2022 will be the first “normal” college football season in three years, as a pair of pandemic-ravaged campaigns in 2020-21 upended everything we consider normal about the game.
But having a regular 12-game schedule and no COVID-19 tests will be a drop in the bucket because the real change comes from the transfer portal. An oh boy, is it coming. Some statistics:
Welcome to the soon-to-be post-NCAA era of college football, where it all happens. Whatever your opinion of virtually unlimited player moves, they’re here to stay and don’t change.
But there are things that a near constant inflow and outflow of talent won’t be able to change quickly: The ability to find rhythm and timing of attack. While plug-and-play transfers on defense should be able to jump into roles much faster, succeeding while owning the football simply takes longer.
And there’s less time than ever for attacking players and coaches to be on a pitch to find that sought-after rhythm. Both days are not allowed in college football, as those have been banned by the NCAA, as has Oklahoma’s drill. Pre-season training has been reduced from 29 to 25, and only 18 of them are allowed to have contact. Even on days when teams can “go hard”, they can only hit for 75 minutes.
And while 7-on-7 drills organized by players during the summer, or after training, throwing in shorts are great, they’re not the best way to build chemistry in the movement of the ball. It just takes repetitions and repetitions and more repetitions. “Live” drills are also necessary, but they simply cannot replicate what teams will see against an opposing defense that wants to be as violent as possible while clearing the ball.
With apologies to the many intellectually talented defensive players in the NCAA, it just doesn’t take that long to learn the playbook and the keys when stopping someone. It’s less about timing, and more about reading and reacting. It’s easier to understand in a limited practice set.
When you see a quarterback throw one route and the receiver run another, it tends to happen due to a lack of reps. A lack of practice can also manifest as a running back failing to find the correct hole, or an offensive lineman looking for the wrong defender in a zone pattern. And usually the subsequent punt or turnover means more free time and less points overall.
Also, because everyone is new, most of these new offensive players who will start and play most snaps will face the second string in practice every day. College teams tend to limit the amount of “1 on 1” in practice to protect against injury, so it’s a whole different level of speed violations they’ll see when they enter the field against their first opponent.
So while on-field rules will continue to heavily favor offense in college football (despite a total ban on blocking below the waist outside the tackle box in 2022), preparation to get to the hit opening dispatch should mean the defenses will have the upper hand early.
Take advantage of this opportunity to find matches with teams that have plenty of new players, and take the opportunity to find unders that could be profitable at the start of the season. Two teams that fall into this category in Week 0 would be Nebraska and Northwestern, who play in Dublin, Ireland. Nebraska signed 16 new players this cycle, including former Texas quarterback Casey Thompson.
The total is set at 50.5 at DraftKings Sportsbook, but that might be too high. While Northwestern only added six transfers, their quarterback situation with the return of Ryan Hilinski is certainly questionable either way, and they still finished 2022 109th in SP+ offensively. This could be a place where play could be short, especially with training schedules disrupted by overseas play.