|This story originally published on CollegeFootballNews.com|
Look out Big Ten, the spread is coming, the spread is coming!
The slow, stick-in-the-mud conference of Woody, Bo, Dayne, and Griffin creating clouds of dust with power running games led by big, beefy offensive lines doing big, beefy things is being infiltrated by the spread offense. At least that's the national perception.
After Appalachian State and Oregon blew the doors off the Michigan defense, and with USC beating up Illinois in the Rose Bowl to go along with the two Ohio State national title losses, the Big Ten might appear to be undergoing a makeover to try to keep up with the times. The hiring of Rich Rodriguez at Michigan, and with teams like Penn State changing things up a bit, even if they're not fully committing to the spread, makes it look like the league is trying to adjust. While that's not necessarily true, and the Big Ten has often been ahead of the offensive curve, from a PR standpoint and when it comes to national respect, it seems like something needed to be done.
By hiring Rodriquez, Michigan is making a fundamental change in the way it's doing business, but remember, the former West Virginia head man wasn't the school's first choice. In fact, he was roughly third after LSU's Les Miles and Rutgers' Greg Schiano.
After the retirement of Lloyd Carr, it wasn't like Michigan set out to make this big change to make a big change. Rodriguez is one of college football's elite of the elite head coaches, Michigan considers itself an elite of the elite football school, and the two came together. Don't forget that Michigan adjusted to the spread as the season went on holding Illinois to 137 rushing yards in the 27-17 win, and beating Florida in the Capital One Bowl. The hiring of Rodriguez wasn't a can't-beat-‘em-join-‘em move after the Appalachian State and Oregon losses.
RichRod might be known for the spread attack he helped mold into a juggernaut at West Virginia, but he has been adamant that he's not just going to force Michigan to run his style, at least right away.
"For this first year, we're going to have to get really creative at times," said Rodriguez. "We'll have to adjust to the personnel more than the personnel will have to adjust to us. At least we're going to have to be flexible."
Fortunately for Michigan and Rodriguez, a shift away from big, lumbering offensive linemen to more athletic, quicker, and trimmer blockers was made a few years ago, and the pieces might be more in place as a program, even if the right players aren't there yet. The mindset had started to be changed to pave the way for the spread, and while it might take a year or two for Rodriguez and his staff to do exactly what they want, this isn't going to be the big leap it might appear.
Ohio State has already joined the spread era, but it hasn't been quite as obvious. Troy Smith won a Heisman thanks to an attack that allowed him to see the field more and use his speedy targets, Ted Ginn and Anthony Gonzalez, in mismatches. The addition of super-recruit Terrelle Pryor, who by all indications is the 100% real deal, and the eventual next-big-thing to hit the college football world, will simply allow the coaching staff to do different things. While Pryor would make for a star spread quarterback, he'd be successful in any scheme.
Most of the rest of the Big Ten has already been using various forms of the spread, even if the offenses aren't the pure spread attacks like the ones used at Texas Tech or Florida. Illinois is already using the option version, making the big leap up from doormat to Rose Bowl in a short time. Minnesota, for all its faults last year, cranked out big numbers with Adam Weber running the spread to go along with the in-place Gopher zone blocking scheme.
Purdue, Northwestern and Indiana were basically running a spread attack before anyone really knew what a spread attack was. Drew Brees was winging it around a million times a game back in the late 1990s as Joe Tiller's high-tempo attack used a variety of different bits and pieces of schemes to get the receivers into open spaces, while Brees, who has hardly been a runner at the NFL level, was a more than adequate runner for the Boilermakers, especially around the goal line.
Remember Zac Kustok? He was the former Northwestern quarterback who led a high-powered spread offense to a share of the 2000 Big Ten title, while Indiana essentially had Juice Williams and Rashard Mendenhall, but without the team success Illinois had last year, when Antwaan Randle El and Levron Williams were ripping teams apart with the running game early in the 2000s.
The Big Ten isn't undergoing any sort of massive undertaking to revamp or rebuild its image or the league as a whole. That will only happening by coming up with big wins in big non-conference games. However, the league has morphed and adapted its way to this point, and now it's a true melting pot of offensive styles with the spread being a bigger part of the puzzle. Rodriguez and Michigan will just make things more interesting.