Alabama proved during the 2012 college football season that a powerful running game and an efficient quarterback can win a national championship.
Texas A&M proved that an up-tempo offense that spreads the field can beat Alabama.
With just three weeks remaining until preseason camps begin around the Southeastern Conference, there are programs that firmly subscribe to a deliberate pro-style attack and others that believe in a more wide-open philosophy. Ole Miss had success with the latter last autumn in Hugh Freeze's first season as coach, and Auburn coach Gus Malzahn will bring his spread system back to the league after providing thrills as the offensive coordinator when the Tigers won the 2010 national championship.
"I think that you play to your strengths, and if you get quality players, any system can be effective," Freeze said after spring practice. "Certainly Alabama, LSU and Florida run a different system and have been very successful, and they can be successful with any system they want if they recruit to it. They get the quality players to fit that."
Ole Miss averaged 281.2 yards a game in 2011, when the Rebels were a dreadful 2-10 in their final season under Houston Nutt. Their offensive averaged spiked to 423.8 last season, which led to a 7-6 turnaround year in Oxford.
The Rebels struggled offensively against Alabama, managing 218 yards during a 33-14 loss in late September, and Freeze's up-tempo style led Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban to question several days later whether it was good for player safety.
"When a team gets in the same formation group, you can't substitute defensive players," Saban said, "so a team can go on a 14-, 16- or 18-play drive, and they're snapping the ball as fast as they can go. You look out there, and all your players are walking around and can't even get lined up. That's when guys have a much greater chance of getting hurt -- when they're not ready to play.
"I think that's something that can be looked at. It's obviously created a tremendous advantage for the offense when teams are scoring 70 points and averaging 49.5 points a game."
Saban's comments created a stir that was tempered by the weekly progression of games the rest of the season, but the debate remains as another year approaches.
A newcomer to the SEC coaching ranks, Bret Bielema, sided with Saban on the issue long before working his first game with Arkansas. At the league's spring meetings in late May, Bielema told reporters that he proposed a 15-second substitution period after every first down.
Bielema cited player safety as the primary reason, especially for the defensive tackles who are "the most stressed physically."
The latest salvo on the topic was fired by Kliff Kingsbury, who was Texas A&M's offensive coordinator last year and is now Texas Tech's head coach. In a recent interview with the Associated Press, Kingsbury said he needed to see statistical information proving that spread offenses have caused an increase in defensive injuries.
"Right now, it's just talk," Kingsbury said. "You want me to play slower? Well, OK, you need to get smaller, less strong defensive linemen. To me, it's asking to do that.
"Stop recruiting these beasts up front, and we won't run as many plays."
Texas A&M ran 83.5 plays per game last season and had 77 in its 29-24 upset triumph in Tuscaloosa. Alabama averaged 66.3 plays a game, including 65 in the loss to the Aggies.
The two teams square off again Sept. 14 in a matchup many believe will be the biggest in the SEC this season. Whether it stirs another debate about the spread offense remains to be seen.
"I think we've had quite a few wide-open offenses in our league in the past," Saban said, "and some of them have been more successful than others, especially when you have the correct players or the right players to feature in those offenses who can execute those offenses effectively. I think college football as a whole has more offenses like this -- no-huddle and fast-paced and trying to predict what the defense is doing.
"They minimize the bad plays by making a defense show their hand, and I think that's a good concept. A lot of people have had a lot of success with it, and I think it's happening all over college football and not just in our league."
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...