In these matters the only certainty is that nothing is certain.
- Pliny the Elder
Gus Malzahn was a walk-on wide receiver at Arkansas in 1984-1985, then transferred to finish out his playing career at Henderson State University, graduating in 1990. He was an Arkansas high school defensive coordinator in 1991, then an Arkansas high school head coach until 2005, winning State Championships in 1998 and 1999 (Shiloh Christian) and 2005 (Springdale), and losing in the State Championship Game in 1994 (Shiloh Christian) and 2002 (Springdale). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gus_Malzahn
In December of 2005, Houston Nutt hired Malzahn as offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach for the 2006 season. After that year, Malzahn went to be the offensive coordinator at Tulsa, where the Golden Hurricane had the #6 scoring offense (41.1 points per game), the #1 total offense in terms of yards per game (543.9), the #4 total offense in terms of yards per play (6.76), the #3 passing offense in terms of passing yards per game (371.0), the #2 passing offense in terms of yards per pass attempt (9.2), and the #4 passing offense in terms of passer efficiency rating (158.86). http://www.cfbstats.com/2007/team/719/index.html
In 2008, Tulsa was #2 in scoring offense (47.2 points per game), the #1 total offense in terms of yards per game (569.9), the #1 offense in terms of yards per play (7.27), the #5 rushing offense in terms of yards per game (268.00), the #5 rushing offense in terms of yards per carry (5.57), the #9 passing offense in terms of yards per game (301.9), the #1 passing offense in terms of yards per attempt (10.0), and the #3 passing offense in terms of passer efficiency rating (174.49). http://www.cfbstats.com/2008/team/719/index.html
[Due to the fact that Malzahn has only been a head coach for one year, and since his final stint as an offensive coordinator was with his current team, I'm going to break those three seasons out.]
In 2009, Malzahn accepted the offensive coordinator position in the Land of the Auburnite, and the team went 8-5 (3-5), including wins over a decent West Virginia team and Northwestern in the Outback Bowl. They also gave our National Champion Crimson Tide all they could handle, until getting Upchurched with about a minute left in the game.
That Auburnite offensive unit ended the season ranked as the #38 offense in the S&P+ rankings, the #25 offense in the FEI, and the #29 offense in the combined F+. As always, all advanced stats come from www.footballoutsiders.com. They scored 33.3 points per game, ran the ball 60% of the time for 5.01 yards per carry, averaged 7.85 yards per passing attempt, and averaged 6.14 yards per play overall. http://www.cfbstats.com/2009/team/37/index.html
I'm pretty sure I could insult many of your mothers here, and nobody would ever notice. So, without further delay or ado: 5026, UtahBammer, JTadpole, and CT4 - I hereby officially insult your mothers, both collectively and individually. If you've skipped this section and I have missed my opportunity to insult your mother, please so indicate in the comments. For those of you who are reading these words, it's time to recognize the reality of the Auburnite's 2010 offensive performance.
The Auburnite finished the 2010 season as the undefeated National Champions, 14-0 (8-0), with a school-record 24-point come-from-behind win over the Tide in Tuscaloosa, a 56-17 pantsing of the Gamecocks in the SEC Championship Game, and a 22-19 victory over the Nike Ducks in Glendale. Fully half of their games were within one score: Mississippi State (17-14), Clemson (27-24 in overtime), South Carolina (35-27 in the regular season), Kentucky (37-34), LSU (24-17), Alabama (28-27), and Oregon (22-19).
They finished the season with their offense ranked #1 by the S&P+ (in fact, they were #1 in every S&P+ offensive category except on passing downs, where they were #2), #1 offensively in the FEI, and #1 in the F+ offensive rankings. Go to www.footballoutsiders.com and check the rankings... the Auburnite's offense had pretty decent leads on the #2 teams. The Auburnite scored 41.2 points per game, ran the ball 69% of the time (this is not a typo - 652 running plays on 948 total offensive plays) for 6.12 yards per carry as a team, passed for 10.14 yards per pass attempt, and gained 7.37 yards per attempt overall. That would have made them, based on yards-per-play average, the most productive offense this year, the #3 most productive offense in 2011, the #3 most productive offense in 2010, the #1 most productive offense in 2009, #1 in 2008, and #1 in 2007. Those are impressive numbers. Word to the wise, the "spread" isn't always a passing offense, and the Auburnite had 985 more rushing yards than passing yards in 2010. (As an interesting sidenote, this year's Oregon squad had 1,210 more rushing yards than passing yards. I say again, "spread" doesn't always equal "passing offense.") http://www.cfbstats.com/2010/team/37/index.html
Many people feel that Malzahn sticking around post-Cam might have been a bridge too far, but he did choose to come back as offensive coordinator for the Auburnite in 2011. They would finish the season 8-5 (4-4) including close wins over Utah State, South Carolina and Florida, a win over Virginia in the Chik-fil-A Bowl, and blowout losses to Arkansas (by 24), LSU (by 35), Georgia (by 38), and Alabama (by 28).
The Auburnite would finish the season as the #40 offense in the S&P+, #47 in the FEI, and #42 in the combined F+. They scored 25.7 points per game, ran the ball 65% of the time for 4.42 yards per carry, passed for 6.29 yards per attempt, and averaged 5.30 yards per play overall. http://www.cfbstats.com/2011/team/37/index.html
Malzahn decided that that was enough, and accepted the job as the head coach at Arkansas State, following up Hugh Freeze's 10-3 Sun Belt Championship swan song with a 9-3 (7-1) regular season and a Sun Belt Championship of his own. Interim head coach John Thompson coached the Red Wolves to a victory over Kent State in the GoDaddy.Com Bowl. The only teams to beat them were Oregon (34-57), Nebraska (13-42), and Western Kentucky (13-26). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2012_Arkansas_State_Red_Wolves_football_team
Arkansas State wound up the season ranked #30 in the S&P+ (#22 offense, #48 defense), #51 in the FEI (#31 offense, #62 defense), and #53 in the F+ (#24 offense, #56 defense). By comparison, the Auburnite was #105 in the F+. The Red Wolves scored 34.9 points per game, ran the ball 57% of the time for 5.00 yards per carry, gained 8.19 yards per pass attempt, and averaged 6.38 yards per play overall. They allowed 24.5 points per game, 4.08 yards per carry, 6.84 yards per pass attempt, and 5.36 yards per play overall. http://www.cfbstats.com/2012/team/30/index.html
Cam Newton was very, very, very good.
Many would point to 2007-2009 Florida, the 2010 Auburnite and 2012 Texas A&M as proving that spread offenses can work against SEC defenses, but I think the response to that assertion would be "Tim Tebow, Cameron Newton and Johnny Manziel." It remains to be seen whether Malzahn has inherited the next "once in a generation" player (who seems to come around every year or two now) that will make this system work in the SEC.
I'd imagine everyone expects Coach Malzahn to be doing much of the day-to-day administration of the offense, what with co-offensive coordinators Rhett Lashlee and Dameyune Craig having a combined two years of OC experience between them (Lashlee was OC at Samford, NOT Stanford, in 2011, and at Arkansas State in 2012). Ellis Johnson will likely be a comfortable set of training wheels for Malzahn on the defensive side of the ball, and has spent eleven years as an SEC defensive coordinator at three different SEC schools prior to his current stint on the plains.
We'll see what happens, and Malzahn has had some success without Cam Newton, but I don't believe that he's had enough to engender any realistic optimism of contending for championships absent an incredible dual-threat recruit, a la Tebow, Newton or Manziel. Should the Auburnite be able to lure such a specimen, then all bets are off, at least on the offensive side of the ball.