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SI.com college football writer Stewart Mandel shares his commentary, analysis and random tidbits on the latest developments around the country.
8/13/2007 02:16:00 PM

Coaches Plotting Effects of New Kickoff Line

Marcus Thigpen
Last season, Indiana's Marcus Thigpen led the nation in kick return average (30.1) and touchdowns (three).
AJ Mast/Icon SMI
Think back to the first few weeks of last season. Remember how all anybody could talk about were those horrific new clock rules that were taking away plays, screwing with two-minute drills and threatening to destroy college football as we know it?

That ill-fated experiment ended after just one season (thank you, Bret Bielema), but there's a new rule change going into effect this season that many predict will have every bit as big an impact on the game -- if not more so -- than last year's. Whether that's a good thing or a bad thing remains to be seen.

Last February, the NCAA's Football Rules committee quietly pushed through another set of rules changes designed to shorten the length of games. Their most notable change: Moving kickoffs from the 35-yard line back to the 30. Those 5 yards might not seem like a big deal to you or me, but they are to football coaches. Never ones to leave any detail to chance, many coaches have already expressed to me the huge ramifications this amendment will have.

"It's going to be one of the most significant rules changes to come about in maybe a decade," said Kentucky coach Rich Brooks. "Very few teams will have a guy who can kick it into the touchback area or out of the end zone."

He's right. Just as the rule-makers intended it, there are going to be a whole lot more kickoffs that actually get returned now -- which means a whole lot more teams putting their most dangerous runners back there (players usually reserved for punt returns), a whole lot more teams starting with far better field position and, quite possibly, a whole lot more kickoffs returned for touchdowns.

"You're going to see scoring averages go up because of this rule change," said Brooks. "You're going to see a lot more gimmicks on kickoff coverage -- pooch kicking, possible squib kicking. There may be some people that decide they want to kick it out of bounds and give it to the team on the 35-yard line rather than kicking it deep and having a return out to the 40 or 45."

I saw this first hand last week while attending a practice at Virginia Tech, well known as one of nation's the premier special-teams programs. The Hokies have two legitimately strong-legged kickers right now -- Jud Dunlevy and Jared Develli -- yet during about a 10-minute period I watched, they were able to land just one kick in to the end zone.

All of that said, this is hardly the first time coaches have worked themselves into a frenzy over some obscure rules change, and it's possible they're all just overreacting. A columnist for The State in Columbia, S.C., pointed out that even under the old rules, only 32.9 percent of kickoffs went for touchbacks in the SEC last season. And the nation's top four kick returners last season all played for losing teams -- so obviously they can only help so much.

But Florida coach Urban Meyer doesn't think it's any small matter. He had his staff chart tape and determined that the average kick will now land at about the 9-yard line (as opposed to the 4-yard line previously). "You give [Gators kick returner] Brandon James the ball at the 9-yard line with a running head start? Whew, that's big right there. That's going to have a major impact. You have to have a horse to kick that thing out of the end zone now."

Meyer is so intrigued by the rule, in fact, that he's already decided if his team wins the toss in its opener against Western Kentucky, he will elect to receive. "In the past," said Meyer, "we deferred about 86 percent of the time."

And then there's this scenario someone laid out to me last week: Let's say a team scores a touchdown to go up two with less than a minute left. Understandably, the guys on the field will be excited, and, as is often the case in such situations, the refs might flag them for excessive celebration. That's a 15-yard penalty tacked on to the ensuing kickoff -- which will now start at the 15. You might as well just go ahead and let the other team try its game-winning field goal.

