Clarifying What a “Spread Offense” Entails

April 15, 2009

While reading the excellent interview Bruins Nation had with Rick Neuheisel, I came upon the final question of part one. It basically was, “Hey Rick, what do you think of the spread offense?”

Neuheisel ends up giving a fairly long and winding explanation of why he chooses a pro style offense rather than a spread scheme. I’m going to chop it up into mincemeat for a second to illustrate a point:

“The key to the spread offense, and the reason why its successful, is that it adds an extra player. It diminishes the need for great offensive linemen, because you’ve got a little longer because you are always in the gun…

“The problem at UCLA is that you have to beat the Trojans. And it’s also the benefit at UCLA, because when you beat them, you’re going to be among the nation’s elite. So you have to be a physical offense...

“I was the benefactor of a type of spread offense, even though it was an option offense, it’s the same math in terms of the quarterback’s [being] a runner…

There were some components of the spread offense in what we did last year. We got into the old wildcat stuff…”

The picture of the spread offense that Neuheisel paints is one that involves a running quarterback, the shotgun as the exclusive setup, an offense that isn’t physical, and the wildcat formation.

Basically what he described is the Rich Rodriguez/Urban Meyer style offense (except for the part about the spread not being physical). However, that’s not necessarily what a spread offense is.

I know Neuheisel is a bright guy, and I wasn’t there when the interview was conducted. Maybe something about the session led him to think of the spread in those terms. However, that’s an awfully narrow definition of a very broad concept.

The term “spread” dates back at least to 1952, and I’m sure it’s been around longer than that. The spread isn’t an offense; it’s a formation and a philosophy.

For the record, this is a spread formation:

Spread_medium

This is not:

Notspread_medium

That’s all there is to it. There is no other distinction between spread and non-spread. A spread formation uses most of the horizontal space on the field and a non-spread formation does not. Nearly every offense uses some spread formations, and many spread-based offenses use some non-spread formations.

The idea behind a spread-based offense is to make the defense cover the entire field. Contrary to what Neuheisel may have made it sound like, a spread formation is an excellent choice for physical running up the middle. That’s because with the defense spread out, there are fewer guys in the middle of the field to try to stop the ball carrier.

That fact is also why many spread teams prefer to have a mobile quarterback. Fewer guys near the line of scrimmage makes for fewer people hanging around to stop a runner behind center. Having a running triggerman is not a requirement though.

For instance, the first neo-spread team in the SEC was Hal Mumme’s Kentucky, and we never saw Tim Couch take off and run much. That branch of spread offense is continued today by Mumme’s former assistant Mike Leach at Texas Tech. You also have teams like Ohio State’s 2006 team which ran a fair bit of spread with Troy Smith rarely participating in designed runs.

The shotgun isn’t even a requirement as Neuheisel made it sound like. Sam Bradford operated from under center a fair bit in Oklahoma’s spread last season. In addition, Paul Johnson’s offense keeps the quarterback under center almost exclusively even though his base flexbone set is is a spread formation.

Finally, the wildcat is a formation and offensive package but it doesn’t have to be run from a spread set or spread offense. Not all spread teams use it either.

No two teams run the exact same spread offense, as every coach has his own take on it. It also must be tailored to personnel. If you want details, there’s a wealth of information on many spread topics at the blog Smart Football (start here, here, and here).

If I wasn’t clear before, let me be so now: I don’t think Rick Neuheisel is unaware of all this. He knows far more about offensive football than I do and he could probably explain it a lot better than I can.

It just disappointed me about the way he used “spread” to mean a lot fo specific things when it doesn’t necessarily. It’s like saying that having a quarterback under center in the I-formation means you’re in a pro style offense, except that the heyday of the Nebraska option was largely done from the I.

In short, just remember that there is no one “spread offense.” There are as many spread offenses as there are teams that run them, and every one has something that makes it unique.


The Pac 1

September 27, 2008

Very clever Dawgs. Nice GameDay sign. I’ll give you this one.


USC Human After All

September 26, 2008

It’s amazing what happens when you play on the road against someone other than putrid Virginia.

USC had played at a very high level so far, but that stopped last night. I didn’t get to see the first half thanks to the new season of “The Office” on NBC, and despite my feeling otherwise, I guessed that the game wouldn’t be very exciting anyway.

