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» Impact of the NFL's Kickoff Rule Change

After three NFL seasons of kicking off from the 35-yard line, what has been the impact on touchbacks, returns, field position, scoring and injuries? Also, is this rule responsible for a record number of big comebacks?

14 Sep 2012

SDA: All Eyes (Back) On Rocky Top

by Matt Hinton

The center of the college football universe this weekend is in Knoxville, Tennessee, which is not exactly an unusual development, historically, but may seem a little sudden to Tennessee fans who have endured back-to-back losing seasons and an offseason primarily spent discussing how many games the Volunteers had to win to keep head coach Derek Dooley employed. In 2011, the same Vols were trounced weekly by the SEC's upper crust, including a 33-23 loss to Florida in their conference opener, and wound up with a single SEC victory to their credit: a come-from-behind, overtime triumph against Vanderbilt. In Knoxville. That was immediately followed by a 10-7 flop at Kentucky that sealed both a losing season and a last-place finish in the East Division.

Nine months and two wins later, Tennessee is back in the polls for the first since September 2008, at the onset of the Great Collapse that reached its nadir in the loss in Lexington. It's also a slight favorite to upend Florida -– not exactly at the top of its traditional form, either –- in a game being hyped, as it used to be every year, as an early eliminator in the race for the division crown. Such rampant optimism may be good for ratings, but Peyton Manning vs. Danny Wuerffel with the national championship and the Heisman Trophy on the line, it is not.

Still, for a pair of 2-0 outfits attempting to reinvent themselves in the wake of a couple of disappointing seasons and a dramatic coaching change, a win Saturday, on national TV, in the all-seeing spotlight of ESPN's "GameDay" hype machine, will leave the victor feeling like a major corner has been turned. That may or may not turn out to be true later on, in the thick of the conference schedule. But for one week, at least, one side or the other will get to remember what life was like on top.

Wake Forest (+28) at No. 5 Florida State (Saturday, 12:00 p.m. ET, ESPN)

OVERALL When Wake Forest
Has the Ball ...
When Florida State
Has the Ball ...
Category Wake Forest
(2-0)
Florida State
(2-0)
Wake Forest
Off
Florida State
Def
Wake Forest
Def
Florida State
Off
2012 F/+ Rk 72 6
2012 FEI Rk 57 10
2012 S&P+ Rk 91 5 105 28 64 4
2012 Rushing S&P Rk 90 24 118 3
2012 Passing S&P Rk 40 44 119 5
2012 Std. Downs S&P Rk 50 12 70 3
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
59.8% Run
(58)
60.6% Run
(55)
2012 Pass. Downs S&P Rk 87 31 86 1
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
31.9% Run
(66)
22.7% Run
(100)

No trend, streak, or hex in college football makes quite as little sense as Wake Forest's apparent stranglehold over Florida State, currently standing at four wins in six years after last year's 35-30 ambush in Winston-Salem. The oddsmakers are hearing none of that voodoo this time, pointing to the home field for FSU, the perennial talent gap between the two teams, and the likely absence of Wake's best player, defensive tackle Nikita Whitlock. They've installed the Seminoles as whopping 28-point favorites. In fact, the line opened at 25 points and has steadily moved in FSU's favor, which seems like a suspicious degree of confidence in a team that has proven nothing by feasting on cupcakes in its first two games, especially against a team coming off a non-fluky upset over North Carolina. But what would September be without a little over-the-top hype for the 'Noles, right?

California (+16.5) at No. 12 Ohio State (Saturday, 12:00 p.m. ET, ABC)

OVERALL When California
Has the Ball ...
When Ohio State
Has the Ball ...
Category California
(1-1)
Ohio State
(2-0)
California
Off
Ohio State
Def
California
Def
Ohio State
Off
2012 F/+ Rk 43 12
2012 FEI Rk 55 5
2012 S&P+ Rk 39 15 46 25 35 23
2012 Rushing S&P Rk 74 111 92 13
2012 Passing S&P Rk 45 50 117 27
2012 Std. Downs S&P Rk 58 10 101 26
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
56.8% Run
(77)
68.1% Run
(25)
2012 Pass. Downs S&P Rk 33 18 105 23
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
38.3% Run
(40)
46.7% Run
(19)

Ohio State coach Urban Meyer is legitimately worried about Cal receiver Keenan Allen, with good reason: Allen is a future first-rounder and probably the most dangerous offensive player the Buckeyes will face all year. But Cal is also stuck with a quarterback, Zach Maynard, whose pedestrian arm limits Allen's potential as a deep threat, and a defense that has already yielded 31 points to both Nevada and Southern Utah. At that rate, even a career day from Allen wouldn't be enough to outgun red-hot OSU quarterback Braxton Miller.