So what do you think? Do you think more games will now be decided by kick returns and kick coverage? Or are coaches just giving themselves another reason to worry?
posted by Stewart Mandel | View comments |


Posted: 4:08 PM   by Paul
What's the most exciting play in sports? The kickoff return - this is all to the good.
Posted: 4:38 PM   by ZachBaker
Speaking of the "Excessive Celebration" penalty, when is the NCAA going to review this ridiculous rule? How is a 19 kid supposed to contain his excitement over scoring the winning TD in the Ohio State v. Michigan game?
Posted: 4:55 PM   by Jeff
As the game evolves so will the players – the kicker has now become that much more important. IMO, we will see many-a-team with no less than two kickers, one for kickoffs and one for field goals.
Posted: 4:57 PM   by Reed
Is there anything that Urban Meyer doesn't have an opinion about?
Posted: 5:04 PM   by blake
i like the new rule i think it will allow for alot more kick off returns
Posted: 6:01 PM   by mcdalcc7
Reed, if he's called and asked what's wrong with him giving his opinion. You don't have to like or agree with him.
Posted: 6:21 PM   by kittner
Meyer was right about UF belonging the BCS Championship. That earns some power in the press.
Posted: 6:25 PM   by Brock Weller
McDalc: Im kinda with Reed on this one. Theres just something noble about the stoic coach. JoePa shuts up most of the time, and it's one of the things that I've always liked about Carroll, he just shuts up and tends to his team untill the moment comes. Coaches let their players speak for them, on the field, and might comment on things after the fact, but rarely before. Think about how much flak Mack Brown took for begging for votes after the final regular season game a couple years ago. I dont dislike Meyer, quite the contrary, I think he's a great coach, and his style worked well at Bowling Green and Utah. But he's at Florida now, he's no longer the cute kid out of nowhere, USA taking on the big boys with the hope and guts worn plainly on his sleeve. He's part of the establishment, acting professionally is expected now.
Posted: 6:38 PM   by Dave
brock... what are you talking about? He was asked by a reporter about a rule change. Meyer gave him his honest opinion and told about changes in strategy and tactics based off of This is 2007, the media is a big part of college sports, like it or not; this isn't 1967 where a grumpy quiet coach is considered cute.

Its funny how the vocal minority b!tch and whine about a coach who told anyone who wanted to listen that his team belonged in a championship game, and then went forward and proved his point correct. Get over it, little blue.
Posted: 6:39 PM   by mcdalcc7
What does that mean? How is he not acting professionally? What did he do that broke a code of conduct coaches are to follow? Again, you don't have to agree with him or like him, but why can't he give his opinion if he's asked? I highly doubt he called Mandel and was like, "Stewart, can I tell you what I think of the kickoff being moved back to the 30??? Please, I don't have anything else to do."
Posted: 7:27 PM   by Brock Weller
dave: A simple 'no comment'. People in power use them all the time, and Meyer's not dumb, as much as it appears that way from frequently opening his yapper for ill advised comments.

same roughly applies to Mcdalc too.
Posted: 7:56 PM   by Andrew
Why is it that anytime Urban Meyer comments on ANYTHING, people complain about him complaining.... Does it really matter that he is out there publicly marketing one of the best University's in the country by simply just speaking? You guys have any idea what he does for recruiting by just getting his name and opinions out there (by the way, I doubt recruits are reading your mindless crying about Meyer)? Meyer has very good points in how these rule changes will impact the game of college football, so why wouldn't an intelligent mind want to learn more about the game of football and take a note from one of the best young coaches in the game? Somehow, someway, some people like to turn an article discussing the ramifications of a significant rule change into a discussion into Urban Meyer's professionalism! I found the content of this blog to be quite interesting, but then I read the message boards to see if there were some other interesting points. What I found was the message board content from after the BCS selection show. Some people just can't get over the reality and can't get out of the past....
Posted: 8:03 PM   by jason
He had his staff chart tape and determined that the average kick will now land at about the 9-yard line (as opposed to the 4-yard line previously)

... Brilliant!

I hope they didn't spend too much time watching tape.
Posted: 8:12 PM   by mcdalcc7
Let's see here.

Jason: Last I checked Florida's coaches seem to know what they're doing with their time. How about you go watch a tape of them DOMINATING the almighty Ohio State University in the BCS Nat'l Championship Game. I am from Ohio as well, I hate OSU for many reasons, and that was such an amazing game to shove it in so many OSU fans' faces.

