Thank the pirate.
If you're wondering when exactly the Big 12 began to turn its back on more conventional offenses in favor of what now rules the conference, focus your telescope toward the Great Northwest.
More than anyone, Washington State coach Mike Leach was the first to bring the wide-open spread offenses to the league when he was hired away from Kentucky by Bob Stoops to be Oklahoma's offensive coordinator in 1999. From there, Leach turned Texas Tech into an offensive powerhouse, teaching assistants Art Briles and Dana Holgorsen along the way.
Briles went on to build offensive powers at Houston and Baylor. Briles' high-octane offense was highlighted by Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Robert Griffin III in 2011.
Holgorsen also left Tech for Houston and built an offensive juggernaut as the Cougars led the nation in total offense in 2008 and 2009. Houston quarterback Case Keenum set numerous NCAA passing records. In 2010, Holgorsen turned around Oklahoma State's offense, which ranked 61st in 2009, to the nation's top spot.
Many Big 12 coaches credit Texas high school coaches, who have made the spread-attack offenses as prevalent, if not more so, than run-oriented schemes. Briles was one of the first high school coaches to turn the spread offense into a seldom-stopped scoring machine. By the end of his 11-year tenure at Stephenville High School, Briles' teams had mastered the spread attack. In 1998, Stephenville totaled a national record 8,664 yards of total offense.
"As much as anything, it's all the good quarterbacks, for six or seven years now," Stoops said. "The quality of quarterbacks in the league is probably why everyone started gravitating that way."
And gravitate they did. The Big 12 has the top three offensive teams in the nation and six of the top nine quarterbacks in passing efficiency.
"There's a large pool to choose from," Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said. "The high school coaching in the state of Texas is really second to none. They do a great job of teaching and preparing their players. Over the last four or five years the offenses have really leaned heavily on spread, passing-style offenses in high school. I think it's almost an on-the-job training for those quarterbacks before they get to college."
Texas Tech coach Tommy Tuberville says high school teams used to have their best athlete at running back. Now, he says, the best athlete is under center.
"So you're seeing a lot more athletic quarterbacks that have the opportunity to grow up in these systems," said Tuberville, whose quarterback Seth Doege threw for 4,004 yards last season. "Plus, you have the 7-on-7 leagues that are absolutely phenomenal in this state. It's rabid in the summertime."
Tuberville says the dynamics of Texas high school offense have changed so much that tight ends are often hard to recruit because classic-style, blocking tight ends are so seldom used.
"It's not that they're not out there," he said. "They just usually don't play that position. They might be split out. If you're looking for a blocking tight end you're probably barking up the wrong tree. You better go someplace else. They just don't use that many."
And the fact that these offenses are pass-first doesn't mean the running games are forgotten. Oklahoma State, which leads the country in total offense with an astonishing 659 yards a game, is fifth in both passing and rushing. Gundy takes exception to some who insinuate that there's something inferior with the style.
"We're more of a no-huddle, fast-attack spread offense, and most of the teams are that way," he said. "The difference in our league is our tempo and style of play and how fast we move and the number of plays we try to get in a game. But we're still running the ball and we'd like to stay as balanced as possible."
Defensive coaches, understandably, aren't exactly thrilled about the trend.
Alabama's Nick Saban recently complained that no-huddle, hurry-up offenses are going to get defensive players hurt because they don't have a chance to line up properly.
"I think that's something that can be looked at," Saban said. "It's obviously created a tremendous advantage for the offense when teams are scoring 70 points and we're averaging 49.5 points a game. More and more people are going to do it. I just think there's got to be some sense of fairness in terms of asking: Is this what we want football to be?"
Too late, Nick. Football is that way.
Welcome to the new world
Offenses are enjoying more success than ever in the Big 12 this season. Here's a look at how the leading teams compare with the leaders in 1996, the league's first year:
659.0 Okla. St.