You probably can't get very far down the front page of any college football message board without fans talking themselves into why this year will be better than the last. How realistic that discussion is varies from team to team, obviously. But don't worry -- I'm here to help you dream.
Let's look at some of the more drastic changes in recent college football history. I looked at every team from 2007 to 2012 to see how much things can change from one year to the next in a few key categories:
First up: offensive improvement. Over the past five years, these teams improved the most in offensive F/+ ranking from one year to the next. For example, the top team improved from 102nd in F/+ in 2009 to 18th in 2010.
The average team moves around 26 spots in offensive F/+ from one year to the next. Obviously that includes teams that improve and decline in the rankings from year to year.
Next up: defensive improvement:
Pretty solid group of coaches on this list. The average team moves around 22 spots in defensive F/+ from one year to the next. Defense seems to be a little more "sticky" than offense -- a little bit less movement from one year to the next. Maybe because it is more reliant on scheme than talent? Thoughts?
Next up: let's look at rushing plays / total plays. I was more interested in change here rather than "improvement" in the rankings, so let's look at the absolute value of the change in rankings in this category:
As you would expect, the list is almost entirely made up of 1st year coaches who are making wholesale changes in offensive philosophy. The only exception: Art Briles ran the ball a ton in his first year (62% of total plays). In his second year, he changed gears, running only 45% of the time.
Half of these schools were in the Big 12 during the seasons listed. Holgorsen brought the up-tempo passing game to Stillwater in 2010, and it really hasn't left despite the fact that the Cowboys are on their 2nd offensive coordinator since Dana left for West Virginia. Holgorsen makes this list a second time as the OC at Houston.
One last category: plays per minute:
Once again, several 1st-year coaches or coordinators that are installing a new offensive philosophy. Bill Snyder slowed things way down in his first year taking over for Ron Prince. Todd Graham did just the opposite at Pitt in 2011. Oklahoma is an interesting case. This was Kevin Wilson's 7th year as offensive coordinator at Oklahoma. He recognized what he had in sophomore Sam Bradford and ran shifted into high gear, running a much more up tempo offense in 2008. Bradford won the Heisman and the Sooners made it to the BCS title game against Tim Tebow.