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MEMPHIS — College football
is finally catching on to something one coach discovered decades ago.
Appalachian State can’t
patent it, though it did leverage the diverse system to concoct an upset
over Michigan in the Big House last year. Nor can Boise State, which ran
the table in 2006 and pulled a shocker over Oklahoma in the Tostitos
Though there is no
concrete documentation on the origins of the spread offense, it’s clear
that one of its forefathers is new Southern Methodist coach June Jones.
“I’ve been saying it for
35 years,” Jones said. “We were at the Houston Gamblers and we
introduced four wide receivers and spread the field. In the state of
Texas, that was like communism.
“It does give a chance for
an Appalachian to beat Michigan. How in the heck does Hawaii beat
Alabama, beat Purdue, beat Michigan State? How did we do that? Well the
reason why is that we spread the field. Even though they were better
than us, it gives us a chance to beat them.”
It has become a great
equalizer in college football, and its many variations make it flexible
enough to revise it based on a roster’s talent.
Rich Rodriguez, for
example, was very pass-oriented as the offensive coordinator at both
Tulane and Clemson. But during his days at West Virginia, the colorful
coach used the spread offense in what has become one of the most
explosive rushing teams in the country.
In Conference USA, it’s
used both ways, and it’s a system that is used pervasively throughout
“It looks like this
conference as a whole is even more wide open than the WAC,” said Jones,
who left Hawaii last year for SMU. “I mean, everybody kind of spreads
the field. Everybody gives you a lot of different looks.
“I think the conference is
a little more evenly matched than the WAC was. I’m looking forward to
going through it.”
New Southern Miss coach
Larry Fedora has a history of running the spread attack, breaking many
records as the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State. Given that
experience, he thinks he’ll fit in with his new colleagues.
“As I’ve looked at
everybody, everybody spreads it out pretty much,” Fedora said. “There
have been a lot of points scored in this league.
“When I first started
running the spread back in 1998, that is what it was for (to equalize
talent). We didn’t have the talent that we were going to match up
against, especially up front. You get the ball off quick so that an
offensive lineman doesn’t have to block as long. It also opens up some
great vertical seams on the field for the running game.”
But in this league of
offensive innovation, there still are a handful of fundamentalists
pacing the sidelines. Central Florida coach George O’Leary has taken a
more traditional approach to winning, riding the sturdy legs of a
workhorse running back.
Tulane coach Bob Toledo is
also partial to that style of play.
“When I took over at
Tulane, they said that you can’t run the football at Tulane,” Toledo
said. “Well, we proved that we can run it. We were one of the leading
rushing teams in the conference and played number one in rush defense.
“The key is, you’ve got to
score a lot of points, but you’ve got to keep your defense off the
field. Defensively, you’ve got to play good pass defense. Most of the
people have good skilled athletes, good quarterbacks and good
No first-year coach will
face more pressure this season than Fedora. He replaces Southern Miss
icon Jeff Bower, who was fired last year after a 7-6 finish.
Fedora was hired to inject
more enthusiasm into the USM program and upgrade the overall talent.
It’s a lot of pressure for a first-year coach, but nothing more than he
imposes on himself.
“I feel pressure every
morning that I wake up and get out of bed,” Fedora said. “But it’s
pressure that I put on myself.
“The expectation level, as
high as it will be, will not be as high as I have.”
Even so, Fedora
understands that he is replacing a Southern Miss icon, though he doesn’t
focus on things that are out of his control. Instead, he concerns
himself with the task of building on what already was a strong
foundation and elevating the Golden Eagles a few rungs up the
“Jeff did a tremendous
job,” Fedora said. “He is a legend here at Southern Miss. His
accomplishments were unbelievable.
“I’m just hoping that I
can just take where he’s left off and continue with that legacy, and
even do better with it. I can’t control what’s happened in the past. I
just feel very fortunate to be here.”
C-USA has six bowl
agreements for the 2008 season after the reshuffling of a couple of
Back on the roster is the
Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl, and the inaugural St. Petersburg Bowl
also joins the postseason party. They replace the departed Hawaii and
The league could also
position itself for the Congressional Bowl should the ACC not qualify a
However, time is running
out on C-USA’s current bowl contracts. The league’s agreement with the
GMAC Bowl ends in 2008, while its deals with the rest of its bowl ties
conclude in 2009.