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Defense wins championships? Perhaps not in Big 12

Missouri's Jerrell Jackson, left, congratulates teammate T.J. Moe on his 34-yard touchdown catch during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Oklahoma State Saturday, Oct. 22, 2011, in Columbia, Mo. Missouri's Jerrell Jackson, left, congratulates teammate T.J. Moe on his 34-yard touchdown catch during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Oklahoma State Saturday, Oct. 22, 2011, in Columbia, Mo. (AP Photo/L.G. Patterson)
By Dave Skretta
AP Sports Writer / October 24, 2011

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The Blackshirts at Nebraska are gone to the Big Ten and the once-vaunted Wrecking Crew at Texas A&M is looking awfully porous these days.

If defense wins championships, there is a lot to worry about in Big 12 country.

Not a single school from the conference is ranked in the top 25 nationally in total defense, and only Kansas State and Texas are in the top 30. BCS darling Oklahoma State? Well, its defense is ranked 103rd -- a long, long way from LSU, Alabama and even Boise State.

"There's a lot of talk, `Can you win enough games with an offense and defense that may be in the bottom half of the ratings in the country?'" Cowboys coach Mike Gundy said Monday. "I think we all would like to have a defense and an offense ranked in the top 10 or 20."

Or even the top 40, if you're Oklahoma. Or the top 50 at Missouri. Or the top 60 at Texas A&M.

Kansas would settle for just about anything better than where it is currently. The Jayhawks are dead last among 120 teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision, yielding more than 550 yards per game. They're also last in scoring defense and second-to-last in pass defense and rush defense.

"Defense," coach Turner Gill acknowledged, "is the area we haven't made the best improvement."

Nearly every team can point to something to use as an excuse.

In the Jayhawks' case, defensive coordinator Carl Torbush resigned May 31 to seek treatment for cancer, handing the reins to Vic Shealy. The defense has been a disaster, allowing at least 42 points to every FBS team it's faced this season. Kansas has been unable to stop even the most inept of offenses, although they haven't had many of them come along so far.

Therein lies the rub.

While Big 12 teams are yielding yards by the bushel, they're also racking up offense at a tremendous pace. Five of the country's top seven teams in total offense are in the Big 12 (Houston and Oregon are the other two). Missouri makes it six of the top 12.

So, are terrible defenses making the Big 12's offenses look good? Or are the high-octane offenses making the defenses look, well, terrible?

Texas coach Mack Brown believes it's a combination of the two.

"Our league scores so many points, and part of that is the vertical passing game," said Brown, whose Longhorns are allowing 338 yards per game, second in the league and 30th in the nation.

Rather than trying to slow down the hurry-up offenses of Oklahoma and Baylor, or match up with star receivers like Justin Blackmon at Oklahoma State, or bottle up running backs like Henry Josey at Missouri, Brown has decided that the Longhorns are better off simply trying to outscore them.

"You've got to score points, and you have to score a lot of points," he said. "We're scoring 30 points a game and that's not enough in this league. I think there are some defensive players that are really good in this league, but there's still a lot of points getting scored."

Perhaps the biggest reason Kansas State leads the league in total defense -- and is ranked No. 29 nationally -- is that it does the best job of keeping its defense off the field altogether.

While Oklahoma's prolific offense likes to score in a matter of minutes, and Baylor considers it a failure to spend even that much time getting into the end zone, Kansas State is content to grind down the clock every time it has the ball. The Wildcats lead the nation in time of possession at 34 minutes, 52 seconds every game, well ahead of second-place Virginia Tech.

Bill Snyder understands his team can't go toe-to-toe in a shootout with some of the high-octane offenses run at other schools, so the coach is running a unique style of option offense. The result is that his defense spends nearly 8 minutes less on the field per game than Baylor's defense.

Of course, it helps having the right players when they finally do get on the field.

"We pay attention against the run, or have anyway. We're a little more consistent up front, our linebackers have got a little more speed," Snyder said. "It's just a combination of things."

A combination missing at most of the schools in the Big 12.