I will have to look at my recording of the halftime show and second half more closely to find out what exactly happened, since the box score didn’t have many clues as to what happened before I started watching. However, it appeared USC ran into the same problem that Georgia did against South Carolina: the opposing defensive line was a good enough matchup that it didn’t have to do much blitzing to get pressure.

The Beaver offensive line looked pretty good for that matter too. They were able to open up some running lanes and bought QB Lyle Moevao scrambling time when he needed it. For a team that got stomped by Penn State, that’s pretty impressive.

I’ll admit that I thought USC looked very good the first three weeks, and I let it override my preseason opinion some. I suspected this Trojan team looked vulnerable, and here we found out that they are without a doubt vulnerable. Turns out we won’t have to worry about what happens if USC, the Big 12 champ, and the SEC champ all go undefeated.

TCU should give Oklahoma a run for their money, and Alabama’s defensive line could cause some serious problems for Georgia. It looks conceivable that Florida could be No. 1 after the weekend. Provided they beat Ole Miss, of course.

Crazy.


The Pac-10 Had a Rough Weekend

September 14, 2008

USC won the most highly anticipated non-conference game of the year in stunning fashion, pasting Ohio State 35-3. However, that would be about the only thing that went right for the conference. It’s time to prepare for talk of the Big One and Little Nine to commence once more.

It all began Friday night with Baylor pounding Washington State 45-17. Sure, the Cougars are dealing with a lot right now between their new coach and some APR-related scholarship losses. Yes, the game was moved thanks to Hurricane Ike too. It’s still Baylor we’re talking about here, and it was still a 28-point loss.

Cal continued the madness by losing to Maryland, a team that lost to Middle Tennessee State by 10 last weekend. The Bears made an effort to come back and almost won, but they fell short. Again: Cal lost to an ACC team that lost to MTSU.

Stanford’s game with TCU was also affected by Hurricane Ike, but it didn’t change days like Wazzou’s did. TCU is generally one of the best non-BCS teams every year, and it showed with the Horned Frogs taking home a 31-14 win.

After those early games were over, the set at 3:30 began. One was UCLA visiting BYU, a team it split two close games with last season. Instead of making it three tight ones in a row, the Bruins dropped a stink bomb of epic proportions, losing to the Cougars 59-0. As ESPN’s crawl told us all night, it was UCLA’s worst loss since 1929.

Oregon faced off with Purdue, a mid-range Big Ten team, at the same time. Looking to make a statement on the road, the Ducks promptly fell behind 20-3 in the first half. Oregon’s defense locked down the Boilers as the offense crawled its way back, and the superior Ducks team finally won out in double overtime 32-26.

Back west, Oregon State welcomed depleted Hawai’i to town on the Warriors’ paycheck tour. Despite an early UH touchdown, the Beavers won a laugher 45-7 and showed that they might possess a defense after all. Then again no one is sure that Hawai’i possesses an offense, having scored just 17 points in its two games against I-A competition.

Prime time then rolled around. The conference had two drastically different teams on national TV with two drastically different results. Washington got rolled by the merciless Oklahoma Sooners 55-14 while USC effectively ended Ohio State’s season, 35-3.

The late games were two contests the conference probably hopes no one was paying attention to. The Mountain West Conference took a pair of contests from its regional BCS overlord as New Mexico defeated Arizona 36-28 and UNLV upset Arizona State 23-20 in overtime.

Teams not named USC went 2-7 against a slate of all non-conference opponents. The two wins were a blowout over what is no better than the fourth-best team in the WAC and a double overtime squeaker by one of the top three Pac-10 teams over a middle of the road Big Ten team. The league went 0-4 against the MWC, and 0-2 against the Big 12. The final loss was by a top-tier Pac-10 team to an ACC team that, let me say it again, lost to MTSU by two scores.

It was perhaps just a scheduling quirk that all of these games happened on the same weekend. Six of them were on the road, too.

Still, if the conference wants to be seen as a deep league and not USC and the Nine Dwarves, Cal cannot lose to Maryland. Arizona State cannot lose to UNLV. Oregon cannot go to double overtime against Purdue. Oregon State beating Hawai’i cannot be the conference’s third-best game, especially when the Beavers already have been hammered by Penn State. Up-and-comer Arizona cannot lose to New Mexico two straight years. Wazzou, Stanford, and UCLA were not favored to win, but they were not competitive either.

