- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Iowa State's 449 yards rushing was in a 69-0 rout of Colorado State. Arkansas ran up its 475 yards while humiliating TCU 44-7. Ohio State's 418 came in a 63-0 shellacking of Northwestern; Missouri's 348 in a 45-7 defeat of Colorado; Nebraska's 403 came in another 45-7 win over—you guessed it—Colorado. Seems that the Buffs had a little trouble stopping runners last year. Nebraska's 405 came in a 48-7 win over Oklahoma State. Georgia's 331—283 by Herschel Walker—was in a 41-0 rout of Vanderbilt. And in Underwood's mileage of Nov. 1, the two games he mentions were laughers—Oklahoma 41-7 over North Carolina, and Houston 37-5 over TCU.
At one point, Underwood mentions 16 games that occurred between Oct. 4 and Nov. 8 last year. Seven of them resulted in margins of 37 points or more. In that same six-week period, do you know how many of the 84 NFL games ended up with such lopsided spreads? Two. And during the whole NFL season, involving 224 regular-season games and nine postseason affairs, a margin of 37 or more points was reached only four times.
Someone once told me that the appeal of sports lies in its competitive aspect, but only four of Underwood's magic 16 games could roughly be called competitive, in that the point differences were under 16. If you want to see people running up and down the field, go to a track meet.
The problem is that most of the big college football rushing numbers come at the expense of patsies. Rush for 400 yards in one game and 100 in the next, and you're still averaging 250. The record of these ground monsters is always dotted with blowouts, and the reason for these 63-0 massacres and 400-yard-rushing afternoons has little to do with football philosophy or coaching astuteness, although this helps. It's the result of good recruiting. Bigger, stronger, faster athletes going against slightly inferior ones. When you've got this kind of overmatch going for you, the ground is the safest way to travel.
Put the ball in the air and you minimize your physical superiority, because you bring in too many variables, too much reliance on only one or two people. The quarterback has a bad day or he gets hurt, you run into wind or rain or snow, and your passing attack is kaput.
Recruiting feeds on itself. The good recruiting teams get the most TV appearances, so potential recruits see those teams more often. The superteams get stronger. They can pad their schedules with occasional fish because, for a low-budget school, a big payday can save the program for another year. It's a vicious cycle of crushball, and the visible result is a weekend sprinkled with 300-and 400-yard rushing performances.
Now we get to the NFL. Brains, not money, bring in the talent. Draft well, trade well, and you've got yourself a team. No one loses money, and except for an occasional defection to Canada, they don't lose players, either. The pros don't run for as many yards as the collegians do because they don't call as many running plays. The pass is a quicker way to get the same job done, and they pass for more yards—a lot more yards, almost 80 per game more than the colleges last year. If the professional game is lacking its share of long breakaway runs—the sight of a playground recreation major being chased by three political-science students—it makes up for it by the long pass. And if you get your thrills out of long plays, where's the sign that says George Rogers lugging the pigskin is more thrilling to watch than Lynn Swann diving for the deep one?
The fact that pros, those stodgy fellas who don't know how to run the ball, averaged 3.97 yards per rushing play last season is very noteworthy. Only once since the NCAA started keeping records in 1937 have the collegians beaten that 3.97 number. O.K., you say, college statisticians count sacks as rushing losses and the pros don't, but the flip side is that you also get longer rushing plays out of sack situations in college ball. College quarterbacks are primarily runners, not 30-year-old men who have perfected the second-base, safety-first slide. College QBs have runners' instincts, and they'll dodge and dance and fight for the extra yards, and occasionally they'll break a long one that way.
The problem is, when you think of college football, you think only of the showcase teams, the dozen or so that appear regularly on TV. Those are the ones with the big rushing totals, and averages to go with it. When Greg Pruitt averaged 9.35 yards a carry 10 years ago, an all-time record, five of Oklahoma's 11 games were won by 30 or more points; the Sooners had four such blowouts in '78, when Billy Sims averaged 7.63. But when you look at the overall picture of college football, it's a little different. The average is more down to earth.
For instance, the collegiate rushing average Underwood mentions as "at or over 400 yards every year" is something less. They've hit 400 exactly twice, John. Last year the average was 356.6, a 19-yard drop from 1979. It was the biggest drop in 16 years, and here's a funny companion statistic: Passing yardage increased 25 yards a game in 1980, the biggest jump in 12 years. In 1980, for the first time in history, college passers completed an even 50% of their throws. Could it be that the collegians are starting to borrow, ever so slightly, from the NFL's modus operandi?