Commentary

Be wary of these teams when …

Originally Published: August 16, 2010
By Mark Schlabach | ESPN.com

Some coaches are great at scripting plays.

Some teams are most effective running their two-minute offense or when they get into the red zone.

You don't want to play certain teams on the road or on Thursday night, and some teams will make a punter shake in his boots when his feet are standing at his own goal line.

Here's a look at the coaches and teams you don't want to face in certain situations:

[+] EnlargeFlorida
AP Photo/John RaouxFlorida's special teams unit has blocked 28 kicks, including 18 punts, since 2005.

1. When punting out of the end zone: Florida
Believe it or not, it's no longer Virginia Tech and "Beamer Ball," which had been the benchmark for blocking kicks for nearly two decades. In the past five seasons, Florida has been the most dangerous opponent when it comes to blocking punts. Since 2005 under coach Urban Meyer, the Gators have blocked 28 kicks, including 18 punts, which is the highest total among Football Bowl Subdivision teams.

2. When playing offense inside the red zone: Alabama
No team was better than Alabama in keeping its opponents out of the end zone, which is a big reason the Crimson Tide are the defending BCS national champions. Alabama's opponents made 24 trips inside the Tide's 20-yard line and came away with only eight touchdowns, fewest in the country. In fact, the Tide gave up only 16 scores in those 24 red zone chances.

3. When playing defense inside the red zone: Oregon State
Oregon State had a whopping red zone success rate of 96.4 percent in 2009. And the Beavers didn't just settle for field goals, either. Oregon State scored on 54 of 56 trips inside its opponents' 20-yard line last season, including 41 touchdowns. Departed quarterback Sean Canfield threw 18 touchdowns with no interceptions inside the red zone.

4. When going on offense after a turnover: Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech's Bud Foster has long been regarded among the country's best defensive coordinators, and he seems to be at his best when his defense's back is against the wall. Last season, Virginia Tech's defense surrendered only one touchdown after its offense and special teams coughed up 23 turnovers. Talk about shutting down momentum.

5. When playing in September: Urban Meyer
Meyer has been one of the sport's best coaches out of the gate, owning a remarkable 35-1 record during the first four games of the season. Although some might suggest his sparkling record has a lot to do with Florida's relatively weak nonconference schedules -- he's 19-1 during the first month in five seasons in Gainesville -- he was just as good during coaching stops at Bowling Green and Utah.

6. When going for it on fourth down: South Florida
South Florida has a new coach (former East Carolina skipper Skip Holtz) and a new defensive coordinator (former Marshall coach Mark Snyder). The Bulls can only hope they have the same defensive mentality they had on fourth down under the previous regime. USF's opponents converted only six of 25 fourth-down attempts last season. The 24 percent conversion rate was the best mark by a defense in '09.

7. When defending on fourth down: Air Force
Go Army? Forget it. Go Air Force. Under coach Troy Calhoun, the Falcons' offense stayed on the field 38 times on fourth down last season -- more than any other team in the country -- and converted a first down 27 times. The Falcons' success rate of 71 percent was ninth-best among FBS teams, and they went on fourth down three times or more in seven games.

8. When trying to hold a fourth-quarter lead: Mack Brown
Mack Brown has been Captain Comeback in 12 seasons as Texas' coach. The Longhorns have averaged two second-half comebacks per season under Brown, including 13 fourth-quarter comebacks. They stunned defending BCS national champion USC with a last-minute rally in the 2006 Rose Bowl and had the mother of all comebacks against Oklahoma State in '04 (down 35-7 in second quarter) and again in '07 (trailed 35-14 at start of fourth quarter). In fact, the Horns have recorded the six largest comeback victories in school history under Brown's watch.

9. When trailing in fourth quarter: Ohio State
Some fans might argue that Ohio State's Jim Tressel is too conservative in his playcalling, but the man knows how to hold a lead. Since Tressel took over before the 2001 season, the Buckeyes are 82-6 when leading at halftime. They have been just as good at holding leads in the fourth quarter, allowing only four late comebacks by opponents in the past eight seasons. Under Tressel, OSU hasn't allowed an opponent to come back while holding a lead of seven points or more entering the fourth quarter.

10. When returning a kickoff: Nebraska
Nebraska's Adi Kunalic has one of the strongest legs in the country, which is one of the reasons the Cornhuskers are so good at covering kickoffs. Kunalic has 86 touchbacks in his career, including 29 on 73 kickoffs in 2009. His strong leg helped Nebraska enjoy a 7.1-yard advantage in average starting field position last season. The Cornhuskers also do a stellar job covering kicks when they don't reach the end zone, as opponents averaged 19.4 yards per return in '09.