No. 1 Alabama (+20.5) at Arkansas (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS)

OVERALL When Alabama
Has the Ball ...
When Arkansas
Has the Ball ...
Category Alabama
(2-0)
Arkansas
(1-1)
Alabama
Off
Arkansas
Def
Alabama
Def
Arkansas
Off
2012 F/+ Rk 1 21
2012 FEI Rk 1 26
2012 S&P+ Rk 1 17 25 70 1 3
2012 Rushing S&P Rk 19 124 20 12
2012 Passing S&P Rk 4 124 36 16
2012 Std. Downs S&P Rk 21 60 24 18
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
62% Run
(48)
57.4% Run
(72)
2012 Pass. Downs S&P Rk 21 116 49 26
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
45.7% Run
(22)
2.9% Run
(124)

Arkansas is still waiting intently for word on the status its starting quarterback, Tyler Wilson, as are gamblers keeping an anxious eye on a point spread that's already moved from –15 in Alabama's favor to –20 as it becomes increasingly likely Wilson won't play. As of Wednesday, he still hadn't been cleared to play in the wake of the unspecified head injury that kept him out of the second half of last week's 34-31, overtime ambush by Louisiana-Monroe, though he did fuel some optimism by throwing passes during Wednesday's practice. But Wilson was nowhere to be found Thursday, and coach John L. Smith wasn't offering any answers. Against ULM, Arkansas scored once after Wilson was knocked out of the game in the second quarter, and promptly yielded the final 21 points of regulation to the WarHawks.

Of course, the presence or absence of any individual player on the Razorbacks' roster is mere semantics: Alabama arrives in Fayetteville in full-on juggernaut mode. They've already humiliated one veteran quarterback, Michigan's Denard Robinson, and are looking every bit the equal of the team that drilled Arkansas last year, 38-14, en route to the BCS championship. For the sake of argument, Wilson did throw two touchdown passes in that game, making Arkansas the only SEC offense to crack the end zone against the Crimson Tide more than once. And 'Bama did give up two long passes in an otherwise impeccable rout of Michigan in the opener. Whether it's Wilson or backup Brandon Allen at quarterback, though, opposite a defense that just yielded 550 yards of total offense to a Sun Belt team, an upset will demand near-perfection against (still) the most feared defense in college football. Here's guessing they'll settle for survival.

North Carolina (+3) at No. 19 Louisville (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN2)

OVERALL When North Carolina
Has the Ball ...
When Louisville
Has the Ball ...
Category North Carolina
(1-1)
Louisville
(2-0)
North Carolina
Off
Louisville
Def
North Carolina
Def
Louisville
Off
2012 F/+ Rk 33 39
2012 FEI Rk 32 35
2012 S&P+ Rk 35 42 13 32 67 61
2012 Rushing S&P Rk 34 64 59 36
2012 Passing S&P Rk 39 44 120 13
2012 Std. Downs S&P Rk 22 20 54 28
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
64.2% Run
(38)
57.1% Run
(73)
2012 Pass. Downs S&P Rk 84 26 86 60
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
34.8% Run
(48)
41.7% Run
(32)

North Carolina isn't letting on whether All-ACC tailback Giovani Bernard will be back in the lineup after sitting out last week's loss at Wake Forest, but given that backups A.J. Blue and Romar Morris filled in with more than 170 yards and a touchdown apiece in that game, the question may be academic. The real issue for the Tar Heels is in the secondary, last seen being carpet bombed for 327 yards passing by Wake's Tanner Price. Given the same opportunity, Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and his emerging set of young receivers have the potential to do much worse.

