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Original Issue

Picture-Perfect Play Calling

Taking a closer look at No. 1 Oregon's image-is-everything sideline strategy

Offensive coordinators in college football seeking to operate at a frenetic pace in 2011 should learn to read the signs. And the best way to do that would be to watch videotape this off-season of how the Oregon Ducks signal their plays onto the field. Oregon—one of the most prolific, fast-breaking offenses in the land in 2010—uses images to relay the play call from the sideline. Why the picturesque procedure? Because it's far quicker than employing hand signals.

The Ducks, who picked up the practice from Oklahoma State, whom they played in the 2008 Holiday Bowl, typically use six signal boards during games, each featuring four images. To opposing coaches and players the images on the boards appear completely random and, frankly, a little outrageous; one placard recently used in a game, for instance, had the word magic spelled out, a photograph of a moose, the outline of the state of Oregon and a picture of ESPN anchor Neil Everett. Yet each image carries a message: One tells the offense the play call, another the formation, another the snap count and another the presnap motion. On average the Ducks use the placards to call about 25% of their plays, enabling them to hike the ball so quickly after the previous play that it's nearly impossible for defenses to make substitutions.

Whether this will be an exploding trend in 2011 is unclear. Right now only a handful of teams use images to signal in plays—Auburn, Nebraska and Notre Dame also rely on them—but college football, like the NFL, is a copycat sport. There are no secrets. So expect plenty of coaches to make visits this coming spring to Eugene because here in the Great Northwest a picture isn't just worth a thousand words. To a coach who wants to snap the ball as fast as possible, it's also worth something far more valuable: time.