It was less than a decade ago that playing defense seemed like an afterthought among Big 12 schools as you could almost routinely expect to see teams score 40, 50 and sometimes 60 and 70 points on Saturday afternoons in the fall.
Despite who was calling the shots on defense, it always seemed like Big 12 offensive play callers had the chalk last.
However, take a look at the numbers of Big 12 defenses the last few years and you'll notice that the perception of defense in the league has changed dramatically.
While the Big 12 played a unique conference heavy schedule this past fall and the stats don't tell the whole story like a typical year might, the league had five teams finish ranked among the top 40 scoring defenses in college football (WVU, Iowa State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and TCU).
A decade ago, that type of success by Big 12 defenses would have been hard to fathom. Over the past several years the defenses in the league have made big strides, but looking back, what team and coach led the defensive revolution in the league?
One high profile defensive coordinator points to Iowa State.
Alex Grinch joined Lincoln Riley at Oklahoma heading into the 2019 season after climbing from a rising assistant coaching the safeties at Missouri to defensive coordinator at Washington State, and then co-defensive coordinator at Ohio State before being tasked with turning the Sooner defense around.
While the Oklahoma defense has improved at an impressive rate in its two seasons under Grinch, he's aware that the change started well before him, and he shared his thoughts with The Oklahoman on the topic.
“I wouldn’t claim that Oklahoma is the one that put the major charge in this. Iowa State, for instance, kind of put their foot in the ground and said, ‘We’re gonna develop scheme, we’re gonna put packages in place, we’re gonna raise the expectation of the individual program to not just simply be sort of offensive centric in a lot of ways’ — which then puts pressure on the other programs to do the same.
“So we’d like to think we’re part of that in some ways moving forward. You’re gonna have to play at a high level of defense at Oklahoma because they’re gonna play at a high level of defense. I think there’s something to that.”
The Cyclones, led by Jon Heacock and his defensive staff, been on the cutting edge defensively for a handful of years now, garnering a lot of attention among coaches for their use of the tite / mint alignment in their odd front package, and also for utilizing three safeties at times against some of the highest scoring, most efficient offenses in college football.
Grinch goes on to add that, on their side of the ball, defensive coordinators are constantly chasing elite offenses, and he hopes that the Sooners are a part of that change.
Head here to read the whole piece, including plenty more thoughts on the evolution of Big 12 defenses.
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