Coaches with the Most Complicated Playbooks
Every college football season, we watch as the incredible happens.
A team pulls off that one play that defines the season, or we see an offense execute flawlessly, putting points on the board with apparent effortlessness.
The playbook is the well from which all these wonders spring.
This list runs down the playbooks that are the most complicated to try and prepare for as an opponent, for varying reasons.
These coaches have schemes that are more difficult to get a read on that the plot of Lost.
9.Bret Bielema, Arkansas: Punishing Pro-Style
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When one thinks of productive offenses, Wisconsin is not always the first one to pop into mind.
While last season was not that great due to personnel issues and repeated changes at quarterback, the Badgers' offense was ridiculous in the two seasons prior to last year, finishing in the top six in scoring offense in both seasons.
And it's all due to the system of punishing football that Bielema utilizes. It's somewhat of a throwback, big offensive linemen and tight ends paving the way for repeated run plays, then play-action deep or to the tight end in the flat.
However, it's effective, and when you watch his offense, the pre-snap shifts are insane.
Tight ends, wide receivers and running backs shift all the time, creating mismatches and strong blocking schemes.
He also requires his offensive linemen to be mobile, allowing them to shift as well as pull into complicated blocking schemes.
It's a simple plan—overpower your opponent—and in theory when you know what's coming, you should be able to stop it, but not many teams have been effective at doing so.
We will see if he has the same good fortune in the SEC.
8. Bob Stoops, Oklahoma: Multiple
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Near the beginning of Bob Stoops' tenure at Oklahoma, he introduced us to multiple defensive studs such as Rocky Calmus, Teddy Lehman, Roy Williams and Tommie Harris.
Since that time, the Oklahoma offense has been the superior unit to the defense.
Right around 2007, we started to see that subtle shift.
Despite having multiple offensive coordinators—Mike Leach, Mark Mangino, Kevin Wilson etc.—Stoops' program continues to be productive.
It's due to the complexity and number of sets which Stoops employs.
The Sooners, utilize a running quarterback, Blake Bell, near the end zone. The offense might line up in a power formation, or run some of the spread.
Whatever it might be, Stoops is the common denominator that has helped keep this offense near the top of the FBS ranks in production for five of the past six seasons.
Oklahoma's offense is tough to solve, and as long as it's using Stoops' offensive principles, it will continue to be so.
7. Mark Dantonio, Michigan State: Punishing Defense
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Michigan State finished the 2012 season as the fourth-ranked team in the nation in yards allowed per game.
Unfortunately for them, the offense could not keep up, so the team could not make noise on a national level.
That said, it's time to start taking notice of Mark Dantonio and his defensive success.
The past two seasons, the Michigan State defense has been excellent, as Dantonio has implemented his schemes, similar to those employed at Alabama by Nick Saban.
Saban's influence on Dantonio, who coached under him for five seasons, is evident, as the Spartans continue to focus on excellent defense.
Trying to move the ball against the Spartans has been a huge struggle in the past two seasons, and it will continue to do so as long as Dantonio is head man.
6. Bronco Mendenhall, BYU: Stop the Run
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BYU is playing some pretty stout defense.
And it's paying off for Bronco Mendenhall's team. The Cougars were second in the nation last season in rushing defense, which led to a top three ranking in total defense.
While the schedule last season was less than the most difficult in the nation, the team still allowed only 266 yards per game.
Bronco Mendenhall has set this team up to be one of the best defenses in the nation again in 2013.
The team functions with an extremely solid front seven, featuring explosive linebackers and stout defensive linemen.
Moving the ball against them is rough; opponents averaged only 4.38 yards per play.
5. Urban Meyer. Ohio State: Spread Option
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Talk all you want about the Buckeyes and their "weak" schedule in 2012, but the team went undefeated.
You could also talk about that talent.
Urban Meyer's offense consistently utilizes talented dual threat quarterbacks, i.e. Tim Tebow, Braxton Miller.
But at least part of that success has to be attributed to the spread-option system and the way Meyer's teams run it to perfection.
It's difficult to defend the spread option, especially with a guy such as Braxton Miller who could hand off, keep the ball or pass it.
Even a defender "spying" on Miller is not always effective, as the "spy" can be sucked into the misdirection, and then the QB is gone, or the pass hits over the top for a big gain.
Game-planning for Meyer's offense is a nightmare. Just ask his 2012 opponents.
The scary thing for the rest of the FBS is that this team is only going to get better.
4. Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia: Power Raid
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Holgorsen is a Mike Leach disciple, so we see plenty of Air Raid philosophies in his offense.
The difference lies in the running game.
Where you almost never see a power running game of any sort out of Mike Leach's offense, Holgorsen's offense features a rushing attack that can be devastating at times.
The playbook itself is not overly complicated, featuring basic variations of the same few plays, and Holgorsen's team is called upon to out-execute the defense.
For the most part, it works.
The offense repeatedly lines up in the same formation, then runs different scripted variations off that formation.
For instance, in WVU's 70-33 Orange Bowl win over Clemson after the 2011 season, West Virginia repeatedly took advantage of the Tigers with a jet screen out of the spread.
Clemson couldn't stop it, and it was hard to anticipate, as it looked similar to just about every other play.
At times, utilizing the same basic formations and tailoring the plays based on the defense's reaction can be the most effective way to go.
3. Mike Leach, Washington State: Air Raid
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Leach's Air Raid is one of the most wide-open offenses in the game.
Utilizing a version of the spread that almost never uses a rushing attack, Leach repeatedly fields an offense that is difficult to slow.
Out of the spread, his receivers many times have predetermined routes, say if the defense drops into Cover 3, the slot receiver hits the seam, or if it's Cover 2, he may run a flag.
This drives defenses nuts, as there are so many variations on every play.
And instead of running the ball, this offense is loaded with a series of mesh routes, stick routes and various other quick passes that move the ball three to four yards a pop, and if the defense does not stick the tackle, it can turn into big gains.
This one is no fun to try and game-plan against.
2. Kirby Smart, Defensive Coordinator, Alabama
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Part of the credit for 'Bama's defensive success should of course be given to the superior talent.
The Tide consistently field top-flight players due to the excellent recruiting program.
However, let's give Kirby Smart's scheme a little credit.
The man has developed a hard-hitting, aggressive style of defense that gives offensive coordinators and their quarterbacks nightmares.
Since 2008, Smart's defense has been excellent, checking in top three in total defense every season except for 2010, when the unit finished fifth in the nation.
Smart's defense disguises its schemes well, and utilizes athletic linemen and speedy linebackers to wreak havoc along the line.
It's difficult to plan for this defense, no matter how great your offense plays.
1. Mark Helfrich, Oregon: Spread Option
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Oregon has had an explosive offense for some time, but the most recent rise in the success of the offense under Chip Kelly has been in part due to Helfrich and his work as quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator.
Now he's the head coach and the principles of the system will stay the same.
Beside the fact that the offense runs at a torrid pace, and teams are constantly trying to slow it down, during the play or between plays, you must also deal with the scheme itself.
The Ducks run their version of the spread option to perfection, as evidenced by their annual offensive production, which has been in the top five each of the past three seasons.
With the appropriate players, this version of the option at the speed Oregon runs it is nearly impossible to defend.
Not impossible, but nearly.
Expect more of the same with Helfrich at the wheel.