Big Ten offenses defy easy labels

Adam Rittenberg writes:

It would be easy to watch the inaugural Big Ten championship game last December and conclude that the league's offensive identity hasn't changed much through the years.

Wisconsin, the epitome of power football, lined up with two tight ends, a single back and five colossuses up front. The Badgers did what they've done for years: pound away with a gifted running back, Montee Ball, and mix in play-action passes. Michigan State's offense had a passing lean, but the Spartans operated from a standard pro set with a pure drop-back passer, Kirk Cousins, and a boulder of a running back, the 244-pound Le'Veon Bell.

There were no clouds of dust on the artificial surface at Lucas Oil Stadium, and plenty of plays stretched longer than three yards. But Wisconsin and Michigan State displayed many offensive traits often associated with the Big Ten. Even the fullback, an endangered species in college football, made appearances in Indy.

While the final score, 42-39, seemed more fitting of a Big 12 or Pac-12 championship game, the Badgers' victory over the Spartans reinforced what most believe to be Big Ten offense.

It's not so simple.

The Badgers and Spartans, with their traditional schemes, are actually in the minority in the Big Ten. Eight Big Ten squads -- Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern, Ohio State and Purdue -- will run some or most of their plays from a spread offense framework in 2012. Conversely, only four teams -- Wisconsin, Michigan State, Penn State and Iowa -- are expected to operate from the pro set, and three of them (Penn State, Iowa and Wisconsin) are under new offensive leadership.

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