11. When returning a punt: Florida
Florida doesn't allow its opponents to return many punts, and when they do, the Gators are usually downfield to smother returners. Senior Chas Henry has averaged 42.1 yards per punt during his three-year career, and 50 of his 115 punts were downed inside opponents' 20-yard line. Last season, the Gators allowed only five punt returns for 21 yards, the fewest in school history. Since 2005, Gators opponents have only 252 yards on 61 punt returns, least among FBS teams.

12. When playing at home: Georgia
Georgia's Mark Richt might have a future as a travel guide if he ever gives up coaching. In Richt's nine seasons, the Bulldogs are a remarkable 33-6 in games played at opponents' home stadiums. Georgia is 11-3 in true road games against ranked opponents and 26-5 on SEC foes' home fields. Two of Richt's road losses came last season: 24-10 at Oklahoma State and 45-19 at Tennessee.

13. When playing on the road: Oklahoma
Oklahoma's Bob Stoops has a 66-2 record at Oklahoma Memorial Stadium, and the Sooners are currently riding a 30-game home winning streak, the longest in school history. The Sooners' two home losses under Stoops: 16-13 to Oklahoma State in 2001 and 17-10 to TCU in 2005. Stoops' OU teams also compiled a 19-game home winning streak during his tenure.

14. When hardware is on the line: Iowa
Iowa's Kirk Ferentz has led his teams to nine straight victories in games in which a trophy was on the line. The Hawkeyes' streak started with a 21-16 victory over Minnesota in 2007, giving Iowa the "Floyd of Rosedale" trophy, a bronze pig. Iowa has defeated the Gophers twice more and also has consecutive victories over both Iowa State (Cy-Hawk Trophy) and Wisconsin (Heartland Trophy). The streak also includes victories over South Carolina in the 2009 Outback Bowl and Georgia Tech in the 2010 Orange Bowl.

[+] EnlargeKirk Ferentz
AP Photo/Lynne SladkyKirk Ferentz's Iowa teams have been at their best when there's a trophy on the line in recent seasons.

15. When pitching a shutout in the first quarter: Alabama
Alabama was slow out of the gates for much of last season, failing to score in the first quarter in five of 14 games. But Saban and his staff made remarkable adjustments, as the Crimson Tide outscored those opponents 69-7 in the second quarter. In the Citi BCS National Championship Game, Alabama trailed Texas 6-0 after the first 15 minutes. But the Tide scored 24 consecutive points in the second quarter before holding on for a 37-21 victory.

16. When playing on Thursday night: Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech has become Thursday night's team, as the Hokies have a sparkling 16-5 record in ESPN Thursday night games under coach Frank Beamer. Virginia Tech's past three bowl games were even played on Thursday, with the Hokies winning two of them, 37-14 over Tennessee in the Chick-fil-A Bowl last season and 20-7 over Cincinnati in the '09 FedEx Orange Bowl.

17. When your defense is huffing and puffing: Wisconsin
Wisconsin has long been known for its dominant running game, and the Badgers tied with Navy for the national lead in time of possession in 2009. Wisconsin held the ball for an average of 33 minutes, 55 seconds and had 16 five-minute drives in 13 games. In fact, the Badgers had three eight-minute drives, including an 18-play, 72-yard possession that ate up 8:23 against Indiana.

18. When playing offense on third down: Texas
Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp loves to bring heat on third down, and the Longhorns led the country in third-down defense last season. The Longhorns' opponents converted only 53 of 200 (26.5 percent) third-down plays. In fact, the Longhorns sacked opposing quarterbacks 19 times on third down last season.

19. When playing defense on third down: Georgia Tech
For an offense that doesn't seem suited for third-and-long, Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson's triple-option spread offense has been very effective converting first downs. The Yellow Jackets had 104 third-down conversions in 2009, which tied with Texas A&M for most in the country, and their 52.3 percent success rate was second-best among FBS teams. Tech's success on third down led to some very long scoring drives. It had 18 touchdown drives of 10 plays or more last season, including an 18-play drive that took 10 minutes, 47 seconds off the clock against Virginia.

20. When kicking off: Houston
Houston averaged only 23.2 yards per kickoff return last season, but it has two players who are capable of going to the house at any time. Junior Tyron Carrier returned four kickoffs for touchdowns last season and averaged 29 yards per return. When opponents try to kick away from him, teammate Devin Mays is equally dangerous. He had a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against Central Florida in 2009.

Mark Schlabach covers college sports for ESPN.com. He co-authored Bobby Bowden's memoir, "Called To Coach," which was published by Simon & Schuster. The book will be available in bookstores Aug. 24 and can be preordered here. You can contact Mark at schlabachma@yahoo.com.

Mark Schlabach | email

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