Reed: Tell me how I am wrong, please. Nice arguing, just saying I am wrong. Again, you don't have to listen to him.
Posted: 8:36 PM   by jason
Easy tiger (mcdalcc7)... I was just making an observation. I thought it was humorous that the author of this column felt it was necessary to inform us that the Florida coaches came to the conclusion that moving the kickoff back five yards resulted in five yards of field position. I think most of us could have figured that out with a little addition and subtraction.

Congrats to Florida on their football and basketball championships.
Posted: 9:43 PM   by Jimi1397
This is in regards to the actual new kickoff rule, not personal opinions on Coach Meyer. If more kickoffs are returned the better for the sport, it's exciting to see kickoffs returned for touchdowns. If not and the offense starts an average of five to ten yards more than last year, it is still in the hands of the offense to take the ball the rest of the way into the endzone. So in the end run I don't think it will make that much of a deal, the offense will still have to score no matter where they start with the ball, the defense will still have to stop the offense, no matter where the ball starts at.
Posted: 10:15 PM   by Spam
Last I checked, Urban Meyer has just as many BCS championships as Pete Carroll...
Posted: 10:56 PM   by Kauffmania
Wont it make games somewhat closer?

everytime michigan scores against appalachian st, ap st. will get field position that is 5yds better (i know... duh)... and when they punt, michigan gets field position thats 5 yds worse. not a huge difference(obvious 5%) but adds up in a 25 possession game... might make puttin a lincoln on the little guys a good strat vs vegas this fall ^ ^

the urban meyer squacking? are you herberts serious? you make bad reporters very rich people. you probably argued over the results of the "whos now" vomitfest.
Posted: 11:43 PM   by Brian
This post has been removed by the author.
Posted: 11:44 PM   by Brian
This rule is retarded for four reasons! 1. Because it shortens games! 2. The beauty in football is not found in kick returns but battling it out on the field. 3. It probably means more commercials because the networks still have to fill a 3 hour time slot. 4. Because it shortens games! Who wants that?!?
Posted: 1:22 AM   by Brian
There are pro's and con's for every rule change. One good thing about this is that you are going to have less plays where people are basically just running down the field doing nothing. It adds some excitment to it.

The real negative for this rule isn't on the D-I level, but rather the DII and DIII levels where a strong legged kicker is very very hard to find. The average kick that I saw last year at DIII games went to roughly the 12yd line. Now you will have guys fielding the ball at almost the 20. After the return you will see a lot of defenses being put on a short field.
Posted: 1:37 AM   by Josh
Why has no one yet mentioned the effect this has on the on-side kick? It becomes 5 yards riskier in case it fails; and 5 yards more difficult to cash-in in case it succeeds.
Posted: 8:56 AM   by Benjamin
All of these crappy rules are supposed to shorten the game...heaven forbid they take out a couple of TV timeouts
Posted: 9:23 AM   by Mark
The rule change won't decide the outcome of a game unless the two teams are evenly matched EXCEPT for special teams, but that's football. If a team has a worse offense, worse defense, but better special teams maybe they won't get shut out. This will just add some excitement to the game, and if your team is down by 5 or 6 with a minute left and about to receive, you know you are loving this rule change. It also will make clock management important for the same reason in the last example.
Posted: 10:37 AM   by Peter
This post has been removed by the author.
Posted: 10:39 AM   by Peter
Most of Auburn's kickers of the past few years have been able to repeatedly kick it deep into (if not 5 yards out of) the end zone. This is just going to make the kickers work harder on technique and strength, and a good place kicker is going to be the new hot commodity.

