High-scoring games part of college football culture shift; more Mailbag
High-scoring, defense-optional contests are certainly not new to college football, but it does seem like last Saturday's 70-63 West Virginia-Baylor game -- coming on a weekend when 44 percent of FBS games involved at least one team scoring 42 or more points, 11 of which surpassed the 50-point mark -- was something of a tipping point.
This is college football in 2012 -- and I don't see it changing anytime soon. Over the past decade or so, a generation of offensive coaches that either played in or helped implement the first wave of mainstream spread offenses have grown up and dispersed across the country. Now they're refining and advancing those schemes. Mind you, there are vast differences between Chip Kelly's spread-option attack and Dana Holgorsen's Air Raid 2.0, but all are designed with the same intent: Get playmakers in space to exploit mismatches, and then do it over and over again. Add in the no-huddle craze on top of these well-executed offenses and it's putting defenses under tremendous stress.
Of course, you can't disentangle the explosion of big-play offenses from the evolution of offensive talent that now begins even before high school. Quarterbacks are more skilled than they've ever been. Case in point: 10 first- or second-year players were opening day NFL starting quarterbacks this season, and six of them (Russell Wilson, Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck, Brandon Weeden, Cam Newton and Andy Dalton) had higher pass efficiency ratings during their last years in college than the highest-rated passer in 2002. Furthermore, fast but diminutive players like Oregon's De'Anthony Thomas and Miami's Duke Johnson would never have played offense in college 15 years ago. They would have immediately been labeled as cornerbacks. Now, if you're fast and can make guys miss in space, you're playing offense, end of story.
As for the defense, ESPN analyst David Pollack -- a former Georgia defensive star who is horrified by what he's seeing -- said on a podcast this week he believes NCAA rules reducing the number of contact periods in preseason camp, as well as coaches' preferences to cut down on hitting to minimize injuries, have led to an epidemic of poor tackling. It's true, you do see a
There's no question, lousy defenses on both sides played a big part in the West Virginia-Baylor score. But not every 40-point output or 500-yard day is the same. Given how much the sport has changed, what we really need is for the NCAA and the media to seriously rethink traditional statistical metrics. I don't know if anyone noticed, but in the last two
Again, I would argue the phrase "system quarterback" has also been rendered archaic. Either that, or it now applies to 80 percent of college quarterbacks. That phrase dates to a time when offenses that threw the ball 40 times a game were an anomaly, and thus, a quarterback's big numbers might be discounted as a product of the system. By my count, 25 teams are currently averaging that pace, with several more coming awfully close. In 2002, there were just eight schools that threw the ball that frequently. While there are several very good quarterbacks thriving in more traditional pro-style offenses (Georgia's Aaron Murray, Alabama's AJ McCarron, Florida State's E.J. Manuel and USC's Matt Barkley, to name a few), most of the guys putting up big numbers are doing so in some sort of new-fangled "system." That doesn't mean they're easily replaceable pawns -- especially not in the case of Smith.
With quarterbacks that throw 40-50 times a game, the key stat is not yards, but accuracy. Smith is completing an insane 83.4 percent of his attempts, with a 20-to-0 touchdown-to-interception ratio. You can put a guy in the most conducive system imaginable, with a great offensive line and a stable of dynamic receivers (which Smith has), but he still needs to make the right reads and place the ball in just the right spots. I don't necessarily consider NFL draft projections as a gold standard of talent evaluation, but Smith is right behind Barkley on most early boards, which is a marked difference from all those Texas Tech quarterbacks that got hit with the dreaded "system" tag.
No question, Golden has done one of the best coaching jobs in the country so far. Based on offseason attrition (six starters turned pro off a 6-6 team, and eight others graduated), massive reliance on youth (12 freshmen or sophomores start, including four true freshmen) and what one might assume would be a dark cloud hanging over the program with looming NCAA sanctions, Miami has no business competing in the ACC, much less sitting at 3-0 in the conference. Still, it's won the last two games -- against Georgia Tech (in overtime) and NC State (on a last-second bomb) -- and that pretty much embodies the resilience Golden has fostered there.
Not to be a party pooper, though, but Miami is ranked 109th nationally in total defense, allowing 6.36 yards per play. Its three ACC wins came against foes with a combined record of 6-8. Therefore, I don't give the 'Canes much of a chance against the Irish unless they flat out overwhelm them with offensive speed. More realistically, the Notre Dame front seven will shut down the run and put the most pressure on Morris he's seen since K-State. Notre Dame's offensive limitations will probably preclude anything like that 52-13 rout in Manhattan, but this game could be an opportunity for Brian Kelly to open things up a little for Everett Golson.
