Has adding two Big 12 football programs made the Southeastern Conference more like the Big 12?
With the SEC's regular season reaching its midway mark this weekend, Texas A&M, Georgia and Alabama are averaging more than 40 points a game, with the newcomer Aggies leading the frenetic surge at 44.6 points per contest. Tennessee is almost there with 39.4 points a game, and South Carolina has averaged 40.2 points since its opening escape at Vanderbilt.
"I don't know about that," Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. "I think you have to evaluate all that when the season is over and when conference play is finished. The reputation for high-level defenses in this league is real, so we'll kind of see where it goes."
Pinkel's Tigers certainly counter the offensive explosion argument, as they are averaging 25.3 points per game in their new league after averaging 32.8 in their old one. Missouri was held to 10 points at South Carolina, which is allowing 10.5 points per game, and is about to host Alabama, which leads the nation by yielding an average of 7.0 points.
Yet eight of the 12 teams that were in the SEC last season are scoring more points per game than a year ago, when Arkansas led the league with a 36.8 average. Every league school has scored more than 40 points at least once this season with the exception of Florida and Auburn, whose single-game highs are 38 and 31.
"Everyone is getting more snaps in a game," Gators coach Will Muschamp said. "Hardly anyone huddles anymore, so people are playing at a much faster tempo and getting more snaps, which creates fatigue for the defense, which now creates poor angles to the ball, which affects how you tackle.
"So you're seeing more explosive plays, and when you're playing an additional 15 to 18 snaps in a game, that's a bunch of snaps. It's like an extra quarter."
The no-huddle has created not only more offensive opportunities but more headaches for defensive-minded coaches, such as Alabama's Nick Saban. With the speed of these games enhanced, Saban thinks it's time to look at player safety.
"When a team gets in the same formation group, you can't substitute defensive players, so a team goes on a 14-, 16- or 18-play drive, and they're snapping the ball as fast as they can," Saban said. "You look out there, and all your players are walking around and can't even get lined up. Guys have a much greater chance of getting hurt when they're not ready to play.
"It's obviously created a tremendous advantage for the offense when teams are scoring 70 points and averaging 49.5 points a game. More people are going to do it, and I just think there has got to be some sense of fairness in terms of asking, 'Is this what we want football to be?'"
Those with hurry-up offensive backgrounds, such as first-year Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze, have no such gripes. Freeze has been implementing a rapid pace since the late 1990s, when he coached the Briarcrest Christian high school team near Memphis.
That more and more high schools are using multiple offenses out of the no-huddle is benefiting his Rebels, who are scoring 31.3 points a game after averaging 16.1 a year ago.
"It helps prepare these kids," Freeze said, "and it helps places like us here and Texas A&M attract the skill guys you need in these type of offenses."
Tennessee coach Derek Dooley believes the increase in points is as much about improved quarterback play as anything, and new Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin agreed. The Aggies lost Ryan Tannehill, who was the No. 8 overall selection in April's NFL draft, but have been more dangerous with redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel.
Manziel leads the SEC with 356 yards of total offense a game.
"You're getting more advanced kids," Sumlin said. "High schools are running all sorts of offenses now, whether it's two-back, one-back or no-back. Everybody is throwing the football, and the kids who we get have a higher IQ in the passing game than we've ever had before."