Season 18 Playbook Draft Recap

By: Cole Mantell (@ColeMantell)

Once again all 26 CFSL teams gathered together Monday night to select which playbook the teams will start the season with. This season has some new rules when it comes to selecting a playbook as well. In short, teams are no longer stuck inside a scheme they choose. In addition, teams can now switch their defensive scheme if necessary as well. The new rules mean that it is no longer as important what scheme a team chooses, but instead more important a team gets what they know they can scheme the best. With some surprises and new trends, let’s take a look at what each team picked.

For those new to the draft, the draft order is set by previous performance last season, with the MAC choosing after Power 2 teams. New for this season, I will also include a general discussion of the defensive playbooks taken at the end of this article.

Pick 1 – Oregon Ducks – Louisville (Multiple)

Right from the start we see how the new rules might have influenced teams. Oregon under AD Neal Mason has consistently been an Air Raid team. Now, with teams branching out Oregon instead chooses an underrated, but still intriguing Multiple scheme playbook. Toledo had Louisville last season and the playbook has now been used five times in the Revamped era of the CFSL. This is the first time Louisville has been picked 1st in the playbook draft and the first time a Multiple playbook has been taken first overall since Colorado in Season 14.

Pick 2 – Ohio State Buckeyes – Tulane (Pro Style)

Last season, only one team (Ohio with USC) took a Pro Style book. The scheme is notoriously tough to master. However, with new rules allowing teams the option to bail if things go wrong, the theme of this season is the Pro Style coming back into vogue. Teams are looking for that more balanced offense that can win both running and passing. This is the first time Tulane has been selected in the Revamped CFSL era. Ohio State has been a more balanced team with TJ Hayes leading the Buckeyes. This isn’t too far off script from history for the team, either.

Pick 3 – Auburn Tigers – Texas A&M (Air Raid)

While there is a push around the CFSL to run more balanced schemes, the Air Raid remains alive and well in the minds of ADs. Texas A&M is a strong Air Raid playbook, having been taken every season since Season 11 except for Season 16. Auburn AD Cole Mantell took the playbook third in this draft, the highest Texas A&M has been selected since Season 12 (Texas Tech took the playbook 2nd overall). While the Air Raid is one of the more popular schemes, no team has ever drafted an Air Raid playbook first in the Revamped era.

Pick 4 – West Virginia Mountaineers – Western Michigan (Pro Style)

Well, last season West Virginia went way off the beaten track, so this should be expected by now for the Mountaineers. For the second time in the first four, a team has taken a Pro Style playbook that has not been used in the Revamped era. While last season WVU AD Nate Murphy was somewhat unique in his selection (Cincinnati – Multiple), he is far from the only AD who went in the Pro Style direction this season. Still, you have to wonder, is the process for playbook selection in Morgantown just finding playbooks no one has used? West Virginia historically has used a few schemes now for playbooks, so it seems the staff in Morgantown is not as set as some other programs in what scheme they want to run.

Pick 5 – Clemson Tigers – California (Air Raid)

Last season, Clemson QB Loki Gunderson earned an Offensive Player of the Year nomination in the Clemson playbook. While the team did relatively well, Clemson AD Loki Gunderson decided to go in a different direction this season. With California available, one of the most popular playbooks in the CFSL goes off the board here. California has been taken every season since Season 12 in the CFSL, and that includes last season when North Carolina took the playbook fourth. For Clemson, this is another great passing book for Loki Gunderson and the Tigers’ offense. UNC took the playbook last season and made a playoff run. Now Clemson hopes to repeat history with this pick.

Pick 6 – Oklahoma Sooners – Vanderbilt (Multiple)

This pick marks the first time Vanderbilt has been selected in the initial playbook draft in the Revamped era. However, the playbook was taken midseason in Season 16 by Illinois. Oklahoma has a new AD in Vinny Mixon this season, so the new staff has a lot to prove this season. Mixon ran the Multiple scheme last season at Toledo with the Louisville playbook, giving him a history in this scheme. For those keeping track at home, that is three of the first six picks in this playbook draft going to a playbook that has not been selected before in the initial draft. It seems the teams who had rough seasons last season are shaking things up as a whole.

