The top four teams in most polls this week, Auburn, Oregon, Boise State and TCU, all scored around 50 points in their victories last week, which was amazing and exciting. Plenty of other teams are scoring a lot of points, too. What is happening around the country is making some oldtimers like myself change their opinions, philosophy and ideas about what it takes to be successful in college football.
When the spread formations first came to the SEC I had some serious questions about whether or not they would work in this league because I didn't know if there was enough power in the offense to offset the speed you find on defenses across this conference. However, the way these offenses can spread the field horizontally and attack vertically with both passing and the running game, using the read play and the creative power schemes we are seeing, has changed my mind.
One of the reasons these offenses are having so much success is that there is such an abundance of talent coming into college programs from high schools throughout the country. Kids are getting so much better at throwing and catching the football before they move to college because of the emphasis on that part of the game on high school teams and because of the instruction and training available to high school players during the offseason. As a result of those factors they are getting a lot more exposure to football and arrive on campus more prepared to make the transition to the college game.
When you throw in the phenomenal athletes we are seeing at quarterback on the top teams around the country, it makes the spread offenses even more difficult to stop.
I really think the spread offenses, and the theories behind them, are going to be with us for a long time. I am not sure what defensive coaches are going to come up with as they try to find better ways to defend what offensive coaches are doing. I am sure they will in time, but it may take a while.
If you go back to the early days of college football, offensive coaches have always tried to find ways to get ahead of defenses and have had successes doing that going all the way back to the old Notre Dame Box formation to the single wing and then to the Wing-T, the split back veer, the "I" formation, the wishbone and other offensive schemes. The offensive coaches are always trying to stay at least one step ahead of what the coaches on defense are doing.
With the way spread offenses are attacking defenses, playing in space is so much more critical now than it was when I was coaching. It is a different ball game now, especially when you have the added dimension of a great athlete at quarterback who can run or throw. It has got defensive coaches across the country scratching their heads trying to come up with a scheme that can slow these offenses
Last Saturday against Auburn, the Ole Miss defense came out and played with a different scheme than it had been using throughout the season, but Auburn adjusted and moved the football so well the Tigers had to punt just one time in that game. That shows the versatility of what Auburn and many other teams are doing when they have the football.
I guess Urban Meyer at Florida was the first head coach to come into the SEC totally committed to this type of offense and saying this is what we are. Now Auburn and Mississippi State are running the spread and almost every team in the league is using some elements of it such as the wildcat formation, one-back sets where coaches put a running back or really good athlete at the quarterback position and take advantage of the blocking schemes available and the misdirection possibilities the spread offers a play-caller on every snap.
Teams defending it need to be as athletic as possible, particularly in the secondary where the spread puts so much pressure on defensive backs to cover a large amount of territory. Certainly a team that runs it on offense will have a better chance to defend against the spread in a game because its defensive players can adjust to it during practices, but even with that advantage defending these offenses is not easy to do.
This is a transition period in college football. What the Tigers are doing is new for Auburn, but it is something that makes sense and is exciting to watch with a great athlete executing plays at quarterback like Cameron Newton. I think eventually everybody is going to have to recruit an athlete to play quarterback who both run and throw at a high level.
Auburn quarterback Cameron Newton is a major threat as a runner and a passer.
Of course, as it always has been having an experienced offensive line will be critical to any system's success, including the spread. The same is true of building team chemistry and having talented players on both sides of the football no matter what schemes their coaches come up with for a particular game or season.
In my opinion we are going through a revolution in college football. What is happening with the new spread formations has had the same effect the wishbone had 50 years ago when defenses struggled to find a way to stop it. However, there is a big difference between the offenses we are seeing today and the wishbone, which was one-dimensional. The new spread formations can take advantage of anything an offense can take advantage of so I am expecting it to be a while before defenses come up with the best way to defend it.
The spread offense really hinges on execution and if it is executed well using outstanding players it is very difficult to stop. Auburn has made a commitment to running the offense and doing it well, and the results are there for everybody to see.
Editor's Note: This part of a series of columns that College Football Hall of Fame member Pat Dye is writing for AUTigers.com about the game he played and coached. An All-American at Georgia and one of the top head coaches in SEC history at Auburn who was also head coach at East Carolina and Wyoming, Dye participates in the Legends Poll, a Top 25 rating of the best teams in college football as determined by a panel of all-star former head coaches. Dye writes three columns a week--The Dye-Log, the Dye-Gest and Pat's Picks.
(If you have a question or a subject you would like me to write about in future columns, you can email it to PatDye@autigers.com.)