Power Rankings: College Football Spread Offenses
Shoot 'em up. Run-and-gun. Defenses left breathless. Points galore.
It's the spread offense, and it's taken the world of college football by storm over the past decade. While some teams base it more around a high-octane passing attack, while others have a wearying running game, there's no denying its ability to wear a defense out.
When executed properly, that is.
Here's a sampling of 10 teams around the country using some variety of the spread. Some teams are lousy at it, some are in a transition, some are already great.
Sadly, we start with my soon-to-be alma mater.
Not so much: Vanderbilt
Full disclosure: I love the Commodores, and I'll root for the Black and Gold until I die.
However, that doesn't mean I don't recognize an offense that defines anemic.
Vandy has a multiple spread attack and attempted to institute a no-huddle offense in 2009. This was on the heels of its first bowl victory since 1955, so optimism around the idea was high.
However, in 2008, the Commodores were lousy yet opportunistic on offense, capitalizing on their limited scoring chances. They were also so good on special teams and defense that they were able to have a winning season.
They couldn't repeat the magic. Vanderbilt simply does not have the athletes to execute a no-huddle, spread attack, especially against the faster defenses of the SEC.
While the Commodores have a budding star in running back Warren Norman, Larry Smith was slow to develop at quarterback, there were no playmakers among the wide receivers, and the offensive line was like a sieve.
The results were hideous: a time-of-possession average of 26:11 (119th out of 120 teams), 146.3 yards passing (112th), and 306.3 yards of overall offense (110th).
Not to mention a 2-10 record, its worst since Bobby Johnson's first season in Nashville in 2002.
Vanderbilt's saddled with a lot of the same personnel issues this season, including an even weaker offensive line, so another brutal fall is on the horizon.
New system: Notre Dame
2010 has been, and will continue to be a year of transition for the Fighting Irish. The pro-style offense that Charlie Weis championed was, while solid, not enough to overcome Notre Dame's defensive woes, and led to Weis' pink slip.
Brian Kelly replaced Weis, and brought his high-octane Cincinnati spread with him to South Bend. Installing it successfully will be a tall order.
Rich Rodriguez also ran a successful spread in the Big East, but has had trouble translating it against Big Ten defenses at Michigan.
Kelly faces a similar predicament, given that much of his offensive roster was recruited by Weis for a very different scheme. He also won't have star receiver Golden Tate, or offensive tackle Sam Young, and he's been juggling his options at receiver all spring as he tries to get his players comfortable.
Time will tell whether it's effective; there will be some growing pains in the first year, at least.
One more chance: Michigan
Rodriguez had lots of success with the spread option offense at West Virginia, especially near the end of his tenure, because he had a special player in dual threat quarterback Pat White.
He's finding that's a little tougher at Michigan, where the seat is particularly hot in Ann Arbor after putting together an 8-16 record in two seasons at one of the country's most historic programs.
The offense in 2008, his first year, was deplorable; the next season it had improved, finishing third in the Big Ten in scoring, but there are still strides to be made.
To be fair, however, part of the problem down the stretch in a 5-7 2009 was a shoulder injury to quarterback Tate Forcier mid-season. Not to mention the Wolverines took terrible care of the football, with 28 turnovers in 12 games, and the offense remains a work-in-progress for many on the roster who Rodriguez didn't recruit.
Also, Big Ten defenses are tough and adaptable to the spread, which, again, isn't exactly innovative given how many teams run it. Rodriguez has one more season to have consistent success with this scheme, if that long, before he gets canned.
Getting there: Wyoming
The spread worked fairly well for Wyoming in Dave Christensen's first season.
Christensen, who also led a successful stint as Missouri's offensive coordinator, paced Wyoming to its first bowl appearance since 2005, a 35-28 triumph in the New Mexico Bowl, and a 7-6 record overall.
Picked to finish last in the Mountain West, the Cowboys won four conference games, although their average of 309.4 yards a game ranked among the nation's worst.
Still, not bad for a team led by a freshman quarterback, Austyn Carta-Samuels. Another year in the system should make them even better.
Here's some impressive statistics about the Cougars: in 2009, they ran 1,150 plays over 14 games, the most in the country by far. That's an average of 82 a game.
Houston also had 424 first downs (the next closest was Texas A&M at 339), an average of more than 30 a contest. One problem: they were just too fast. They were on the field less than 27 minutes a game, a factor into why their defense was so abysmal.
But the Cougars' spread, pass-happy attack led by quarterback Case Keenum was the most potent offense in the nation and led Houston to 10 wins, including a 45-35 upset of then-No. 5 Oklahoma State, as well as a second consecutive berth in the Armed Forces Bowl. Keenum has thrown for over 5,000 yards in two straight seasons.
Installed by head coach and former Oklahoma offensive coordinator Kevin Sumlin, their spread, much like conference foe Tulsa's, is so effective not just because of Keenum's abilities but also Houston's impressive receiving corps. It doesn't hurt that the Conference-USA's defenses aren't exactly elite.
Houston returns Keenum and three 1,000-yard receivers in Tyron Carrier, Patrick Edwards, and James Cleveland in 2010.
Air Raiders: Texas Tech
Texas Tech loves the pass.
With Mike Leach at the helm, Big 12 defenses were hard-pressed to stop the Air Raid throwing attack led by Taylor Potts and Steven Sheffield, the second-most productive passing game in the nation.
Only the players' own fat little girlfriends truly stood in their way en route to an Alamo Bowl title in 2009.
But seriously, the Red Raiders have been an impressive passing team for the past few seasons; in a conference that loves points, few do it better than Texas Tech. We'll see if Tommy Tuberville can maintain the production.