The Pac-10 certainly will see better weekends ahead. However, the non-USC folk are now just 3-10 against opponents from BCS leagues or the MWC (the best of the non-BCS leagues). It appears for now that USC’s hegemony will inevitably extend for another year, with there being precious little the rest of the conference can do about it.


College GameDay’s Picks

August 24, 2008

In case you missed the College GameDay season preview show yesterday, here’s how everyone picked. They added Lou Holtz for the preview show, but hopefully he won’t be a part of the main lineup. The three-man crew works best. As always, Chris Fowler did not make any predictions.

Lee Corso

ACC: Clemson

Big 12: Missouri

Big East: South Florida

Big Ten: Ohio State

Pac-10: USC

SEC: Auburn

National Title: USC over Missouri

Kirk Herbstreit

ACC: Clemson

Big 12: Oklahoma

Big East: South Florida

Big Ten: Ohio State

Pac-10: USC

SEC: Florida

National Title: Florida over USC

Lou Holtz

ACC: Wake Forest

Big 12: Oklahoma

Big East: Pitt

Big Ten: Ohio State

Pac-10: USC

SEC: Florida

National Title: Ohio State over Oklahoma

The funniest part of the whole thing was during the picks segment. Corso called Missouri WR Jeremy Maclin “Jeremy McLean” and Kirk nearly lost it. Fowler also messed up an into segment off a commercial break, so even the best of them need some fall practice before the season.


All 2008 Picks In One Place

August 23, 2008

I don’t think I’m going to have time to write up the rest of my picks in as much detail as I did with the ACC and Big 12. Instead, I am just going to reveal them all now. I will also be showing you how my selections fit with the expected outcomes based on ten years of BCS games and my opinion of the upcoming season.

Before we dig into the picks, I have some numbers to share with you. Numbers aren’t as juicy as picks are, of course, but they form the basis of these predictions.

The first bit is about BCS at-large teams. Since 1998, the BCS has had 24 at-large teams. I’m fudging a bit; the BCS Busters (Utah, Boise State, and Hawaii) had auto-bids, as did Nebraska and Oklahoma when they made the championship game without winning the Big 12. Just humor me for now.

Of those 24 at-larges, 20 have had the opportunity to return to the BCS the next season. Six of them were able to do it; fourteen were not. Since only 30% of BCS at-larges return the next season and we had four at-larges in 2007, we should expect that only one of them comes back this season.

The other important set of stats comes from my analysis of the preseason consensus. Based on that, we would expect there to be four BCS teams that were picked to be first in their division/conference, two that were picked second, one that was picked third, and one from all the rest.

That only adds up to eight teams though, and there are ten BCS spots. I have already said that I think this is a “season of titans” as it were, so to fill in those final two spots I am using two more teams that were picked to finish in first place. That makes a total of six teams picked first in their division/conference in the BCS. Also to fit in with that theory, I expect there to be no BCS Busters in 2008.

The preseason consensus, which appears to be about final at this point, can be found here.

One final point to keep in mind is that only one team–the 2003 Oklahoma Sooners who got a championship game automatic bid–has lost its conference championship game and still made the BCS.

Onto the picks!

ACC

Championship Game: Clemson over Virginia Tech

At-Large: None

BIG 12

Championship Game: Oklahoma over Missouri

At-Large: Texas Tech

BIG EAST

Champion: West Virginia (over second-place Cincinnati, third-place USF)

At-Large: None

I see West Virginia this year in a similar situation as Miami in 2002-03. This is perhaps the last big hurrah for a while since it will be extremely tough to replace Pat White. White will make up for other shortcomings on offense, and DC Jeff Casteel returns from last year’s staff to field a defense that is always better than people think it is.

I really like Cincinnati’s chances to finish second. The Bearcats won ten games last season, and two of their three losses were by one score or less. Replacing Ben Mauk will be difficult, but Brian Kelly is a good coach and a good quarterback developer. The defense will carry them to second place.

USF has talent in key areas, but I just don’t think Matt Grothe is consistent enough to carry them to second place in the conference. There’s just something about him I don’t trust.

