12 Major College Football Teams That Could Throw the Ball Fewer Than 300 Times
Run-pass balance is overrated in today’s college football.
Ask Auburn, which ran its way to an SEC championship in 2013 and came within seconds of scoring the national championship as well.
Sure, many teams aspire to 50-50 run-pass balance, whether that number is derived from play calls or yardage.
Some are more content to utilize a low-risk power game capable of dominating opponents into submission.
Today, we examine 12 college football teams from the power conferences—formerly known as BCS conferences—who could average fewer than 25 passing attempts per regular season game.
Since this list only considers college football teams from major conferences, programs such as Navy, Army, Air Force and New Mexico will not appear.
To determine the likelihood of run-heavy attacks, we take a look at passing attempts and consider the returning skill positions—especially quarterback. Coaching tendencies—from head coaches and offensive coordinators—have also been taken into account.
Here is the list of the 12 major college football teams who could throw the ball fewer than 300 times this season.
Last year, with three-year starter AJ McCarron at the helm, Alabama threw the ball 365 times.
McCarron is gone.
So, too, might be coach Nick Saban’s confidence in the Alabama passing game.
Potential starter Jacob Coker, considered by many to have an inside track to the No. 1 position, will arrive in Tuscaloosa with great hype.
He will also be a relative unknown until the Crimson Tide opens practice in August.
Saban has built his reputation by betting on more sure things than on wild cards.
Enter the stable of Alabama tailbacks who are prepared to carry heavy workloads.
T.J. Yeldon is a two-time all-SEC tailback who has rushed for 2,343 yards and 26 touchdowns through his first two seasons.
Kenyan Drake and Derrick Henry have shown so much potential, though, that many Alabama fans would prefer to see Yeldon in a more limited role.
Henry made a tremendous impression when he provided the Crimson Tide its lone bright spot during the Sugar Bowl loss to Oklahoma. He ran for 100 yards and a touchdown on eight carries and took a short pass 61 yards for another score.
Drake, Yeldon’s primary backup in 2013, rushed for 694 yards and eight touchdowns.
Take what should be a dominant run game with a defense loaded with young talent and it could equate to less of a need to take chances in the passing game—and fewer overall attempts.
Coach Bret Bielema’s offensive philosophy has usually concentrated on employing a sneaky play-action passing game and pairing it with a powerful run game.
He already has the horses to pound the ball at opponents.
Tailbacks Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams combined for 1,926 yards and eight touchdowns on 340 carries last season. Both return with Collins, a true freshman a year ago, getting his first dose of a true offseason program.
Arkansas went 0-8 in the SEC last year and only threw the ball 301 times.
There is no obvious help on the way at the quarterback position, so it stands to reason that Bielema would look to shorten close games to give the Razorbacks a chance at the end.
Running clock would go a long way toward fulfilling that goal.
Towards the end of the regular season, first-year coach Gus Malzahn made the conscious decision to bail on any aim for balance.
He instead dialed up the read-option. And then called a read-option. And then put a twist on the read-option.
If it ain’t broke, right?
As a result, Auburn finished as one of 11 teams to throw the ball fewer than 300 times in 2014 despite playing 14 games.
Quarterback Nick Marshall is taking part in his first spring practice, which should result in a better, more consistent passing game.
Still, Malzahn knows what he can rely upon when everything else goes wrong.
It should surprise nobody if Malzahn’s default mode returns to read-option—especially when critical games lie in the balance.
Auburn must replace Heisman Trophy finalist tailback Tre Mason, but has a number of talented-if-unproven options.
Call this the struggle between head coach and offensive coordinator.
Kurt Roper, who served under David Cutcliffe at Duke, comes in with a reputation for his ability to develop a passing game.
Embattled coach Will Muschamp, however, has shown a strong preference for a more conservative approach to run clock and keep pressure on opposing offenses.
The strategy worked phenomenally two years ago when Muschamp guided an overachieving Florida team to the Sugar Bowl.
However, the same ploy backfired during the disastrous 2013 campaign.
The Gators, who showed no ability to pass over the final half of the season, limped to a 4-8 record that bottomed out during a loss to FCS foe Georgia Southern.
Florida’s defense lost several key figures but should still be loaded with talent.
Besides, it wasn’t the defense that faltered to lows not seen since before Steve Spurrier returned to The Swamp in the early 90s.
Muschamp likely goes in with every plan of running a balanced offense capable of scoring more points.
Whether that becomes a reality when his tenure at Florida lies in the balance remains to be seen.
Paul Johnson is about as likely to install some sophisticated passing game as Mike Leach’s Washington State program is to appear on this list.
It just won’t happen.
Georgia Tech, with capable passer Vad Lee running the offense, threw just 203 times in 2013.
