Football coaches have a great ability to see trends and make quick adjustments. They're as analytical as the best financial planners, only rather than dealing with investments they can tell you what needs to happen for a team to beat the opposing defense or stop the opposing offense.
Right now, in an era that's known mostly for its passing offenses, there are five FBS players that have eclipsed 1,500 yards rushing this season, led by Boston College's Andre Williams, who has 2,073. What's happening here is just the latest chess move in college football. We've seen it before, going back to the days of the Wing-T and Wishbone, which were hugely successful for a time before coaches devised strategies to stop it. In recent years, we've seen defenses load up on smaller, faster players to stop the passing game, and consequently, teams are now beginning to run the ball a lot more. In other words, offenses are adjusting to the defensive adjustments -- you move, I move.
I have never seen -- or at least I can't remember seeing -- a situation quite like the one we're witnessing now with Williams, a running back who has played four years, rushing for a career-high 584 yards last season before going over 2,000 this season. What he's done appears to be an outlier, and it's because head coach Steve Addazio has made Boston College a running team, using Williams to power his way over these smaller defenses.
Take a look at the four other players that have topped 1,500 rushing yards this season:
» Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey had 1,929 yards rushing last season and is at 1,559 this year.
» Washington's Bishop Sankey went from 1,439 last season to 1,575 this year.
» Western Kentucky's Antonio Andrews went from 1,684 to 1,611.
» Northern Illinois' Jordan Lynch, a quarterback, went from 1,815 to 1,755.
The reason I cite these numbers is to show you, not only that offenses in general are beginning to rely more on the run, but also what an outlier Williams' senior season is in his college career. I did not have him ranked among my top 150 senior prospects before the season, and although I'd probably move him up the list, I'm also taking a wait-and-see approach because his senior season is such an anomaly. That's why you have things like the combine. I want to see how fast he runs, and I want to see how he fares in quickness drills.
Williams will have to prove that what he's done against smaller linemen in college football, who are geared toward stopping the pass, he can also do against 290-, 300-pound linemen in the NFL. This is always the big question for guys that have great success at the college level, but it's especially true for a player like Williams, who has done it for only one season.
Four rivalry games that interest me
Alabama at Auburn: Scouts pay close attention to everything, but when they see a rivalry game like Auburn vs. Alabama, featuring two of the best teams in the country, I think they put a premium on the players that come up big, just because the pressure and the level of competition is so high.
In the state of Alabama, you're either an Alabama fan or an Auburn fan. There's no middle ground. This is a huge, huge rivalry. It looked a little like Alabama was sleepwalking through its last two games against Mississippi State and Chattanooga, but that won't happen this week. For the Crimson Tide to win, they have to stop the run and force the Tigers to throw the ball. For Auburn, it has to hope lightning strikes twice with a former junior-college quarterback, this time with Nick Marshall -- a fellow by the name of Cam Newton led the Tigers past the Tide in 2010. Auburn gives up 407 yards per game, Alabama gives up 264. I'm taking Alabama, 37-17.
Ohio State at Michigan: Against the three best teams they've played this season -- Michigan State, Nebraska, and Iowa -- the Wolverines had minus-9 yards rushing. They also averaged just 167 yards of total offense and gave up 15 sacks in those games. Ohio State has averaged 49 points per game, 531 yards per game and 6.9 yards per rush. I've got the Buckeyes winning this one, 38-13.
UCLA at USC: UCLA lost another offensive lineman this week, which means it'll be starting three freshman offensive linemen against a very good USC defense. USC 34, UCLA 24.
Washington State at Washington: I'm picking Washington to win, but never count Mike Leach out. It would not surprise me if he came up with something that enables the Cougars to score a lot of points in this one, and Washington State has been pretty good on the road, beating USC and Arizona. Still, I have the Huskies winning, 38-28.
Pittsburgh over Miami (Fla.): Miami has a very hard time in cold weather, which is bad news for the Hurricanes because it's supposed to be very cold in Pittsburgh this weekend. Paul Chryst, the Pitt coach, has never lost two straight at home. The Panthers beat Notre Dame earlier this season, and they have outgained their opponents by an average of 54 yards. Teams have also gained 28 yards below their season average when they play the Panthers this season. I think Pitt pulls this one off at home.