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College football spread offenses: Who spread defenses out the most in 2014?

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Bill Snyder: spread wizard.

Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports

Last offseason around this time (okay, about a month earlier ... I feel like I'm behind on everything this year), I wrote a pretty well-received piece about offenses that generate more solo tackles than others and what that might mean.

The word "spread" has come to describe about 38 different styles of offense in college football. If you line your tight end up detached from the line, you're a spread. If you utilize mostly four wideouts, you're a spread. Hell, if your quarterback lines up mostly in the shotgun, you're a spread. These all have kernels of truth in them, but at this point, the spread has mostly lost its meaning. Saying a team runs a "spread" offense tells you almost nothing about what kind of offense the team actually runs.

At its heart, though, the spread ethos is about putting playmakers in space and giving them room to make plays. It originally developed as an underdog tactic of sorts, as a way to spread out and harry more talented defenses and hopefully force some mistakes. But there is a certain level of tactical superiority to the idea, and after a while, a lot of the most talented teams in the country began to employ more and more spread tactics.

But who actually spread you out the most in 2013? Whether a team is actually doing it well or not, the spread is designed to create numbers advantages and get the ball-carrier away from a mass of tacklers. That often leads to solo tackles. So which offensive systems led to the most solo tackles?

The answers were a little bit surprising. Yes, renowned spread teams like Texas Tech, Arizona State, Baylor, and Indiana all found residence in the top 10 of the list, but the No. 1 team was none other than Kansas State.

Now, part of this could have been due to official scorers. KSU had a higher rate of solo tackles in home games (when the Wildcats were in charge of official scoring) than in away games, but they were still top 10 using only away tackles.

When I spoke with spread wizard Bill Snyder for last year's Blueprint for a Rebuild piece, I referenced the piece. Here was his response:

"One of our coaches gave me a copy of that article. It was interesting to me as well, so we gained some benefit out of it. I think the diversity of our system is key. We can be five receivers or two tight ends and a back. All of those people have the capacity of lining up and performing at a variety of positions. A lot of people are doing that; we're not alone. But how we utilize our guys is very diverse."

In 2014, KSU was tasked with replacing its two leading running backs, its situational, run-first quarterback, and three starters on the offensive line. Did that change things up for the Wildcats? Nope. Not in the slightest.

Below are 2014's %Solo data, along with 2013 data, 2013-to-2014 change data, and, to satisfy my own curiosity, a team's Adjusted Run-Pass Rank from 2014.

(Adj. Run-Pass looks at teams' run-pass rates on standard downs and passing downs and adjusts so that everybody had the same percentage of standard and passing downs. If you faced a ton of passing downs, your run rates were probably going to slip no matter what, so this is an attempt to remove quality from the equation and look only at intention. And yes, sacks count as pass attempts, too.)

I slipped Adj. Run-Pass in there so we can start diversifying a bit, looking at which teams spread opponents out to run and which ones spread to pass. There's a slight correlation (0.21) between your %Solo and your %Pass, which makes sense -- while some teams indeed spread to run, passing is certainly thought of as a more common aspect of spreading out defenses.

