No team in the Pac-12 has benefited more from stellar special teams play in recent years than the Oregon Ducks.
In addition to their high-powered offense, the Ducks take advantage of their athleticism by eating up considerable chunks of yardage in the punt and kick return games, too.
But their firepower might be limited this season by the NCAA’s new kickoff rules.
With kickoffs moving from the 30- to the 35-yard line and touchbacks moving from the 20 to the 25, there not only is a higher probability of kicks being launched into the end zone, but also less incentive for returners to bring them out.
Oregon coach Chip Kelly was predictably coy when asked how it might affect his team, which features one of the most dynamic returners in college football, sophomore De’Anthony Thomas.
“I really won’t know until we get into the meat of our schedule and find out how teams are going to approach us,” Kelly said on Tuesday’s Pac-12 coaches’ call.
Of course, it’s not a given that every team has a kicker capable of putting the ball deep enough in the end zone to force a kneel-down. And even if they do, some coaches, such as Utah’s Kyle Whittingham, don’t think a touchback is necessarily the optimal result for the kicking team.
“We think we can do better than the 25,” Whittingham said. “We think if we hang it up there and run underneath it, we can pin them inside of the 20 or maybe even the 15. I think if they really want touchbacks they wouldn’t have put it at the 25, because the 25 is actually pretty decent starting position.”
But is it worth the risk of allowing a return?
“I’m not sure that it’s going to make a whole lot of difference to us either way,” UCLA coach Jim Mora said. “It’s 5 yards at the start of the drive, and I’m not sure that it’s going to be real significant. I could be wrong.”
Cal adds spark
California’s arrival in the Pac-12 facilities arms race will become official on Saturday.
That’s when the Bears open against Nevada in their newly renovated, $321 million Memorial Stadium, the latest in a line of major facilities upgrades across the conference.
Washington State will debut its $65 million premium seating structure when it hosts Eastern Washington on Sept. 8. Southern Cal recently completed a palatial football-only building. Washington is in the midst of a $250 million stadium renovation. And Oregon – well, you know.
One of the biggest boons that ultimately results from these upgrades is in recruiting. Cal coach Jeff Tedford said that in addition to the Bears’ recently opened High Performance Center for student-athletes, the Memorial Stadium facelift can only help.
“Before, I don’t think it was any secret we had some of the worst facilities around,” Tedford said. “We were fortunate and blessed to have the players we had with the facilities we had. It’s just one piece of recruiting. That’s not something we need to worry about anymore, because it’s as good as any place in the country, in my opinion.”
Jordan Wynn will resume his role as Utah’s starting quarterback after losing most of last season to injury. But while Jon Hays will be the Utes’ backup, freshman Travis Wilson will likely see the field plenty, as well. “Travis will have his own special set of plays on a week to week basis,” Whittingham said. … Mora is one of four coaches making his Pac-12 debut this week. He said his time spent around Washington’s program last season – Mora played defensive back at UW and is a friend of Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian – helped “reinvigorate” his love for the college game. “I don’t know that there’s anything that’s just eye-popping,” Mora said about returning. “I can tell you what I really enjoy, and that’s the relationship with the student-athletes at this age group. They’re very impressionable and that’s fun to be around.” … Oregon State is scheduled to open its season at home against Nicholls State on Saturday, but Hurricane Isaac has forced NSU, which is located in Thibodaux, La., to cancel some practices this week and could make travel difficult. OSU coach Mike Riley expressed concern for the players’ safety and said, “I haven’t been told anything other than the game’s on.”