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The 11 college football offenses that improved (or declined) most in 2016

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Missouri and Kentucky made big strides, while UCLA and Indiana tanked.

NCAA Football: Vanderbilt at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

It’s exceedingly rare for a college football team to go from an outcast to a championship contender in a year (or even a few years), but teams can make huge leaps or huge declines in short order. The trick is improving both your offense and defense at once, then sustaining it. A few teams got started on offense in 2016.

At the bottom of this post is a list showing how each team’s offense fared in comparison to the year prior.

First, a collection of teams whose offenses jumped a long way from the season before. It’s based on offensive S&P+, an opponent-adjusted statistic by SB Nation’s Bill Connelly that seeks to accurately measure a team’s overall level of efficiency.

2016’s 11 biggest risers in Offensive S&P+

Team 2015 Rank 2016 Rank Change
Team 2015 Rank 2016 Rank Change
Missouri 127 42 85
Wyoming 105 33 72
New Mexico 98 40 58
Kentucky 104 53 51
Northwestern 114 63 51
Colorado 96 47 49
Hawaii 122 74 48
Old Dominion 108 62 46
Colorado State 66 21 45
Penn State 62 18 44
South Florida 51 8 43
  • Missouri fielded an awful offense in 2015, when Barry Odom replaced Gary Pinkel as interim head coach and later had that tag removed. For 2016, the Tigers hired away Utah State offensive coordinator Josh Heupel, who worked wonders. Mizzou went from 4.4 yards per play to 6.3 and 14 points per game to 31. The bad news? Missouri’s defense had the largest S&P+ decline in the country, making the offense’s gains mostly moot.
  • Wyoming was a really fun team, and the offense was the primary reason. It went from 19 to 36 points, on average, and had one of the best offenses outside the Power 5. Sophomore quarterback Josh Allen threw 15 picks, but he also had 28 touchdowns and went over 3,000 yards.
  • Northwestern improved more than 50 spots in Offensive S&P+ ranking, but that only got the Wildcats from 20 to 26 points per game, a 27-spot jump. Tough breaks.
  • Penn State and USF went from mediocre to elite. The Nittany Lions figured out an offensive line for the first time in James Franklin’s three years, and quarterback Trace McSorley was a revelation. (It didn’t hurt that he had a few dominant receivers, most notably the large Chris Godwin.) USF’s spread, run-pass option offense was a nightmare for defenses, with quarterback Quinton Flowers and running back Marlon Mack each looking close to unstoppable; Flowers returns for Charlie Strong.

2016’s 11 biggest decliners in Offensive S&P+

Team Off Rank 15 Off Rank 16 Off Change
Team Off Rank 15 Off Rank 16 Off Change
Bowling Green 9 92 -83
Cincinnati 34 105 -71
UCLA 21 82 -61
Georgia Southern 47 101 -54
Indiana 15 67 -52
Texas State 79 128 -49
Arkansas State 65 113 -48
Stanford 12 60 -48
Southern Miss 39 83 -44
Rutgers 85 125 -40
Ohio 75 115 -40
  • Bowling Green’s up-tempo spread under Dino Babers, called #FalconFast, was devastating in 2015. But it wasn’t just Babers. Quarterback Matt Johnson was prolific, and receivers Roger Lewis and Gehrig Dieter had excellent years. Bowling Green lost most of their key skill players, and Babers left for the job at Syracuse, labeling his scheme #OrangeIsTheNewFast. BGSU never had a chance.
  • UCLA attempted a more pro-style direction on offense, but the bigger factor was losing QB Josh Rosen for half the season to injury.
  • The Bearcats lost well-regarded coordinator Eddie Gran to Kentucky, and former Miami Dolphins interim OC Zac Taylor couldn’t replicate his results. UC lost its top five receivers, and while its rotating cast of quarterbacks had talent, the offense couldn’t move the ball.
  • Indiana lost some key pieces. But even without 2015’s quarterback, Nate Sudfeld, and top receiver, Simmie Cobbs Jr., the passing game was perfectly decent. It was the running game that cratered without Jordan Howard. The loss of four-year starting left tackle Jason Spriggs was quite unhelpful.