Offense 2014 Solo 2014 Assist 2014 %Solo Rk 2013 %Solo Rk % Chg Adj. Run-Pass Rk
Kansas State 606 79 88.5% 1 88.2% 1 0.3% 99
Syracuse 521 86 85.8% 2 81.6% 10 4.2% 62
Hawaii 664 111 85.7% 3 78.7% 29 7.0% 64
South Florida 446 76 85.4% 4 72.9% 70 12.5% 49
Texas Tech 565 97 85.3% 5 87.5% 2 -2.2% 124
Arkansas State 687 120 85.1% 6 64.7% 114 20.4% 39
Arizona State 628 110 85.1% 7 85.5% 3 -0.4% 101
Arizona 690 133 83.9% 8 78.1% 33 5.8% 103
Florida International 541 106 83.6% 9 77.5% 37 6.1% 26
Memphis 692 140 83.2% 10 79.2% 23 4.0% 47
Clemson 675 137 83.1% 11 78.6% 30 4.5% 73
Baylor 734 149 83.1% 12 83.8% 4 -0.7% 83
Texas 581 120 82.9% 13 72.4% 78 10.5% 66
UL-Lafayette 628 131 82.8% 14 80.4% 13 2.4% 30
Rutgers 532 115 82.2% 15 65.6% 109 16.6% 34
Temple 481 105 82.1% 16 82.6% 7 -0.5% 107
UCLA 679 149 82.0% 17 80.0% 17 2.0% 63
Fresno State 683 153 81.7% 18 82.3% 8 -0.6% 57
Colorado 653 147 81.6% 19 79.6% 21 2.0% 113
Miami-FL 521 118 81.5% 20 81.5% 11 0.0% 81
West Virginia 720 171 80.8% 21 80.1% 15 0.7% 88
Georgia Tech 673 163 80.5% 22 80.3% 14 0.2% 6
Louisville 596 146 80.3% 23 76.9% 44 3.4% 68
Texas State 574 141 80.3% 24 79.9% 19 0.4% 33
Maryland 506 129 79.7% 25 74.6% 59 5.1% 97
Offense 2014 Solo 2014 Assist 2014 %Solo Rk 2013 %Solo Rk % Chg Adj. Run-Pass Rk
Florida State 584 149 79.7% 26 77.3% 40 2.4% 109
Washington 650 168 79.5% 27 75.0% 54 4.5% 27
Miami-OH 450 116 79.5% 28 68.9% 95 10.6% 121
Georgia State 503 131 79.4% 29 79.5% 22 -0.1% 106
Western Kentucky 601 156 79.4% 30 74.8% 57 4.6% 122
Kansas 531 139 79.3% 31 77.3% 41 2.0% 50
Middle Tennessee 554 145 79.3% 32 77.4% 39 1.9% 24
Tennessee 622 167 78.8% 33 74.5% 61 4.3% 98
BYU 619 167 78.8% 34 72.7% 76 6.1% 90
Washington State 570 154 78.7% 35 79.2% 24 -0.5% 128
Purdue 481 131 78.6% 36 82.9% 6 -4.3% 79
TCU 623 170 78.6% 37 80.0% 18 -1.4% 104
Oklahoma State 566 155 78.5% 38 79.8% 20 -1.3% 52
Central Michigan 564 162 77.7% 39 65.5% 110 12.2% 65
Akron 473 136 77.7% 40 75.9% 47 1.8% 119
North Carolina 615 178 77.6% 41 77.1% 43 0.5% 100
Idaho 541 158 77.5% 42 78.2% 32 -0.7% 93
South Carolina 569 167 77.3% 43 77.7% 35 -0.4% 89
Michigan 447 133 77.1% 44 75.4% 52 1.7% 43
Oregon State 512 154 76.9% 45 77.9% 34 -1.0% 115
Wisconsin 595 179 76.9% 46 73.0% 69 3.9% 11
Boise State 664 200 76.9% 47 76.4% 46 0.5% 45
Iowa State 526 159 76.8% 48 78.2% 31 -1.4% 116
San Diego State 519 158 76.7% 49 72.9% 72 3.8% 35
Troy 540 165 76.6% 50 78.7% 28 -2.1% 38
Offense 2014 Solo 2014 Assist 2014 %Solo Rk 2013 %Solo Rk % Chg Adj. Run-Pass Rk
Louisiana Tech 566 174 76.5% 51 69.5% 92 7.0% 76
UNLV 554 171 76.5% 52 74.7% 58 1.8% 94
Penn State 541 167 76.4% 53 78.8% 27 -2.4% 114
Tulane 504 156 76.4% 54 70.8% 86 5.6% 74
Southern Miss 497 154 76.3% 55 74.9% 55 1.4% 105
SMU 448 140 76.2% 56 76.4% 45 -0.2% 120
Army 539 170 76.0% 57 74.1% 64 1.9% 1
USC 619 196 76.0% 58 72.8% 74 3.2% 91
Missouri 537 171 75.9% 59 77.4% 38 -1.5% 46
Indiana 536 173 75.6% 60 83.7% 5 -8.1% 19
Stanford 526 170 75.6% 61 64.5% 115 11.1% 71
Wake Forest 460 150 75.4% 62 81.8% 9 -6.4% 110
Navy 570 186 75.4% 63 74.5% 60 0.9% 2
Rice 546 181 75.2% 64 74.0% 65 1.2% 16
