If you missed this back in February, the NCAA is altering its kickoff rules in an effort to prevent injury. Kickoffs are being moved to the 35-yard-line and all touchbacks (on kickoffs only) will result in the ball being placed at the 25. The former obviously makes it easier for kickers to reach the end zone, while the latter is meant to discourage returners who catch the ball in the end zone from bringing it out.
But could those extra five yards prove a disincentive for the kicking team to kick the ball into (or out the back of) the end zone? Last week, Tomahawk Nation explored an alternate strategy to going for touchbacks on kicks--intentionally kick it short of the goal line and add some hang time in the process. Florida State is in a better position than most to adjust the new rules to their advantage, because Dustin Hopkins can kick the ball to the Moon if he wants to.
So they basically always have the touchback in their back pocket if they want it, and they also have more leeway in terms of Hopkins' trajectory and hang time. Many kickers will strain and still have to kick it relatively low to attempt a touchback from the 35, and when they come up short, there isn't so much benefit. Try for more hang time with those guys and the ball is liable to land at the 15.
But with someone like Hopkins, who could kick the ball higher and still land it inside the five, giving his coverage guys a few extra tenths of a second to get down the field, it could be a significant advantage. Granted, there's the whole issue of the kicker's judgment and accuracy--Hopkins isn't going to put it on a dime every time he tries--but when it works, yikes.
Colorado head coach Jon Embree thinks the pooch strategy will be prevalent in 2012, which might not do anything for the injury rate on kickoffs:
Embree said it will likely become a common strategy to force a return by kicking the ball only to the 5- or 10-yard lines.
"I think you high pooch it and cover it," Embree said. "What I think will happen is if you get effective at that, you're putting the other team even more at risk than what the rule intended because unless he fair catches it, he can really take a shot because everyone is closer obviously."
Of course, a lot of coaches were warning of extreme changes when the NCAA first moved kickoffs from the 35 to the 30, and those never materialized, so take this sort of thing with a grain of salt. It's definitely something to keep an eye on this season, though.