BIG TEN

Champion: Ohio State

At-Large: Michigan State

Ohio State should be the best team in the country. It has 19 starters coming back from a team that went to the national title game. The Buckeyes have considerably more talent and depth than anyone else in the conference.

Picking Michigan State is rather curious. If you remember though, I have to have someone who was picked beyond the top three of its conference. The Spartans are that team, having been picked sixth in the Big Ten.

All six of MSU’s losses were close last season, making them a prominent member of the potential risers club. They have a great senior tailback in Javon Ringer, and if there’s a conference where you can ride a senior tailback to success, it’s this one. The offensive line is big, QB Brian Hoyer is a veteran, and Mark Dantonio’s coaching will keep the defense solid.

Illinois will fall back to earth without Rashard Mendenhall, I have little faith that Jay Paterno’s “Spread HD” will amount to much, and Bret Bielema’s teams have played to the level of their opponents so much it scares me. The Rose Bowl will need someone to replace the Buckeyes, and I think the Spartans just might be the in best position to get the bid.

Plus, the Big Ten has put more teams predicted to finish below third in the conference into the BCS than any other league. It would stand to reason that the Big Ten would be the most likely conference to produce that surprise team this year.

PAC-10

Champion: USC

At-Large: Arizona State

USC looks more vulnerable to me this season than it has in years. The defense will still be great, believe you me. The offense just won’t be overwhelming as it was in the 2003-05 run, and that is what made those Trojan teams nearly invincible.

Mark Sanchez may be good, but he is no Carson Palmer or Matt Leinart. Just being John David Booty will be enough to win the conference, and I think he can be that. USC gets the benefit of the doubt until it falls.

Arizona State was a year early by winning ten games a season ago. Serious questions persist about the offensive line, and the schedule is tougher with Georgia coming to town. However, Dennis Erickson is still the second-best coach in the conference, and there’s enough continuity to think that the Sun Devils will enjoy another great season.

SEC

Championship Game: Florida over Auburn

At-Large: Georgia

Florida and Auburn were almost mirror images of each other last year. If Florida could only have had a defense to go with its offense, the Gators could have been contenders. If Auburn could only have had an offense to go with its defense, the Tigers could have been contenders.

The offseason of training should make Florida’s defense much improved, and Auburn’s offense showed a lot of promise in its bowl game under new OC Tony Franklin. LSU has so much talent everywhere that they cannot be dismissed, but I don’t think Andrew Hatch is as good as Matt Flynn was. That assumption is the main deciding factor for picking the Tigers from the Plains over the Tigers from the Bayou.

Georgia returns most everyone important from last season. I have some concerns about the team though. Can Mark Richt really keep up the special motivational tactics all season long? If he doesn’t, can the team find the fire inside? The ’Dawgs certainly couldn’t at the beginning of last season.

Will Matthew Stafford really make the leap everyone is expecting? Can another patchwork offensive line come together to have great results? Most of these questions are probably “yes” answers, but I still have UGA finishing second in the SEC East because I think Florida will beat them. I will get into that more around the time of the game, but for now just know I am assuming a Gator win on November 1.

BCS BOWL APPEARANCES

I will use the BCS selection process that I outlined recently to explain why I have everyone going to the bowls they’re listed in.

BCS National Championship Game: Ohio State over Oklahoma

These are the two teams I think have the best shot at going undefeated. Ohio State has the better team, something it didn’t have in 2007, and it will have the motivation of needing to prove the world wrong, something it didn’t have in 2006.

Oklahoma sleepwalked through its two recent BCS games, but it won’t this time. The Sooners don’t have quite the same depth that OSU has though, and the waves of fresh Buckeye players will help decide the game.

For the first time since 2005, we should have a close, entertaining national title game.

Rose Bowl: USC over Michigan State

USC comes in as the tie-in Pac-10 champion. To replace the No. 1 Buckeyes, the Rose Bowl will select Michigan State (ranked between 12 and 14 in the BCS) and get its traditional matchup. The result will be similar to last year’s game as the nation once again howls for the Rose to forget its historical matchup and set up a good game.

Fiesta Bowl: Texas Tech over Arizona State

To replace the No. 2 Sooners, the Fiesta Bowl will take the hometown Sun Devils. It was not able to take them last season because of the Orange taking Kansas; that left the Fiesta with the choice of auto-bid West Virginia or auto-bid Hawai’i.