Notre Dame 541 180 75.0% 65 65.1% 113 9.9% 84
Auburn 585 195 75.0% 66 73.7% 66 1.3% 13
Appalachian State 510 172 74.8% 67 N/A N/A 20
Northwestern 530 182 74.5% 68 75.5% 51 -1.0% 96
Utah 575 199 74.3% 69 66.7% 107 7.6% 36
Colorado State 501 174 74.2% 70 67.3% 102 6.9% 102
Western Michigan 529 185 74.1% 71 64.1% 116 10.0% 58
North Texas 473 168 73.8% 72 66.1% 108 7.7% 31
San Jose State 521 186 73.7% 73 70.2% 88 3.5% 92
Kent State 386 140 73.4% 74 68.1% 100 5.3% 125
South Alabama 533 194 73.4% 75 68.2% 99 5.2% 40
Offense 2014 Solo 2014 Assist 2014 %Solo Rk 2013 %Solo Rk % Chg Adj. Run-Pass Rk
Oklahoma 531 193 73.3% 76 73.2% 67 0.1% 22
Iowa 553 201 73.3% 77 72.5% 77 0.8% 53
Pittsburgh 546 200 73.2% 78 74.9% 56 -1.7% 14
UTSA 470 173 73.2% 79 71.1% 84 2.1% 60
Buffalo 481 177 73.1% 80 69.9% 89 3.2% 48
Illinois 483 179 73.0% 81 69.2% 94 3.8% 108
Alabama 602 224 72.9% 82 69.2% 93 3.7% 56
Northern Illinois 650 242 72.9% 83 72.4% 79 0.5% 12
Ohio State 663 251 72.5% 84 75.6% 49 -3.1% 28
Boston College 536 203 72.5% 85 72.8% 73 -0.3% 7
Oregon 642 245 72.4% 86 75.8% 48 -3.4% 59
UAB 584 225 72.2% 87 69.7% 90 2.5% 21
Florida 470 181 72.2% 88 77.5% 36 -5.3% 15
California 514 199 72.1% 89 78.8% 26 -6.7% 117
Wyoming 469 185 71.7% 90 74.3% 63 -2.6% 67
Connecticut 407 161 71.7% 91 73.1% 68 -1.4% 61
Nebraska 539 215 71.5% 92 71.1% 83 0.4% 25
Houston 527 210 71.5% 93 72.8% 75 -1.3% 85
Air Force 619 247 71.5% 94 68.4% 98 3.1% 4
Texas A&M 507 203 71.4% 95 72.3% 80 -0.9% 111
Old Dominion 420 169 71.3% 96 N/A N/A 118
Nevada 537 218 71.2% 97 80.1% 16 -8.9% 37
Ole Miss 504 205 71.1% 98 80.8% 12 -9.7% 95
NC State 487 199 71.0% 99 66.8% 106 4.2% 75
Michigan State 529 219 70.7% 100 66.8% 104 3.9% 42
Offense 2014 Solo 2014 Assist 2014 %Solo Rk 2013 %Solo Rk % Chg Adj. Run-Pass Rk
East Carolina 562 233 70.7% 101 74.4% 62 -3.7% 127
Tulsa 498 213 70.0% 102 66.8% 105 3.2% 70
Central Florida 522 224 70.0% 103 72.2% 81 -2.2% 51
Toledo 553 237 70.0% 104 65.1% 112 4.9% 29
Georgia 519 229 69.4% 105 75.2% 53 -5.8% 17
New Mexico 436 198 68.8% 106 71.4% 82 -2.6% 3
Ohio 464 211 68.7% 107 63.6% 117 5.1% 32
Georgia Southern 484 222 68.6% 108 N/A N/A 5
Minnesota 485 224 68.4% 109 71.0% 85 -2.6% 8
Cincinnati 478 221 68.4% 110 67.4% 101 1.0% 112
Mississippi State 547 260 67.8% 111 72.9% 71 -5.1% 54
Florida Atlantic 445 212 67.7% 112 75.5% 50 -7.8% 55
Kentucky 453 216 67.7% 113 78.9% 25 -11.2% 87
UL-Monroe 444 217 67.2% 114 77.2% 42 -10.0% 126
Utah State 493 242 67.1% 115 61.2% 120 5.9% 44
Bowling Green 572 289 66.4% 116 68.8% 97 -2.4% 86
Virginia Tech 519 266 66.1% 117 60.7% 122 5.4% 78
New Mexico State 474 245 66.0% 118 68.8% 96 -2.8% 69
Massachusetts 415 215 65.9% 119 58.8% 124 7.1% 123
Virginia 444 232 65.7% 120 70.3% 87 -4.6% 77
Marshall 480 254 65.4% 121 67.2% 103 -1.8% 80
Duke 471 252 65.1% 122 65.2% 111 -0.1% 82
Vanderbilt 376 210 64.2% 123 69.7% 91 -5.5% 41
Arkansas 443 260 63.0% 124 55.5% 125 7.5% 18
Eastern Michigan 382 236 61.8% 125 63.2% 118 -1.4% 23
UTEP 436 296 59.6% 126 58.8% 123 0.2% 9
Ball State 388 281 58.0% 127 60.7% 121 -2.8% 72
LSU 382 360 51.5% 128 61.2% 119 -10.4% 10

