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Pro-Style Works At College Level

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Will Kevin Hogan’s time under center put Stanford at an advantage in the Pac-12? In the BCS? Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images.
Will Kevin Hogan’s time under center put Stanford at an advantage in the Pac-12? In the BCS? Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images.

Programs all over the country choose the spread offense. The spread slows down reads for quarterback (see: Blaine Gabbert’s success at Mizzou), gives receivers space to get open (see: Houston’s wide receivers) and plays at an incredibly fast pace (see: Oregon Ducks). A similar trend is taking place in the NFL with the double tight end formations and the zone read.

Trends are all well and good. Sometimes they're even thrilling. But time shows that sticking to a pro-style offense wins championships. Six of the last 10 and seven of the last 12 winners of the BCS championship used pro-style offenses. What seems most important about that statistic is Alabama’s pro-style system. They are the champions in three of the last four years. Before them, it was Florida’s spread with Tim Tebow that worked so well. All the indicators point to the cyclical nature of Football.

Right now, Pac-12 defenses are prepared for spreads, multiple offenses and their role players — dynamic scat backs and athletic receivers that can create space and disappear in the open field. Teams are less prepared for the more traditional cowbell backs, the strapping tight ends and quarterbacks with exceptional footwork in the pocket.

Some conferences have different trends. The SEC works the opposite way. So many teams are running pro-style offenses that the dominant Texas A&M spread proved effective. 

Stanford’s Harbaugh-Shaw era did not conform to the Pac-12 trends. As I stated in an earlier article, they “live the SEC lifestyle.” Now it plays to their advantage like the triple option might. Pro-style offenses are not as rare as the triple option, but it requires a defense to reset in preparation — particularly in the Pac-12, where teams are either running a spread or multiple offenses that require similar playmakers. Only USC, Washington and Stanford are running pro-style offenses, and arguably all of them are trending upward.

What system will be effective in college football this year? And in the Pac-12?

For the Pac-12, it will be both. Stanford and Oregon both run their offenses so precisely and effectively that they will both do well. The more pressing question is which team has a bigger advantage when they face one another.

In college football as a whole, I give the edge to pro-style offenses. That doesn’t mean that Oregon, OSU and Texas A&M aren’t favorites too. The creativity — and the speed at which that creativity transpires — is astounding. However, Alabama, Stanford and LSU just have a scheme that has won it historically. I'll stick with the safe bet that history will repeat itself, that it hasn't quite hit the tipping point.