Monday, October 1, 2012

Is the Offensive Explosion an Omen?

By Adam Russell

Unfortunately for me, as a college football fan, I spent most of the day with my wife looking at new carpeting and flooring for our house and buying a new dishwasher. Don't get me wrong, I love my wife and was glad to spend quality time with her, and honestly the only game I had real interest in was the Oregon/Washington State game. I'm an alum of one (Go Cougs!) and have a son attending the other. So I wasn't too concerned about seeing any of the other games of the day.

I only say "unfortunately" because, boy, what a day of college football that I missed.

After seeing some of the scores and highlights from the games earlier in the day, it was clear that I missed one of the biggest days scoring-wise in college football ever. Now, I haven't had the time to go back through the record books to see other prolific scoring years, but a full third of the games played had combined scores of 70 points or more. That's ridiculous!

Of course, the highest scoring game of the weekend was the West Virginia/Baylor shootout in which a FBS record 19 offensive touchdowns were scored, ending in a 70-63 score. But there were others as well: Kent State 45, Ball State 43; Miami (Ohio) 56, Akron 49; Tulsa 49, UAB 42; Purdue 51, Marshall 41; Georgia 51, Tennessee 44; Fresno State 52, San Diego State 40. And there were a half-dozen other games with similar scores.

With all this offensive production on both sides of the field, could this be an omen of things to come in college football? Wide-open offenses force defenses to be less aggressive at the line of scrimmage, which in turn provides quarterbacks more time to either get the ball downfield or to keep it themselves for running yardage. It also allows bigger holes for running backs because defenses aren't rushing as many people, providing opportunities for big yards from the backfield.

In the Oregon/WSU game, the Ducks rushed only three linemen most of the game (although they did blitz a few times, bringing as many as seven on occasion). The Cougars, on the other hand, rushed five on most plays and got torched on several passing plays simply because there weren't enough people in coverage.

Even the relatively high scoring game between Georgia and Tennessee is an anomaly in the normally defense-dominated SEC. Sure, many of those teams can score tons of points against lesser opponents, but the 21-0 BCS Championship Game last year between Alabama and LSU was more of the norm than not. So if two SEC teams can post 95 points combined, what does that mean for the rest of the college football world that is much more offense-minded?

I think we'll see lots of NCAA scoring records fall in the next few years. College football is just as much an entertainment commodity as its pro counterpart, and it is offense that gets crowds fired up and makes for good television. Many people thought last year's BCS championship was boring because there wasn't much offense. Personally, I like defensive games as long as the offense isn't making mistakes. But the trend seems to be heading toward even more prolific offenses than what we have now, and that's hard to imagine.

Speaking of pro football, it also sometimes begins to take on the trends seen in the college game (remember the run-and-shoot?). I even saw a NFL team — it was either Carolina or Washington, I don't recall — run an actual triple-option play. I was shocked! NFL coaches and GMs for years have told us that the option just wasn't an option in pro football; defenses are too big, fast and smart for the option to be successful at the pro level. Yet I saw one option play ran successfully in an NFL game. So could that mean that Chip Kelly's hurry-up offense will become the standard in the NFL? We're already seeing some teams use a variation of that — Seattle is one example — so it stand to reason that it will.

The bottom line is that the days of the 10-6 slugfest could be coming to an end. The Big 10 was always noted for being the smashmouth conference of college football, the true throwback league that relied on three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust strategy. I mean, when was the last time Purdue put 51 points on the board in a football game? If more teams and conferences begin to go the way of what is happening in the Pac-12 and Big-12, then I wouldn't be surprised if we rarely see a team score less than 20 in any game.

A final argument, though, that could be made for this offensive explosion not becoming the norm in college football comes down to the old adage that defense wins championships. The last six BCS champions have come from the defensive SEC and it looks like a seventh in a row will come from there as well (unless Alabama or LSU have a hiccup along the way). So maybe this weekend of monster scoring games was just a blip on the radar, and maybe defense does rule the day in the end. But at least it's fun to watch games where the final scores look more like high school basketball games than football, and it creates great conversation when trying to predict how many points the Ducks will put up in the first quarter.

So enjoy the high offensive output now because once coaches realize that "the best offense is a good defense," we could see a return to the grind 'em out type games of the past. After all, isn't retro all the rage?

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