No. 18 Florida (+3) at No. 23 Tennessee (Saturday, 6:00 p.m. ET, ESPN)

OVERALL When Florida
Has the Ball ...
When Tennessee
Has the Ball ...
Category Florida
(2-0)
Tennessee
(2-0)
Florida
Off
Tennessee
Def
Florida
Def
Tennessee
Off
2012 F/+ Rk 15 19
2012 FEI Rk 7 17
2012 S&P+ Rk 20 21 40 58 23 6
2012 Rushing S&P Rk 54 101 119 40
2012 Passing S&P Rk 75 123 111 7
2012 Std. Downs S&P Rk 78 64 39 8
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
71.1% Run
(13)
62.7% Run
(43)
2012 Pass. Downs S&P Rk 35 86 81 52
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
38.7% Run
(39)
27.5% Run
(83)

Head coaches Will Muschamp and Derek Dooley are former colleagues and fellow travelers in the Sabanite school, both having been mentored in the dark arts by the master himself, meaning their platonic idea of a perfect game is watching the defense slowly encircle and eventually suffocate its prey, like a python, before winning 3-0 on a field goal as time expires. In the meantime, however, Dooley is having to make ends meet with an actual offense: through two games, Tennessee leads the SEC in passing and scoring, and junior quarterback Tyler Bray appears well on his way to fulfilling projections as the conference's most gifted passer. Fellow juniors Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson certainly make for the most potent set of matching deep threats.

Florida cannot match those weapons -– the Gators currently rank dead last in the SEC in passing yards- – but it can boast a supremely athletic front with the ability to make Bray uncomfortable in the pocket with only a four-man rush, and the depth to keep him uncomfortable all night. Muschamp's best defenses at Texas were similarly athletic, aggressive outfits that excelled at creating turnovers, one area in which his charges at Florida have fallen surprisingly flat. Barring an unforeseen spark from the offense, a big, field-flipping takeaway or two against the Vols is a necessity.

Arizona State (+6) at Missouri (Saturday, 7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

OVERALL When Arizona State
Has the Ball ...
When Missouri
Has the Ball ...
Category Arizona State
(2-0)
Missouri
(1-1)
Arizona State
Off
Missouri
Def
Arizona State
Def
Missouri
Off
2012 F/+ Rk 40 37
2012 FEI Rk 47 36
2012 S&P+ Rk 31 38 12 36 62 43
2012 Rushing S&P Rk 8 40 6 83
2012 Passing S&P Rk 2 94 94 66
2012 Std. Downs S&P Rk 5 39 78 54
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
68.2% Run
(24)
53% Run
(93)
2012 Pass. Downs S&P Rk 5 93 105 68
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
39.3% Run
(38)
45.2% Run
(24)

It's not hard to see why oddsmakers remain high on Mizzou after watching the Tigers hang tooth-and-nail with Georgia for three quarters last week in their SEC debut, or why they're a bit skeptical of Arizona State's 45-14 rout over Illinois. The Devils were at home, against a mediocre Illini outfit missing its starting quarterback in its first road game under a new head coach. The ASU defense also had a hard time stopping Illinois on the ground, to the tune of 231 yards rushing on 4.6 per carry. On the road, with a new head coach and a pair of fledgling quarterbacks of its own, Arizona State is still very much an unknown commodity.

That said, the Devils did have their way with a healthy Illinois defense via ground and air, at one point racking up touchdowns on four consecutive possessions in the first half en route to 510 yards' worth of total offense for the night. On the other side, the ASU defense collected three interceptions and sacked the Illini's young quarterbacks six times. Missouri quarterback James Franklin has played a lot more football than either of Illinois' backups, but Georgia eventually proved last week that he can be pressured into the same kind of errors.

No. 2 USC (-9.5) at No. 21 Stanford (Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET, Fox)

OVERALL When USC
Has the Ball ...
When Stanford
Has the Ball ...
Category USC
(2-0)
Stanford
(2-0)
USC
Off
Stanford
Def
USC
Def
Stanford
Off
2012 F/+ Rk 10 13
2012 FEI Rk 7 20
2012 S&P+ Rk 13 11 5 4 47 85
2012 Rushing S&P Rk 21 92 40 63
2012 Passing S&P Rk 10 122 64 60
2012 Std. Downs S&P Rk 23 16 84 65
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
48.2% Run
(104)
56.1% Run
(80)
2012 Pass. Downs S&P Rk 38 39 13 48
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
28.6% Run
(79)
35.7% Run
(45)

Matt Barkley is 0-3 against Stanford as USC's starting quarterback, and like Peyton Manning's infamous o-fer against Florida as Tennessee's quarterback in the mid-nineties, it's the kind of streak that can loom over an otherwise great career like a tiny-but-persistent raincloud. As a true freshman in 2009, Barkley served up three interceptions for the Cardinal defense, one of them going back for a pick-six that opened the floodgates in a 55-21 rout; in 2010, he connected on three touchdown passes and drove the Trojans for a go-ahead touchdown with 1:02 remaining in the game, only to watch Andrew Luck drive Stanford in position for the winning field goal as time expired. Last year, again, Barkley matched Luck touchdown for touchdown, until tailback Curtis McNeal fumbled away the Trojans' only chance to match a Cardinal touchdown in the third overtime.

