No-huddle spread offenses have had a lot of success in recent years and changes to the play clock this season are likely to only help those offenses even more. However, all offenses could benefit from the new rules.
The NCAA Football Rules Committee voted in February to adopt a play clock similar to what the NFL uses. While before offenses had a 25-second play clock that did not start until officials marked the ball ready for play, teams will now use a 40-second clock that will begin as soon as the previous play is blown dead.
The rule change pleased many coaches who felt that there was too much of a difference between when some crews would start the play clock compared to others.
"The single biggest complaint that coaches have had over the years, and I've been one of them, is that you'll get a crew that will be a quick-whistle crew versus a slow-whistle crew," said Purdue head coach Joe Tiller July 25 at the Big Ten Media Days in Chicago. "You never know until you're in the midst of a game what tempo you're playing to. I think the clock will even all that out. Every crew will work at the same tempo, which I think is a plus."
The 25-second play clock will not be going away entirely. It will still be used on the first play following a change of a change of possession, as well as after timeouts, measurements and penalties. Even so, many Big Ten players and coaches fell that the change will help no-huddle and spread offenses keep defenses off balance. Several spread offenses call plays at the line of scrimmage and could take advantage of the quicker pace, limiting substitution opportunities for defenses.
"It used to be they'd run out certain personnel grouping on the field and then you'd counter it," Ohio State defensive coordinator Jim Heacock said. "You always had time. I think offenses are dictating the tempo of the game and the offense is interested in speeding it up. As that happens you have less time on defense and you don't have a great deal of time to shuffle people in and out. You better play what you've got on the field."
Ohio State used training camp as a way to get acclimated to the clock changes. Quarterback Todd Boeckman said the Buckeyes tried to pick up the pace during practices as a way to get ready for the season.
"We really speeded things up a little bit," Boeckman said. "The play clock is going to be 40 seconds and all of practice we were using a 35-second clock just so we kind of had that hurry-up mentality."
The Buckeyes were not alone in working with a faster pace during the preseason, either.
"We had referees come to practice and it could catch people off guard this fall," Michigan State quarterback Brian Hoyer said in Chicago. "You have to get used to it. Obviously it will speed the game up, but it might take a few games to get used to it."
Football Bowl Subdivision – Division I-A – games averaged 3 hours, 23 minutes in 2007. That was an increase from 2006 when games averaged 3:07. The desire to shorten the length of games is one reason the NCAA decided to change the play clock.
"Now by rule (time between plays) has to be consistent, and guys I know who have used it in the NFL have liked it," Indiana head coach Bill Lynch said. "I think it will be a positive."
The NCAA also made other timing changes for this season. The game clock will only stop until the ball is set on plays that go out of bounds, like on first downs. The clock will remained stopped as usual in the last two minutes of a half. Big Ten coordinator of football officials Dave Perry said the changes had been discussed for six to eight years before being adopted in 2007 and put into effect this year.