Lee decided to leave for greener pastures, transferring to James Madison.
Now the Yellow Jackets will enter with a less experienced passing game and every intention to run the ball at opponents for as long as they have the ball.
Of the programs on this list, perhaps none is a better bet to finish under the 300-pass mark.
The first—and only—Big 12 team to appear on this list threw 329 passes last year.
Charlie Weis’ team wasn’t especially proficient when it did take to the air, either, converting only 46.8 percent of its passes.
Quarterback Jake Heaps proved not to be the definitive answer in 2013. He needs to improve by leaps and bounds for the passing game to take off—as do to the talent surrounding him.
Here’s the problem: Weis at least knew he could count on the run game, headed up by tailback James Sims, who finished his underrated career by carrying a lackluster attack.
With Sims gone, Weis must find more answers.
Looking for them in the running game certainly seems easier than finding them in the passing game.
For that reason, Kansas could easily finish the 2014 season with fewer than 300 passing attempts.
Last year, with quarterback Zach Mettenberger throwing the ball to all-conference receivers Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham, LSU only attempted 326 passes.
All three left for the NFL, leaving offensive coordinator Cam Cameron trying to retool an offense that head coach Les Miles would prefer to leave vanilla and run-oriented.
Quarterback Anthony Jennings played the Outback Bowl in place of the injured Mettenberger.
Jennings certainly didn’t look like a can’t-miss starter, though.
The rising sophomore still must lock down the starting position, but seemed to have a leg up in the competition headed into spring practice.
The bigger concern comes in who Jennings can target.
Travin Dural caught the game-winning touchdown pass from Jennings when LSU rallied to beat Arkansas in the final minutes of the regular-season finale. He is the leading returning receiver—with seven catches a year ago.
Look for Miles to insist on a grounded attack headlined by Terrence Magee and true freshman Leonard Fournette.
Minnesota found success in the ground-and-pound attack in 2013, riding the strategy to an 8-5 season that included an upset victory over Nebraska.
Of BCS conference teams, only Georgia Tech threw the ball fewer times than Minnesota, which preferred to lean on tailback David Cobb, who returns for his senior season.
The Gophers will try this spring and next summer to find a competent passing attack to keep defenses honest.
Then again, they tried to develop one last year.
We already saw how that turned out.
Minnesota found a recipe to win games, which means a lot to a program that has far too often found itself among the Big Ten duds in recent seasons.
It will likely start 2014 trying to replicate the results.
The scheduled development of quarterback Kevin Hogan seemingly took a detour so the Cardinal could continue running the ball at opponents.
He could easily get more opportunities in 2014, though he will have to earn them.
Stanford, even without tailback Tyler Gaffney, will field a formidable run game, perhaps led by Remound Wright or Barry Sanders Jr.
Coach David Shaw has followed the mold LSU and Alabama used to climb to the top of the SEC.
He wants to run the ball and rely on his usually stout defenses.
Between Hogan establishing himself as a better passer and an inexperienced defense replacing a number of starters, Stanford could throw significantly more in 2014.
However, Shaw seems more likely to call upon his run game if he has the choice.
Quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels is gone as is quarterback whisperer and head coach James Franklin, who left for Penn State.
Patton Robinette seems the likeliest candidate to succeed Carta-Samuels under first-year coach Derek Mason.
What the offense will look like under Mason remains to be seen.
Mason, who comes to Vanderbilt from Stanford where he served as defensive coordinator, could well follow Cardinal coach David Shaw’s blueprint of relying on a steady run game and a strong defense.
Tailback Jerron Seymour burst onto the scene in 2013 as a playmaking presence. He could easily see the bulk of the offensive workload in Mason’s first year as coach.
Three-year starting quarterback Logan Thomas is gone and potential starter Michael Brewer won’t even take snaps for the Hokies until August.
Virginia Tech has always prided itself on defense and special teams and would love to pare those with a strong run game.
That’s where second-year offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler’s experience might give an idea of what’s to come.
During Loeffler’s lone season at Auburn, the Tigers had no solutions at quarterback.
His lack of options led to an offense that threw the ball just 257 times in 2012.
The Hokies threw the ball 432 times in 2013. Don’t be surprised if they attempt significantly fewer passes this season.
Two words best explain why the Badgers might want to become run-happy in 2014: Melvin Gordon.
Last year Gordon enjoyed a breakthrough season, running for 1,609 yards. Now he returns for one more season in Madison.
Wisconsin threw the ball 355 times in 2013 under first-year coach Gary Anderson, who made an admirable attempt toward balance.
This year the Badgers can contend for the Big Ten title—if not the national title—and will need to ride a high-octane rush game to get there.
Look for Gordon and Corey Clement to give Wisconsin its best chance to win and, therefore, get substantial workloads throughout the season.
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