Now: Luck is finally making bank in the NFL, the only million-dollar arm on the field belongs to Barkley, and the Cardinal's only hope is to somehow force the best quarterback in the country to revert to a shaky, mistake-prone freshman. Stanford still boasts some draft-worthy talent on defense, most notably linebackers Shayne Skov and Chase Thomas, but barring a meltdown from Barkley, the Cardinal cannot possibly hope to match USC's firepower on offense.

No. 20 Notre Dame (+6) at No. 10 Michigan State (Saturday, 8:00 p.m. ET, ABC)

OVERALL When Notre Dame
Has the Ball ...
When Michigan State
Has the Ball ...
Category Notre Dame
(2-0)
Michigan State
(2-0)
Notre Dame
Off
Michigan State
Def
Notre Dame
Def
Michigan State
Off
2012 F/+ Rk 8 18
2012 FEI Rk 9 11
2012 S&P+ Rk 12 18 42 10 12 82
2012 Rushing S&P Rk 23 69 46 79
2012 Passing S&P Rk 52 77 27 68
2012 Std. Downs S&P Rk 30 10 60 73
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
59.6% Run
(60)
66.1% Run
(30)
2012 Pass. Downs S&P Rk 31 49 49 54
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
32.5% Run
(63)
30% Run
(74)

There was some discussion after Notre Dame rolled up 295 yards and five touchdowns rushing in the season-opening, 50-10 blowout over Navy in Dublin, Ireland, that the Irish were intent on becoming a more physical, ground-oriented offense than they've been in the last decade or so. The theory went that this was partly to take advantage of their deep rotations at running back and tight end, and partly to protect redshirt freshman quarterback Everett Golson, considered more of a scrambler in his own right. So much for that: ND netted just 52 yards rushing on 36 carries last week against Purdue, instead relying mainly on Golson's arm (21-of-31, 289 yards, 1 touchdown) in a 20-17 escape in South Bend that was anything but a display of smash-mouth dominance in the trenches.

Michigan State, on the other hand, has achieved just that in its own 2-0 start, limiting Boise State and Central Michigan to a combined 109 yards rushing while successfully pounding both with 240-pound battering ram Le'Veon Bell. (MSU quarterback Andrew Maxwell also happens to lead the Big Ten in passing yards, for what it's worth, which is not very much in that conference.) This week, Notre Dame welcomes back starting tailback Cierre Wood from a two-game suspension, but if he finds any consistent running room against the Spartan front seven, he'll be the first since last October.

No. 14 Texas (-9.5) at Ole Miss (Saturday, 9:15 p.m. ET, ESPN)

OVERALL When Texas
Has the Ball ...
When Ole Miss
Has the Ball ...
Category Texas
(2-0)
Ole Miss
(2-0)
Texas
Off
Ole Miss
Def
Texas
Def
Ole Miss
Off
2012 F/+ Rk 9 64
2012 FEI Rk 21 66
2012 S&P+ Rk 8 54 37 95 9 18
2012 Rushing S&P Rk 14 74 17 18
2012 Passing S&P Rk 35 87 39 9
2012 Std. Downs S&P Rk 41 42 84 19
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
66.3% Run
(28)
62.4% Run
(46)
2012 Pass. Downs S&P Rk 9 31 75 6
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
21.9% Run
(104)
53.3% Run
(9)

As a freshman, Texas quarterback David Ash was shelved as the Longhorns' starting quarterback after throwing eight interceptions in five games in October and November, leading to the musical chairs approach at the position between Ash and Case "Don't Call Me Colt" McCoy. Through two games in 2012, it's been all Ash, in no small part because he's yet to throw an interception in 49 attempts. As a team, Texas has turned the ball over just once, on a fumbled shotgun snap by Ash in the opener.

