12 College Football Teams Guaranteed to Struggle on Offense in 2014
In the high-scoring world of college football, to struggle offensively is a relative term.
In 2013 nearly half of the 126 FBS programs averaged 30 points a game or more, and scoring 20 points per game could still land you in the bottom 20 of the national rankings. And from a yardage standpoint the numbers were even more outlandish, with more than 70 teams gaining 400-plus yards per game.
But even with all those beefed-up statistics and overworked scoreboards, a number of teams will find it difficult to keep up with the Baylors and Oregons. That includes some programs that are expected to contend for division or conference titles, meaning some teams might have to (egads!) rely on defense to be successful during the 2014 season.
Whether it's because of roster attrition through graduation, early departure or transfers, changes to staff or just a poor offensive scheme, these are the 12 most notable teams that will struggle on offense in 2014.
Boston College Eagles
2013 record: 7-6, 4-4 ACC
Boston College rode the efforts of a trio of senior skill players to finish at .500 in the ACC and reach a bowl game, losing badly to Arizona in the AdvoCare V100 Bowl. That defeat was the sendoff for three players who had great careers in quarterback Chase Rettig, running back Andre Williams and wide receiver Alex Amidon.
Rettig only threw for 1,995 yards and 17 touchdowns, but he made all but four of the Eagles' 267 pass attempts in 2013. And more than half of those passing yards (1,032) went to Amidon, who with 77 receptions nearly surpassed the output of the rest of his team (87).
And we haven't even talked about the loss of Williams, who became the first FBS running back to gain more than 2,000 yards (he finished with 2,177 along with 18 TDs) since 2008 and posted the fifth-best single-season rushing total in FBS history. His backup, Myles Willis, had 346 yards on 60 carries, and the 5'9", 187-pound sophomore will probably get the bulk of carries this fall in what is likely to be a committee approach.
To fix the passing situation, BC picked up former Florida quarterback Tyler Murphy off the transfer market (as well as his former Gators teammate, offensive lineman Ian Silberman), but the senior graduate student will have to show he can be more consistent than he was in six starts for Florida last season.
Central Florida Knights
2013 record: 12-1, 8-0 American
One of the biggest surprises in the country last season has to replace a quarterback who went third overall in the NFL draft and a solid, dependable running back. Throw in a schedule that includes games against BYU, Missouri and Penn State (in Ireland, no less), and the Knights will be hard-pressed to put up the big numbers they had in 2013.
Blake Bortles was a relative unknown until he tore through opposing defenses last season, throwing for more than 3,500 yards and 25 touchdowns and outdueling Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater to win the conference title and Baylor's Bryce Petty to claim victory in the Fiesta Bowl.
Now, UCF's quarterback job likely falls to sophomore Justin Holman, though George O'Leary didn't name a starter coming out of spring practice.
At running back, the Knights will struggle to get the same production from sophomore William Stanback that it did from Storm Johnson, who ran for 1,139 yards and 14 touchdowns and also caught 30 passes and added three receiving touchdowns.
Fresno State Bulldogs
2013 record: 11-2, 7-1 Mountain West
While some schools' offensive schemes are so solid they can overcome the loss of a major contributor, that's not a way to describe Fresno State. As a result, no replacement can be expected to match the production that Derek Carr had the past three seasons for the Bulldogs.
In 2013 he threw for an absurd 5,082 yards and 50 touchdowns and over his three years as a starter averaged more than 4,200 yards with just less than 38 TDs per season. That production came for two different coaches, as Pat Hill was replaced by Tim DeRuyter after the 2011 season, so it wasn't as if Carr's numbers were the result of a system.
DeRuyter has a defensive background, but with Carr (as well as prolific receiver Davante Adams, who had 3,030 yards and 38 touchdowns in two seasons before leaving early for the NFL draft) around, he went with his roster strengths and looked to outscore teams instead of stopping them. That will change in 2014, as the Bulldogs offense won't have nearly the weapons it has had in past years.
Fresno did land former Duke quarterback Brandon Connette, and he is eligible right away as a graduate transfer. He threw for 1,212 yards and 13 TDs but also ran for 14 scores in a shared role as Duke's quarterback in 2013. Assuming he starts. he'll get a trial by fire in Fresno's first three games (at USC, at Utah and home against Nebraska).
