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College Football: The "O-Line" Factor
by Scott Spreitzer - 09/15/2009
I’m gratified to hear so many people talking about experience and quality regarding college football offensive lines. This is truly a very important factor when breaking down a game.
IT’S ABOUT TIME!
I’ve been emphasizing the point of attack for years. And my track record in this sport speaks for itself. The only problem is that lines may start to get tougher if more and more people are finally studying this important key!
Here’s why the offensive line is so important in college football:
*The running game still controls the ebb and flow of action in this sport. If you can blow the defense back and create holes, then you’re going to control your own destiny as long as you don’t fumble the ball away. I know that the sport is much more wide open than it used to be. The running game used to be everything! You put the hammer down on opponents with the running game and the offensive line determines the size of your hammer.
*Even if the sport evolves toward a pass-heavy environment, the offensive line is still important in terms of all the spread offenses. Blocking assignments are critical when protecting the passer. More and more defenses are blitzing as they mimic the pros. College offenses succeed or fail based on their ability to pick up those blitzes. A quality offensive line is a weapon in the running game, and a protective fortress in the passing game.
*If you’re trying to run clock with a lead in the second half, a quality offensive line will allow you to do that. A poor one will prevent you from doing that. You’ve seen this in the NFL in recent seasons. Teams focus on getting the game over with once they’re up by more than one score. College coaches mimic pro coaches and the quality of the offensive line will determine how well that strategy works.
*If you’re trying to break in a new quarterback, it’s much easier behind a bunch of veterans than it is behind an inexperienced offensive line than. In fact, some of the biggest non-covers in this short 2009 season have involved the combination of a new QB with an inexperienced offensive line. Oddsmakers missed some of those games by more than two touchdowns.
*Even if you have a veteran quarterback, he’ll still be in trouble behind a green blocking unit. Ask Oklahoma about that! The returning Heisman Trophy winner struggled in his first few series this year, then got knocked out in the second quarter by an unblocked attacker. An inexperienced offensive line at a BCS power changed the flow of the season on one play.
*Games between evenly matched teams are won and lost in the fourth quarter. Strong offensive lines help you wear down opponents and pull away late. Inferior offensive lines prevent you from getting anything done when the game is on the line.
If you’re an avid football fan, all of this should be fairly obvious to you. Yet, how often have you picked a college game with little thought given to the offensive line? How often have you looked at trends, angles, stats from blowouts, or listened to whoever the guys on ESPN were touting before making your own decisions. If you take away half of the time you spend on that stuff and devote it to analyzing offensive lines, you’ll be much better off. Frankly, a full 100% switch might be even better! Trends and angles don’t matter in the games where offensive line strengths or weaknesses are going to rule the day.
How do you evaluate offensive lines?
*Look at experience. Count the games started by everyone up front, or find a place that’s counted those for you already and use the numbers.
*Look at yards-per-carry in the running game. The media tends to celebrate running backs when this stat is good. You should celebrate the blockers.
*Look at quarterback sacks and completion percentage. Teams with good offensive lines will have few sacks and a high completion percentage because the quarterback has time to find an open receiver or a bailout. Teams with poor offensive lines will have a lot of sacks, incomplete passes, and turnovers.
*In the TV games, just watch the point of attack! You can see whether or not there’s a surge on running plays. You can see whether or not the quarterback is relaxed or frantic on passing plays. Don’t just root for your bets. Learn from what’s happening so you can make quality bets in future games.
Growing up in Nebraska, I saw the offensive line received their "just-due" each and every season. I knew early-on, just what made offenses tick. Finally, the rest of the world is catching up in this area of analysis. Good luck this week, and be sure to checkout my football packages all week long.