<
>
EXCLUSIVE CONTENT
Get ESPN+

The Big 12's approach to defense could shift mindsets across college football

Since its dreadful defense in 2018, Oklahoma has steadily decreased its points per game allowed, from 33.3 (2018) to 27.3 (2019) to 21.7 (2020). Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

In 2020, during one of the strangest, most unpredictable seasons of college football, another twist occurred in the midst of the chaos of playing during the pandemic.

Big 12 defenses were good.

Yes, the Big 12 -- the conference that produced Patrick Mahomes and earned a reputation as having high-flying offenses and porous defenses -- led the Power 5 last year with the fewest yards allowed per game (383.1) and was second to the Big Ten, allowing 5.49 yards per play. The SEC was last in both categories, according to ESPN's Stats & Information Group.

West Virginia coach Neal Brown, whose team bolstered the Big 12 defensively with its measurable improvements in his second season, said the conference has completely changed since his tenure as offensive coordinator at Texas Tech from 2010 to 2012.

"If you look at it, the narrative for so long was, 'Oh, the Big 12 doesn't play defense,'" Brown said. "I don't know if that was really fair, because I don't know if another league ever had the run of quarterbacks the Big 12 had.