Last Updated: 2017-08-30
Those that handicap college football know how challenging it can be to keep up with everything that is going on. In your rush to keep up with the latest losses to graduation and the NFL, or the transfers that coaches are bringing in, it can be easy to miss things. Headline grabbers like coaching changes often find a nice, soft spot to hide in the back of your mind.
We often talk about coaches needing time to find recruits that meet their schemes, but do we really think about what that means? Not only do the coaches and the assistants need to get college-aged kids to pay attention to and learn a new playbook, but the personnel is rarely a perfect fit. Then, you have the teams that seriously overhaul their offensive game plan. Those are the teams that you really want to watch out for early in a new college football season.
Heading into the 2017 college football season, there are some teams that are going in seriously different directions. These schematic changes, whether they are on offense or defense, have an impact on the entire team. A faster offense is going to expose a defense. A more aggressive defense is going to expose a weaker offense. A more methodical offense is going to help a defense. Isolating these teams can be a great way to get value early on in the year.
There are some teams making some very significant changes for this year. We’ll run down a list of them and also talk about what impact this will have on their lines, and perhaps more importantly, their totals.
Auburn – How much things will change at Auburn is a matter of some conjecture. Gus Malzahn is still entrenched as the head coach and Rhett Lashlee moved on to UConn, so that butting of heads is no longer a thing with the offense. That being said, new offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey comes from an Air Raid background. Lindsey was the OC at Arizona State last year and the OC at Southern Miss under Todd Monken in 2014 and 2015.
Lindsey has the right quarterback for the job in Baylor transfer Jarrett Stidham, but the point to be made here is that Auburn is likely to throw a lot more this season. Last year, Auburn ran the ball 645 times against 289 passes. We know Auburn will still play with tempo, but the passing game is going to have more of an impact this year and that’s an adjustment that you need to be prepared to make.
Ole Miss – It remains to be seen what will happen now at Ole Miss with Hugh Freeze out of the equation. Offensive line coach Matt Luke is now the interim head coach. Things were probably going to change a bit with the offense in Oxford no matter what, but offensive coordinator Phil Longo may have a lot more input now. The Rebels were going with two first-year coordinators, so the timing couldn’t be worse for this whole Freeze incident.
Anyway, Longo was the offensive coordinator at Sam Houston State, where the Bearkats ran an up-tempo Air Raid offense. The Rebels were pretty balanced last season with 422 carries and 483 pass attempts. The Bearkats passed about 100 times more than they ran last season. Given that the Rebels are inexperienced at quarterback and not deep at running back, this system could be tough to grasp in the early going.
Purdue – The growing pains coming this season in West Lafayette should be worth it in the long run. As a byproduct of trailing by a lot, the Boilermakers threw the ball 557 times against 361 rushing plays last season. Now, they’ve hired former Western Kentucky head coach Jeff Brohm. The Hilltoppers aren’t a great comparison because they were so good offensively and defensively in a weak conference. Purdue is neither in a fairly strong conference. The Hilltoppers had great balance offensively and defensively. Despite their gaudy offensive numbers, they only ran 40 more offensive plays than Purdue did.
There was this perception that the Hilltoppers played at an extremely quick tempo, but they didn’t. They were just extremely efficient. Purdue will likely get better on offense under Brohm, but don’t over-adjust your tempo projections or totals projections for this team.
Utah – The Utah Utes need a little bit of a spark on offense. As a result, Kyle Whittingham brought in former Eastern Washington offensive coordinator Troy Taylor as the eighth offensive coordinator in the last nine years. Certainly that would explain some of Utah’s inefficient offensive performances. EWU averaged 42 points per game and 530 yards per game last year. The Eagles ran 1,062 offensive plays.
Will Utah have a big tempo increase under Taylor? That certainly could be the case. We could see a lot more passing as well. Troy Williams was originally recruited to Washington, so you can bet EWU was interested in his services, even if they didn’t have much of a shot at landing him. The Utes only passed 399 times last season against 570 running plays. Don’t be surprised if Utah pushes the pace on offense this season. That could cause the defensive stats to plummet and Utah overs might be a good bet this year.
Baylor – What happens to the Baylor offense on Matt Rhule’s watch? Former offensive coordinator Kendal Briles is now with FAU, who we’ll touch on in a bit, but the Bears, who ran over 1,100 plays last season, are sure to slow down under the new leadership. Glenn Thomas and Jeff Nixon are the new OCs. Thomas was with Rhule at Temple and Nixon was coaching in the NFL, where nobody plays with a ton of tempo.
The Bears will go from the breakneck pace of the spread offense to the pro-style offense, which means tight ends and fullbacks and more running between the tackles and a much more conservative style of football. How that comes together in Waco is anybody’s guess, but my guess is that it won’t make for a whole lot of exciting football this year. That is one tempo change that should be noticeable right away.
