Is college football's offensive revolution over? It certainly slowed down in 2017
A year-end wrap-up of college football statistics you need to know from 2017
The offensive revolution has slowed.
Scoring, total offense and touchdowns dropped in college football to their lowest points in six years, according to year-end statistics compiled by the NCAA staff for the 2017 season.
Teams averaged 28.8 points per game in 2017, a decline of 1.3 points from a record 30.08 points in 2016. That marks the lowest scoring average since 2011 (28.3). College football took a quantum leap in 2007 with scoring average jumping four points per team from 24.4 to 28.4.
Since then, the national scoring record was set three times, peaking last season.
Average total offense was down to 403.6 yards per game. That's the lowest nationally since 2011 (392.4). Average touchdowns per team declined to 3.65, the lowest since a 2011 average of 3.59.
All of it reflected the impact of the spread offense on the modern game. A combined 22 national records have been set since 2010 in rush yards per carry, completions per game, passing accuracy, passing yards, yards per attempt, total offense, yards per play, touchdowns per game and scoring.
However, there are tiny indicators that defensive coordinators are pushing back -- at least a bit. For only the second time since 2003, no national records were set in 2017 among the 15 cumulative scoring categories tracked each season by the NCAA.
Several coaching sources said defenses are beginning to catch up. More teams are recruiting more versatile secondary players. Today's defensive backs have to be big enough to stop the run, physical enough to tackle in space and fast enough to track receivers.
Not surprisingly, three of the top 10 and four of the top 14 prospects in theare defensive backs.
"Defenses have caught up with up-tempo [offenses] and have retooled the secondaries to have corner-type skill sets at safety positions," CBS Sports college football analyst Rick Neuheisel said.
The numbers bear that out. In 2013, 20 teams averaged at least 80 plays. That number shrunk to six in 2017. That's the fewest since 2010 (three).
Have we reached peak offense -- the point when the record numbers referenced above will never be reached again? More of a sample size is needed.
But there is no question that offense and interest in the game have paralleled each other. When athletic directors get the opportunity to to hire a new coach, offense sells in terms of ticket sales, TV ratings and, well, winning. Seventeen of the 20 new hires for 2018 have offensive backgrounds. Those 20 have coached in a combined 28 BCS/College Football Playoff postseason games and have a total of six national championship rings.
Rules changes in general have at least protected offensive players (targeting, roughing the passer), if not enhanced offensive football (open-hand, extended-arm blocking allowed in 1985).
About 15 years ago, along came the up-tempo spread offense. The likes of Chip Kelly revolutionized the game with his ability to keep defenses off balance. But since Kelly last coached in college (2012), there has been a significant rules change.
Defenses benefitted by being allowed time to change personnel if the offense substitutes. Then came the rise of RPOs -- the run/pass option that allows offenses the decision whether to run or pass after the snap. (For a quick primer, look at Washington State and Auburn game film.)
"As always, defenses at some point begin to catch up with the 'new' ways offenses are attacking them," Texas A&M offensive coordinator Darrell Dickey said. "A lot of the 'hair on fire' offenses that were only concerned with yards and points are controlling the tempo more and trying to help their defense."
That has led to more balanced offenses. In 2007, there was an average of 73.4 more passing yards than rushing yards per team. That number shrunk to an average 51.2-yard difference in 2016.
Other 2017 statistical highlights …
- For the fifth time in nine years, the highest-scoring team was from a Group of Five conference (UCF, 48.2 points). It figures the Knights gained at least 10 yards on almost half their offensive plays (48.75 percent, 449 of 921). That ties Baylor in 2014 exactly for highest-scoring team since 2013 (627 points).
- Much was made of Georgia's Nick Chubb-Sony Michel being the most productive running back pair in history (combined 8,407 career yards). Nevada's Colin Kaepernick and Val Taua remain the most productive rushing teammates over a career with 8,700 combined yards from 2007-2010.
- The Sun Belt has the best bowl record over the past two seasons, 9-2.
- In its final year as a conference member (Sun Belt), New Mexico State went to a bowl for the first time in 57 years. The Aggies will be an FBS independent beginning next season.
- For only the second time since 1984, the nation's No. 1 team (Clemson, 2017) didn't play for the national championship on the last day of the season. The only other time was Alabama in 2014. The CFP has made it so both times.
- Not surprisingly, the Big 12 led the nation in scoring (32.9 points), but only two conferences increased in average scoring: the Sun Belt, up 2.3 percent to 26.5 percent, and the AAC, up 1.3 percent to 31.8 points per game.
- For the first time, different 2,000-yard rushers from the same school led the nation in rushing in consecutive years. Donnell Pumphrey had 2,133 yards in 2016, while Rashaad Penny followed him with 2,248 in 2017, the fifth-highest single-season total. Amazingly, Penny was not a finalist for the Doak Walker Award (nation's best running back).
- Iowa State didn't fumble until the final quarter of its final game in the Liberty Bowl against Memphis. The last team to fumble only once in a season was Miami in 2004.
- Job No. 1 for Chip Kelly at UCLA: Stop the run. The 287.4 average rushing yards given up by UCLA was the worst in school history.
- Fresno State's eight-game improvement was the second-best in college football history. Jeff Tedford led the Bulldogs from a 1-11 finish to 10-4 in 2017. Hawaii improved 8½ games from 1998 to 1999, going from 0-12 to 9-4 under June Jones.
- Stanford running back Bryce Love's 24 runs of at least 30 yards are the most by a player since at least 2009.
- Oklahoma led the country in gains of at least 10, 20, 30 and 40 yards. Defensively, it was at least 90th nationally in giving up gains of at least, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60 and 70 yards.
- Arkansas State and Toledo each allowed only four punt returns all season, totaling 22 yards in returns. Those are the fewest punt returns allowed by a team since at least 1999. Perspective: National punt return leader Dante Pettis of Washington returned his first punt of the season 19 yards on Sept. 2 vs. Rutgers.
- Oklahoma goes into 2018 with a 16-game winning streak in true road games, seven of those over ranked teams.
- UCF heads into 2018 with the nation's longest winning streak (13). UTEP has the longest losing streak (12).
- Duke and Wake Forest have played football since 1988. The 2017 season marked the first in which both teams went to a bowl game in the same year. The Blue Devils and Demon Deacons both won.
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