It won’t take college football fans long to recognize something different when the season begins Thursday night. Among several rule changes, the ones governing kickoffs will be most apparent.
In a nod to the dangerous nature of kickoffs, the NCAA rules committee passed a couple of adjustments to the play. Kickoffs now are from the 35-yard line rather than the 30, the kicking team cannot station itself deeper than its own 30-yard line to minimize the run-up, and touchbacks (only on kickoffs) will result in the ball coming out to the 25-yard line rather than the 20.
It’s an odd mix of changes, and it’s worth asking the question: If the kickoff is dangerous, is it enough just to trim the number of them? Why not do away entirely with the play?
Pac-12 coaches had all sorts of reaction Tuesday to the new rules on the league’s first coaches conference call.
“We really like our kickoff-coverage team,” says Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. “We think we can do better than (limiting to the opponent to) the 25. If they really wanted touchbacks, they should have put it at the 20.
“You’re somewhat reluctant to kick the ball deep in the zone when they put it at the 25.”
Arizona State coach Todd Graham spoke similarly, saying, “Our strategy is, we want to keep it in play – kick it as high as we can, between the goal line and the 5, and try to get them to bring it out of there.”
Whittingham questions the run-up limitation, saying, “Once you’ve been running 10 to 15 yards, you’re at top speed anyway. I fail to see how that affects anything.”
Mike Riley, the Oregon State coach, said the straight-line alignment now on the kick team “makes it hard to have good vision on the kicker,” as opposed to the staggered formations before the rule change.
Jon Embree, Colorado coach, says, “I understand what they’re trying to do as far as player safety. I don’t know if this is the answer.”
There’s a degree of uncertainty about what the rule will do for the kickoff. As Oregon’s Chip Kelly says, “I really am unsure of how it will express itself.”