And fear not, Tommy. It's not the spread that Tony Franklin tried to institute at Auburn in 2008. We all know how that went down; at season's end, neither of them worked for the Tigers any more.
Pistol Pack: Nevada
Nevada run and gunned its way, literally, to the 2009 title of the nation's most prolific rushing offense under Pistol offensive inventor Chris Ault.
The Wolf Pack's Pistol attack confuses defensive timing with the faster snap than in the traditional shotgun formation with the quarterback standing a yard or two closer. Nevada averaged an eye-popping 7.4 yards a carry in 2009; the next closest team in the nation was UAB at just under six yards.
Zone reads, reverses, dives, veers, play action and more. It's all possible and Nevada makes it potent from that formation because of its set-up that incorporates the best facets of the spread option and I-formations, both of which Ault is familiar with.
With an experienced, smart quarterback like Colin Kaepernick running the show, the numbers have been dazzling. He became the first player in NCAA history to record back-to-back 2,000 passing yard, 1,000 rushing yard seasons, and he's got a chance in 2010 to break several NCAA records, including a distant shot at catching Pat White for most rushing yards by a quarterback.
Triple threat: Georgia Tech
The triple option is an extremely rare bird in college football. It's practically non-existent in the power conferences. It just isn't glitzy.
But it's making a comeback in Atlanta.
Georgia Tech's been laughing all the way to the bank the past two seasons with the triple option, thanks to coach Paul Johnson.
Johnson came from Navy, and pulled off one of the greatest coaching jobs of the last decade in 2008, transforming Georgia Tech's offense and doing it with players he didn't recruit.
A team that had been mired in mediocrity under perennial underachiever Chan Gailey won nine games in Johnson's first season, including a much-needed win over rival Georgia. A year later the Jackets won their first ACC Championship since the 1990s and ran teams ragged all season.
Give credit to tough quarterback Josh Nesbitt for making the difficult transition into an offense that's not ideal for sexy passing numbers. When executed effectively, it takes two defensive players out of the equation who have to deal with the pitch and the read. As the quarterback lines up under center with backs to his left and right and decides whether to run, pitch, or throw.
Nesbitt became a magician at it last season and took pretty good beatings every game. He rushed for 18 touchdowns and had at least one 50-plus-yard passing play in 10 regular season games.
Sensational running backs Jonathan Dwyer and Anthony Allen also put up huge numbers as Tech went to the Orange Bowl and compiled an 11-3 record, its best since the George O'Leary era.
Of course, it fizzles now and then. Tech has been embarrassed in both of its bowl games under Johnson, putting up a combined 17 points. Dwyer has also gone on to the NFL and will be sorely missed.
But Tech's numbers speak for themselves in 2009: 295.4 rushing yards a game and an impressive time-of-possession average of 33:49 that left defenses gasping for air. That speaks to not only Tech's great athletes but solid conditioning by the offensive line as well.
Pac-10 Power: Oregon
You can debate plenty of things about Oregon football. For instance, are their jerseys hideous or awesome? I lean towards the latter. Does Jeremiah Masoli take the cake for dumbest off-field activity of 2009-2010? He's up there.
How good their spread offense is, however, really isn't in question.
Chip Kelly is another spread mastermind, and he maintained the success he had as Oregon's offensive coordinator, as its head coach in his first season in 2009 en route to a Pac-10 title.
Look no further than the punishing the Ducks put on perennial Pac-10 powerhouse USC last Halloween, and essentially took the conference crown right there at Autzen Stadium.
LaMichael James rushed for 183 yards, Masoli rushed for 164 and Oregon piled up 391 yards on the ground (a whopping 613 total) against the Trojans, who came in with the nation's 5th-best rushing defense. Obviously, the Trojans were in a down year, but it was still an impressive performance.
It was the spread at its best. The Ducks overwhelmed USC with their speed, the offensive line opened up huge holes and Masoli's dual threat abilities (he also passed for 222 yards) were icing on the cake. On the year, Oregon had a gaudy 231.7 yards rushing per game, best in the conference and the sixth-best in the country.
After a terrible opener against Boise State, Oregon was outstanding, winning 10 of 11 games (most of them without suspended running back LeGarrette Blount), and going to the Rose Bowl before falling to Ohio State. They'll miss Masoli badly next year after Kelly suspended him for his role in a campus burglary.
Get'em, Gators: Florida
Florida's potent spread option offense might not undergo as much of an evolution in 2010 with the departure of Tim Tebow as you'd think.
In the last four years, Florida's gone 48-7, won two BCS titles and in its worst season in that time, had a Heisman winner. In 2009, the Gators had the nation's sixth-most potent offense at 458 yards a game, and won the Sugar Bowl. Why fix what's not broken? Just tweak it, that's all.
With John Brantley, a more traditional pocket passer who doesn't have the scrambling, bruising running abilities of Tim Tebow as the starter, Florida can employ a more traditional downfield passing attack. He showed off his abilities at the Gators' spring scrimmage, completing 15-19 passes for 201 yards, and Florida showed off tremendous depth at wide receiver.
However, on short yardage situations, you'll probably see Brantley take a seat and bigger back-ups Trey Burton, and converted tight end Jordan Reed bulldoze defenses in the single-wing formation with Tebow that always drove the Gator opposition crazy. They knew what was coming and couldn't stop it.
That's the definition of a dominating offense. Burton and Reed are no Tebows, but the Gators have arguably the best coach in the business at this scheme and he's always done a great job of recruiting the athletes that make it so difficult to contain.