Pick 7 – Illinois Fighting Illini – Clemson (Pistol)

Clemson is a great playbook that has found success and is a popular early pick. The surprise isn’t that the playbook was selected relatively early, it is who selected it. Illinois AD Will Stephens has selected the Colorado playbook twice previously and has never selected outside of the Multiple scheme before. With the new rules Illinois could switch to a Multiple playbook if things go south, so that is likely a consideration here. In addition, it is likely the Fighting Illini are looking for a new look for their offense. Clemson as mentioned has a history of success, being taken in some form now for every season of the Revamped era in the CFSL (since Season 11). This is the latest the playbook has been selected since Clemson took the playbook 14th in Season 15.

Pick 8 – Pittsburgh Panthers – Missouri (Spread)

Pittsburgh AD Helix Myers selected the Missouri playbook for the second time in as many seasons. Like the Clemson playbook picked before, Missouri has been selected each season in the Revamped era. This includes being the playbook of back-to-back National Championship winners (Oklahoma State in Season 15 and Kentucky in Season 16). Season 18 ties Season 13 (Florida selecting Memphis 8th) as the latest in the draft the first Spread playbook has been taken. The usually popular scheme only has five Power 2 teams taking the playbook this season at the initial draft.

Pick 9 – Texas Longhorns – Colorado (Multiple)

Colorado is perhaps the most popular Multiple playbook. The playbook has been selected in six of the last seven seasons, and that includes some high draft pick selections as well. Season 16 was the last time this playbook was not selected. With Illinois not opting to take the playbook again this season, Texas AD Justin Duke enters this season with a well-known commodity. With many early picks going to playbooks with little history in the CFSL, it makes sense the teams in the middle of the pack of the draft are benefitting with some more well-known schemes. Again, the run on Multiple playbooks also continues.

Pick 10 – Notre Dame Fighting Irish – Arkansas State (Multiple)

Speaking of the Multiple scheme, the Dustin Hall era in South Bend opens with the selection of Arkansas State. The playbook has been used previously in Seasons 15 and 16, and I even said last season the book was a top candidate to be switched into (though this did not end up happening). This will be the first time since Season 13 that Dustin Hall has selected a multiple playbook, running Louisville and Oklahoma in Season 13 for the Sooners previously.

Pick 11 – North Carolina Tar Heels – USC (Pro Style)

The USC playbook has a storied history in the CFSL, most notably with the Season 14 Champions Florida State. The playbook has been selected in some way every season since, to varying degrees of success. North Carolina took the California playbook last season but had almost no chance of getting it here at Pick 11. Instead, North Carolina AD Daniel Gunn is taking a chance he can repeat history with a playbook that is famous for its tricky tuning and demanding sim requirements. If it works out, however, the sky is the limit.

Pick 12 – Boise State Broncos – Utah (Spread)

Last season was the first time in the Revamped era the Utah playbook was not selected. A championship-winning playbook in Season 12 with Notre Dame, the playbook is one of the most popular spread schemes around the league. After the one-season hiatus, Boise State AD Dakota Jorgensen will hope to improve on last season with this playbook. Interestingly, despite the playbook’s popularity, only 4 teams have selected Utah (Notre Dame, Clemson, Kentucky, Boise State).

Pick 13 – Georgia Bulldogs – West Virginia (Air Raid)

The last time this book was taken was Season 16 by Brandon Vieyra during his time at EMU. Like many in this scheme, West Virginia favors a heavy passing offense for maximum yards. While the scheme is a favorite in the CFSL, it wasn’t until now that this book got another look, surprisingly. However, Georgia QB Ludwig Friedman is certain to approve of passing a lot and taking some risks downfield. This playbook certainly will allow the Bulldogs to do that and more.

Pick 14 – Kentucky Wildcats – Memphis (Spread)

Memphis is part of a group of playbooks with little previous history being selected. It has only been picked twice, most recently Kent State selected it last season. Now, the playbook will be tested in the Power 2 with a Kentucky squad looking to get back to championship form. Notably, Kentucky has been in the Spread scheme every season of the school’s existence in the CFSL, through two different Athletic Directors.

