In a move that's only two years late, Sports Illustrated has centered this year's preseason college football preview around the growing popularity of the spread offense. To his credit, writer Austin Murphy offers a pretty comprehensive analysis of all the scheme's different iterations. Phil Taylor's overview of the evolving theories behind defending against the spread is equally thorough.
Murphy's main conclusion isn't exactly earth-shattering: The spread is here to stay, and it has as many different versions as the veer option.
He gives short shrift, though, to one of the most important results of the spread's explosion. The spread has increased the inherent unpredictability of college football, and it has nothing to do with scoring more points.
The very nature of the spread opens up quarterbacks to the kind of hits that end seasons in spades. Look at what happened to Texas in 2006 after Kansas State and Texas A&M battered starting quarterback Colt McCoy in consecutive games. What about when West Virginia lost to Pittsburgh last year? Pat White spent the vast majority of the game on the sideline with an ankle sprain. Remember Dennis Dixon? He was the leading Heisman trophy candidate until a torn ACL ended his season in 2007.
Even LSU felt the effects of the quarterback's increased exposure, as starter Matt Flynn battled ankle injuries all season. Luckily for the Tigers, Flynn was ably supported by the ultra-talented Ryan Perrilloux.
There's no doubt that the spread opens up a number of enticing possibilities that rightfully should tempt coaches. Yet, it also puts coaches in the odd position of resisting a move to a potent offensive system based on a hypothetical--namely that it could get their quarterbacks killed.
The upshot for this season is that the highly regarded teams employing some version of the spread, such as Florida, Missouri, West Virginia and LSU, need to pray that guys like Tim Tebow and Chase Daniel can make it through the season unscathed. Or, make sure that guys like Cameron Newton and Jarrett Lee get plenty of reps with the first team offense, because they'll probably be called upon at some point.
So, as the spread enters this season as the offense du jour in college football, it will be interesting to see if 2008 is decided by a war of attrition at quarterback.