The NCAA's rules changes have done what they were expected to do to college football this season.
More kickoffs are being returned, more plays are being run and more points are being scored. On a less positive note, more games are dragging on.
The most significant changes dealt with kickoffs and the clock.
Kickoffs now take place from the kicking team's 30 instead of the 35. The idea was to eliminate some of the boring touchbacks and create more opportunities for exciting returns.
Mission accomplished.
Last season, there were about six kickoffs returned per game. That number is up to almost nine this season. There were 42 kickoff return touchdowns last season in 1,506 major college football games, including bowl games. This season there have already been 50 in 1,099 games.
``I think it adds to the game,'' Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer said Wednesday during a conference call. ``With not as many balls kicked into the end zone, that becomes a play in the ballgame that's important.''
Less touchbacks have also given offenses better starting field position.
``There's a big difference in starting at the 35 and starting at the 20,'' Beamer said.
The move has forced teams without strong-leg kickers to use unorthodox kickoff techniques.
``It's been interesting to see the different philosophies teams have taken in regard to the kickoff,'' Mississippi State coach Sylvester Croom said.
Squib kicks that bounce down the field have become more popular. Other teams have resorted to short, high kicks that don't allow much chance of a return but rarely travel inside the receiving team's 30.
``I'm seeing more blooper kicks this year than I have ever seen,'' Florida State coach Bobby Bowden said. ``All those blooper kicks are not that exciting.''
Teams with especially dangerous return men have been getting a steady dose of bloops and squibs.
``With the returners that I have, they don't kick it to them anymore,'' Arkansas coach Houston Nutt said.
Arkansas running back Felix Jones is averaging 31 yards per return with two touchdowns on 14 returns. The Razorbacks also will occasionally use All-American Darren McFadden to return kicks.
Nutt's overall opinion of the rule change seems to fall in line with most coaches.
``I like it more receiving. I don't like it when I'm kicking off,'' he said.
The biggest concern coaches had with the spot of kickoffs being moved back was the potential for more injuries because of the increase in high-speed collision plays.
The NCAA planned to monitor injuries on kickoffs and adjust the rule if necessary. Ron Courson, head trainer at Georgia and a member of the National Athletic Trainers association, said the data will be studied at the end of the season.
The other major changes were to affect the length of games.
Last year, the NCAA implemented several rules to pick up the pace of games, which were creeping toward an average of 3 1/2 hours to play.
The solution was to keep the clock moving during a change of possession and to start the clock on kickoffs when the ball was kicked instead of when the receiving team touched it.
Those changes didn't go over well with coaches and ended up taking about 14 plays on average from each game, which led to a drop in scoring to about 48 points per game.
Those rules were repealed.
``I think every rule change this season was in favor of the offense,'' Georgia coach Mark Richt said.
This season scoring is up to about 56 points per game and the number of plays has gone from 127 per game to 143.
The NCAA implemented a few rules to try to keep the time of games down without costing plays. This season the play clock is set to 15 seconds, instead of 25, after TV timeouts. Team timeouts in televised games are now 30 seconds instead of 65.
Even with those adjustments, the time of games has increased about 14 minutes, from 3 hours, 7 minutes in 2006 to 3:21 this season.
While most coaches like the trade-off, there are still some, such as Georgia Tech's Chan Gailey, who would prefer games be sped up.
Gailey said he didn't like the rule that started the game clock when the ball was kicked on a kickoff, but he thought the other rules to speed up games were useful.
``If we just did not have those rules in the last two minutes or five minutes of the game, I think it would have worked out fine,'' he said.

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