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August 13, 2008
Bowden: Spread offense no new magic bullet
College football 2007 became known as the Year of the Upset. From the very first weekend until the BCS bowls in January, we experienced some of the biggest upsets in recent memory. On the opening weekend, Michigan was beaten at home by second-division Appalachian State. No. 1-ranked USC lost to 42 ½ point underdog Stanford and West Virginia embarrassed Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl.
In retrospect, we analyzed that parity had finally arrived in college football. On any given Saturday anybody actually could beat anybody. It wasn't just that the reduction in the scholarship levels years earlier had finally impacted the game. The answer also had its foundation in this new shotgun, spread, no-huddle, up-tempo, zone-read option offense that allowed the have-nots to repeatedly knock off the haves.
First, the spread offense is not new. I sat in the Orange Bowl in 1994 and watched Florida State quarterback Charlie Ward run a shotgun, four-wideout, no-huddle, up-tempo (they called it racehorse speed) offense to the national championship. The Seminoles won a second title with that same offense in 1999 with Chris Weinke at the helm. It wasn't until the 2000 championship game that Oklahoma convinced Bobby Bowden that defenses had caught up with the system and it was time to go to something else.
Second, there is no one particular spread offense any more than there is/was one West Coast offense. What Rich Rodriguez is running at Michigan is nothing like what Mike Leach is running at Texas Tech and what Gary Pinkel is doing at Missouri is not the same as what Mike Bellotti is doing at Oregon. You can run the spread without a dual-threat quarterback (Sam Bradford) and the no-huddle without calling plays at break-neck speed (Florida).
What you won't likely do with the spread this year is win the national championship.
That distinction should remain the domain of teams with conventional offensive styles. The top three teams going into the 2008 season according to The USA Today coaches poll – Georgia, Southern California and Ohio State – all will utilize more of an old-school offense, just as LSU did last season when it won the national championship.
I have to believe most coaches recognize that if they are fortunate enough to be at a school where they can get the best talent and thus have the best chance to win a national championship, they are going to still hang their hat on having a strong defense and a balanced offense that lines up and whips people one-on-one across the board.
Only time will tell if this becomes the leading story line for 2008.
Who will play for the national championship?
In last week's Heisman article I mentioned that Ohio State would win its Sept. 13 matchup with Southern California. What I didn't mention is that both teams will run the table the rest of the way and meet again in the BCS championship game. No other BCS team will end up with an undefeated season.
Will Notre Dame make a dramatic turnaround?
If dramatic means they will go from 3-9 to 9-3, then the answer is yes. If it means they will be a legit top 10 team and get to a BCS bowl game, then the answer is no. The schedule is just so winnable. There is only one top-10 team (No. 2 USC) and one top 25 (No. 24 Michigan) in the lineup. I don't agree with Charlie Weis giving up the play-calling since that is supposed to be his forte, but new co-defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta is a difference maker.
What should we make of the third clock-rule change in the past three years?
It's kind of like the bowls of porridge in the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. The first bowl of porridge was too hot and the second was too cold, but the third one was just right. In an effort to make the length of a game conform to the amount of time allotted for it on TV, the NCAA shortened the game in 2006 and then lengthened it back in 2007. Now, they have gone to more of an NFL clock in 2008 in hopes that they will get it right. There will be an inordinate amount of delay penalties early until coaches learn to adjust and this new rule (another reason to go to an up-tempo no-huddle style). As for the overall impact of this rule change on the college game? Not one dadgum bit.
Going back to the Notre Dame scenario, the teams with the worst records have the greatest chance for improvement. Nebraska will get a lot better quicker under Bo Pelini than Michigan will under Rodriguez. In fact, look for the Cornhuskers to produce a winning record in Pelini's first year and for Michigan to take a step back. However, in the long run, the safe money needs to be riding on Coach Rod. He's done it before and Bo Pelini has not.
Will the playoff issue just go away because college presidents and conference commissioners say they don't want to talk about it?
No it will not. When they announce that Ohio State and Southern Cal will meet in a rematch for the national championship, the playoff critics will go nuts. There will be a one-loss team from the nation's toughest conference, the SEC, and a one-loss team from the Big East and probably a one-loss team from the Big 12 that will be left out. Everyone will know that no one-loss team will be more deserving than the other and that it should have been decided on the field.
Terry Bowden is Yahoo! Sports' college football analyst. Send Terry a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.