Thought for the week: Though November is nine months off, the current sports landscape should have college football fans buzzing about late autumn.
As the college basketball season approaches its final weeks, a frenetic February leads into March Madness. It's a time when every play seems to mean just a little bit more, with every team in championship contention positioning itself for the final push.
Applying the same intensity to the final weeks of the football season, with the first College Football Playoff in sight, already has my heart pumping just a little bit quicker.
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@kensing45 Serious question: As we head into spring football, what're the most intriguing non-QB roster battles among Pac-12 schools?— Go Joe Bruin (@GoJoeBruinUCLA) February 21, 2014
Quarterback competitions—if not outright controversies—seem to build the most buzz this time of year. Since the Pac-12 is so rife with returning starters, there are very few competitions brewing. That should make for a somewhat more fascinating spring of following developments in teams' other needs.
USC and Oregon have the conference's deepest backfields, which should make for two entertaining competitions to be the No. 1 running back. In Oregon's case, head coach Mark Helfrich and offensive coordinator Scott Frost made effective use of both Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner simultaneously.
At USC, Tre Madden and Buck Allen sparingly shared touches. New head coach Steve Sarkisian's background does not suggest an equal distribution of carries, either. Both backs have demonstrated No. 1 ball-carrier ability.
Stanford's restructuring of the secondary is intriguing. The coaching staff decided to move Kodi Whitfield from a loaded wide receiving corps to safety, as tweeted Monday by the program's official Twitter account, @StanfordFball:
UCLA's offensive line competition is another interesting competition. Freshmen Caleb Benenoch, Scott Quessenberry and Alex Redmond were key contributors last season. Simon Goines returns from injury, Ben Wysocki has been in the program for going on four seasons and the development of Poasi Moala after a redshirt year could make him a factor.
The development along that offensive line most worth tracking in the spring is where Miami transfer Malcolm Bunche fits. His father, Curtis Bunche, told Susan Miller Degnan of the Miami Herald "[UCLA needs] an O-lineman to protect that Heisman Trophy candidate's blind side."
Of course, that suggests the immediately eligible Bunche is the guy at left tackle.
Harold emails: All of a sudden Nick [Saban] is in charge of the NCAA FOOTBALL RULES COMMITTEE...The offense goes through the same set of plays that the defense does.
To the first point, it's not unreasonable to think this debate in favor of a defensive substitution window would not have gained nearly as steam without a four-time national championship-winning coach at the forefront.
Perhaps the NCAA should explore a provision for the winning head coach of each season's College Football Playoff to institute a new rule for the next year, similar to something you would see on a reality game show like Big Brother.
The second point addresses a significant argument against the injury issue that is fueling this discussion.
If the offense substitutes, the defense is allowed time to also make lineup changes. These instances wherein the official stands over the ball before the snap are common.
An uptempo offense can only play as fast as the players running it. These are still college athletes like their defensive counterparts, not super-humans like The Flash.
The physicality of playing defense does sometimes require more substitutions, but Georgia head coach Mark Richt and Saban's SEC counterpart offered perhaps the best insight, via Marc Weiszer of Athens Banner-Herald:
I feel like if you can train offensive players to play five or six plays in a row, you can train defensive players to play that many plays in a row, too. I personally don’t think it’s a health-issue deal, but if there’s some evidence otherwise, it will be interesting to see it...I think it’s somebody’s assumption. I don’t think there’s any hard evidence on it.
Kyle Kensing is the Pac-12 Lead Writer. Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.