Miami (Fla.) Hurricanes
2013 record: 9-4, 5-3 ACC
Miami's best offensive weapons are either out for the year or returning from a season-ending injury, putting into limbo any sort of realistic expectations for 2014. But with all that uncertainty, it's fair to assume the Hurricanes will have trouble putting up the kind of numbers needed to contend in the ACC.
Miami was 7-0 heading into a showdown with fellow unbeaten Florida State, averaging nearly 40 points per game behind the running of Duke Johnson. Then he broke his ankle late in that loss to FSU, which started a three-game losing streak where the Hurricanes only averaged 22.7 points per game. Suddenly, quarterback Stephen Morris was asked to do far more than he was comfortable doing on offense.
The bottom fell out by the end of the season, with Miami managing just 174 yards in a 36-9 loss to Louisville in the Russell Athletic Bowl.
Johnson is expected to be healthy for the start of this season, though it wasn't until the final days of spring practice that he even participated in any drills. And with projected starter Ryan Williams tearing his ACL during spring ball, Miami's quarterback situation remained so unclear heading into the summer the team picked up graduate transfer Jake Heaps from Kansas to help fill the void.
2013 record: 12-2, 7-1 SEC
While Missouri's defense deserved most of the credit for the breakout 2013 performance, the Tigers had a very solid offense that never struggled to score. But the core of that unit will either be playing in the NFL or working with the practice squad of an old Big 12 rival.
Maty Mauk performed admirably as James Franklin's replacement when the quarterback was injured midway through last season, and with time Mauk could be ever better than Franklin. But Mauk only completed 51 percent of his passes, and in Mizzou's lone regular-season loss, he was just 10-of-25. He'll be playing behind a line that lost veterans on the left side.
The run game is also depleted, with Henry Josey and his 1,166 yards and 16 touchdowns gone. But where Mizzou will feel the biggest hit to its attack is at receiver, where it was already going to have to replace the graduated L'Damian Washington—but then Dorial Green-Beckham was kicked off the team in April because of off-field incidents.
Missouri was 16th in the nation in total offense last season. Finishing in the top 40 will prove difficult this year.
Northern Illinois Huskies
2013 record: 12-2, 8-0 Mid-American
Northern Illinois has managed to produce some of the best mid-major teams over the past five years despite having three different head coaches during that period, including 24 wins in the past two seasons with a coaching change in between. There was a major constant between those back-to-back 12-win seasons, though: Jordan Lynch.
Lynch, arguably the best running quarterback in FBS history, saw his college career end after the 2013 season. He ran for 1,920 yards as a senior after gaining 1,815 during the 2012 season when NIU earned a BCS bid and played in the Orange Bowl, and in his career he twice set the FBS record for rushing yards in a game by a quarterback.
His impact was so big the Huskies will need to use at least two players to make up for his production, with only running back Cameron Stingily coming into 2014 with significant playing experience. He ran for more than 1,100 yards and nine TDs last season, while the three players vying to succeed Lynch at quarterback (juniors Drew Hare and Matt McIntosh and sophomore Anthony Maddie) managed just one touchdown drive against a young NIU defense during the spring game.
2013 record: 1-11, 0-8 Big Ten
The most anemic offense of any power-conference team in 2013, Purdue doesn't look like it's going to be much better this fall. That's a sad statement, considering how good the Boilermakers used to be with the ball and how atrocious they were last year.
In going 1-11—with its only win coming in the form of a 20-14 victory over FCS Indiana State, which was also 1-11—Purdue managed to score just 14.9 points per game, and its 282.9 yards were fifth-worst in FBS. Both numbers would have been even lower if not for the 36 points and 485 passing yards from true freshman quarterback Danny Etling in the season-ending loss to Indiana.
All of the skill guys are back from a year ago, but a veteran offense line needs to be totally rebuilt. That unit looked bad during Purdue's spring game against a defense that allowed 38 points per game last season.
Rutgers Scarlet Knights
2013 record: 6-7, 3-5 American (now in Big Ten)
A team that had trouble running the ball against teams in the American Athletic Association now moves into a league that features three of the 10 best run defenses from 2013. And Rutgers faces all of them during a four-week span in the middle of its first season of Big Ten play.
