Stillwater News Press

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February 18, 2014

Limiting college football's offense creates clear winners and losers

The NCAA rules committee will take a hard look at a simple college football question when it meets on March 6: More plays or fewer ones?

A proposed rule would prohibit offenses from snapping the ball into action until 29 seconds or fewer remain on the 40-second play clock. The current rule permits a center to hike the ball immediately after it has been set for play.

Proponents of the change – namely Alabama’s Nick Saban and Arkansas’ Bret Bielema – say it’s a question of player safety. The current rule makes it difficult for defenses to make substitutions. There’s simply not enough time to get players off and on the field against a no-huddle or hurry-up offense.

Limiting how quickly plays begin will benefit the defense, especially one stacked with talent that can be inserted into the game against various down and yardage situations. And that explains the furious reaction from coaches who have employed quick-striking, elaborate offensive schemes designed to score points in bundles.

Auburn’s Gus Malzahn, Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin and Washington State’s Mike Leach dismiss the idea to slow the pace of the game as a joke.

How can you blame them? They want a chance to score before the defense gets set.

The difference between teams that employ fast-paced offenses and those dedicated to defense are significant. Texas Tech led the nation’s offenses, averaging 90.3 plays per game, followed by Brigham Young, which averaged 89.9 plays.

Contrast that with Saban and Bielema’s teams. Alabama’s offense ran on average 65.9 plays, while Arkansas made 67.7 attempts.

The difference offers a clear insight into the coaches' strategic thinking and approaches to managing football games.

The offense’s advantage is twofold: It knows the play and when it’s coming. The defense’s strength is that players can continuously move to different spots on the field to enhance their chances of stopping a run or pass.

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