LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Kansas is hardly the first team that comes to mind when you ponder high-flying Big 12 offenses.
The Jayhawks averaged about 350 yards per game last season, which ranked somewhere south of the top 100 nationally. Their quarterback situation was an inexperienced mess, they didn’t have enough playmakers on the perimeter and their offensive line resembled a pasta strainer.
But everything changed when Jayhawks coach David Beaty plucked Doug Meacham from TCU to be the offensive coordinator. Meacham tweaked his version of the “Air Raid” system, installed a prolific QB in Peyton Bender under center and the result has been nearly 500 yards of offense per game.
That puts the Jayhawks on par with the rest of the nation’s best offensive league.
Four of the top nine schools in total offense in the Football Bowl Subdivision reside in the 10-team Big 12, led by Oklahoma, West Virginia and Oklahoma State atop the chart. Five of the top 12 schools nationally in points per game are in the Big 12, where the Mountaineers are second only to Oregon.
Kansas gives the Big 12 five teams in the top 20 in passing yards per game.
“You have to be able to keep up,” said Beaty, who’s also a product of the popular “Air Raid” system and has been pushing the Jayhawks to play at a faster pace ever since his arrival.
“As far as our total output of offense, we’ve gained quite a bit more yardage,” he said of the season so far. “I think we were 1,412 last year and now we’re 1,922 yards offensively, so a lot more first downs, which allows you more plays, allows you to be able to gain more yards.”
Now, there are a few factors at play in the Big 12’s offensive dominance.
The first is the talent level across the league, particularly at the quarterback position, where Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield and Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph are Heisman Trophy candidates. Throw in Will Grier at West Virginia, Kenny Hill at TCU and Nic Shimonek at Texas Tech and you have a five-some that could stand toe-to-toe with some of the best teams in the country.
It’s not just quarterback where offenses have talent, either. The Cowboys’ Justice Hill has rushed for more than 500 yards, the Jayhawks’ Khalil Herbert ran for 291 two weeks ago against West Virginia and Darius Anderson has transformed the Horned Frogs into a balanced attack.
“If you want to win championships, you got to be able to throw it,” TCU coach Gary Patterson said, “but you also got to be able to run the football. Especially on the road.”
Like the Horned Frogs did a couple weeks ago, when Anderson ran for 160 yards and three touchdowns to help them win a 44-31 shootout on the road against offensive-minded Oklahoma State.
There are also some talented wide receivers in the Big 12 that are making those quarterbacks — and those offenses — look a whole lot better: The Cowboys’ James Washington is averaging more than 23 yards per reception, the Red Raiders’ Keke Coutee has already hauled in 31 passes, and West Virginia’s David Sills V and Baylor’s Denzel Mims have each reached the end zone seven times.
The flip-side argument, of course, is that nobody in the Big 12 is playing much defense.
Yes, the Jayhawks’ refurbished offense piled up 564 yards a couple weeks ago against West Virginia, but they also allowed 635 in a 56-34 defeat. Baylor quarterback Zach Smith threw for 463 yards and four touchdowns against Oklahoma, but the Bears yielded 625 yards in a 49-41 loss.
West Virginia, Texas Tech, Baylor and Kansas all rank worse than 100th nationally in total defense, which is particularly abysmal when you consider there are 129 teams in all.
There are inevitable outliers, such as Texas beating Iowa State in an old-school, 17-7 slugfest last week. But for the most part, Big 12 teams are waging a whole bunch of shootouts this season.
Just like they did in the old days.