Pick 15 – Florida State Seminoles – Miami (Pro Style)

In the Revamped era, the Miami playbook has been switched into once (Season 12 – Alabama) and selected initially once (Season 15 – Florida). Now it is Florida State’s turn to run the playbook. Florida State AD Tom Pence is well known for his preference for the Pro Style. With many of the scheme’s playbooks already selected, Miami is the choice for the team. Florida State is the fourth and final team to select a Pro Style book initially this season. The four teams starting the season in the Pro Style is a notable uptick from the one team (Ohio) from last season.

Pick 16 – Miami Hurricanes – Fresno State (Spread)

Another notable trend in this season’s draft was many of the playoff participants from last season going with the Spread family of playbooks. Miami was in a Spread playbook (Notre Dame, then switched to both Akron and then Duke as the season went on) last season on their playoff run, so it isn’t a huge surprise the Hurricanes stayed close to what worked well there. Fresno State is another well-liked book by the CFSL, having been used at least partially in every season of the Revamped era. The last time a team did not use the Fresno State book at all in a CFSL season was back in Season 10.

Pick 17 – Florida Gators – Air Raid Generic (Air Raid)

All three Florida CFSL teams got to choose in a row in this edition of the CFSL Playbook Draft. All three of these teams stuck to the expected script. Nowhere is that more true than in Gainesville this season. After Beau Dale led the Gators to the final four of the playoffs last season, it would be maybe the biggest surprise of the entire draft if Florida didn’t go Air Raid again this season. Florida AD Justyn Veneklasen selects the generic form of the Air Raid playbook for the second season in a row here. As stated, Florida had maybe the best offense in the entire CFSL with it last season, so no surprise the Gators are trying it again (even with some turnover scares at times). Florida’s selection of this playbook two seasons in a row is the only two instances of this playbook being used in the Revamped era.

Pick 18 – Alabama Crimson Tide – Ole Miss (Spread)

This is another case of a playoff team favoring the Spread family. Ole Miss was last selected in Season 14 by Ohio State. Alabama will leave the Air Raid family for the first time since Season 14. While that is a bit of a surprise, Alabama AD Tavian Tyree is coming off a deep playoff run with some roster turnover. He likely is looking to shake up a bit of the scheming as Alabama searches for their first National Championship. This is the third time the Ole Miss playbook has been selected in the Playbook Draft in the Revamped era as well.

Pick 19 – Michigan Wolverines – Virginia Tech (Multiple)

We’ve now reached the part of the draft where our National Championship participants reside. In the least shocking twist of the draft, Michigan AD Aaron Ike takes Virginia Tech for the third season in a row. He has yet to use any other playbook in his time in Ann Arbor. It is a bit surprising, however, that no one else is confident enough to choose this playbook yet. This is especially true in a season where the number of Multiple scheme playbooks chosen went up too. While the rosters change, Michigan stays true to what’s gotten them this far this season. The only other time Virginia Tech has been selected (by anyone but Ike) in the Playbook Draft was in Season 13 with LSU.

Pick 20 – Oklahoma State Cowboys – Oklahoma State (Air Raid)

A frequent late picker in the Playbook Draft, the reigning National Champions select their namesake playbook as the final Power 2 selection this season. Oklahoma State is the only team this season to select their own team’s playbook. A few teams notably did so last season. While Washington briefly switched to Oklahoma State in Season 15, this is the first time the super pass-heavy playbook has been initially selected since Oregon in Season 12. This is also just the third initial selection for the playbook in the Revamped era as well.

Pick 21 – Eastern Michigan Eagles – SMU (Air Raid)

Last season, the MAC made the final picks of the Playbook Draft incredibly interesting with some big risks and fun selections. This season? Not so much. That isn’t to say Eastern Michigan’s playbook selection isn’t good. SMU is a very powerful Air Raid book. Alabama used it to go all the way to the Semifinals last season after switching to it. However, last season it seemed every MAC team had a different idea of what would work and what they wanted to try. This season, Eastern Michigan is the first of five of the six MAC teams who either took an Air Raid or a Spread book that can be pass-heavy. Now the question is, with so many similar ideas, who has the best execution to claim the MAC crown?

