Each of the five new rules instituted over the summer by the N.C.A.A. were visible over the season’s opening weekend, though no one change more so than the alterations to the existing kickoff rule – kickoffs now take place from the 35-yard line, and instead of being spotted at the 20, touchbacks are now moved up to the 25. When it was first announced, the rule suggested one of two alternatives: teams could either kick it deep, going for the touchback, or kick it high and short, hoping that their coverage squads could get downfield in time to prevent a return from reaching the 25-yard line. So what route did most teams take through the first week of games?
Last fall, 32 teams in the F.B.S. earned a touchback on 20 or more percent of their kickoffs. Two teams, Auburn (57.6) and Oklahoma State (53.5) registered touchbacks on more than half of their kickoffs.
Over the season’s opening weekend, 91 teams registered a touchback on 20 or more percent of their kickoffs. Eight teams opted for a touchback on every kickoff: Idaho, U.C.L.A., Vanderbilt, Memphis, Michigan, Western Michigan, Washington State and UTEP.
The new helmet rule has two main points: one, a player who loses his helmet mid-play cannot continue participating in the play, and two, the same player must sit out the next play as if he had suffered an injury.
Every game, from the opener between South Carolina and Vanderbilt through the week’s final game, Georgia Tech at Virginia Tech, contained at least one instance of this rule coming into effect. Has the unthinkable come to pass – you know, a starting quarterback losing his helmet on the second-to-last play of a tight game? Not yet.
But we’ve come close: Tajh Boyd was sidelined for three plays in Clemson’s win over Auburn on Saturday night. In one instance, Boyd had his helmet torn loose on a two-yard run near Auburn’s end zone; that left Clemson without its quarterback on fourth down at the Auburn one.
“Well, again, I understand the rule, but for us its a little bit of a challenge,” said Dabo Swinney. “One of the things that were going to do moving forward when were on defense is make sure that our backup, Cole [Stoudt], is getting some snaps and just throwing the ball and staying loose and being ready.”
“But its definitely an issue, especially at that position. Its not like a wideout or something else. That is such a critical position where you have pretty much one guy playing all of a sudden, its 2nd-and-12, he loses his helmet, and now its 3rd-and-12 and hes got to go out. So its definitely something everybodys going to have to continue to adjust to.”
The N.C.A.A. also amended the existing rule regarding blocks below the waist. Under the new regulations, blocking below the waist is legal for any player located inside the tackle box; it’s also legal for a player at any point on the field if he is moving towards a defender.
This rule change helped Ohio knock off Penn State, 24-14, on Saturday afternoon. The scene: Ohio trailed, 14-10, with 6:38 left in the third quarter; the Bobcats’ drive started at their own 30. Officials originally flagged the Bobcats for an illegal block during an 11-yard gain by wide receiver Chase Cochrane.
Under the previous guidelines, the flag would have resulted in a 10-yard penalty – pushing Ohio back to their own 20, where it would renew its drive at 1st-20. What’s the likelihood that such a scenario leads to a successful drive? As good as Ohio looked on Saturday, the probability that a drive ends with points takes a significant nosedive after a series-opening 10-yard penalty.
After a brief conference, the officiating crew picked up the flag – instead of facing a 1st-20 at their 20, the Bobcats had a 1st-10 at the the 41. Seven plays later, Tyler Tettleton’s one-yard touchdown run gave the Bobcats a 17-14 lead.