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Oregon's Uptempo Offense Disrupts Old CFB Order

Oregon's offense has been the definition of innovation the last decade. By assuming the role of the underdog, Oregon's tempo helped redefine how people view the sport of football. Now the old powers in college football want to limit the changes.


Building on jtlight’s take on recruiting and Moneyball let us all take a look at Oregon’s underdog style of offense.

One of the best ways Oregon was able to overcome their recruiting deficiency was by recruiting players meant for the spread offense, which pro-style teams weren’t looking for. Using the market inefficiency of fast players Oregon was able to capitalize and run a system well enough to win conference championships and appear in BCS bowl games.

The next step in Oregon’s evolutionary process was tempo. While absent last year, tempo was one of the biggest reasons Oregon scored such a ridiculous amount of points in games. Defenses weren’t prepared to play as fast as Oregon did, weren’t in the proper condition, and couldn’t use elaborate defensive schemes.

In Malcolm Gladwell’s David and Goliath he discusses how being an underdog, being counted out, can fundamentally change the way a person approaches a problem. While most youth basketball teams will retreat to play defense, Gladwell points out that a team with virtually no basketball experience won youth tournaments by running an aggressive full-court press. By playing a different game than everyone else underdogs have the potential to change how games are played by not following the implied rules set down.

One of the implied rules in college football is that both sides need to be ready before the ball is snapped. You get a 40-second play clack and you should probably use the full 40 seconds.

Oregon on the other hand plays as fast as possible without subbing players. The Ducks are fan favorites not just because of their uniforms and flash but because they play every second they have the ball. Instead of playing for six seconds and take a forty second break where fans are bored out of their minds, Oregon is quick to run the next play.

Recently, coaches in the SEC, most notably Bret Bielema, have tried to implement a rule that would require ten seconds to run off the play clock before the ball can be snapped. Despite no studies that showed high-tempo offense was negatively impacting player safety the motion was moved to the rules committee. Luckily, the committee cited the lack of studies as a reason to not pass the new rule. The key here is that the established powers, the Goliaths of the college football world, are not happy that they have to change the way they play.

One of the big takeaways from Moneyball is that you either adapt or die. You hold on to the old, established order or you adopt the new order.

By no means was Oregon the first team to use tempo or to use the spread offense, but they were the first team to really take both to the next level. Oregon committed to the spread and tempo with everything they had and became a disruptive force in the college football world. They became so disruptive that the old money teams tried to tighten the rules and limit the new way of playing football.

Listening to the Paul Finebaum show this past week I heard many of the southern listeners call in and say what football should and should not be. Opinions weren’t very varied because most of them were in favor of restricting the rules. Whether that’s because Saban supported the rule change has yet to be seen. However, the college football world is changing whether they like it or not. We don’t know yet if these programs will figuratively die if they don’t adapt, but if history is any indicator, things are going to be a lot harder for programs that play football like it’s the ‘70s.