Ian Boyd makes a very good point about the roots of the difference between college “pro-style” offense and NFL “pro-style” offense when he writes,
The differences between college and NFL offenses…
It’s not centered around whether to line up in the shotgun or whether to use “spread sets.” Those questions have been answered definitively at this point. The most effective offenses in football today heavily utilize the shotgun alignment and spread the field more often than not.
The big differences between the two offenses now result from the following three factors. The first is the depth and diversity of college football programs, who come in all shapes, sizes, and regions. You see far greater diversity in strategy and tactics from college programs than the NFL because inequality defines so much of the game.
The next factor is that without a salary cap or other inequality prevention measures, then it becomes possible for the more resource-rich programs to gear their strategy around imposing their will on opponents in the run game. The most rare resources in college football are the big guys that have the rare blend of sheer size and athleticism to dominate the trenches. Quarterbacks and receivers can be harder to identify out of college, are easier to develop after they arrive on campus, and are simply much more common. Particularly in the spread era which increases the impact they can have on the game while decreasing the challenge of playing the positions.
In the NFL under the salary cap it’s very, very difficult to have enough of an advantage in the trenches to impose your will in the run game every week. But because the passing game is simply harder to stop, even for the top defenses, everyone is looking to build their strategies around that dimension of their offense.
Parity is a beyotch.
I’ve always been a big fan of contrarian thinking when it comes to offensive strategy. If you can lard up enough of an advantage on the talent front to play pro-style on the college level, you’re going to have a talent advantage over most of your opponents, but on top of that, you’re going to play defenses that, for the most part, aren’t structured to handle the kind of attack you’ll throw at them. That’s a tough combination for almost any college program to handle.