I wasn’t always a fan of spending too much time analyzing year-to-year trends in college football. After all I’m a firm believer in the intangibles of sport, especially college football. Everything changes with a new year: a quarterback graduates, a line loses key cogs, a schedule is easier, and an offensive coordinator opens up the playbook and so on. But lately I’m taking a longer look at statistical trends; maybe it’s because I’m surrounded by numbers guys, or maybe I’m reading too much Phil Steele. Or maybe, just maybe, I’m looking for an edge as a college fantasy football owner who has landed outside of the money the past couple of seasons. Whatever…I’m looking at numbers a little bit more
So I wanted to take a look at offenses that have made significant improvement each of the past three seasons and ponder their chances for further improvement. Three programs listed below have utilized top workhorse backs to make their steady ascension while other improvements seem to be driven by coaching changes. Regardless of the catalyst for improvement, each has made steady strides since the 2007 campaign. The question for 2010 is can this upward trend continue, because a productive offense usually yields its fair share of fantasy factors.
2007 offensive rank: 117th
2008 offensive rank: 102nd
2009 offensive rank: 69th
Major Coaching Change: David Cutcliffe hired before 2008 season.
First glance: While moving up to 69th nationally isn’t cause for fantasy cartwheels, credit must be given because it’s Duke we’re talking about here folks.
Reasons this trend can continue: David Cutcliffe is a terrific offensive coach, and though he loses Thaddeus Lewis, it’s very likely that Sean Renfree will step right in and exceed expectations. Renfree will benefit from eight returning starters, including four along the offensive line. He’ll also have a great wide receiver duo featuring Donovan Varner and Johnny Williams. Varner is a star.
Reasons this trend will come to an end: The schedule. The Blue Devils will face Alabama, Miami, and North Carolina this season, and each defense should scare the hell out of opponents. And though Bud Foster is crying about replacing a ton of players on his defense, a trip to Blacksburg is not much fun unless you’re boozing and enjoying the tailgate scene.
Predicted offensive ranking for 2010: In the mid-60's. The upward trend continues…barely.
2007 offensive rank: 108
2008 offensive rank: 77
2009 offensive rank: 52
Major Coaching Change: Frank Cignetti, Jr. takes over as offensive coordinator prior to 2009 season.
First Glance: Wannstache has found a formula: find a workhorse and ride him.
Reasons this trend can continue: Dion Lewis didn’t arrive with the flash of LeSean McCoy, but he was the nation’s best freshman in 2009, and his sidekick, Ray Graham, ain’t too shabby either. And the presence of Jonathan Baldwin provides the Panthers with one of the nation’s top run-catch combos in the country. The offense has actually evolved, making me less skeptical of this Jimmy Johnson protégé.
Reasons this trend will come to an end: I never would’ve believed it if I didn’t see it, but Bill Stull was a damn good quarterback last season. He wasn’t just a game manager who only tossed eight interceptions, but his 22 scores mean he actually won games for Pitt. And his leadership will be missed. Tino Sunseri will struggle to match this numbers, primarily due to inexperience.
Additionally the Panthers bid adieu to three offensive linemen and Dorin Dickerson, who only posted ten touchdowns in 2009. And the schedule, while not overwhelming, does include trips to Utah and a visit from the Canes.
Predicted offensive ranking for 2010: In the 70's. Dion Lewis is the definition of dynamic, but there are too many other holes. Baldwin’s value should take a hit.
2007 offensive ranking: 107
2008 offensive ranking: 67
2009 offensive ranking: 19
Major Coaching Change: David Shaw named offensive coordinator prior to 2007 season.
First Glance: Jim Harbaugh has started stockpiling an offensive arsenal, but the loss of the tank at tailback looms very large.
Reasons this trend will continue: While I believe he’ll be overvalued as a fantasy quarterback, there’s no doubt that Andrew Luck is the real deal. Four offensive linemen are among the eight offensive starters returning to Palo Alto in 2010. And Ryan Whalen and Chris Owusu make up what my colleague, Tyler Holmes, believes is the top pass-catching duo in the Pac-10.
