Feature | Notebook
Bob Stoops almost blushed, if that's possible.
Asked who oversees the punt-return team that has tied two NCAA records this season, Oklahoma's uber-confident coach said sheepishly, "Well, that's actually my responsibility."
|1. Louisiana State 33.2|
|2. Oklahoma 31.5|
|3. Nebraska 25.8|
|4. Boise State 22.8|
|5. Miami (Fla.) 22.7|
|6. South Florida 22.4|
|7. Bowling Green 21|
|8. Michigan 20.4|
|9. Miami (Ohio) 20.3|
|10. Georgia 20|
|11. Akron 18.8|
|12. Minnesota 18|
|13. Ohio State 17.4|
|14. Texas Tech 16.9|
|15. Florida State 16.6|
|16. Kansas State 16.4|
|17. Toledo 15.4|
|18. (tie) Hawaii 15|
|18. Purdue, 15|
|20. Maryland 14|
Coincidence or expertise? Stoops just happened to give himself the unit that features Antonio Perkins, who had returned four kicks this year and seven in his career for touchdowns. He quickly added the special teams are split among all coaches, emphasized as much as the nation's No. 14 offense and No. 5 defense.
The problem is, it's difficult to measure those teams that are good in all three phases. Special teams are a conundrum. They occupy a small part of the game, but can have a huge impact. Ask Florida State and its kickers over the years.
Time (an NCAA-mandated 20 hours of football work per week) and recruiting constraints are other barriers.
"In college you don't recruit kids to play special teams," Central Florida coach Mike Kruczek said. "You recruit them to play an offensive or defensive position."
The best coaches have molded the best teams by being good in all phases, which brings us to the All-Phases Index. SportsLine.com spent this week developing an unscientific formula to determine which programs are most efficient on offense, defense and special teams.
Call it chicken poop for the college football fan's soul.
It's no surprise several of the teams involved in this weekend's Showdown Saturday show up in the API. Five of the top 10 and seven of the top 15 in the API are involved in those showdown games this week.
Coincidence or expertise? Bet the latter.
- No. 1 Oklahoma (vs. Oklahoma State this week) is No. 2 in the API with a combination of big-play offense, defense and special teams.
- No. 2 Miami (at Virginia Tech) is No. 5 in API largely because of a speed defense that has caused 20 turnovers and a punt return unit that has scored twice.
- Nebraska (at Texas) is No. 3 in the API with the nation's No. 3 defense and punter Kyle Larson (44-yard average).
- Michigan (at Michigan State) is No. 8 in the API because of an improved John Navarre at quarterback and emerging superstar Steve Breaston returning punts.
- Georgia (vs. Florida) is No. 10 riding the nation's best defense and the leg of kicker Billy Bennett, who is third nationally in field goals.
To determine the API, SportsLine.com rated the top 20 teams in total offense, total defense, kickoff returns, punt returns and net punting. Points were subtracted for the bottom 20 teams in kickoff returns, punt returns and net punting. (Full formula below)
Ninety-seven of the 117 I-A teams earned a score. Almost one-third of those, 32, had a negative score, showing how hard it is to be good in all three phases.
The API formula
Example: No. 1 LSU gets 17 points for having the fourth-best defense, 4.5 points for having the sixth-best kickoff return average, 4.6 points for having fifth-best punt return average, two points for two punt-return touchdowns, 4.1 points for being 10th in net punting and one point for having the national leader in punt-return average, Skyler Green.
17+4.5+6.6+4.1+1 = 33.2 API
"It's not easy to be an excellent football team in all three areas," said Nebraska's Frank Solich, whose success this year has been based on an opportunistic defense overshadowing a struggling offense. "If you can be really good in two of the three, you have yourself a very good football team."
The API is weighted toward offense and defense, meaning a team that does well in those categories most probably will be rated high. That's why Texas Tech, with the nation's best offense, shows up at No. 14 in the API. The assumption being, a team proficient in one area can be good, but not great. That fits in Lubbock, where that offense is balanced this week with the nation's worst defense.
But mostly it rewards programs most that are consistent across the board. API No. 1 LSU is sixth nationally in kickoff returns, fifth in punt returns and 10th in net punting.
Credit goes to special teams coordinator Derek Dooley, who was moved from recruiting coordinator/tight ends this year. Dooley, son of Georgia legend Vince Dooley, spent his first three seasons assembling some of the best recruiting classes in the country. One of those players, Skyler Green, leads the nation in punt return yardage.
There is a direct correlation between success and being good in all three phases. The top 31 teams in the API having winning records. Seven of the top 15 teams are on top of a conference or a division of a conference. Nine of the top 15, and 12 of the top 25, are ranked in the human polls, including Virginia Tech, No. 21 in the API.
"What we really try to do is get our best players on special teams," said Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer, the godfather of special teams play. "Most everyone says it is a third of the ballgame, but they don't generally treat it that way."
Beamer does. His special teams have blocked 100 kicks since he arrived in 1987. Long ago, Beamer decided to use his best players on special teams, going against convention. Now, everyone does it.
Although special teams take up a small part of the actual game, Beamer treats them like an equal partner with offense and defense, stopping practice smack in the middle to work on special teams.
"A lot of times you want to do things before practice and after practice," Beamer said. "To me that sends the exact message that it's not as important as offense or defense. We stop practice and do it right in the middle. That's the only thing we stop practice for."
Coach Dan Hawkins of No. 4 Boise State used the nation's leading scorer, Brock Forsey, on the kickoff return unit last year. The Broncos have ridden the nation's No. 3 offense and Tim Gilligan to the edges of both major polls. Gilligan has averaged 13.4 yards per punt return and scored a touchdown.
"Special teams can help a bad team get decent and a decent team get really good," Hawkins said. "It just gives you an edge."