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College offenses keep pushing the envelope

Bryce Petty, Jared Barber AP

The Oregon Ducks are averaging an amazing 630 yards of total offense per game.

The Oregon Ducks are second in the nation in total offense…and it’s not close.

The previous two sentences should be incongruous, but they are not. They are merely a byproduct of the offensive revolution that has come to dominate college football of late.

Six weeks into the 2013 season, an astounding 19 teams averaging at least 500 yards of offense per game. The Baylor Bears lead the way with an absurd 780 yards per game. By comparison, just two teams finished the season averaging over 500 yards per game in 2009.

Granted, it is still in the early going so the numbers are partially a reflection of opponent strength (or lack thereof), but it’s worth noting that back in 2005 everyone went absolutely ga-ga over a USC offense that averaged 613 yards of offense through six games. The fact that the Trojans averaged 50 points per game that year was also supposed to be a big deal. Mind you, that was an offense loaded with arguably the best personnel ever on one unit — Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush, LenDale White, a star-studded offensive line, two second-round receivers and so on. But that team’s production was primarily the result of USC out-talenting its opponents.

Baylor has a nice collection of players, with two legitimate Heisman candidates (Bryce Petty and Lache Seastrunk) and a budding Biletnikoff contender (Antwan Goodley), but it doesn’t have an NFL player at every position like that USC team did.  Its incredible offensive output — 71 points per game?? — can mostly be attributed to the schemes and machinations of head coach Art Briles. Without Briles, Baylor would be just another Big 12 doormat.

And it’s about time people recognize that. Football commentators like to say it’s all about the Jimmies and the Joes, but they’re wrong: The X’s and the O’s matter, too, especially in college football. It’s not like Clemson would be as proficient on offense if it ran out of a Power I formation, would it? Would Baylor be the only team without a three-and-out in college football if it utilized a pro-style attack? Would Oregon be what it is today if it had run the West Coast Offense all these years?

No way.

Scouring the top 20 teams in total offense, only three run what are usually referred to as ‘conventional’ offenses, meaning with the quarterback primarily taking snaps from under center and with the offense huddling before every play.

The evidence in favor of the effectiveness of spread-style systems is so compelling, it’s a wonder that more elite schools don’t go full bore in this direction (Florida was one that did and it won two titles). Imagine if the USC offense of 2005 — or even 2011 — had run the Briles scheme. Or if Alabama emulated what Oregon does on offense. Those two teams running those schemes with their talent level would rewrite the offensive record books and probably never lose.

Of course, we’ll never see that happen because programs like USC or Alabama want to win the way they’ve always won, even at the risk of not optimizing their production. In the meantime, college offenses keep improving to the point where teams that would normally be excluded from the national conversation — the Oregons, the Baylors, the Texas A&Ms, the Clemsons, etc. — are now dominating it.

Better get used to it.

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17 Responses to “College offenses keep pushing the envelope”
  1. jimbo75025 says: Oct 6, 2013 9:35 PM

    Ugh, if every college team ran a spread attack then things would get boring pretty quick don’t you think? One can only watch so many games finishing 63-59.

    In addition, the players would be woefully unprepared for the NFL. Despite all the hubub about the spread in the NFL, it is interesting that every Super Bowl champ so far has been an “old man” style team.

  2. drummerhoff says: Oct 6, 2013 9:37 PM

    There are major differences in what spread teams do compared to what air raid offensive teams do compared to what west coast offensives do and yes even pro set. The rise is due to the commonality of what all of these offenses do: dictating tempo with the use of hybrid personnel. It’s not the offense anymore. It’s the speed you go in the offense you run. I mean, Jim Mora is not Hal Mumme but he puts up some nice numbers using a pro set.

  3. frug says: Oct 6, 2013 10:02 PM

    Imagine if the USC offense of 2005 — or even 2011 — had run the Briles scheme. Or if Alabama emulated what Oregon does on offense. Those two teams running those schemes with their talent level would rewrite the offensive record books and probably never lose.

    Or, more likely, it would be a complete disaster since the personal those teams’ had/have are a poor fit for spread offense. (And that of course assumes that USC and ‘Bama would still have been able to recruit the same players, which is unlikely since one of the main reasons Carroll and Saban were/are so successful is that they can promise recruits they will prepare them for the NFL by running pro-schemes.)

    Listen, I’m normally not one for hyperbole but this may be the worst “analysis” I have ever read on a professional website.

  4. geodude11 says: Oct 6, 2013 10:10 PM

    “even at the risk of not optimizing their production”? Those teams are winning, their production is winning; wait for the circus to show up if you’re tired of winning.