With a poor run game, the Scarlet Knights put a lot of pressure on quarterback Gary Nova to carry the offense, and that backfired. The third-year starter completed just 54 percent of his passes and was intercepted 14 times in 10 games before getting replaced by Chas Dodd down the stretch.
Former Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen has joined the staff as offensive coordinator for its move to the Big Ten, but even with his background and pedigree, the pieces aren't there for Rutgers to perform well enough on offense to do anything significant.
2013 record: 8-5, 7-2 Big 12
Texas' offense had been on a downward trend for the past several years. But now with a new regime led by a defensive-minded coach, the Longhorns will be even less impressive moving the ball during 2014.
The issues start at quarterback, where new coach Charlie Strong must choose between junior David Ash, sophomore Tyrone Swoopes and incoming freshman Jerrod Heard. That means picking between a veteran coming off a head injury (but who was solid in 2012), a raw talent and an untested prospect.
The situation is more promising at running back, where the Longhorns have one of the best one-two combos in the country in senior Malcolm Brown and junior Johnathan Gray. Brown ran for 904 yards and nine touchdowns last season, much of that coming after Gray suffered a season-ending leg injury. Gray had 780 yards in nine games, and during a four-game stretch midway through 2013 the pair averaged 180 yards per contest.
But Texas faces a Big 12 schedule that features five teams that ranked in the top 40 nationally in rushing defense last year, and each of them returns the bulk of its best run defenders. While Strong may make major inroads in improving the Longhorns defense and changing the program's culture in his first season, improvements on offense aren't as likely.
2013 record: 5-7, 2-6 SEC
Few spring games involving losing teams from a year ago provided more promise and hope for the immediate future than at Tennessee, where Butch Jones' newest crop of skill players wowed the thousands of fans who attended the game with big plays and great moves.
But once Tennessee starts playing real games and its offense has to operate with a completely inexperienced line against stout defenses such as Alabama, Florida, Oklahoma and even Utah State, those spring offensive superlatives will be a distant memory.
Yes, running back Jalen Hurd looked magical in both rushing the ball and catching passes, while wideout Josh Malone made an early push for SEC Offensive Freshman of the Year. All of the quarterbacks looked good too, and each will provide a nice option for Jones. But there's still that offensive line, which will be all-new and made up of players with a combined six collegiate starts under their belts.
Tennessee is still a year or two away from being the team it is preparing to be, and while improvement will be seen from 2013, it won't be enough to classify the Volunteers as an offensively sound unit.
Tulane Green Wave
2013 record: 7-6, 5-3 Conference USA (now in American)
Tulane is coming off its best season in more than a decade, finally finishing above .500 and getting into a bowl game. And none of that had anything to do with its offense.
The same is probably going to be the case for the Green Wave in 2014, as the move from Conference USA to the American will bring a slight uptick in competition but not any noticeable improvement in how they move the ball. Tulane managed just 311.8 yards per game last season, which only ranked ahead of eight programs tracked by the NCAA.
Those eight teams were a combined 16-80.
Tulane got by with great defense and some timely offense, but it appears a youth movement is afoot on the attack side in 2014. According to Bill Connelly of SBNation, many of the skill positions will be occupied by underclassmen thanks to the departure of leading receiver Ryan Grant and top running back Orleans Darkwa. Same with the quarterback gig, which in 2013 was split between Nick Montana (son of Joe) and Devin Powell, but could be held by a redshirt freshman in Tanner Lee.
The Green Wave will have a nice new stadium and an upgraded conference this fall, but they won't have an offense that avoids regular struggles.
2013 record: 9-4, 5-4 Pac-12
Washington didn't just lose its head coach (and many assistants) during the offseason, it also lost most of the offensive identity that helped the Huskies win nine games and finish 13th nationally in offense. New coach Chris Petersen isn't exactly an offensive slouch, having routinely produced strong attacks with Boise State, but he's inheriting a talent void.
Steve Sarkisian left for USC, while quarterback Keith Price graduated and running back Bishop Sankey left early for the NFL draft. Who will replace each is still uncertain, but after the productivity that they had over their careers, it's easy to project some struggles at the outset.
Petersen shouldn't have too much of a backslide with the Huskies, but don't expect numbers similar to the 2013 version. In a conference like the Pac-12 where nine schools will be returning their starting quarterback and many others have top-tier running backs and receivers coming back, Washington will be on the bottom end in terms of production.
Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.