Tee It Down

By Adam Caparell - September 27, 2007

The rules change that saw the NCAA move back kickoffs from the 35 yard line to the 30 hasn't had the drastic effect everyone predicted it might so far this fall. And if you ask one of the rule's most ardent opponents, he'll tell you another rules change has had a much bigger impact.

When the NCAA mandated that tees be cut down from two inches to one last year, it got little pub. But it's a change Purdue coach Joe Tiller thinks has been vastly overlooked.

"I think the one-inch tee, quite frankly, has had a bigger impact on the kickoff than the 30-yard line," Tiller said this week.

To many people's surprise, the five yard difference hasn't driven the touchback into extinction and we haven't seen any noticeable increase in serious injuries - something Tiller railed about during the summer.

We have, however, seen the rate of touchdowns per return increase and the average yards per return head north. Through four weeks, 19 teams have returned a kickoff for a touchdown compared to 32 all of last season. And the top five teams in the nation are averaging slightly over 32 yards per return while the top five return teams in the country from last season averaged 26 yards per return.

So the five yard difference has equaled roughly six extra yards of field position for some of the nation's best, but Tiller honestly feels the increased numbers have more to do with the tee than the hash marks.

"It's real hard to get underneath that ball and get a lot of air under it and drive the thing into the end zone," Tiller said. "Only the teams that have exceptional legs are able to drive it into the end zone. The rest of us that ball is going to stay in play."

But for all of Tiller's ranting and raving about the kickoff change at Big Ten Media Days, his team is arguably benefiting from the changes more than anyone. The Boilermakers are one of three teams to have returned two kicks back for scores, after not returning any last season, and are averaging roughly 15 more yards per return than they did last season.

It's one of the reasons the Boilermakers find themselves 4-0 on the season and on the verge of breaking through the Top 25 in the AP Poll.

Then again, that unblemished record, and gaudy stats, are more a product of their opponents.

Purdue has beaten Toledo, Eastern Illinois, Central Michigan and Minnesota. And to top it all off, the Boilermakers welcome Notre Dame this weekend, an Irish team that is 0-4 and one that's giving up 27 yards per return.

Posted by Adam Caparell at 03:39 PM on September 27, 2007

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