Pick 22 – Kent State Golden Flashes – Texas Tech (Air Raid)

The second MAC Air Raid playbook selection is Kent State’s new Head Coach Ryan Recca taking maybe the most pass-happy playbook in the CFSL. Eastern Michigan selected this playbook last season. This is the fourth time in the Revamped era the playbook has been selected in the initial draft. Like EMU last season, expect almost nothing but passes from Kent State QB Sean Keohane. For the second season in a row, Texas Tech’s heavy passing scheme will get to go up against MAC competition. While the Eagles did not finish the season well with the playbook, Kent State is hoping some different looks and a different MAC roster spell a better record for the Kent State Golden Flashes.

Pick 23 – Ohio Bobcats – Ohio State (Spread)

In an interesting twist, the Ohio Bobcats stay in-state in playbook selection for Head Coach Gene Pettijohn’s first season with the team. While this is another Spread playbook selection from the MAC, the Ohio State playbook choice is interesting here. This is the first time any team has taken the Ohio State playbook in the initial draft in the Revamped era. Ohio State would switch into the book in Season 11 and Texas A&M would do the same in Season 12. With a full season to work with the book and MAC competition, maybe Pettijohn can find something others have overlooked with this playbook. There certainly does seem to be potential with it if history is any indication.

Pick 24 – Bowling Green State University Falcons – South Alabama (Spread)

Bowling Green HC CJ Furman takes the South Alabama playbook for the second season in a row as he hopes the Falcons take that next step in the MAC and beyond. The team possesses a rare trait in the MAC, familiarity. The same Head Coach is back, the same playbook is selected, and now the lessons learned from last season are what the team is counting on to help lead Bowling Green back to the postseason. The MAC is as competitive as ever, however, so Bowling Green will have to adjust somewhat this season on the field as well. Bowling Green’s two selections of this playbook in the draft are the only two times the playbook has been drafted in the Revamped era.

Pick 25 – Toledo Rockets – Oregon (Spread)

The final Spread family playbook selection for the MAC in this draft comes to Toledo and Head Coach George Yost. The story here isn’t that Oregon was selected, but how late it was taken this season. Oregon is a favorite around the league traditionally and has been selected or switched into for four straight seasons now. This will happen frequently in the Playbook Draft. A few teams pass on a popular playbook and all of a sudden the MAC has an opportunity to take a well-liked playbook much later than expected. Yost saw and seized that opportunity here.

Pick 26 – Northern Illinois Huskies – Cincinnati (Multiple)

Before last season, Cincinnati had never been selected in the Playbook Draft. Then West Virginia took the playbook second overall. Northern Illinois Head Coach Andrew Brandt liked what West Virginia saw in the playbook, even if the season for the Mountaineers was an up-and-down one. Thus, Northern Illinois starts Season 18 not only as the defending MAC Champions, but the only MAC Multiple scheme team. This should be a storyline to watch, especially as the talent level overall in the MAC took a notable jump this season. If there is a prop bet for the MAC squad with the most rushing yards in the Sportsbook however this season, my pick is the Huskies.

Defensive Playbooks

In crunching the numbers from last season, the trends remained pretty similar in terms of defensive playbook selections. A large majority of the league selected either the 4-2-5 (11 teams) or 4-3 (7 teams) defensive scheme. This is very similar to the numbers from Season 17. There was a bit of a shift in less popular playbooks this season too. Last season, many of the teams looking for a different defensive look chose a type of Multiple scheme (either 4-3 or 3-4 Multiple). This season, many of those same teams are in the 3-4 or 3-3-5 playbooks. Only two teams selected a Multiple playbook this season. They are Ohio with the 3-4 Multiple and Notre Dame with the true Multiple playbooks.

Popular Playbooks Not Taken On Offense

Coming back to the offensive side of the ball, there are always a few playbooks that slip through the cracks of the initial selections and are prime targets for a team in need of a mid-season shakeup. With the new rules allowing a team to switch into new schemes midseason, this makes the available playbooks even more ripe for a midseason switch. Some popular playbooks still available include Iowa State, Mississippi State, Southern Mississippi, and Utah State. All of these playbooks are popular picks in seasons past and popular scheme fits as well in Spread and Air Raid. While it is also possible a team selects an unpopular playbook midseason, history suggests otherwise in general. As a reminder, a team must still play one game and cannot switch any playbooks before Week 2. Playbooks must also be switched by a team within 24 hours of the end of their game.


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