College Football DFS is a daunting game. There are 131 teams to keep track of (assuming no FCS teams make the slate), unreliable depth charts, and no consistent injury reporting protocol to help you make decisions. So utilizing every opportunity to eliminate variables and close knowledge gaps during the offseason is critical. That’s right, the grind never stops. You can do a handful of things during the CFB offseason that will help you succeed in DFS come Fall. In this article, we’ll look at three key areas where a little research will yield large advantages in-season.
Rate of Play
Last season the average offense ran 70.62 plays/game. Out of the top 30 offenses in the nation (based on yards per game), only six of them ran fewer than the average plays/game. This is a clear indicator that the offenses that run more plays are far likelier to score you more fantasy points on any given DFS slate. Highlighting which coaches run plays at a higher rate and also tracking their movement is an easy way to project increases in fantasy production in the early weeks of the season, so you don’t have to chase those units in future weeks after their prices have adjusted.
So which unexpected offenses should we have in our sights based on this metric?
Last season the Mean Green finished 2nd in the Nation with 80.8 plays per game. The Seth Litrell offense has been known as uptempo and explosive when they have the right personnel. With the addition of former Memphis and Arizona QB Grant Gunnell, this offense very well could have added their missing piece. These factors coming together in Denton this season make them a very intriguing offense to target early in the season if we’re given the opportunity.
During Mike Houston’s tenure as Head Coach, the Pirates have averaged 78.275 plays per game and were fifth in the country last year in that metric. This offense quietly jumped from 57th in the nation in 2020 to 28th in the country in yards per game last season. They return their major players on offense and three returning starters on the offensive line (four if you count RT Bailey Malovic, who was lost for the season after one start last year). ECU deserves careful consideration when looking for breakout offenses in 2022.
You might be fact checking me throughout this article and are suddenly questioning my methods and seeing Nebraska in this grouping despite being 76th overall in plays per game last season. That is true, but the secret sauce to this one is the change of Offensive Coordinator from Matt Lubick to Mark Whipple. Last season Whipple’s offense was ninth in plays per game as they managed 78.2 on average. They bring in quality transfers who should enhance the starting lineup with Casey Thompson (Texas) and Trey Palmer (LSU). In DFS, being the first to spot a breakout is a huge advantage, and the Cornhuskers have a strong opportunity to turn around their offense in just one season.
Another major factor in College Football DFS is the turnstile of production that continuously spins within each locker room every year. Determining what teams are returning production each season is a must. Whether using a formula-based evaluation of returning production or simply the number of returning starters to a team, knowing what kind of turnover a team has is of the utmost importance.
So which offenses are most fully stocked?
Once again, we see North Texas show up on a list for a metric that we consider a positive indicator of success. The big thing about this is that while the Mean Green return 90% of their production from last year (good for the fourth-best situation in the nation), they also get a significant boost from transfer QB Grant Gunnell as well as the return of Jyaire Shorter, who was lost for the season after only two games in 2021. They also return 106 career starts on their offensive line, which should yield benefits in the passing and rushing game.
The Monarchs show up on this list tied with UNT for fourth, with 90% of their offensive production returning this season. ODU is a rarity but something we should love in DFS – they are essentially a silo of production funneled to the same recipients consistently. Blake Watson received 215 of the carries on the ground– 60% of all handoffs last season. Elijah Davis received 29.32% of them, so there isn’t much guesswork about where rushing production should come. Likewise, 62.97% of the receiving yardage through the air was made by two targets: WR Ali Jennings and TE Zack Kuntz. Knowing where the production is coming from is half of the battle in DFS and ODU is an excellent example of an offense that takes most of the guesswork out of our hands.
Charlotte enters 2022 with 89% of its offensive production returning from last year. That’s tied for sixth best in the country. The 49ers were also fairly easy to project in terms of offensive production (particularly through the air). They return sixth-year senior Chris Reynolds at QB and his top three WRs (Grant DuBose, Victor Tucker, and Elijah Spencer) and both of the top RBs in their backfield rotation (Shadrick Byrd and Calvin Camp). This is an offense that played from behind the majority of last season but showed the ability to keep pace in shootouts.
If you haven’t been checking out the College Coach and College Team Tools on the Campus2Canton site, you’re missing out in a big way. My personal favorite use of it is to compare Neutral Game Script Pass Rates between coaches and get an idea of how each coach wants to win. This metric shows that if all things are equal in a game and there aren’t any factors slanting them towards running or passing, what is the chance that they’ll throw the ball? For DFS, this is huge in helping us establish game scripts and figure out what players are more likely to use in any given game.
So which offenses may surprise us with high passing rates? (Also, to note, here I’m looking at high passing rates, mainly because in DFS, those offenses allow the highest chance of a shootout. However, there is plenty of value in knowing an offense is run-heavy, just the same)
The Rams hired former Nevada Head Coach Jay Norvell, who had a 63% Neutral Game Script Pass Rate last season (good for fourth highest in the country). Not only that, but Norvell brings with him familiar passing-game personnel in QB Clay Millen and WRs Tory Horton and Melquan Stovall. This offensive scheme loves to sling the ball around the field and should translate to an immediate impact for CSU. This scheme change will be one of the biggest shifts in College Football this year, as the Rams had a 31% Neutral Game Script Pass Rate (121st in the nation) last season under Steve Addazio. This is an excellent opportunity to be early on an offense that’s doing a full-180 on their offensive scheme before the public can adjust.
This season, Graham Harrell joins the staff as Neal Brown’s new offensive coordinator. Last season at USC, Harrell’s offense had a 57% Neutral Game Script Pass Rate (tied for 10th highest in the country). The Mountaineers also re-tool their offensive lineup after Leddie Brown’s departure to the NFL and Jarret Doege to Western Kentucky. They bring in JT Daniels to play distributor to Bryce Ford-Wheaton, Kaden Prather, and Sam James.
The other team tied for tenth last season with Graham Harrell’s offense was the Fresno State Bulldogs, coached by Kalen DeBoer, now with the Huskies. DeBoer looks to bring that 57% Neutral Game Script Pass Rate to the Pacific Northwest and infuse a spark into an offense that was 72nd in the country in Neutral Game Script Pass Rate with 43% in 2021. Many in the C2C community are already familiar with Rome Odunze and Jalen McMillan – it’s easy to get excited for them this season when comparing their production to that of Jalen Cropper and Josh Kelly at Fresno State last season. If Michael Penix Jr. can stay healthy, this offense could get off to a fast pace as he has familiarity with the system from DeBoer’s time at Indiana.