The Fiesta gets the next choice as well, being first in the rotation this season, so it will take the nearby Red Raiders for the excitement factor. It also will not want a rematch, which is the result of taking Georgia, and it will not want to take West Virginia two years in a row.

The game will be a shootout, and I will take Tech since Mike Leach always seems to do well in bowl games.

Sugar Bowl: Florida over West Virginia

Florida comes as the tie-in SEC champion. The Sugar will take West Virginia so as not to set up a rematch of the Florida-Georgia game.

This should be an exciting game as the poster boys of the spread option, Pat White and Tim Tebow, battle it out in the Superdome. Both offenses will give the defenses fits, but Florida’s stable of playmakers is so much deeper than West Virginia’s is that I have no choice but to take the Gators.

This would be a really, really fun game though.

Orange Bowl: Georgia over Clemson

Clemson comes as the tie-in ACC champion. The Orange Bowl cannot believe its luck that it gets to take Georgia as its at-large team. Both teams are regional powers that will snap up tickets as fast as the bowl can print them.

This is also a historic rivalry game for the schools, though one that hasn’t been played regularly in a while. For that reason, it will be a very hard-fought game with a lot on the line for the fans. Georgia simply has the better team though, so I expect the ’Dawgs to take it in the second half.

In Summary

I have six teams that were picked as first place finishers in the preseason consensus: Clemson, Oklahoma, West Virginia, Ohio State, USC, and Georgia. I have two teams that were picked as second place finishers in the preseason consensus: Florida and Arizona State. I have one team that was picked as a third place finisher in the preseason consensus, Texas Tech, and one from below that, Michigan State. Georgia is the one returning at-large from last season.

All of the BCS games look good except for the Rose Bowl. Most even have an enticing storyline to go along with a good matchup. I feel really bad for leaving Missouri out, but I can’t ignore the history on teams that have lost their conference title games. Subbing the Tigers in for the Red Raiders is still plausible and could also make for a great game.

For what it’s worth, I also expect Ohio State’s Chris Wells to win the Heisman, followed by Chase Daniel, Tim Tebow, and Pat White.

That is over 1,900 words of predicting up there. That’s way more than enough. It’s about time that we actually had some games in what looks to be another outstanding college football season.


How Good is the Preseason Consensus at Picking BCS Teams?

August 1, 2008

If you’ve never looked at football.stassen.com, you ought to take a look. It has a lot of great resources for college football research.

One of the best things on the site is the compilation of the preseason consensus. It allows you to see what everyone was thinking before the season starts, and it goes back to 1993.

I decided to go back and look to see how good the preseason consensus was at predicting BCS participants.

By Preseason Conference Rankings

I first looked to see where the BCS conference participants were ranked in the preseason standings.

As it turns out, there’s almost always one wild card in the BCS. Every year except two – 1998 and 2003 – had a team ranked fifth or below in its conference/division make the BCS. The 2003 season was anomalous in that the BCS had six first place picks and two second place picks in it. The 1998 season had five first place picks, two second place picks, and one third place pick.

The lowest-picked teams to make the BCS were 1999 Stanford and 2002 Iowa who both were picked eighth in their conferences.

Only three seasons had more than four first place conference/division picks make the BCS. I’ve already mentioned ’98 and ’03, and the third was 2001 with five. However rather than being totally orderly, ’01 also had two seventh place picks make it in Maryland and Illinois.

Here is a table showing the frequency of making the BCS for each preseason conference/division ranking.

Frequency of BCS Appearances
Conf./Div. Ranking Teams in BCS Teams per Year
1 41 4.1
2 16 1.6
3 10 1.0
4 2 0.2
5 2 0.2
6 1 0.1
7 4 0.4
8 2 0.2

First Place Picks

Here is a table of how well the teams that were picked first in their conferences or divisions did at getting into the BCS.

“1s in BCS” refers to how many first place picks from the conference made the BCS. “BCS Teams” tells how many total BCS teams the conference has fielded. “Tot. 1 Picks” tells how many total first place picks the conference had in the BCS era. For conferences without divisions, it’s one a year; for conferences with divisions, it’s two a year.

