FSU's New Kickoff Strategy? A Mathematical Approach

Okay, so we all now know that the NCAA has decided to change the rules again. Kickoffs will be taken from the 35 instead of the 30 yard line, and touchbacks from kickoffs will be moved to the 25 instead of the 20 yard line.

In Nole News, Bud has linked a great article entitled Who Might Benefit From New Kickoff Rule? Go check it out if you haven't already. Anyways, this got me thinking about just how much of a difference this could make if FSU indeed decided to forego the touchback and have Hopkins kick it high and to the goal line. Follow the jump...if you dare.


Dustin seen last week blending in at a local 12 year old's birthday party via

Obviously, Dustin Hopkins is a manimal with golden cleats, Chad Ochocinco wants to be like him, and he wears a live rattlesnake as a condom. This is all common knowledge. But what happens now that the golden-toed phenom has been bamboozled by the NCAA rules committee? Well, there are two things that can happen (really three things but to speak of the third invites death by golden roundhouse kicks). First, FSU can go with the flow and just start destroying footballs like it's going out of style, having DHop break the all-time season record with a bajillion touchbacks. Or, Jimbo can be his usual sly self and use every possible advantage he can muster.

First let's look at some advantages of appeasing the NCAA and going for the touchback every time.

  • 1. LESS PLAYS - We know FSU puts its best guys on kickoff coverage, mostly starters. Because FSU's offense averaged just over 30 pts/game last year, and is expected to get better while facing slightly poorer competition, one can assume an average of about 6 scores per game off any combination of touchdowns and field goals. Adding in the beginnings of each half, this would allow for an average of seven less plays per game of not having starters run as fast as they can for 50-60 yards and make tackles. If a starter plays ~75% of all plays on offense or defense, then this will relieve him of about 14% less plays per game.
    • In 2011 FSU averaged ~59 plays/game on offense and defense.
      • 59 plays/game x .75 = 44 plays by starter without kickoffs
      • 44 plays + 7 kickoffs = 51 plays with kickoffs.
      • 7 kickoffs / 51 total plays = 13.7% less plays when going for touchbacks.
    • Depending on how much each starter plays, this shows we can safely assume between 12-16% more rest per starter.
  • 2. NO LONG RETURNS - This was not a huge problem for FSU last year, who according to FEI ranked 8th in the country in kickoff coverage efficiency, giving up only 19 yds/ret in 50 attempts and allowing 0 TD's. With this in mind, however, it seems forcing touchbacks may actually cost the defense yards over the course of both a game and season.
    • FSU had 50 kickoffs returned in 2011
      • 50 returns x 19 yds/attempt = 950 yards
      • 50 touchbacks x 25 yards/tb = 1250 yards
      • 1250 touchback yards - 950 return yards = 300 free yards in 2011
    • Kicking only touchbacks last year would have given opposing offenses an extra 300 yards, or 23 hidden yards/game under the new rules.

  • 3. LESS INJURIES - Obviously this is the whole reason for the rule change. More touchbacks, less contact, less injuries. How many less injuries? Nobody really knows, but it's apparently enough that the NCAA wants it.
  • 4. GAIN FAVOR FROM THE NCAA - With FSU doing all it can to protect the players, the NCAA may want to make FSU the poster boy for football etiquette. We don't break or bend the rules to our advantage, we simply smile and go with the flow. Why can't we all just get along? [vomit]

Now that we have established advantages in going for the touchback every time (which Hopkins could do easily), let's now look at what good could come from forcing returns with excellent coverage.