In the rush to vilify John L. Smith, there does seem to be some revisionist history regarding Arkansas' defense. It was never particularly great under Petrino. It peaked by ranking fifth in the SEC during the Razorbacks' Sugar Bowl season in 2010 before regressing to ninth last year, and its two key veterans from those teams, defensive end Jake Bequette and linebacker Jerry Franklin, have departed. Also, though it's perceived that Petrino's staff remained intact, that's not entirely accurate. Four-year defensive coordinator Willy Robinson resigned after last season and was replaced by former Ohio State co-defensive coordinator Paul Haynes, who subsequently coached Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl. Linebackers coach Taver Johnson and defensive line coach Kevin Peoples are also brand new.
So it's entirely possible Arkansas' defense would have regressed this season even if Petrino were still at the helm. But I doubt it would be anywhere near this bad (108th in total defense, 116th in scoring defense). One major reason is the Razorbacks would be getting more help from the offense. A Petrino-led Arkansas would score more than 10 points against Texas A&M. Tyler Wilson is not performing at the same level he did last season (he has a 54.5 completion percentage, down from 63.2), which is no surprise since Petrino was one of the absolute best coaches at putting his quarterbacks in position to succeed, dating back to his days with Brian Brohm and Stefan LeFors at Louisville. While I'm sure it bothers people to see retroactive appreciation for such a universally despised figure, few could dispute that Petrino was a good football coach, and, John L. or not, this team would have been hard-pressed to maintain its recent level of success without him. That still doesn't explain such a drastic nosedive.
If by going back to the original bowl system you mean a return to the days when bowl directors made backroom deals with athletic directors as early as late October -- thanks, I'll pass. In a sense, though, this system has returned closer to the old days in that the free market trumps all. Yes, the Rose Bowl and Champions Bowl aren't likely to pit both leagues' champions very often, but that's not all that different than the BCS. The SEC champion hasn't played in the Sugar Bowl since 2005. The Rose Bowl lost either the Big Ten or Pac-10 champ five times in a six-year span from 2002-07. In nearly every case, those bowls then got to take another team from those conferences, just as they'll be able to do now. The biggest difference is there's no longer a limit to how many teams each conference can place in the system.
But it will be interesting to see how these games are marketed, and, in turn, how the public will consume them. Right now, there's an entrenched brand, the BCS, that delineates the Rose, Sugar, Orange and Fiesta bowls from, say, the Capital One Bowl and the Outback Bowl. Therefore, reaching any BCS bowl is considered prestigious. But beginning in two years, the obvious No. 1 goal for every team will be to reach the playoff; beyond that, we have no idea what perception of each game will be like. Will we assign equal prestige to the other four or five bowls not hosting the semifinal that year? Or do they just become individual bowls that happen to be tied to the playoff system? In other words, if you're an SEC fan whose team does not make the playoff, do you still consider it an achievement to reach a "BCS bowl" (or whatever it will be called now), or will you consider going to the Sugar Bowl, the Orange Bowl or the Capital One Bowl all approximately the same? Do we no longer talk about conferences' BCS bowl records, because there will be no such thing? We won't know 'til we try.
You know what? I'm done with these types of questions. Maybe it's because I know the current system is down to its last days, but really, we get the point. He's right, polls are made of crazy tears. Carry on.
I don't understand the Sun Belt connection, since Louisiana Tech is still in the WAC. But yes, absolutely. If the Bulldogs go undefeated against that schedule, they should go to the BCS. Frankly, it's ridiculous Boise State is still ranked in the Coaches' Poll but Louisiana Tech is not. It shows how little the pollsters actually pay attention to the mid-majors. All the Broncos have done so far is lose to a Michigan State team that -- as it turns out -- can barely complete a forward pass, fail to score an offensive touchdown against BYU, and, last week, nearly blow a 25-point lead against New Mexico. (New Mexico!) Meanwhile, Sonny Dykes' team is averaging 52 points a game with consecutive road wins over Illinois (52-24) and Virginia (44-38), and it still received fewer votes in the AP Poll this week than 2-2 Michigan (best win: Air Force).
The issue will be resolved soon enough. On Oct. 13 the Bulldogs face Texas A&M in Shreveport, the game that was originally scheduled to open the season. I was fully prepared to pick Louisiana Tech in the upset that week. Now, with the way Johnny Manziel and the Aggies are clicking, I'm not so sure. Louisiana Tech suffered a big loss two weeks ago when freshman running back Tevin King, who was averaging 8.0 yards per carry, tore his ACL. Fellow freshman Kenneth Dixon (80.5 yards per game) will have to pick up the slack. Even if the Bulldogs beat A&M, they won't be out of the woods just yet; Utah State and San Jose State both present legitimate in-conference threats. But if Louisiana Tech manages to escape all that unscathed, they would certainly be more accomplished than that 2007 Hawaii BCS team, among others.
According to my readers, pretty much every team in the Top 25 is overrated. Very few, however, bother to suggest who should take their place.
Maybe they should just leave the AP Poll blank.