Kansas State's percentages were almost literally identical to last year's. That's incredible. Kansas State: still the king of the spread offense. That's a funny thing to type.

In case you're wondering, solo tackles were up slightly last year: the national average for %Solo was 73.5% in 2013, 74.7% in 2014. That's how teams like Arizona State and Baylor can stay mostly the same but slip in the overall rankings.

Oh, and ... hello there, Syracuse and USF. Both offenses were abjectly terrible in 2014 -- Syracuse ranked 110th in Off. S&P+, and USF ranked 116th -- but there was an interesting change in intent. (That, or it was just really easy for defenders to tackle their ball-carriers. Let's not rule that out.) And the Bryan Harsin to Blake Anderson at Arkansas State turned ASU into an all-out spread attack; this isn't a surprise, as Anderson was one of the spread's earliest tinkerers at Middle Tennessee more than a decade ago.

Biggest %Solo increases in 2014:
1. Arkansas State (+20.4%)
2. Rutgers (+16.6%)
3. USF (+12.5%)
4. Central Michigan (+12.2%)
5. Stanford (+11.1%)
6. Miami-Ohio (+10.6%)
7. Texas (+10.5%)
8. Western Michigan (+10.0%)
9. Notre Dame (+9.9%)
10. North Texas (+7.7%)

A lot of new offensive coordinators or sudden shifts in personnel on this list. And hello there, Stanford!

Biggest %Solo decreases in 2014:
1. Kentucky (-11.2%)
2. LSU (-10.4%)
3. UL-Monroe (-10.0%)
4. Ole Miss (-9.7%)
5. Nevada (-8.9%)
6. Indiana (-8.1%)
7. FAU (-7.8%)
8. California (-6.7%)
9. Wake Forest (-6.4%)
10. Georgia (-5.8%)

A lot of SEC on this list. The league replaced a lot of quarterbacks and shifted more toward rushing and physicality ... particularly LSU, which went from Zach Mettenberger, Odell Beckham Jr., and Jarvis Landry to a four-headed rushing attack with a new QB and new receivers.