Jonathan Tjarks: If there was an over-arching theme to the college football season in this part of the country, it was probably the continuing spread of the Air Raid offense. If you trace the Mike Leach coaching tree, you can find his disciples at OU, OK State, West Virginia, Baylor, Texas A&M and now Texas Tech, where Kliff Kingsbury just became the head coach. That, of course, came as the result of him coaching up "Johnny Football" en route to A&M's first Heisman in 50+ years. Is Manziel's ability to break the pocket and improvise the next step in the evolution of that offense? He'll be at Jerry World for a Cotton Bowl date with the Sooners. How do you think that game will go?
Ian Boyd: I think the Air Raid is definitely here to say, particularly after its emphases on repetition and tempo in practices enabled a redshirt freshman to win the Heisman trophy in the SEC. With the easy install of the system, there's really no limit to how Air Raid teams can experiment on offense. The Houston school of the Air Raid (Briles, Holgorsen, Sumlin) are absolutely using that freedom to emphasize the mobile QB more than Humme or Leach did because it creates a run game that kills defenses when they play 2 deep coverages. The Stoops brothers have struggled this year stopping spread teams that can run the ball, but with a month to chart Manziel's tendencies and vulnerability to pressure, I suspect they'll prepare a package for him that is effective enough to get the job done.
Tjarks: For all the talk of OU having a down year, a win against A&M and they'll finish at 11-2, with a top 10 ranking and a share of the Big 12 title. If Texas were to pull that off next year, Mack Brown would be acting like he'd re-invented the wheel. I can't be the only one whose curious to see what the "Belldozer" can do with a bigger role on offense: he was apparently a pro-style QB coming out of high school, which seems hard to believe. I wonder if Stoops will stay in Norman for the rest of his career. It's harder to do these days, given our ADD society.
Boyd: I believe that if Oklahoma's two defeats had occured somewhere other than in Norman in front of their home crowd, who are entirely unused to watching their Sooners lose in that building, than the season would have gone down more easily for Sooner faithful. I'm really curious to see what OU does with their offense as well, particularly if OC Josh Heupel leaves as he was responsible for a lot of their QB development AND under-emphasis on the running game. Unless he's edged out or grows tired of coaching I don't believe Bob Stoops will leave Norman until he's ready to take his visor to the Villages in Florida. He's passed on good jobs before and would struggle to find a better place to try and win championships than Oklahoma in the current Big 12. The real question, as I've written about a lot lately, is what happens to his old "rival" in Austin.
Tjarks: The biggest thing to me with Mack is his lack of a system or defined philosophy on either side of the ball, especially in comparison to the rest of the Big 12. Is there any way a UT team could have the offensive success Oklahoma State had this year after losing a QB to the NFL and then going through three different starters behind center? He's definitely on the hot seat; my biggest fear is UT squeezes out a 9-3 season next year that gives Mack just enough leverage to stay in Bellmont. With all the turnover on the coaching staff, their bowl game against Oregon State should be an interesting window into where this team goes next season.
Boyd: Texas actually almost approached the success OSU had this year rotating different QB's in and achieving good results when the physically limited Case McCoy was at the helm for the Kansas win and gave Texas a chance to win against both KSU and TCU. Continuing to build the run game into a dynamic force that can carry the day against the league's better defenses has to be a priority for new OC Major Applewhite in the offseason. By the way, when I say OSU I mean Oklahoma St., or do I? Oregon St. has also had success rotating two different QB's this season. Texas could struggle dealing with Mike Riley's pass-heavy, but still pro-style offense in the Alamo Bowl. The Pac-12 seems to be the home of several potent offenses and teams in their own right.
Tjarks: It kind of reminds of the Big 12, in that there's one dominant recruiting area (California) that all the other schools need to poach to stay competitive, while the other states don't really have great pools of talent, especially on the lines. That dynamic is probably why both conferences have embraced the spread. The Pac-12 seem to be doing a good job of turning the revenue streams from the Pac-12 network into quality coaches: Mike Leach (Wash State), Rich Rodriguez (Arizona), Todd Graham (AZ State), Jim Mora Jr. (UCLA) and Sonny Dykes (Cal) have all been hired there in the last year. You have any hot sports opinions on how Baylor will do against Mora and the Bruins in the Holiday Bowl?
Boyd: The Pac-12 really is becoming as prolific an offensive conference as the Big 12, but they aren't there yet. UCLA dodged Oregon on the schedule this year, which would have been the only Pac 12 comparison for the way Baylor spreads you out and hammers your weaknesses. The Bears have been playing brilliantly since they added Lache Seastrunk to the mix (7.6 yards per carry). UCLA's only hope is to grind it out with their power run game and keep the Baylor offense off the field. Even then I don't envision the Bears scoring less than 30 points. How do you think the Big 12's other rising program will do in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl against Michigan State?
Tjarks: Michigan State might be 6-6, but they're a lot better than their record. They lost to Notre Dame and then lost five Big Ten games by a total of 13 points, which is pretty insane. There's a lot of talent on that defense and RB Le'Veon Bell is a monster; they just haven't been able to replace Kirk Cousins. This could be a game that sets offense back 40 years; if you don't have a rooting interest in this one, hard to see it having too much appeal. On the national level, what bowl games intrigue you besides the BCS title game?
Boyd: There are a few national games I'm intrigued by. After predicting that Iowa St. would win 7 or 8 regular season games only to fall short (they took 6), I'm curious to see them play again. I'm not sure another team in the country does more with less than the ISU D. The Capital One and Outback bowls should give us a pretty good idea of exactly how bad the Big 10 was this year when Nebraska plays Georgia and South Carolina takes on Michigan. The BCS draws were a mess with the terrible structure allowing teams like Louisville, Northern Illinois and Wisconsin into the mix. However, the Fiesta Bowl matchup between Oregon and Kansas St. is a game between teams that could have been playing for a shot at the title had we been able to apply the 2014 playoff system now.
Tjarks: Honestly, a part of me is going to miss the BCS; the more teams you add to the playoffs, the less important the regular season becomes. I know everyone is acting like Alabama is a shoe-in to make it 7 in a row for the SEC, but I'm not *that* high on them this year. Take a look at their schedule -- not a lot of great games on it. They should have lost to LSU and Georgia could have easily beaten them if Aaron Murray had spiked the ball. They don't have any elite pass rushers and they've let guys like Zach Mettenberger do work on them. The defensive front seven is the strength of Notre Dame's team; if they can hold up against the Crimson Tide's run game, this could be an upset ala Miami-Ohio State or Ohio State-Florida. I guess the real question is what conference would Notre Dame fans chant afterwards?
Boyd: The Notre Dame defense of 2012 reminds me of the Alabama defense of 2011. Running up the middle against 340 pound nose tackle Louis Nix and Heisman finalist Mike linebacker Manti Te'o is an immensely difficult task. Alabama will take it on with the strength of their 2012 team, the run game anchored by two All-Americans (Barrett Jones and Chance Warmack) that sprung two different thousand yard running backs for the Tide. It's strength on strength, irresistible force meets immovable object. The Notre Dame run game against the Alabama defense won't be a pillow fight either.
Ultimately the question is, can Notre Dame beat Alabama at their own game? It probably comes down to which of the QB's, Everett Gholston or AJ McCarron, avoid the turnovers and make the big plays that throw a close, defensive struggle one way or the other. I tend to think the Saban-taught McCarron will be better prepared for that challenge, but I'm hoping it comes down to a Notre Dame goal line stand.