Want to see how your team changed from 2015 to 2016? Here’s the all-FBS list:

Offensive S&P+ from 2015 to 2016

Team Off Rank 15 Off Rank 16 Off Change
Team Off Rank 15 Off Rank 16 Off Change
Bowling Green 9 92 -83
Cincinnati 34 105 -71
UCLA 21 82 -61
Georgia Southern 47 101 -54
Indiana 15 67 -52
Texas State 79 128 -49
Arkansas State 65 113 -48
Stanford 12 60 -48
Southern Miss 39 83 -44
Rutgers 85 125 -40
Ohio 75 115 -40
Georgia State 81 120 -39
Nebraska 29 68 -39
South Carolina 69 107 -38
Virginia 52 89 -37
Buffalo 89 126 -37
Houston 33 69 -36
Baylor 2 38 -36
Arkansas 4 39 -35
Michigan State 31 66 -35
Arizona 28 61 -33
TCU 13 45 -32
Arizona State 26 56 -30
Minnesota 57 84 -27
Notre Dame 11 36 -25
Idaho 58 81 -23
Purdue 71 94 -23
San Jose State 78 100 -22
BYU 43 64 -21
NC State 35 55 -20
Maryland 68 86 -18
Iowa 61 78 -17
Oregon 3 20 -17
Illinois 97 114 -17
Air Force 36 52 -16
Mississippi State 16 31 -15
Marshall 101 116 -15
Florida 74 88 -14
Georgia 82 93 -11
Memphis 27 37 -10
Fresno State 113 123 -10
Nevada 93 103 -10
UL-Lafayette 109 118 -9
SMU 63 72 -9
North Carolina 17 26 -9
Appalachian State 50 59 -9
Connecticut 118 127 -9
LSU 14 22 -8
Western Kentucky 5 13 -8
Ole Miss 8 14 -6
New Mexico State 86 91 -5
Texas Tech 1 6 -5
East Carolina 67 71 -4
Wake Forest 107 110 -3
Western Michigan 22 25 -3
Ohio State 20 23 -3
Michigan 38 41 -3
Massachusetts 103 106 -3
Central Michigan 83 85 -2
Utah State 77 76 1
Tulane 124 121 3
Utah 60 57 3
California 10 7 3
South Alabama 99 95 4
UNLV 91 87 4
Clemson 6 2 4
Tulsa 40 35 5
Rice 102 97 5
West Virginia 32 27 5
Boston College 129 124 5
USC 18 12 6
Oklahoma 7 1 6
Navy 23 17 6
Kansas 116 108 8
Temple 87 79 8
Middle Tennessee 54 46 8
Auburn 42 32 10
Oklahoma State 19 9 10
San Diego State 80 70 10
Army 120 109 11
Iowa State 59 48 11
Kent State 133 122 11
Georgia Tech 56 44 12
Charlotte 131 119 12
Central Florida 130 117 13
Duke 90 77 13
Troy 94 80 14
North Texas 125 111 14
Akron 112 98 14
Miami-FL 49 34 15
UL-Monroe 128 112 16
Syracuse 70 54 16
UTEP 121 104 17
Tennessee 45 28 17
UTSA 117 99 18
Alabama 24 5 19
Florida International 115 96 19
Louisiana Tech 30 11 19
Washington State 44 24 20
Miami-OH 123 102 21
Oregon State 95 73 22
Virginia Tech 73 51 22
Florida State 25 3 22
Washington 37 15 22
Texas A&M 55 30 25
Toledo 41 16 25
Vanderbilt 119 90 29
Kansas State 76 43 33
Eastern Michigan 92 58 34
Boise State 53 19 34
Northern Illinois 84 50 34
Ball State 100 65 35
Texas 64 29 35
Florida Atlantic 110 75 35
Louisville 48 10 38
Wisconsin 88 49 39
Pittsburgh 46 4 42
South Florida 51 8 43
Penn State 62 18 44
Colorado State 66 21 45
Old Dominion 108 62 46
Hawaii 122 74 48
Colorado 96 47 49
Kentucky 104 53 51
Northwestern 114 63 51
New Mexico 98 40 58
Wyoming 105 33 72
Missouri 127 42 85