One of the overlooked rule changes of the offseason is the move of kickoffs from the 35 to the 30 yard line. Since we have one of the better kick off return man in the country, BC should stand to benefit. But how much?
I cannot find how many times teams successfully touched back on BC in 2006 (if anyone has the stat, please send it to me). However, of the 31 kickoffs BC returned last year, the team generated 813 yards and averaged 26.5 yards a return. Jeff Smith accounted for 23 of those returns last year, accumulating 645 yards and averaging 28 yards a return.
The number of returns a team gets per year is ultimately a product of how good your defense is and how good your opponent’s kicker is. This season our veteran, experienced defense will probably allow fewer points. However, the new rule will probably mean that BC will get at least 12 more returns on the season (I am conservatively estimating an increase of 1 per game). Let’s also assume that Smith gets a greater share of the total returns this year (Perhaps 85% instead of last season’s 74%). I don’t want to go overboard, so I’ll also assume that teams adjust to Smith and his average return declines a bit (say 10%). I’ll also assume that the returns Smith is not a part of will decline too (say another 10%). With all that factored in how many more total yards can we expect?
Expected returns by Jeff Smith [42 x 85%] = 36
Smith expected return average = 25.2
Expected number of returns by rest of team = 6
Average of return men not including Smith = 18.9
Total predicted return yardage in 2007 = 1,013 [(36x25.2)+(6x18.9)]
That is an improvement of 200 yards. Not enough to change a season, but certainly enough to improve a game or two.
Now the flipside is that BC will be defending more returns. I am not as concerned about this because things really couldn’t get much worse than they got last season. With our various kicker issues, we did not get many touchbacks last season. If our new freshman kicker can really boot the ball, then our kick coverage is bound to improve.