Kansas – Bad Power Five conference college football teams need to think outside the box. Somehow, Kansas wound up with former TCU offensive coordinator Doug Meacham. Suffice it to say that the Jayhawks are going to be a lot more interesting offensively. Meacham is something of a quarterback whisperer and his Air Raid will represent a dramatic difference in Lawrence. David Beaty was a believer in the Air Raid from his Texas A&M days. This is exactly what he has wanted since he took the job.
The Jayhawks ran the ball 405 times last season and threw it 465 times. We should see more throws from Washington State recruit and JUCO transfer Peyton Bender. Considering he was recruited to run the Mike Leach Air Raid, it’s safe to say that Kansas is all in with the pass-happy style. Passes mean incomplete passes. Incomplete passes mean three-and-outs. The Kansas defense is already bad. If the Jayhawks offense shows any kind of competency, we’re going to see some enormous totals in their games.
UConn – The UConn Huskies brought back Randy Edsall, but it is what they did at offensive coordinator that stands out the most. After living under the thumb of Gus Malzahn, Rhett Lashlee now has an offense of his own to run. UConn doesn’t really have the personnel for this and the loss of star wide receiver Noel Thomas doesn’t help, but this is going to be one of those situations where Lashlee keeps pushing forward no matter what. He has something to prove.
UConn’s offense managed less than 15 points per game last season, so there’s nowhere to go but up. Arkeel Newsome isn’t a bad running back, but the Huskies have a small, quick back in Newsome and a graduate transfer in former South Carolina Gamecock David Williams, who can represent a poor man’s “thunder and lightning” backfield. Expect significant changes with this UConn offense. It will be interesting to see if defense, which fell off badly last year, can keep up.
Nevada – The Pistol ran out of bullets in Reno. New offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Matt Mumme is the son of legendary innovator Hal Mumme, who invented and subsequently popularized the Air Raid offense. Nevada brought in Alabama transfer David Cromwell, who has great size at 6-foot-5, to run this new-look offense. First-year head coach Jay Norvell worked with the Colts in the NFL and has bounced around as an OC throughout the college ranks.
The Wolf Pack are going to pass it a lot more this season. Last year, Nevada ran 474 times and threw 356 times. Mumme was the head coach at Division III LaGrange College in Georgia prior to this gig. The team wasn’t very good last season, but ran the ball 240 times and passed 473 times with a lot of short completions. We’ll see how well this goes when the snow starts to fly in Reno, but the transfer of running back James Butler to Iowa makes it a pretty good time to try airing it out.
Most of these teams have had an offensive change, but the Wolf Pack is also making a defensive change to a 3-3-5 under former Arizona defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Nevada games devolve into chaos. Chaos leads to points.
San Jose State – One of my favorite Group of Five teams to follow this season is the San Jose State Spartans. Like I’ve talked about, I like teams that are willing to think outside the box. San Jose State fits the bill. The Spartans hired first-time head coach Brent Brennan, who was an assistant at SJSU from 2005-10. That’s not the hire that grabs my attention. The one that does is the offensive coordinator hire of 28-year-old Andrew Sowder. Sowder was a graduate assistant at Baylor when Dino Babers was there and then followed him to Eastern Illinois and Bowling Green.
What do we know about Babers? Well, he wants to run as many plays as humanly possible. Why would we expect anything different from Sowder? San Jose State probably doesn’t have the personnel to do this, especially with next to no experience at quarterback, but this is exactly what a team like San Jose State should do. Maybe they run into the next David Fales and pop up out of nowhere with an 11-2 season at some point over the next few years. It, among other things, got Mike MacIntyre the job at Colorado.
Either way, the Spartans are going to be much, much faster on offense this season, so you’ll want to account for that.
Florida Atlantic – Boca Raton ain’t seen nothin’ like what Lane Kiffin is going to do in that town. Octogenarians are going to be dancing on the beach. There are going to be tailgates at the retirement community. Grandpa Hal is going to be doing keg stands during family weekend at the nursing home. It’s going to be all kinds of fun with Kiffin’s offensive background alongside the speed ball that is Kendal Briles’s offensive philosophy.
The scary thing is that it may not take long for the Owls to come together. Florida State recruit and JUCO transfer De’Andre Johnson has plenty of eligibility left. Devin Singletary ran for 1,000 yards last season for Charlie Partridge. Kalib Woods is a big target at 6-foot-3 who caught 68 balls last season. These won’t be your grandfather’s Owls. Furthermore, this is a defense that allowed almost 40 points per game last season. Expect some fireworks and some high-scoring football in Boca this year. Sign me up for that and inject some of it into my veins.
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