I like the rule though, because as pointed out in the article, it opens up a lot more strategy in the kicking game.
Posted: 11:59 AM   by Chad
The best kickers will now be more important to schools and it can become somewhat of a rejuvenated position. You'll see recruiting of the big leg kicker by big schools now. Ohio State's had 3 consecutive kickers who can boot it out of the end zone, 30 yard line or not. Others will catch on....
Posted: 12:16 PM   by Calvin
This rule is meant to shorten the game, right? God forbid as fans who paid a high price to get a ticket...if we could get one at all, sit through a 3 and 1/2 to 4 hour game. If you can get a Notre Dame at PSU ticket this year i'm sure you wouldn't mind a lengthy game.
Posted: 12:47 PM   by tidefan
Puts some more "foot" back into football. The same rule change a few years back sure didn't blow up the pro game.
Posted: 12:58 PM   by Isaiah
What about injuries. A lot of teams put starters on the kickoff teams and with more returns and more room for the returning team to get a head of steam I think we might see more injuries to starting players.
Posted: 1:08 PM   by Mac
I think the same results could be accomplished by elimanating all kicking tees. On a kickoff, the kicker either drop kicks the ball or another player holds the ball (i.e. Lucy in Peanuts). Leave the kickoff at the 35 or move it up to the 40 yard line. No one will drop kick the football 60 yards. Having a player hold the ball reduces the number of players down field to cover the return. This will also encourage onside kicks.
Posted: 1:25 PM   by Nick
Meyer had his staff study tape and found that, on average, previous kickoffs landed on the 4 yard line. Then he added 5 yards to that due to the rule change. This was actually a brilliant use of resources. You have to adjust your entire return scheme for the new rule. If you know on average where the ball will land, then you know where to have your blockers set up. Also, if you are receiving the ball further away from the endzone, then you can take more risks such as a hook and ladder play. There is a reason why Urban Meyer is so successful. He gameplans for every minute detail.
Posted: 2:15 PM   by AlanH
A real-life variation on your Excessive Celebration scenario... 2003, ALA vs. ARK, OT. ALA intercepts ARK pass on 1st possession, team is jubalant-all they have to do is kick field goal to win the game! FLAG-Excessive Celebration-back up from 25 to 40. Missed field goal, eventually lost game. Excessive Celebration literally decided a game. I'm with zachbaker, this is one of biggest turkeys in the rich history of NCAA foul-ups! These are kids, not pros!!
Posted: 3:08 PM   by Reed
mcdalcc7 - I was just tossing a joke out there about Meyer. Honestly, I didn't mean to start anything. When you win the National Title, people are going to print your comments on issues because you're the king of the hill. There have been several times this offseason when I've read a comment by Meyer, rolled my eyes and muttered unpleasantries under my breath, but this certainly wasn't one of them. So it was just a joke. Incidentally, I would have made the same crack about several other coaches (Harbaugh, Fulmer, Miles, etc.) had they been the ones mentioned in the article.

I can only imagine how much Devin Hester, Steve Breaston and Ted Ginn wish this rule was in place when they were still in school...
Posted: 4:37 PM   by Ace
This should add some excitement to the beginning of each game and keep the momentum up after a touchdown. The teams with the best kick return should be able to capitalize on this. Personally, I can't wait for this season. Check out some previews on the NCAA by clicking here: http://www.acefootballpicks.com/ncaa-season-preview.html
Posted: 5:20 PM   by Patrick
I love the rule, it creates more excitement
Posted: 7:05 PM   by Ron
SEC is the best league period.Try playing Arkansas,Auburn,Florida,Georgia,Tennessee, and LSU and tell me even SC would be undefeated.Name another conference with this many top teams.
Posted: 7:28 PM   by karljonez
when will the rules commitee understand the phrase "when its not broke dont fix it?" these rules have been in place for decades, and they have worked perfectly. its the networks that put the pressure on the ncaa commitees to get the games off the air because they take up 3-4 hours off precious air time. meanwhile i have to buy tickets to a game at 100 bucks a pop and get less now, just to be able to throw an extra episode of "mad about you" or whatever crap they can jam down our throats. but go ahead, when the games are shortened to an hour or so, i hope you people remember this is where it started.
Posted: 8:25 PM   by G.L.
Lots of Florida homers on here. Also, Why do SEC fans have to declare the SEC the best conference on every single college football blog? The blog could be about new uniform standards and some SEC homer will post, like Ron did, that the SEC is "the best league period". Of course, I am very used to this insanity living in Atlanta, where every UGA fan firmly puts on their blinders before every college football season. BTW, don't even try it. I am not a GA. Tech fan.
Posted: 9:15 PM   by Roameo
Yes, kick return averages will go up, number of kicks returned for touchdowns will go up, game score averages will go up, less often will teams be pinned down on their end of the field, which means more of the games will be played in the exciting, tension-raising part of the field where the team with the ball can possibly score -- altogether a great rule change that will make watching college football (always exciting anyway) that much more exciting and enjoyable. Kudos to the rule changers!
Posted: 9:22 PM   by Edju
You have to be a complete idiot to whine like a crybaby when Urban Meyer is asked for his thoughts and then provides them.

