Something occurred to me as I watched last weekend’s shootout and score-fest between Oklahoma State and Texas Tech. The two teams combined for seventeen touchdowns, 1304 yards, 61 first downs, and 123 points in a regulation-length game. At first, this seems out of the ordinary, but over the last few seasons this can be chalked up to being just another college football game.
Then it hit me: There is too much scoring in college football today.
I used to think that there was no such thing as too much offense. We all like to see touchdowns, big plays, high scores, and explosive offenses, but is there a point when enough is enough?
Offense has become almost effortless in college football today. Spread-Option attacks combined with much less-talented defenses and insane clock rules and communication systems have led to a watering down of offensive production.
The top ten offenses in college football this year (as measured by yards per game) are all averaging over 522 yards per game, with Baylor, TCU, and Texas Tech rounding out the top three with over 600 yards per game. Baylor is miles past the rest of them with 666 yards per game.
Comparatively, the best offense in the nation ten years ago (2005) was Southern Cal, who we would all agree is a consensus pick for one of the greatest offenses in the history of college football, averaged 86 fewer yards per game than Baylor’s offense does this year. Not only that, but Southern Cal was far and away the best offense that year, with Arizona State placing number two with 519 yards per game, sixty yards less per game than Southern Cal.
Twenty years ago, the top-rated offense in college football was Nevada, who averaged 569 yards of offense per game. Florida, at the height of Steve Spurrier’s Fun n’ Gun, was the number four offense in college football that year. If that team was playing today, it wouldn’t even be on the radar of historic greatness.
Thirty years ago, the best offense in the country was BYU with LaVell Edwards’ (then) pass-happy attack, and they averaged a grand total of 500 yards per game, a full 25% less than what Baylor averages today.
I think we would all agree that the 1980’s is still considered within the realm of the “Modern Era” of college football. Run-happy offenses like The Wishbone or The Veer were on their way out, the style of play was much more pro-ready than the decade previous, you could watch it today and still recognize it as football, but back then, they marched up and down the field. Today, they fly down it.
Now, I am far from being anti-offense. I love to see a good shoot-out as much as anybody, but when your average game takes four hours to complete, every hole could have a dump truck driven through it, every receiver is open by at least five yards, and is more track meet than football game, that’s when I start to wonder if we can’t tweak the rules just a little bit to get things under control.
Rule changes have typically always benefited the offense. The recent rule-changes emphasizing safety have allowed receivers to run down the field nearly untouched and with no fear of that safety lurking around center-field. I’m not saying that we get rid of the new “targeting” foul or any other rules implemented for safety reasons. However, I am saying that there should be a few restrictions on the offense as well.
First of all, handing or pitching the ball (backwards or forwards) to a man in motion from outside the tackle box should be made illegal. One thing that separates the NFL and College Football from the Arena and Canadian Football League(s) is that motion is limited in the NFL and College varieties. Both of those other professional leagues allow unlimited offensive motion towards the line of scrimmage. The NFL and college do not allow players to motion towards the line of scrimmage leading up to the snap, but Jet motions are fairly close to that. Ball-carriers are not only getting a running start, but are at full-gallop at the time of the snap, and have a tremendous advantage on any defense now.
Next, they need to adjust the clock rules in college football. There is no reason on earth why the clock should stop until the chains are moved for every first down throughout the game. Games are running entirely too long as it is, and we all know that the commercial breaks are not going away, so all that is left to shorten the game is adjusting the clock rules. There is no reason why any team should be able to run 110 offensive plays in a regulation-length football game. The gold standard should be 80 to 85.
In addition, all communication from the sideline to the players on the field should be cut off with fifteen seconds left on the play clock. This includes those ridiculous posters that are held up showing an Apple logo, Abraham Lincoln, a tree, and a picture of Calvin pissing on a Chevy logo. Something that lengthens games past four hours is that the sideline has to have a virtual conversation with every player or position group in between every play. Most of the decision-making for the players has been taken out of the game by the coaching staffs. I can see why they do it; the coaches are, in most cases, the highest paid public employee in their state, and boosters are ruthless. The coaches are doing what they can to keep all decisions in their hands. But, at the same time, it slows the game down to a crawl and turns players into robots. Regardless of a positive or negative outcome, people being allowed to make their own decisions is the best option. And best of all, the game will become more exciting because people can and will screw up, and that’s OK.
Lastly, the penalties have to be evened out in severity between the offense and defense. If an offensive player holds, they get the down back to attempt to recoup the yardage lost. If a defender holds, and “hold” is usually applied very loosely, it is an automatic first down for the offense, regardless of down and distance. An offense should not be able to stay on the field after a defensive holding call three yards past the line of scrimmage on a 3rd and 18. That’s not a player safety issue, that’s a competitive balance issue.
If this article sounds like I’m anti-offense, I can assure you that I’m not. What I am is a realist. Offense is much more fun to watch when every play isn’t a first down, the defense isn’t on roller skates, players can and are allowed to make mental errors because they haven’t been told what to do by a coach three seconds before the snap, and players aren’t running at a full sprint before the snap of the ball. Offense is like vacation time: it is valued and appreciated more when there is a finite supply.
Adjusting the rules will not kill offensive football and return college football to the stalemate slugfest that it was for the first half of the twentieth century. What it will do is return us to a point when it actually took effort to put up fifty points in a game, and we won’t have to monopolize half of our Saturday to watch a single game.