The 2012 season is about to begin! Southern Cal and Vandy kickoff the season Thursday night on ESPN, but I wouldn't count on seeing many kickoff returns. Here are this years college rule changes.

Texarkana's Dennis Johnson returns a kick against South Carolina last season. This probably would have been a touchback had this years rules been in place.

In an effort to limit kickoff returns (and more injuries), kickoffs will occur at the 35 yard line rather than the 30. This is expected to result in WAY more touchbacks and fewer kickoff returns.

After a kickoff, the ball will be placed at the 25 yard line instead of the 20 following a touchback (this is to encourage return men to take a knee as opposed to bringing it out of the end zone. Again, to limit injuries). (Touchbacks on punts will still come out to the 20 yard line.)

Players will be penalized for attempting to jump over a blocker in an attempt to block a punt.

Players on kick coverage cannot line up more than 5 yards off the ball. This is an attempt to slow down the speed in which collisions occur on kick returns.

Unless a players helmet is jerked off due to a face mask penalty, any player that loses their helmet will have to sit out one play. This is an attempt to encourage players to make sure their chin straps are fastened tightly and correctly.

Offensive players in the tackle box can now legally block below the waist without restriction as long as they are not in motion at the snap. So, an offensive lineman can block below the waist, but a tight end coming in motion to block for the tailback cannot.

The end result from this years rule changes should be... fewer big kickoff returns, fewer blocked punts, fewer big hits on special teams... but fewer injuries on kickoffs (which is when most serious injuries occur).


Just one note on ball placement after kickoffs/punts. Some have asked why they've changed placement of the ball at the 25 for kickoffs and not for punts. The ball is live after a kickoff and can be possessed by either team, so unless a ball is kicked out of the back of the endzone, the return team will always attempt to field it. Following punts, the ball is not live until it touches a player on the return team, so many times a return man will simply try to get away from the ball when it's punted inside their own 10 yard line. Bottom line, there's less risk of a player attempting to advance a punt inside their own 10 yard line or out of the endzone than a kickoff return. The whole idea of moving the starting point to the 25 is to give the return man some incentive to just down the ball in the endzone rather than try to advance it.

Probably not the best explanation, but it makes sense if you REALLY stop and think about it. :)