By RALPH D. RUSSO
No. 20 Texas A&M has become a fascinating team.
The Aggies are thrilled to be in the Southeastern Conference, but their approach is still very much Big 12.
When Texas A&M hosts No. 6 LSU and the Tigers’ nasty defense Saturday, the Aggies will get a chance to prove what so many Big 12 fans have thought all along: Those big, bad SEC defenses wouldn’t look quite so tough if they had to face high-powered Big 12 offenses every week.
SEC fans scoff at this, insist defense wins championships, and point to the six straight national titles the conference has won as proof.
As with many arguments, there is truth on both sides. But the debate seems to be more heated than ever because there is such a clear style difference between the top teams in the SEC (Alabama, LSU, Florida and South Carolina) and those in the Big 12 (especially West Virginia, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech).
Texas A&M can score a victory of sorts for the conference it left behind over the next few weeks.
The Aggies lead the SEC and are tied for sixth in the nation in total offense at 543 yards per game, behind fabulous redshirt freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel (aka Johnny Football). They average 47 points, run a fast-paced spread offense and are everything that makes fans (and coaches) of a more traditional approach to football cringe.
The Aggies lost 20-17 to open the season against No. 3 Florida, coached by former defensive coordinator Will Muschamp. Chalk one up for old-school football. Since then they’ve scored 88 points combined in victories against Arkansas and Mississippi, two teams that prove not everybody in the SEC plays big-time defense.
After LSU, A&M plays three straight road games against Auburn, No. 15 Mississippi State and No. 1 Alabama.
Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban made news a few weeks back when he responded to a question about up-tempo offenses by suggesting there were safety issues to consider when teams run so many plays, especially for defenses that can’t substitute as often.
“I just think there’s got to be some sense of fairness in terms of asking, ‘Is this what we want football to be?’” he said.
Aggies first-year coach Kevin Sumlin, who served as an assistant for seven seasons in the Big 12 before becoming the head coach at Houston, was asked about the fairness of the no-huddle. His dismissive response was, basically, his team plays by the rules.
Saban is not the only defensive-minded coach feeling a bit, well, defensive these days.
You can be certain that those on that side of the ball will push for some rules changes in the next few years to slow things down a bit. And you can be just as sure that the guys on the offense side will push back.
Whether it goes anywhere, who knows?
Grant Teaff, the former Baylor coach who now heads the American Football Coaches Association, said his group annually surveys coaches for ideas about tweaking rules.
“It’s a legitimate concern our defensive coaches have about being able to substitute,” Teaff said. “But that’s part of the challenge. The game changes; offenses catch up to defenses.
“That’s what football is. It’s in a constant cycle of change.”
Though defensive coaches are correct to contend it’s been cycling in favor of offense for years.
“The thing I hear from my defensive friends is all defensive coordinators are either on the way in or on the way out (of a job),” Teaff said. “Defensive coordinator is a tough job in some leagues right now.”
No. 1 Alabama (minus 20) at Tennessee
Tide has won five straight against Vols … ALABAMA 42-17.
No. 9 South Carolina (plus 3) at No. 3 Florida
Third straight top-10 opponent for Gamecocks … SOUTH CAROLINA 20-17.
No. 4 Kansas State (plus 2) at No. 17 West Virginia
The Big 12 race could be a mess — a fun mess, though … WEST VIRGINIA 45-35.
BYU (plus 13) at No. 5 Notre Dame
First of six scheduled meetings between Cougars and Irish … NOTRE DAME 24-13.
No. 6 LSU (minus 3) at No. 20 Texas A&M
Manziel for Heisman gets serious if Aggies beat Tigers … LSU 38-24.
Purdue (plus 19) at No. 7 Ohio State
Boilermakers have been outscored 82-27 last two weeks by Wisconsin, Michigan. … OHIO STATE 45-21.
Utah (plus 10) at No. 8 Oregon State
VAZ-tacular start for new Beavers QB Cody Vaz against BYU … OREGON STATE 30-21.
Kansas (plus 35) at No. 10 Oklahoma
Sooners have won seven straight against Jayhawks, all by at least 14 … OKLAHOMA 52-14.
Colorado (plus 40) at No. 11 Southern California
A Matt Barkley stat-padder … USC 48-10.
No. 12 Florida State (minus 20) at Miami
ACC still waiting for this rivalry to be great again … FLORIDA STATE 38-17.
No. 13 Georgia (plus 27) at Kentucky
Wildcats might want to end this one early, too … GEORGIA 45-14.
Virginia Tech (plus 8) at No. 14 Clemson
ACC schedule makers did Hokies no favors with interdivisional games against Tigers and Florida State … CLEMSON 35-31.
Middle Tennessee (plus 19) at No. 15 Mississippi State
Blue Raiders have already knocked off Georgia Tech … MISSISSIPPI STATE 38-17.
USF (plus 6) at No. 16 Louisville
Bulls have been Big East’s most disappointing team … LOUISVILLE 28-17.
No. 18 Texas Tech (minus 2) at TCU
New Horned Frogs QB Trevone Boykin threw four TD passes last week … TCU 35-28.
No. 19 Rutgers (minus 5) at Temple
Surprising Owls have won first two games in return to Big East … RUTGERS 17-13.
No. 21 Cincinnati (minus 7) at Toledo
Rockets’ only loss was in OT to Arizona … TOLEDO 33-28
No. 22 Stanford (minus 2) at California
The Big Game comes early for Cardinal and Bears … STANFORD 28-20.
Michigan State (plus 10) at No. 23 Michigan
Spartans have won four straight in rivalry … MICHIGAN 27-14.
UNLV (plus 28) at No. 24 Boise State
Broncos quietly rolling to another big season … BOISE STATE 35-14.
Last week’s record: 15-3 (straight); 11-6 (vs. points)
Season record: 116-23 (straight); 69-52 (vs. points)