Reasons this trend will come to an end: Toby Gerhart was not Tommy Vardell. In other words, he wasn't another fullback masquerading as a tailback, and anyone who watched a few minutes of any Stanford game saw this. And replacing 1871 rushing yards and 28 touchdowns is impossible. There is no shortage of candidates to replace Gerhart, but the fact remains that none are named Toby Gerhart. The season's first month includes trips to UCLA, Notre Dame and Oregon, and then October 9 sees a visit from Lane Kiffin's boys. Granted many of these games could very well be shootouts, but there is only one likely cupcake on the slate, Washington State. The 2009 Cardinal were at least able to pile up some numbers against San Jose State.
Predicted offensive ranking for 2010: It sure as heck won't be 19th. Andrew Luck could throw 35 touchdowns and the offense will fail to match last season's output which featured four games with 40+ points. Look for a dip to the 40's.
2007 offensive ranking: 110
2008 offensive ranking: 89
2009 offensive ranking: 45
Major Coaching Change: Mark Whipple takes over offense prior to last season.
First Glance: The pieces are in place. The Canes have the weapons, they just need better decision making from Jacory Harris.
Reasons this trend will continue: Jacory Harris enters his second year as the unquestioned leader of the offensive attack, and it's expected he'll cut down on his 17 interceptions from 2009, or else he'll no longer be the unquestioned leader of the offensive attack. The wide receiver spot is loaded with so much speed and size that one can't help but think of the Michael Irvin, Brian Blades and Lamar Thomas (the old one) from days gone by.
Reasons this trend will come to an end: Until Harris proves he can make better decisions with the football it's hard to state with absolute certainty that the Cane offense will be a much-improved unit. And the offensive line loses Jason Fox and two other starters. Sure there's talent waiting in the wings, but experience on the offensive line counts for something. And while the likes of Damien Berry, Mike James and Lamar Miller do offer intriguing skill sets from the running back spot, none has proven to be a true tier one tailback.
Predicted offensive ranking for 2010: Somewhere in the high 30's. Everything about Jacory Harris impresses me...unless you count his tosses to the other team. He will get better thanks in large part to a deep and talented receiving corps. And this team will provide a bunch of draftable commodities, though choosing the right receiver will prove dangerous as about five will present blow-up potential on a weekly basis.
2007 offensive ranking: 119
2008 offensive ranking: 65
2009 offensive ranking: 8
Major Coaching Change: Charlie Weis takes over OC duties prior to 2009 season. And then Charlie Weis shown door following 2009 season.
First Glance: Brian Kelly, Michael Floyd, Kyle Rudolph and some solid backs will make this an interesting year in South Bend.
Reasons this trend will continue: A Brian Kelly offense posts a whole bunch of yards and scores a whole bunch of points. It did at Grand Valley, Central Michigan, and Cincinnati. Thus there's no reason to expect this to stop. Michael Floyd is one of the nation's top wide receivers, and our #1 wideout on the board. Armando Allen will see his skills used effectively, and it's very likely that another running back will emerge. It remains to be seen who this lad will be.
Reasons this trend will come to an end: Only two starters return on the offensive line, and though this system will not stray too far from the one employed by Charlie Weis, there will be a learning curve. New quarterback Dayne Crist will be expected to hit the ground running this fall, and with games against what should be six decent BCS squads to open the year, we could see some growing pains out of the gate. And teams just don't lose the likes of Jimmy Clausen and Golden Tate and keep right on chugging with their replacements. Tate was a big-play machine, and for as much as we liked to mock this guy, he did develop into one hell of a college quarterback.
Predicted offensive ranking for 2010: Well, it won't be 8 in the country, but banking on a huge tumble down the offensive rankings would be silly. This will remain a top-30 offense.
In the coming weeks we'll take a look at five BCS offenses that have been on a downward spiral the past few years in hopes that these offensive units can pull out of the nosedive. And I'll ramble on about a bunch of stuff as well.