First Place Picks in the BCS
Conference 1s in BCS BCS Teams Pct. Tot. 1 Picks Pct. in BCS
ACC 7 10 70% 13 53.8%
Big 12 9 14 64.3% 20 45%
Big East 6 10 60% 10 60%
Big Ten 5 17 29.4% 10 50%
Pac-10 8 12 66.7% 10 80%
SEC 6 15 40% 20 30%

We see a couple things in this.

The Big Ten’s first place picks make a very small percentage of its total BCS participants, thanks to having the smallest number of first place picks make the BCS but the largest number of BCS teams.

The Big 12 and especially the SEC had trouble putting their preseason first place picks in the BCS. In the case of the Big 12, part of it was guessing incorrectly as to whether OU or Texas would win the South. The SEC was a little messier, and I’ll explain more about that later.

Consensus Teams

I finally took a look at consensus teams. In this case, I defined a “consensus team” as a team that received three or fewer rankings of below first for its conference/division.

Surprisingly, only 29 of the 47 (61.7%) consensus teams made the BCS. Here is the number of consensus teams by year:

Consensus Teams by Season
Season Consensus Teams
1998 4
1999 5
2000 4
2001 3
2002 4
2003 4
2004 6
2005 6
2006 8
2007 4

It’s interesting that from 1998 to 2003, there were never more than five consensus teams, and that only happened once. During that time, 69.57% of the consensus teams made the BCS.

In 2004 and 2005, there were six consensus teams, and in 2006 there were eight consensus teams. During those years where everyone suddenly agreed more often, just 45% of consensus teams made the BCS. Things toned down a bit in 2007, when all four consensus teams got to BCS bowls.

The Big Ten has only had five consensus teams, but all five have made the BCS. It appears that when everyone agrees on the Big Ten, its preseason champ makes the BCS; when everyone doesn’t necessarily agree, it’s preseason champ doesn’t make the BCS.

The Pac-10 has also had just five consensus teams. Only 1999 Arizona failed to make the BCS; the other four were USC from 2003-07. That’s an 80% success rate.

Next up in accuracy was the Big 12, which had nine consensus division winners in the BCS era. Seven of them made the BCS for a 77.8% accuracy rate. The two that missed it were 1999 Texas A&M and 2006 Nebraska.

After the Big 12 came the ACC. It had ten conference/division consensus teams, and six of them made the BCS (60%). Three of the failed four were divisional picks – VT in 2005 and both FSU and Miami in 2006 – with only 2001 FSU falling short among pre-divisional play consensus teams (all of which were of course FSU as well).

We fall below .500 in accuracy with consensus Big East picks. Only two of the five consensus teams made the BCS, but interestingly the misses came from 2004-06. It shows that people were pretty sure they knew what was going to happen post-ACC raid, but we can see in hindsight that really no one knew what was going to happen on many levels.

Finally, we see that the SEC was the most difficult to predict. It had 13 consensus teams and at least one a year, but only five of them made the BCS. That’s a 38.5% success rate.

Funnily enough, every time Florida has been a consensus team (’98, ’01, and ’06), it has made the BCS. The other two hits were ’99 Tennessee and ’07 LSU. Eastern division consensus teams were 4-2 in making the BCS; Western division consensus teams were 1-6 in making the BCS. This seems to further confirm the fact that the SEC West is generally more wide open than the SEC East, which has only ever been won by Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee.

What about 2008?

As of writing this, only eight preseason rankings have been included for 2008. For comparison, Stassen.com used 18 in 2007.

What is amazing is the uniformity of the picks. Clemson and VT are unanimous in the ACC. Missouri and Oklahoma are unanimous in the Big 12. West Virginia is unanimous in the Big East (and USF is the only pick for second in the conference). Ohio State is the only one picked to win the Big Ten so far, just like USC is the only one picked to win the Pac-10.

Everyone is in complete agreement about the selection of seven of the nine conference/divisional top dogs. The only discrepancy? That fickle old SEC, where Florida and Georgia are split even in the East and LSU has a five picks to three advantage over Auburn.

We haven’t seen this much agreement since 2006 when only the Big 12 South was disputed. The success rate in that year was only three out of eight correct.

There is still time left and many more rankings to go, so we may not end up with quite this much consensus when the season starts. Just remember that if your BCS picks all fit with the conventional wisdom, history says you’ll only be about half right.


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