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Attention: 2018 College Football Rule Changes

On the surface, nothing earth shattering.

Eastern Michigan v Rutgers
Fatukasi may get loss opportunity for big hits on kickoffs.
Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Every year, rule changes make their way into college football. Some of those end up easily folding into a normal game, while others create controversy before getting amended. Hopefully none of these cause the Scarlet Knights to take an “L” due to misinterpretation.

Let’s review some of the key changes to the rule book, so we are all prepared for any potential confusion that will ensue when the majority of college football squads begin their 2018 campaigns next weekend.

Fair catch ... on the kickoff?

Yes, we are one step closer to the day when kickoffs have been completely abolished. In the interim, a new rule on kickoffs allows the return man to fair catch like they always have been allowed to do. The caveat is that if the fair catch is inside their own 20, the offense starts at the 25 yard line, just as if it were a touchback in the end zone.

Immediate verdict: Dislike, keep taking the “foot” out of football.

Impact to Rutgers: Ultimately this is more likely to hurt the Scarlet Knights, but that is not the reason for my dislike. Kickoffs are the most exciting part of football as anyone who watched Janarion Grant knows. And we know that CTE is caused by repeated contact more than one hit on a kickoff. I’m all for making the game safer and glad I don’t have CTE, but seriously now, why do we even still wear pads? More on that below, let’s just play rugby or flag football. So much for Olakunle Fatukasi flying downfield on kick coverage.

This will hurt Rutgers on the field in 2018 because they had one of the best kickoff units in the Big Ten in 2017 with big legged Justin Davidovicz. The weapon of kicking high balls near the opponent’s 5 yard line is basically obsolete. On the flip side with no star return man, Rutgers offense will probably start every drive at their own 25 yard line. Long a hallmark of Rutgers Football, special teams may be erased pretty soon.

NOTE: As pointed out in the comments section by SailingEngineerSF, there is some confusion about the 20 vs 25 as the boundary for the fair catch. Why fair catching at the 22 yard line should be less effective than at your own 19 for example does seem odd.

Penalty enforcement on field goal attempts

Field goals are now more like other scoring plays where a personal foul against the defense during the try can be applied to the kickoff (though that might not matter per the change above) if the kicking team would like to take the points rather than continue their drive with a first down.

Immediate verdict: Like

Impact to Rutgers: Minimal. Since Rutgers has a big kickoff guy in Davidovicz, most opponents will be fair catching the ball anyway. This could come into play in only three situations; 1. a game when it is very windy and having the extra kickoff starting point matter, 2. where a team is down two scores and may already be kicking a field goal on an early down to prolong the game (like the Indiana game in 2016), or most interestingly 3. kicking onside is easily worth the risk.

I don’t think this rule will come into play much as teams usually only kick onside out of desperation. If your defense can’t stop the opponent, you would need to take the 15 yards and automatic first down for a chance at six points to try and keep up unless scenario #2 above or most scenario #3s. If it’s windy, you would probably prefer the other team getting the ball at the 25 rather than likely their own 40 yard line to buy some more time for the wind to change directions. Perhaps there’s a trick to this I’m not thinking of, but it seems like low impact.

Blocking below the waist

For the casual fan, this is the most confusing rule change since it was a complex rule to begin with and features several exceptions. Know that all blocks that were illegal before are still illegal and that now no one can cut block more than five yards downfield.

Immediate verdict: Indifferent.

Impact to Rutgers: Negatively minimal. Rutgers wide receivers did a decent job blocking (other than on screen passes) in 2017, so someone like Mo Jabbie might end up being flagged for what used to be a good block. Rutgers players are big enough that they aren’t overwhelmed against linebacker sized safeties at Ohio State like some group of five teams might be. Is this really going to make the coaches second guess having a small guy like Hunter Hayek on the field?

As a former defensive linemen who plays inside the tackle box extending five yards in front of and behind the line of scrimmage, there is no change here. This does little to really help defensive players who are so disadvantaged to how they were 25 years ago, the intent is almost laughable. Defensive players need to keep their head on a swivel anyway because what, you shouldn’t keep your eyes open now that the play is illegal? An injury could easily still happen and cost a defensive players’s season which is a lot stiffer than an offensive penalty.

Penn State v Rutgers
Example of knee pads that don’t exactly protect the knees.
Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Knee pads

Basically pants need to completely cover the knees with knee pads in the proper spot.

Immediate verdict: Like, at least football “pants” will once again be longer than basketball “shorts”.

Impact to Rutgers: Negative probably. Like the photo of Austin above, Rutgers defensive backs are among the leading offenders of almost useless knee pads. It makes sense that DBs need to be faster than ever since they can barely touch receivers these days, and with the defensive backfield being a Rutgers strength it is a minor detriment. Maybe the extra 1/8 of a step opposing DBs lose will help Rutgers receivers gain separation? Lol.

Overall though at least we care about body parts other than the head. Perhaps this does prevent injuries.

Pace of play

After a touchdown is scored, the play clock begins at 40 seconds, rather than a full minute. After a kickoff return or touchback, the play clock immediately starts at 40 seconds also.

Immediate verdict: Love, Love, Love! Unless TV still jacks this up.

Impact to Rutgers: Positive. Sure Rutgers has embarrassed themselves several times in needing to call timeouts or delay of game penalties after kickoffs, but that happened even with the full minute! With mobile quarterbacks on the roster, Rutgers may be able to sneak some two-point conversions in hurry up mode against nickel and dime defenses like Tom Brady does so well at the NFL level. Chris Ash is a very disciplined coach so his teams should be prepared for these situations on defense as well.

College Football games are too long for the average fan, so it is nice to see some minor tweaks that shave off some dead time. Nothing is more annoying than a team calling timeout so they can kick a chip shot field goal resulting in a commercial. Then there’s a kickoff touchback and another commercial. Why advertisers think everyone doesn’t just get up to use the restroom or stare at their smart phone for this five plus minute non-sense is beyond me. This also should keep teams ready to play better which will save time in other situations. Of course all of this is moot if TV commercials that dictate the game still cause longer than the 40 second play clock.

TV cameras .. on officials?

If both teams agree, any official can wear a TV camera, not just the umpire.

Immediate verdict: Dislike out of principle.

Impact to Rutgers: None. Does anyone actually care about this? We must not get enough coverage already and now have even more we can use to scrutinize game officials. Is this going to add more delays during replay reviews?

Thanks to the National Football Foundation for their plan English.

What about you, do you like these changes? Let us know in the comments section.