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March 2, 2007
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On Dec. 18 Texas A&M University President Dr. Robert Gates took office as United States Secretary of Defense, which marked one of the few times in 2006 that defense was positively associated with a Big 12 institution.
If defense does indeed win championships, as the age-old adage suggests, then the Big 12 members should have thrown in the towel long before bowl games were staged. That would have saved a lot of trouble, time and even some embarrassment. Six of the eight Big 12 teams competing in the postseason allowed 31 points or more in their bowl games, including conference champion Oklahoma ? the Big 12's best defensive team ? which gave up 43 in a loss to Boise State.
Nebraska allowed only 17 points in a Cotton Bowl loss, but that was to Auburn, which ranked 56th nationally in scoring. Texas gave up 24 in an Alamo Bowl victory, but that was to Iowa, which ranked 58th in scoring.
Three-fourths of the Big 12 teams ranked 46th or worse nationally in total defense last season. Even scarier, many Big 12 teams, including the top two favorites in each division, are facing major rebuilding projects on their defensive units this year.
Oklahoma, which was No. 16 in total defense last season, must replace a pair of All-Big 12 linebackers in Rufus Alexander and Zach Latimer as well as three starters in the defensive line.
Texas, No. 22 in total defense, lost both starting ends and three-fourths of its secondary, which might not be a bad thing considering the Longhorns ranked 99th in pass defense.
Nebraska has to completely rebuild its front four, while Missouri lost half-a-dozen starters and its top three tacklers from '06.
No doubt, plugging sieve-like defensive units will be a high priority throughout the Big 12 during spring football practices. The teams with the stronger defenses will have the best chance of winning a championship in the fall.
That would seem to indicate that Texas A&M could be the team to beat. After all, the Aggies made tremendous progress last season in their first year under defensive coordinator Gary Darnell and return eight defensive starters.
But the Aggies also gave up 45 points in a Holiday Bowl loss to California, which happened 10 days after Gates took office.
Clearly, when Gates left College Station the defense went with him.