Scoggins: Unlimited offenses looking like slapstick

  • Article by: CHIP SCOGGINS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 12, 2012 - 11:34 PM

The college trend seems to be high scoring and optional defense - which makes games maddeningly predictable.

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West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith.

Photo: Eric Gay, Associated Press

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The final scores light up the bottom-scroll ticker like an Election Day tote board each football Saturday. Absurdly, they climb higher and higher -- 50, 60, 70 points!

Apparently, defense is optional in college football these days.

Offenses are producing points and yards at historic rates this season. The national scoring average in Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly Division I-A) stands at 30.1 points per game, which would eclipse the all-time record of 28.4 points set in 2007.

Seventeen teams average at least 40 points, and five of them score more than 50 points per game. Also, 69 teams average 400-plus yards in total offense.

Is this football or PlayStation?

College football's popularity has never been better, though, in part, because high-scoring games are fun and exciting and entertaining. They keep fans engaged. But there should be a limit, too. This just feels like overkill.

ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit played quarterback at Ohio State and loves offense as much as anyone, but even he questions whether this trend is a good thing. 

"I hope this is not the future of college football," he said.

Couldn't agree more. College football stirs fan passion with its deep-seated traditions, rivalries, game-day experience and, yes, no-limit offense. The beauty of college football is that coaches don't feel caged by conformity in designing offensive schemes. They're restricted only by the limits of their own creativity, which is why we see so many philosophies and strategies. Nothing is considered too outside-the-box in college football.

But with the exception of the SEC, defenses have failed to keep pace, and the result is an unbalanced model for winning. Most teams need to score and score a lot because there's often no Plan B.

The influx of spread offenses combined with a gradual diminishing in the art of tackling have helped tilt the field even more in favor of offenses. Teams routinely put their best athletes on offense. They spread them out and force defenders to tackle in space. Teams rarely conduct full-tackle practices because of safety reasons, time constraints and depth concerns with the 85-scholarship limit.

Unfortunately, this is the result: A team has scored 50 points in a game 80 times this season. Third-and-long has become a flip of the coin. The Big 12's scoring average is 40.1 points. No-huddle teams attempt to generate 85, 90 snaps a game.

This is entertainment?

Granted, statistics become bloated in creampuff nonconference games, but shootouts have continued in league play. Two weeks ago, West Virginia and Baylor combined for 133 points, which ended in a 70-63 West Virginia victory that now serves as the poster child for this scoring craze. Though undoubtedly enjoyed by some, that back-and-forth display felt more like slapstick than compelling theater. In an odd way, the game became almost boring because the utter lack of defense made things entirely predictable and maddening to watch.

That gap is likely to widen as more teams copy the fast-break blueprint Oregon employs to turn games into track meets and opposing defenses into puddles of sweat. Oregon's goal is to run plays as fast as humanly possible to create a tempo that makes defenses uncomfortable and dissuades them from substituting. Since the 1960s, the national average for plays per game has hovered generally between the high 60s and low 70s per team. Oregon averages 84 snaps per game this season.

"You're seeing a lot of trends in college football that are unique," Gophers coach Jerry Kill said. "The way it is now, they're not even setting the chains and the ball is snapped. Football has changed a whole bunch." 

Not everyone is crazy about that. Alabama coach Nick Saban questioned whether quick-trigger offenses pose safety issues because defenses can't substitute.

"It's obviously created a tremendous advantage for the offense when teams are scoring 70 points," Saban said on the SEC teleconference. "I just think there's got to be some sense of fairness in terms of asking: Is this what we want football to be?"

No, not particularly, but his complaints probably will fall on deaf ears. Besides, Saban's team leads the nation in total defense. It's up to everyone else to gain ground.

Maybe teams will devise plans -- either in recruiting or schemes -- to close that gap. Let's hope so. As entertaining as high-scoring offenses are to watch, some defensive pushback would be a nice change of pace. A 13-10 game can be fun to watch, too.

"I'd like to think that defenses will eventually catch up," Herbstreit said. "But sometimes it's painful to watch."

Indeed it is.

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