Possibly the closest Super Bowl matchup in history also poses the question: how much does it mean when certain aspects of an NFL team improve dramatically in the second half of the season?
02 Mar 2009
by Robert Weintraub
(Ed. Note: Today we welcome our new college football columnist, Robert Weintraub. You've probably seen Robert's writing in places like Deadspin, Slate, and the Wall Street Journal. He'll be taking over the Monday college football wrap-up and contributing to our NFL coverage as well, and he brings us two things we didn't have before: a college football writer based in the South, and a real-life Cincinnati Bengals fan. I want to thank everyone who applied for the college football opening. We had lots of good applications, so don't be surprised if you see some material from a few of those other people in the future. -- Aaron Schatz)
Bryce Brown may still be channeling Hamlet while trying to decide where to tote the rock and occasionally attend class nest season, but for most people, recruiting season ended with National Signing Day. Most fans here in the South treat NSD as a religious holiday. I look forward to it myself, but not for the same reasons as the locals. I cannot wait for the miasma of uninformed speculation and misplaced bragging to end. If I had a nickel for every fan that raised a glass of improperly distilled liquor to toast his team's "success" in bribing multiple prize sows to don the colors of ol' State U, based on nothing more than supposed potential and games that hardly anyone saw, I could ride out this recession in high style, rather than slurping up writing gigs with the enthusiasm of a starving anteater.
That's my way of saying, welcome to my first entry as Football Outsiders' new college football columnist!
Yes, Russell Levine has decided to spend more time with his beloved pucks, and who can blame him given the relative popularity of college football versus hockey? So Aaron has given me the gig, and I will be writing about the Varsity Letter version of pigskin with a mandate to leave the Gobi Desert-dry statistical analysis to others. I'll be banging out my impressions based merely on watching the games, just like all the other mopes out there you've come to loathe.
Having said that, my first column is devoted to numbers.
Simple addition, actually. The recruiting season always gets me to thinking about program strength in four-year terms, rather than the standard single-season version we're so accustomed to. So I totted up the wins of the big boy schools from 2005-2008, added a half-point for a bowl victory, a full point for a conference title, a point for a BCS bowl win, and two points for a national title. Arbitrary? A bit, sure, but overall a solid indicator of regular and post-season success.
I freely admit the limitations of this table in advance. The number of wins a program compiles over any four-year period obviously isn't a direct result of any one recruiting class. The 2002 recruits had a greater effect on the 2005 results, of course, than did the 2005 recruits. Also, redshirts and stud players who leave early skew the numbers a bit -- it stands to reason that Arkansas would have placed higher had Darren McFadden stuck around.
But just as sleep begets sleep (yes, I have an infant in the house, and repeat that mantra often), recruits beget recruits. So consistency in recruiting should mean consistent high performance on the field. And the Boise States and TCUs who have outperformed their reputations among the recruiting rankers are overdue for some respect.
So let's have some offseason fun. Here's the Four-Year Top 40 (41, actually, thanks to ties), with the 2005 Rivals Top 25 recruiting rankings:
|Top College Programs, 2005-08|
And USC and Pete Carroll's recruiting machine is our QuadChamp!
No surprise, surely, despite the lack of a BCS trophy in Heritage Hall due to LenDale White's hitting the wrong hole on fourth-and-1 in the 2005 BCS title game and a series of in-conference letdowns since then. Florida's two titles are weighted down by mediocre odd-numbered seasons, but they still pip the Horns for the runner-up spot. The Gators are an anomaly, since 2005 was the Urban Legend's first, truncated crack at recruiting in Gainesville, and the '05 class was a bummer (Machine Gun Ronnie Wilson exemplifies the group, with only Reggie Nelson hitting it big).
West Virginia's spot at No. 4 may bring some hope to Michigan fans, given that RichRod's recruiting skills obviously paid some dividends. The Maize and Blue's 40th position on the table leaves Double-R with little place to go but up, if he can reverse the alarming talent drain in Ann Arbor.
I can hear the screaming from my living room here in SEC/ACC country -- three Mountain West teams and a WAC school in the Top 15? Now, I'm a mid-major conference defender of the highest order, so I'll brook little argument over the artifice of high placings of Mountain West and WAC teams. Anyway, I'm not saying No. 10 beats No. 20 every time out -- this table is about program strength and stability, and the ability to attract recruits. Clearly, they are doing something right in the state of Utah, and that should be acknowledged, whether or not you cling to Andre Smith's absence as the reason for the Sugar Bowl rout. Sure, TCU might drop a couple of points were they in the SEC or Big 12, but then the school's ability to attract a better grade of recruit would go up as well. (Interestingly, Boise's Sandlot Special win over Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl two years ago is what vaults the Broncos past the Sooners on this list.)
Ohio State is clearly elite, and would be right at the top without those BCS humiliations. While the effect of those losses on overall recruiting is negligible, would it surprise anybody if one or two studs went elsewhere as a result of the blowouts in the big games? One player who didn't: Duron Carter, this year's winner of "Best player I actually saw play and don't have to rely on scouting reports" Award. Cris' kid will wear scarlet-and-gray like the old man. He is the sort of overwhelming talent the Bucks haven't had on the perimeter since Ted Ginn skipped town, and may be the best wide receiver prospect they've had since Terry Glenn -- whoops, there I go projecting.
The Buckeyes are one of only four schools that have won double-digit games each of the past four seasons -- USC, Texas, and Virginia Tech are the others. They may not move the TV meter, but the Hokies belong in the elite program bracket. Major props have to go to the Tidewater region, an underappreciated fertile crescent of football talent, which Frank Beamer has on lockdown.
What interests me most about the table is the confirmation of the deep hole into which traditional power programs like Florida State (No. 34) and Tennessee (not even in the Top 41) have fallen. Sure, you knew they were down, but behind Houston? Rivals had the Vols ranked No. 4 in the 2005 recruiting rankings, for what it's worth, a class that basically cost Field Goal Phil Fulmer his Knoxville fiefdom. Hey, Jonathan Crompton, LaMarcus Coker -- how 'bout kicking in for that buyout? And thanks for foisting Lane Kiffin on the rest of us...
It also confirms the total domination of the "Sunshine State" schools -- only 12 to 15 cold weather schools (depending on your definition of "cold") appear on the list. I personally ascribe it more to tradition, population drift, and high school coaching salaries than to "southern speed," but whatever the reason, the nation is obviously bottom-heavy when it comes to college football.
That leads us, oddly, to the much-loathed BCS and one potential benefit of a playoff system that may be overlooked. I may live in Atlanta, but I'm all for foul-weather football, especially in HD. When was the last big college game that was played in the sort of brutal conditions that make the NFL playoffs so compelling? The bowl/BCS system is a built-in advantage for the southern schools in that they never have to play a biggie while wearing long johns and a ski mask.
Imagine a playoff system that involved some home games for the Big 10 and Big East schools. Think of watching Tim Tebow ramming for yards on a frozen field in Columbus, or Joe McKnight dancing through the sleet in Happy Valley. And imagine recruits at home watching those kinds of games, and wanting to take part in them wearing the home uniform.
Sure, the BCS title game will surely always be in the sun or under a roof, but allowing for some actual home-field advantage in postseason games might help restore some balance back to the sport. Either that, or send Mr. McSweaterVest to Washington to lobby for a heavy investment in the steel industry by the Obama Administration.
18 comments, Last at 05 Mar 2009, 9:01pm by BroncosGuy