CLEMSON, S.C. -- The evolution of the spread and uptempo brands of offense have, in a lot of ways, energized a sport that already was not hurting. They're exciting. They're often effective.
But there's a rub. Faster-paced offenses are now occupational hazards for defensive coordinators.
Those offenses run more plays, but they're running them so quickly that they're often not on the field as long as they once were. Even conventional drives of six to 10 plays are reduced in time, thus reducing the time the defense is on the sideline.
A three-and-out? An offense might be on the field for literally a minute. Then it's again the defense's turn.
Consider that the 21 AQ teams ranked in the top 10 in snaps run per game the past five seasons have been an average of 63rd in total defense. Take away Texas and Oklahoma's top-10 defenses in 2009, the outliers during that span, and the average ranking drops to 69th. Four of the teams, including two in 2011, were ranked in the 100s. (Note: Plays per game data courtesy of TeamRankings.com.)
Last year, the AQ top-10 plays-run-per-game teams were Texas Tech (114th in D), Oklahoma (55), Baylor (116), Texas A&M (59) and Iowa State (95). Besides poor-to-awful defensive rankings, you'll note that all of those teams played last season in the Big 12. But the footprint is expanding.
Texas A&M, as you know, is taking its quick pacing to the SEC. (The coaching transition from Mike Sherman to Kevin Sumlin was seamless in that regard.) Missouri offensive coordinator David Yost likewise pushes tempo.
But perhaps the best example of a team needing to field and develop a defense that can provide a good match for its uptempo offense is the Clemson Tigers.
Anyone who saw last year's Orange Bowl debacle knows that Clemson's ACC title and BCS hopes are dependent upon its getting significant improvement on defense, and for a team that ranked highest among BCS conference teams last season in total plays run (and eighth in plays per game), a lot of that improvement will have to do with adjusting to being on the field more than almost any other defense in the nation.
To read more from Travis Haney on Clemson's defensive adjustment, you must be an ESPN Insider.