The Contrarian Offensive Advantage

In early-2005, I started writing about the exciting offensive trends that were quickly making headway around the country. More specifically, I believed that those trends were best manifested by the offensive schemes of five teams, a group which I referred to as the Gang of Five.

In general, though, the subject of offensive innovation in college football has been one of my favorite topics. Subjects like offensive unpredictability, defensive unfamiliarity and the systemic differences between conferences have also been discussed here.

It’s now over two years later and I have stumbled on a web site that I think better articulates just what I was getting at.

John T. Reed’s Football Think Tank looks at the game from an intellectual standpoint. It does not presuppose that all coaches know what they are doing. In fact, it assumes just the opposite.

Another reason to like this site: It thinks out of the box.

One article in particular caught my eye: The Contrarian Offensive Advantage.

Some key passages:

Most football teams run the currently-fashionable offenses. Nowadays, that typically means a one-back or two back with a tight end and flanker on one side and a split end on the other. There are slight variations like having a second back align outside of the tight end or weak tackle and the shotgun snap.

If you polled the defensive coordinators of your opponents, asking them what offense they would prefer that you run, they would choose the offense I just described. Why? It is the one they are used to, the one they are most comfortable with, the one they will see the most, the one they will practice against week in and week out all season.

If you run the offense that your opposing defensive coordinators most want you to run, you should be horsewhipped. If you were crooked and taking money to throw a game, one way to help that happen would be to run the offense the opposing defensive coordinator wanted you to run.

And another:

At the end of December, 2006, I was interviwed by Coaching Management magazine about contrarian approach to football coaching. When the interviewer asked me to name the most contrarian college coaches, I said Texas Tech’s Mike Leach and Florida’s Urban Meyer.

On 1/8/07, Meyer demonstrated the power of contrarianism by slaughtering favored, undefeated Ohio State in the BCS national championship game. Throughout the game, the TV announcers repeatedly commented on Meyer’s unusual approach—at one point noting that he said he liked to “bother” defenses and that the way to do that was run the option, empty sets, and unbalanced lines.

I would say that’s a start. You can get a lot more contrarian than that. And Meyer did. One of his team’s touchdowns against Ohio State came out of a full-house I or capital-I formation. That is, he had all four offensive backs in a straight line behind the center. That formation was used by the University of Maryland in ancient times. I had never seen it used in a TV game. But readers of my books have seen it, for example, on page 17 of my book Gap-Air-Mirror defense where I show how to align against it.

Meyer also used two quarterbacks with greatly different styles.

Paradoxically, Meyer’s success with his contrarian offense will likely cause other coaches to adopt his offense, thereby making it less contrarian or even the opposite of contrarian. By definition, the contrarian coach does not mimic anyone, even a fellow contrarian coach. He especially does not mimic a successful contrarian coach whose approach has become fashionable.

Longtime HP readers–on both sides of the debate–should be very familiar with this line of thinking as I have been writing this for a while now.

I’ll finish up with this great bit:

In fact, offensive coaches do not run the offense their opposing defensive coordinators most want them to run to help the other team. Rather, they run it because everyone else runs it and therefore it protects them from being criticized for choosing the wrong offense.

Some run it because it’s all they know and they are afraid to try something new or would not know how to do it if they did.

If you run the same offense as everyone else, and you lose, you can deflect blame onto the players. How? By using subtle phrases like, “Someone needed to make a play and no one did” or “The best team won.”

If you do something—anything—that is different from the other coaches in the area, and you lose, people might blame you for doing the thing that’s different—claim that was the reason you lost. If, on the other hand, you run the same offense as everyone else, you can say, “It couldn’t have been the offense I chose. That’s the same one the league champion used.”

Many would say that the non-contrarian offense must be the best because the team that won the league championship used it. C’mon! Use your head! If every NFL team ran a two-back pro set, a team running the two-back pro set would win the Super Bowl. Would that mean the two-back pro set was the best offense? Hell, no!

Winning the Super Bowl or the college national championship means very little with regard to what offensive scheme is best because virtually everyone is running the same offense for reasons that do not relate to whether it is the best.

If you want to use the league championship to reveal which is the best offense, you need to find a league where there is parity with regard to player and coach talent and you need to make sure every team in that league is running a different offense. Then, the league champ is probably revealing which scheme is best—at least among the schemes used in that league.

If you select a sound, but contrarian, offense, your players get better at it every day of the season as they gain experience with it. If your offense is unique among your opponents, that is, they only see it when they play you, each of them only gets one week to prepare against it. So the contrarian advantage grows with each passing day and peaks in the playoffs, especially the final game of the playoffs. Isn’t that precisely what you want?

I would think so.

Stay tuned for the John Reed interview here at HP, as he breaks down what it means to be an offensive contrarian.

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About Heismanpundit

Chris Huston, A.K.A. ‘The Heisman Pundit‘, is a Heisman voter and the creator and publisher of, a site dedicated to analysis of the Heisman Trophy and college football. Dubbed “the foremost authority on the Heisman” by Sports Illustrated, HP is regularly quoted or cited during football season in newspapers across the country. He is also a regular contributor on sports talk radio and television.

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