If he just said "no comment", he'd be ripped for that also.

Posted: 11:11 AM   by ufmax
This post has been removed by the author.
Posted: 11:12 AM   by ufmax
Jason (and everyone else who laughed at Meyer deciding a 5 yard change in kick means 5 yards different in field position): Perhaps try reading what Meyer said. They studied the tape to see where average plays were starting from...not to see how far five yards is. The tape study is where they found they were starting from the 4 from. But congrats on being a competent reader.

On the article itself: As a fan of a team with a strong kick returner, I like the idea of getting to see him return more. At the same time, we only get a few months a year of college football and anything that shortens actual game time isn't something I want...I'd watch games if they were twice as long. I'd much rather see limits on tv timeouts (since all that will happen in a shorter game is a higher number of commercials filling the space created).
Posted: 2:17 PM   by Mike
Sigh I have to agree with G.L. when will the SEC fans realize they are not the only good conference. Yes - many kudos for the two national championships in the past several years. That is entirely well deserved. But to trash other conferences is really low-class. I am a PAC-10 fan, and let me tell you - I'm not a USC homer, I'm an Oregon St. fan. Let me share a few stats with you about the PAC-10 versus the SEC:

- The Pac-10's .636 winning percentage (7-4) in BCS games is second only to the .692 winning percentage (9-4) posted by the SEC among conferences with more than one appearance. And the Trojans aren't the only ones doing the damage; Oregon, Oregon State and Washington also have BCS victories
- Last season,nine of the nation's toughest 11 schedules belonged to Pac-10 schools, according to Jeff Sagarin's final 2006 college football ratings. For the record, LSU's schedule ranked 20th
- Last September, USC thumped SEC West champion Arkansas 50-14. A year earlier the Trojans beat the Hogs 70-17.
- In 2003, the Trojans went into Auburn on hot, steamy September and humiliated Tommy, Cadillac, and Jason Campbell 23-0 in Matt Leinart's first college start (his first collegiate pass was a a TD). Oh yeah, the Trojans beat Auburn the previous year too.

Overall, I do respect the SEC there's no denying their prowess. But they treat other conferences (especially the PAC-10) as if they only field high school teams. For someone like Les Miles to say our conference is weak is B.S. - Four of USC's last five losses, dating to October 2002, have come against Pac-10 rivals (including my alma mater) - yet the Trojans are undefeated against the SEC during this same period. I'd like to see some SEC team come play up in the Pacific Northwest in November. And as far as athletes, we've got great ones here too. After Sam Keller lost the starting job at Pac-10 doormat Arizona State a year ago, he transferred to Nebraska and was immediately named the starter for the defending Big 12 North champions. Couldn't be that bad...
How would the Big 10 and PAC-10 lose out on a national title? The winner of the Rose Bowl would and could claim it regardless. Basically, IF that did happen you'd have to factor USC, Michigan, Ohio State, Cal, Penn State, Wisconsin and UCLA out of the BCS title picture, no team in any other conference could claim a fair national title if you took all those great traditional programs out of the picture.

Meanwhile, you'd have USC and Michigan or Wisconsin and Cal fighting it out in the Rose Bowl, more people would care about that any day of the week than watching LSU or Florida play West Virginia or Florida State in another bowl game.

More people care about the Rose Bowl than any other game, even the BCS title game.
Posted: 6:33 PM   by todd
my opinion, this rule will change a bunch of games, will actully determine who will win, with more upsets probable, its a made for t v thing mostly.
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