But the young quarterback hasn't been seriously tested by the defenses of Wyoming and New Mexico, against which UT has been content to keep the ball mainly in the hands of its deep stable of running backs and restrict Ash to short, conservative throws. Only one of his 36 completions has covered more than 25 yards, and even that was a glorified handoff to freshman Daje Johnson, who turned it into a 45-yard touchdown. (Ash's other touchdown pass vs. the Lobos, a 22-yard throw to junior Mike Davis, was also mainly the result of Davis shaking several defenders after the catch.) It will also be Ash's first road start since a dismal 17-5 loss at Missouri last November. Against Texas' defense, Ole Miss will likely need at least one timely, field-flipping turnover in its favor if it's going to have any kind of shot at the upset.

No. 25 BYU (-4) at Utah (Saturday, 10:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

OVERALL When BYU
Has the Ball ...
When Utah
Has the Ball ...
Category BYU
(2-0)
Utah
(1-1)
BYU
Off
Utah
Def
BYU
Def
Utah
Off
2012 F/+ Rk 26 34
2012 FEI Rk 29 34
2012 S&P+ Rk 26 34 97 22 7 65
2012 Rushing S&P Rk 56 57 68 94
2012 Passing S&P Rk 19 77 108 64
2012 Std. Downs S&P Rk 27 19 21 72
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
56.5% Run
(78)
64.8% Run
(35)
2012 Pass. Downs S&P Rk 56 86 39 100
Run-Pass Ratio
(Std. Downs)
23.8% Run
(95)
33.3% Run
(55)

Not only did Utah lose one of the most winnable games on its schedule last Friday at Utah State: It also lost its starting quarterback, senior Jordan Wynn, who has decided to retire from football altogether after going down with his third season-ending shoulder injury in as many years. The top backup, senior Jon Hays, didn't wow anyone in Wynn's place in 2011, when the Utes finished dead last in the Pac-12 in total offense; more promisingly, there is some hope for the heir apparent, 6-foot-6, 220-pound true freshman Travis Wilson, a coveted recruit who enrolled early for spring practice, has already seen limited snaps in the first two games, and could very well push Hays for the job as early as this weekend.

Either way, against the same BYU defense that completely throttled Washington State's "Air Raid" attack in the season opener, it probably is not going to end well.

Picks

The Picks
(* - "Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week")
Visitor Spread Home Matt F/+
Wake Forest +28 Florida St. Wake FSU
California +16.5 Ohio St. Ohio St. Cal
Alabama +20.5 Arkansas Alabama Alabama
N. Carolina +3 Louisville Louisville UNC
Florida +3 Tennessee Florida Florida
Arizona St. +6 Missouri ASU ASU
USC -9.5 Stanford USC Stanford
Notre Dame +6 Michigan St. MSU Irish
Texas -9.5 Ole Miss Texas* Texas*
BYU -4 Utah BYU Utah
Season-long Results
("Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week" record in parentheses)
Last Week
Season Total
F/+: 5-5 (1-0) 11-9 (1-0)
Matt: 4-6 (0-1) 7-13 (0-1)

Posted by: Matt Hinton on 14 Sep 2012

5 comments, Last at 16 Sep 2012, 4:09pm by cfn_ms

Comments

1
by cfn_ms :: Fri, 09/14/2012 - 5:06pm

Ohio St, Louisville, Florida, Notre Dame, and Texas. Don't really have much of a feel for the others.

5
by cfn_ms :: Sun, 09/16/2012 - 4:09pm

dead wrong on Ohio St, but I'll take 4-1 any day.

2
by sundown (not verified) :: Fri, 09/14/2012 - 6:11pm

"It's not hard to see why oddsmakers remain high on Mizzou after watching the Tigers hang tooth-and-nail with Georgia for three quarters last week in their SEC debut, or why they're a bit skeptical of Arizona State's 45-14 rout over Illinois. The Devils were at home, against a mediocre Illini outfit missing its starting quarterback in its first road game under a new head coach."
_________________________

This is why I don't bet, because you can see whatever you want in games. The other way of reading it is that Mizzou was at home, hyped for their inaugural SEC game, and still managed to lose by 3 TDs. Having them be favored since they're at home is one thing, but deciding they're nearly a TD better than any team coming off a 45-14 win? Seems really generous.

3
by An Onymous (not verified) :: Sat, 09/15/2012 - 3:54pm

Alabama's getting 20.5 against Arkansas? I'll be right back, I need to take out a second mortgage on my house...

4
by t.d. :: Sun, 09/16/2012 - 6:02am

So who's excited for the Alabama-LSU rematch in the national title game again?