It’s been fascinating to watch teams like Auburn, Baylor, Oregon and now TCU embrace a new breed of offense with great success.

Not long ago, that sort of expansive offensive innovation was limited to those half-quacks Colt Brennan and June Jones out in Hawaii or that quirky, mystical Mike Leach with his Air Raid offense at Texas Tech.

It was intriguing to watch them both in bowl games, usually within a few days of Christmas. But teams usually don’t win big-time conference or national championships with offenses like that, we were told.

Urban Meyer, who at Florida tromped through the SEC with a rhinoceros of a quarterback in Tim Tebow, became one of the first prominent coaches to win national championships with a power spread offense. He’s since evolved, hiring then-Iowa State offensive coordinator after becoming head coach at Ohio State, and leveraging the more potent passing attack to win yet another championship with the Buckeyes.

The Horned Frogs, with some starting to question whether the program may have done better to remain an alpha dog in one of the lesser conferences, hired Doug Meacham. Immediately, TCU became one of, if not the, top offenses in the country, transforming into an up-tempo, spread passing attack that nearly launched the team into the College Football Playoff.

Meanwhile, Will Muschamp got ousted in Gainesville precisely because despite a strong defense, his plodding, power offense a) never produced even an adequate passing game and b) discouraged a wealth of talented Florida high school skill players from donning a Gators helmet.

Even Alabama, which owned college football just three years ago with a stiff defense and bullying offensive line, had to win an SEC championship by breaking all sorts of school passing and receiving records in 2014.

This table, created by Jon Solomon in 2014 when he still wrote for, illustrates just how much more productive offenses have become every decade.

Year Points Plays Total Yards Yards Per Carry Completion %
2013 29.6 71.8 412.6 4.47 59.8
2003 26.9 71.0 382.6 4.01 56.8
1993 24.4 70.5 371.2 3.98 55.1
1983 22.1 71.6 352.3 3.80 53.6
1973 21.0 70.5 323.6 3.85 47.2
1963 15.8 61.7 265.3 3.63 46.1
1953 17.1 60.3 268.2 3.92 42.8

Football is a game of tradition. If you’ve ever read the work of Bill Barnwell, now at, or sites like Football Outsiders and Pro Football Focus, coaches are hesitant to take risks. Fail while adhering to traditional decision-making and you have an excuse. Fail while putting yourself out on a limb and you could look like a fool.

But, as coaches like Gus Malzahn have proven in going from an Arkansas high school giant to head coach for an SEC champion, more risky experimentation at the lower-stakes high school level has trickled up the chain to college, and then up the chain from smaller to larger programs.

It no longer is taboo to run an offense that 10 years ago would’ve been marginalized as gimmicky.

Rules changes geared toward player safety help, of course. Corners no longer can maul receivers well past the line of scrimmage to impede routes. Safeties can’t scream across the middle and spear would-be pass-catchers in the chest as they track the flight of the football.

Then there’s the timing, or “pace” of plays, to harken back to an entertaining SEC-centric debate that took place after the 2013 season. Huddling your offense in between plays used to be something that nearly was mandatory. Now it’s archaic. The Oregon sideline posters with four quadrants depicting goofy images, designed to allow the Ducks to operate at breakneck speed, now are a sign of innovation rather than some weird West Coast flavor of football.

There’s been some pushback on the speed at which offenses snap the football, as it prevents defenses from substituting between plays and puts teams with bulkier, more strength-oriented defenders at a disadvantage.

Still others feel that rabbit-quick offenses either go three-and-out or score within two minutes of game time, either way putting undue pressure on the defense that must trudge back onto the field without much rest. And what happens with a lead in the second half when you want to drain the clock by running the ball, but your team is built for a speed passing game?

Texas A&M’s defense lacked talent and may have been too complex the last two years, for example, but the offensive system didn’t do it any favors.

The big problem with that theory, as we’ve seen in the SEC with the coupling of Kevin Sumlin and John Chavis as well as Malzahn-Muschamp, is that elite offense now is attracting elite defense, rather than the opposite. In short, the best offenses are the catalysts for winning titles now, above anything else.

When trying to project the future and predict whether this offensive renaissance will continue or eventually stall, it’s important to look at the greater trends.

Chip Kelly, for instance, formerly of the Oregon Ducks and now with the Philadelphia Eagles, is as aggressive as anyone at compiling a roster of players who will run, every day in practice, until they’re conditioned to turn Sundays into track meets. His move to sign Tebow this week aside, everyone will be watching intently in the next couple seasons to see if that sort of approach can breed NFL success.

Kelly’s success or failure isn’t make or break for the entire college football offensive leaning. The NFL long since has embraced the sort of concepts that started at the high school level. But the more success a coach like Kelly has, the more the rest of the league should copy it. And if NFL teams are turning to breakneck speeds, the no huddle and the power spread more and more often, college coaches who refuse to evolve will enjoy fewer and fewer advantages.

(As of now, pro-style offenses can insist to high school recruits intent on playing in the NFL that their program offers the best development.)

Every time a TCU or a Baylor thrusts itself into national relevance with the force of an entertaining, sexy, brand-enhancing, successful spread offense, other schools not yet on the bandwagon consider making the leap themselves.

We’re getting closer to a saturation point, but we’re not there yet. The discussion about player safety still is evolving, and it won’t be a shock if further rules changes help offenses even more in the next decade. We could see more and more teams spreading the field, increasing their tempo and recruiting players that either fit a power spread or an Air Raid type attack.

We also haven’t reached a saturation point with training, as few teams have attempted to groom the offensive line, receivers and running backs nearly as thoroughly as Kelly. The convergence of science and technology has created a new way to micromanage training for elite athletes, and it’s only a matter of time before that seeps into college football on a larger scale.

It’s difficult to predict national trends or foresee what may happen in the next five or 10 years. Look at MLB, for example. During the thrust of the steroids era, who would’ve imagined that scoring would drop to such lows that we haven’t seen in many decades just a few years later, or that no-hitters would become relatively common?

But, based on everything we know now, scoring only will continue to increase. We may see a time 10 years from now when 35 points per game is just an average offense at best within major college football.