representative at the Big 12 championship game will have two conference losses.

Kansas State went to the title game with two losses in 2000, but that was the only time a North team has done so since the league started play in 1996. The South champion has had two losses on four occasions.

Missouri, Nebraska, Kansas and Colorado each are 1-1 in the league and K-State and Iowa State are 0-2.

"If anybody can find a way to beat some of the teams in the South, those are the ones who have the best chance of winning the North now," Barnett said.

Losing two straight to open conference play usually knocks a team out of contention. Not this year, K-State's Bill Snyder said.

"Sometimes second chances are hard to come by," he said. "And it's virtually impossible to get a third chance. At least we have that opportunity. Our destiny is in our own hands."

Separation may begin this week with Colorado at Kansas State, Missouri at Oklahoma and Texas A&M at Nebraska.

"It will thin itself out pretty quick," Snyder said.


SYMONS OR SYSTEM?: Texas Tech coach Mike Leach bristles at the suggestion that B.J. Symons' big passing numbers are the result of the quarterback playing in a pass-happy system as opposed to his talent.

"If B.J. is a product of the system, then he's not getting any of those touchdown passes and all those yards. That means our coaching staff is," Leach said. "That would also mean we could go down to 7-Eleven and get the clerk behind the counter and let him play quarterback."

Symons is completing 67 percent of his passes for a nation-leading 492.3 yards a game and 27 touchdowns.

Symons said he is used to people doubting his ability.

"You want to look at the points and yards and say 'Well, it's the system that they're doing.' If it were that easy, everybody would do it," Symons said.


EXTRA POINTS: Third-year Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said his program took another step in its development by outscoring Nebraska 27-0 in the fourth quarter. Nebraska had minus-38 yards of offense in the final 15 minutes. "Our first year here in the program, we got to the fourth quarter almost every game and had a meltdown," Pinkel said. "Last year we got to the fourth quarter and in a lot of games competed well but weren't good enough to win very many of them. This year we're making a little progress there." . . . Texas coach Mack Brown, whose team was hammered 65-13 by Oklahoma, made no excuses for his team's performance. "It was a great day. Great fans. Great TV audience," Brown said. "Oklahoma stood up to their side of it and we didn't." . . . Baylor has given up 70 points to an opponent two years in a row. Last year the Bears were beaten 70-22 by California. Last week they were drubbed 73-10 by Texas A&M. "We went down to A&M and kind of got steamrolled a little bit. Maybe that's an understatement," Baylor coach Guy Morriss said. . . . OU coach Bob Stoops was asked whether place-kick holder Matt McCoy and tight end Chris Chester are still celebrities after the two hooked up for the game-winning touchdown pass on a fake field goal in the Sooners' 31-24 win at Missouri last year. "They haven't been invited to many ESPY Awards lately," said Stoops, whose team hosts the Tigers this week.

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