  • 1. OUR GREATEST WEAPON - By having arguably the best leg in college football, this new rule could give FSU the chance to make Dustin Hopkins one of the most lethal players in the country. As a sophomore, Hopkins' kickoffs averaged 4.2-4.4 seconds of hangtime. He also averaged just over 67yds/kickoff and 29 touchbacks. With a little math, one can deduce that the average of all non-touchback kicks went right around 66 yards. Note: All touchbacks, regardless of distance, were scored as 70 yards in game stats.
    • tb = touchback
      • 29 tb kickoffs x 70yds = 2030 yards
      • 82 total kickoffs - 29 tb = 53 non-tb kickoffs
      • 5515 total kickoff yards - 2030 tb yards = 3485 non-tb yards
      • 3485 non-tb yards / 53 non-tb = 65.75 yards per non-tb kickoff
      • From the 30, non-tb kickoffs landed at about the 4 yard line.
      • From the 35, non-tb kickoffs would land about 1 yard deep in the endzone.
    • Kicking from the 35 would put the ball right around the goalline, making it much too tempting for most return men to kneel. This forces the return team into a very poor situation where lots of negative plays can occur with very little positive ones.
  • 2. TEN ROUNDS OF AMMO - Because of the added 5 yards the new rules give, if FSU wants to pin the opponent deep we can assume they will ask Hopkins to kick it a bit higher and shorter. Let's say somewhere around 5% higher and 5% shorter to ensure he does not accidently put the ball 5-10 yards deep. This equates to a kickoff landing around the 2-3 yard line, but with the extra hangtime the ball will be in the air about two-tenths of a second longer. Guess what? At full speed, the 10 men in coverage can easily make up those couple yards. Note: We will assume the average coverage man runs a 4.7 40 yard dash, and with a running start run about a 4.5. Obviously some players will be getting to the ball faster than this. #KarlosWilliams
    • New Kickoff stats
      • 65.75 yds/kick - (65.75 * 0.05) = 62.5 yds/kick (ball will land ~ 2-3 yard line)
      • 4.4 sec/kick hangtime + (4.4 * 0.05) = 4.62 sec/kick hangtime
    • New Coverage stats
      • 40 yards / 4.5sec = 8.9 yards/sec traveled by coverage team each second
      • 8.9 yards/sec x 4.62 sec/kick hangtime = 41.1 yards covered once the ball is caught
      • The average coverage man will be at about the 24 yard line when the ball is caught
    • The 24 yard line and closing? Whoa. With the extra 5 yards and added hangtime, the coverage team would be in amazing position when the return man catches the ball.
  • 3. TARGET PRACTICE - In the past, Jimbo has boasted how Hopkins' kicks allow the coverage to be inside the 30 yard line when the return man catches the ball. With the distance this extra hangtime allows them to cover, one has to reason that Jimbo is now openly salivating. At this point, it might as well be shooting fish in a barrel. Let's now take a look at where can expect the coverage team to meet the ball carrier. We will assume the average returner runs a 4.4sec 40 yard dash, which in track equates to about a 1.5sec 10 yard dash.
    • Return man makes catch at 2 yard line, while coverage is at the 24 yard line
      • 24 yd line - 2 yd line = 22 yards distance between return man and coverage
      • The average returner catches ball and runs 10 yards in 1.5 seconds
      • Assume coverage is now running at 75% speed due to distance, blockers, and to ensure tackle
      • Cover team runs 8.9 yds/sec * 0.75 = 6.7 yds/sec * 1.5 sec = 10.1 yards in 1.5 seconds
      • Distance traveled in 1.5 seconds by coverage + return man = 20.1 yards
    • If both the return man and any coverage man are running straight, one can expect the return man to begin evading defenders about 10-12 yards after the catch. This puts the return man within the coverage units grasp at around the 13-15 yard marker. If he dances, does not run straight, or does not run full speed after the catch, then the results may be even more profound.

Here is a perfect example of what we can routinely expect if Jimbo goes this route. Credit goes to the 2603rd comment of user StM. Thanks for the visual aid.


Kickoff from the 30 lands around the goalline, a crazed madman comes flying in quickly, and the returner has to dodge, duck, dip, dive, and dodge starting around the 15 yard line. Kicking from the 35 in 2012, this is all gonna be happening around the 10 yard line. Awesome GIF. #KarlosWilliams

  • LET'S RECAP - If FSU does indeed ask Hopkins to kick it just a little higher and a little shorter, we can realistically expect him to average the ball around the 2-3 yard line with a hangtime of around 4.6 seconds. This is enough time that the majority of the coverage team will be inside the 25 yard line, with the faster players being somewhere around the 20. One can expect first contact to be made somewhere inside the 15 yard line on average. If the return man dances or does not immediately run full speed after the catch, it could be even worse. It may be a common occurrence for many returns to fail to exceed the 10 yard line. That is epic. Oh, and #KarlosWilliams
  • Wow, safe to say this isn't exactly what I expected to find. I did think the results would point towards kicking it short, but this could be a huge hidden yardage booster that Jimbo can really take advantage of. If FSU can force teams to begin drives inside their own 20 consistently it could be the difference between going 10-2 and going undefeated. Regardless, questions still remain about kicking to elite return men like Clemson's Sammy Watkins. On the other hand, this may give us a chance to really ring his bell a few times. What do you think?

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