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The Vince Young Effect in College Football

   by Hollywood Sports - 09/06/2010

In the 2005 Rose Bowl, Vince Young proved himself to be the best player on the field as he led Texas to their Rose Bowl win over Michigan. Young passed for 180 yards while rushing for another 192 yards to rally the Longhorns to victory. This performance may have been the harbinger for the University of Michigan's decision a few years later to hire Rich Rodriguez to install a similar spread offense system. But that effort was just the dress rehearsal for his 2005 season that culminated in the BCS Championship Game against USC. Young topped that Rose Bowl performance by passing for 267 yards while rushing for another 200 yards as he seemingly single-handedly carried Texas on his shoulders to defeat a loaded USC team. Five years later, the impact that Young's talent had on that game is still being felt. In the first week of the 2010 college season, two quarterback performances shed light on how college football is evolving.

Cam Newton was the backup quarterback at Florida (ahead of Jonathan Bradley on their depth chart) behind Tim Tebow. The 6'6, 247-lb quarterback decided to transfer and led Blinn College (Texas) to the NJCAA Championship last season. Now the new starter at Auburn, Newton passed for 180 yards while rushing for another 192 yards to earn SEC Offensive Player of the Week honors. After serving as the backup in his first year at Michigan, Denard Robinson was told he won the starting job last Friday night and he responded with 186 passing yards along with 197 rushing yards to lead the Wolverines to their victory over UConn to earn himself the Big 10 Offensive Player of the Week award. What do these Vince Young-like performances have to say about the evolution of offensive schemes in college football? Plenty of programs run spread offenses. But as even as great as player as Tebow was, he rarely put up such dominant and balanced numbers like those. Coach Urban Meyer did try to develop Tebow as a passer, but when it was crunch time, he relied on Tebow's legs. Terrelle Pryor put up these kind of numbers for Ohio State in their Rose Bowl win over Oregon last season. And, of course, Rodriguez hotly pursued Pryor to attend Michigan when he made the decision to leave West Virginia for Ann Arbor. The knock on Pryor has been his passing proficiency -- and this will determine how successful he will be in the future.

Accurate passing was the critical component that allowed Vince Young to be as effective as he was. While his passes were not the prettiest in football history, they got to their spots. Texas' offensive game plan was to take advantage of all the skill talent they could put around Young on offense. They would then spread the field to allow these athletes the space to take advantage of individual match ups. If the QB can then exploit these match ups advantages, defenses must take these skill players seriously in their coverage. And that opens up the middle of the field for mobile quarterbacks to run QB draws into open field. It really helps when that QB is big (like Young, Tebow, Pryor or Newton) and/or lightning fast (like Robinson who runs a 4.3-40 or Rodriguez's star QB at West Virginia in Pat White). This creates a match-up dilemma for defensive coordinators: cover the speedy WRs and RBs on the outside or try to contain the mobile quarterback that is hard to tackle. Most defenses decide to force the QB to execute with his arm so the QBs that can effectively pass the football become deadly. So why don't teams in the NFL implement this offense? The Falcons ran a hybrid of it with Michael Vick. Defensives eventually evolved to the point where they would assign one linebacker to shadow Vick at all times. It worked because elite level LBs had enough speed to neutralize Vick's running. Most college teams do not have that kind of talent at linebacker to successfully implement this strategy. For similar reasons, this is why NFL teams do not run the quarterback option -- but, interestingly, Tennessee has option plays for Young and Chris Johnson.

The importance of this Vince Young Effect is that the talent of just one player at quarterback can have such a disproportionate impact on the game. One good quarterback can neutralize overall talent deficits between programs. As bettors, we need to keep our eye out for these potential difference makers (ask the 2006 USC Rose Bowl team). Looking over my notes, I noticed at least two teams (East Carolina and Arkansas State) implementing spread offenses this season. Of course, many teams already running spreads (like Auburn and Michigan) have new quarterbacks. Finding these diamonds in the rough will help find some very nice under-the-radar betting value when these clubs face teams that, on paper, have more talent. One very good dual-option quarterback can do much to level the playing field. Best of luck -- Frank.

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