Tickets sales and keeping fans interested help drive college football's offensive age

When West Virginia Athletic Director Oliver Luck was looking for a new football coach, he wanted one who would not only win, but do it in a way that got Mountaineers fans excited — excited enough to pack Milan Puskar Stadium seven or eight times a season.

"People do want to be entertained," said Luck, a former NFL quarterback. "There's nothing quite as nice as a beautiful post pattern thrown properly."

West Virginia fans got to watch dozens of properly thrown passes on Saturday, when the eighth-ranked Mountaineers beat Baylor 70-63, the centerpiece of yet another college football weekend filled with high-scoring marquee games.

Several factors have contributed to the trend of high-powered offenses dominating college football in recent years — outside of Tuscaloosa, Ala., that is.

There is the improved development of quarterbacks, thanks in large part to 7-on-7 camps for high schoolers; the prevalence of spread offenses that neutralize a defense's best players and exploit its weak ones; and the up-tempo style that offenses use to squeeze in as many snaps as possible.

Another reason is money. The old adage is true: Offense sell tickets. And these days there is more pressure than ever on athletic directors to sell football game tickets to fund their programs.

Luck found his man in Dana Holgorsen, a coaching descendent of Mike Leach, and Mountaineers fans have been partying ever since. West Virginia went to the Orange Bowl last season, and laid 70 points on Clemson.

"Everywhere you go you have to keep in mind we're competing for the pocket books and the minds of the college football fans," Luck said Monday in telephone interview.

West Virginia is averaging 53 points per game, third-best in major college football and one of six teams averaging at least 50. Another 15 teams are scoring more than 40 per game. Of the 124 teams playing in FCS, 55 are averaging at least 30 points per game.

"I don't want to discredit the importance of defense," Luck said, "but I think people expect, now, more high-scoring games at the college level.

"I think a lot of athletic directors recognize that."

No doubt.

Of the 28 coaches hired during and after last season, 14 were once offensive coordinators, including Rich Rodriguez, hired by Arizona, and Leach, who was hired by Washington State.

Another five of those coaches have predominantly offensive backgrounds, including Urban Meyer at Ohio State. And several of the former defensive coordinators, such as Todd Graham at Arizona State and Tim Beckman at Illinois, have a commitment to up-tempo, spread offenses on their head coaching resumes.

There is no end in sight to the offensive era of college football.

As Luck points out, good quarterbacks are easier than ever to find, coaches tend to steer their best players toward the offensive side of the ball, and dominant defensive linemen are the rarest commodity in the sport.

For the majority of schools playing major college football, it's easier to build a stellar offense than a staunch defense. And fans dig touchdowns. So if you're an AD and have to choose between a mediocre team that scores 35 per game and a mediocre team that scores 21, go with the former.

As for those fans who do like big-time defense, well, Alabama plays at LSU on Nov. 3.



In realignment, the Atlantic Coast Conference has pounded the Big East over the last year, luring Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Notre Dame away. On the football field, the Big East is getting some payback this season.

The Big East is 4-3 against the ACC this season, including two victories against Virginia Tech. Cincinnati beat the Hokies 27-24 on Saturday after Pitt blew out Virginia Tech earlier this season.

To make it just a bit more satisfying for the Big East, the week before the Panthers upset the Hokies, Cincinnati blew out departing Pitt.

Why does this matter? The Big East needs to be able to sell itself as being good as the ACC on the field to land the billion dollar television contract and attractive bowl spots it needs to stay relevant in college football's new world order.



Just give West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith the Heisman Trophy, right? Not so fast.

Smith's remarkable eight-touchdown pass performance in that crazy victory against Baylor had some swooning over the senior quarterback.

Former Ohio State running back Eddie George, who won the 1995 Heisman and now works as an analyst for Fox, went so far as to say: "What we witnessed today was the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner."

Smith is undoubtedly the front-runner, but with two months of the season left and the Mountaineers yet to play a true road game, it's way too soon to be handing the Heisman to anyone.

Smith and West Virginia hit the road the next two weeks, facing No. 11 Texas on Saturday and Texas Tech the week after.

Besides, Smith wasn't even the best player on his own offense against Baylor — at least according to the Mountaineers' coaches, who gave team offensive player of the week honors to center Joe Madsen.



— Duke is 4-1, two victories away from bowl eligibility. The Blue Devils haven't played in a bowl game since 1995 and haven't won one since the 1961. Don't make vacation plans yet, Blue Devils fans. Those last two victories won't come easy, though beating Virginia at home on Saturday would be huge.

— Penn State has now won three straight going into its home game against No. 24 Northwestern on Saturday. A winning season for coach Bill O'Brien will be an enormous step toward Penn State surviving the crippling sanctions the NCAA handed down for the Jerry Sandusky scandal.

— Remember Isaiah Crowell? At this point, many Georgia fans have probably forgotten about him, too. Crowell ran for 850 yards as a freshmen for the Bulldogs last season, but was kicked off the team during the summer after being arrested on weapons charges. Georgia has had no problem replacing him with two new fabulous freshman, Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall. As for Crowell, he's playing at Alabama State, where he leads the team with 342 yards rushing and six touchdowns.



"I think he fumbled. I don't know what else to say." Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy on the game-winning touchdown run by Texas tailback Joe Bergeron in Saturday night's game. The short run into a pile was reviewed and the call on the field of touchdown was upheld.


Follow Ralph D. Russo at