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College Football Pace of Play – 2014

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The Potential Impact of Pace of Play

A look at Pace of Play through 7 weeks

We are halfway through the 2014 season and the conversation of ‘Pace of Play’ in the college football never seems to go fully go away. In my past national reviews, the data pointed to an slowing in the growth of pace of play and a reduction in injuries to the defensive linemen, so often targeted by coaches Saban and Bielema as those likely to be hurt by ‘fast’ teams.

Pace

Including all punts, kicks, rushes and passes, the number of plays is up 1.3% in 2014 versus 2013.  This is about one play per team per game at 72.8 plays per game versus 71.84 in 2013.  The ‘pace’ is up as well with 2014 FBS teams averaging 2.77 plays per minute when compared to the 2.73 plays per minute in 2013.  This is a 1.8% increase.  If this trend holds, the increase in Pace of Play year over year will be the smallest in five years.

Scoring

With one more play per game, and pace up 1.8%, we would assume scoring is up as well.  Not only is it up, it is up 4.4% through week 7 versus 2013.  With the pace of play starting to peak, are we seeing a more efficient college football game as the players adjust to the new ideas and systems of up-tempo football?  If this is the case, the adjustments to defensive efficiency to adapt to this type of play cannot be too far behind.

Injuries

This has been a major talking point of coaches and proponents of slowing the game down.  They contend that fewer plays means fewer injuries, which, by using that logic would lead us to not playing football at all, and that the speed of play creates a more ‘gassed’ player and thus increases injury rates.  Proponents of a faster game argue that a spread out field leads to fewer direct collisions and fewer multi-hit pile ups in addition to a more physically fit player, all leading to lower injury rates.  The problem with tracking in juries is that no one give accurate reporting on injuries, occurrence, location, etc.  What we can track is catastrophic injury.  When a guy is out, he is out.

In 2013, a total of 66 power 5 conference defensive linemen, the focus of Saban and Bielema injury concern, were lost, during the season, to a season ending physical injury or once every 12 games.  To date, in 2014, we have seen 14 defensive linemen from power 5 conference teams, lost to season ending injury* once every 27 games.

Thoughts

It is early in the season, but I feel we may be seeing ‘peak pace’ in college football.  They can only go so fast before sacrificing efficiency.  I feel teams my be realizing this as their scoring efficiency per play is rising.  We may be seeing the game itself with up-tempo offenses as it evolves to this new way of play.  If the injury rate is maintained, although I expect it to go up as the conference season kicks into gear, it will mark the 3rd consecutive year of declining injuries to defensive linemen per play. If pace slows and the injury rate increases, we may need to ask the question of too many games on the young players.

Personally, a tempo balance in college football coupled with a more efficient offensive game and players seeing reduced season ending injuries would be wonderful.

Rankings

mid way 2014 Pace of Play info

*Injury information provided by Don Best.com

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