  5. overratedgators says: Oct 6, 2013 10:16 PM

    “Ugh, if every college team ran a spread attack then things would get boring pretty quick don’t you think? One can only watch so many games finishing 63-59.”

    Not at all. Scoring is, for most spectators, the most exciting part of the game (or the most aggravating, if the scoring is by your team’s opponent). The old saw used to be “offense puts butts in seats, but defense wins games”. Teams are now coming around to realize that offense can put butts in seats AND win games. I’ll take a 63-59 shoot out over a 9-6 field goal snoozer any day.

  6. harleyspoon says: Oct 6, 2013 10:21 PM

    It is a ridiculous analysis…Oh, and it takes a hell of an offensive line to run what Baylor runs…

  7. gborange says: Oct 6, 2013 11:07 PM

    Another reason for the inflated offensive production is the rules minimizing defensive hits on receivers and QBs. Let them play ball like the old days when speedsters got their bells rung and it’ll slow em down.

  8. slartibartfast4242 says: Oct 6, 2013 11:07 PM

    Wow! This “analysis” is right up there with the drivel ESPN puts out.

  9. psly2124 says: Oct 6, 2013 11:18 PM

    I’m tired of hearing about Oregonian offense being so dominate. They played the best in the SEC twice and got smacked around. Lsu and auburn. Gimmick offenses work against teams with poor talent levels. People were saying the same stuff about West Virginia and geno smith threw 5 weeks last year. The best teams play in the sec and they couldn’t run that with an sec schedule. They would be a .500 team

  10. drummerhoff says: Oct 7, 2013 8:27 AM

    @psly2124:

    If you posted your comments about 10 years ago, you may have people agreeing with you.

    Urban Meyer’s spread was successful in the SEC.
    TexasA&m’s air raid gave Alabama their only loss.
    That Auburn team that beat Oregon (by 3 pts on the last play of the game) … Yeah, they ran Gus Malzahn’s spread.

  11. beastmode5150 says: Oct 7, 2013 1:30 PM

    Jimbo, look at Washington, top 5 in country on offense and a really good D. Stanford only won because of refs and our special teams deciding to suck.

  12. Deb says: Oct 7, 2013 2:19 PM

    Gee, Chris, thanks for taking time from totting up your fantasy stats from yesterday’s NFL games to tell us that boring old USC and Alabama want to win games the way they always have, by … sigh … playing both sides of the ball. How silly of them!

    Yeah, I know the Denver/Dallas game was orgasmic excellence for guys whose only interest in football is how many points the WRs and QBs on their pretend teams rack up. But some of us actually think a well-made tackle or a well-covered receiver is a beautiful thing. To me a 51-48 score is anathema to good football–not something to be celebrated.

    Sacrificing productivity? Few games have been more productive than the LSU/Bama matchup of 2011 that ended in a 9-6 win for the Tigers. What some people can’t seem to understand is that the production was on defense.

  13. spike036 says: Oct 7, 2013 3:00 PM

    Chris Huston, loved this article! I’ve been preaching how Oregon and Baylor need much more respect. Oregon deserved a heck of a lot more than 5 first place votes in the latest poll and Baylor’s schedule is keeping them from being in the top 10 but that will change in a few weeks when the lay it to Oklahoma. Baylor has terrific players for their passing game but they also have 2 great RB’s including Seastrunk who transferred from Oregon. The difference now from the Oregon & Baylor teams in the past is that they can play defense much better. These two teams are very balanced and I just love watching these 2 teams play, and that’s coming from a Notre Dame fan.

  14. spike036 says: Oct 7, 2013 3:06 PM

    This Oregon team is so much better than the Ducks team that lost to Cam Newton and Auburn in the BCS Championship game. I firmly believe Oregon would beat Alabama going away…something along the lines of 45-27……WE GOT TO HAVE AN OREGON V. ALABAMA CHAMPIONSHIP GAME! I am praying that everything falls in place for that game to happen.

  15. 8to80texansblog says: Oct 7, 2013 4:50 PM

    Ducks vs Tide would be a good BCSNCG…. I have a feeling though that the Tide may stumble before they get there opening the door for a Clemson or god forbid an OSU…

  16. warpphillip says: Oct 9, 2013 12:13 PM

    Oregon vs Bama would be a great game. I think they should play in a Hurricane, because we know that Ducks can prosper even in torrential rains.

  17. greywolfdk says: Oct 12, 2013 6:26 AM

    Can you Schmooze over USuCk Trojans more.. I already need to be disinfected after reading this. We all know USC had the best players money could buy. And the title it had to vacate. The 03 title claim boosters had to buy.

    But to the Crux of this story. Fantastic Athletes playing in systems suited around the Stars. That will be the down fall of historical powerhouses and the NFL as well. Talented players languish in the old low scoring systems.

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