In all sports, it can take teams a little bit of time to hit their stride. This is no different in football, especially at the collegiate level. These teams have big rosters and players who are adjusting to a whole new speed and level of competition. So, that begs the question: when do offenses typically hit their stride?
In September, GMTM's Joey Grant and former USC Quarterback Max Browne looked to answer that question live on Twitch. Here's what they thought:
Both Max and Joey agreed that around Week 3 was typically a good checkpoint for college offenses. This is typically when teams will be wrapping up their non-conference schedule and getting ready to get into the meat of their conference opponents. Max pointed out that this is typically where you will see teams make a QB change as well, if necessary.
Three games is a decent enough sample size to understand what you have at the quarterback position, as well as other positions on the offense. Typically, in those first three games, teams will have faced a mix of good, upper echelon programs as well as one or two tune-up games to get the offense flowing before the conference portion of the schedule. Both Joey and Max agreed that a different switch is flipped for those conference games.
Another reason for it taking a few games to get in rhythm lies within the new pieces on an offense. Joey said that you will typically have somewhere between 2-6 new pieces on that offensive side between players leaving and new players coming in. Sometimes, it can take a few games for the offensive line to gel or the QB to get in sync with his new receivers.
It is not just the players on the field who need some time to get into a groove either. Head coaches and other offensive coaches or playcallers typically will need a few games to understand their personnel and call the game to maximize their abilities and put together a cohesive performance. It is just harder to understand what tools you have on the offensive side of the ball in scrimmages or practice, as it ratchets up to a new level when competing against a new defense.
This can be especially important for teams with National Championship aspirations, as football carries much more weight on a game-to-game basis than other sports, due to the smaller sample size. Each week is just about considered to be a "must-win" in order to build up the best resume you can for the College Football Playoff.
This is a big reason why you will see a lot of the same teams with a strong upperclassmen presence in the discussion every year. Even when impact starters are replaced at a school like Alabama or Clemson, their replacement is typically someone who has been there and played and had a chance to experience that culture with the team. It is no mistake that those teams typically have very strong defenses as well.
Max pointed out that it often takes less time for a defense to gel, as they are able to just fly around and make plays on the ball. That is why you will see teams with dominant defenses performing well in the early going of the season.
The exact timeline for getting into a rhythm will vary team-to-team, but it is a definite process for programs at all levels of football. This heightens the importance of film study and practice, as excellent work habits in those phases of the game will lead to quicker cohesiveness as a unit. A championship culture starts from day one so the quicker a team can gel, the better.