What It Actually Takes To Win In College Football
This is a must read for casual college football fans, like me. Before reading Kevin Clark’s story, I knew there exists a group of college football programs above the rest—I’ve watched Alabama, Clemson, Oklahoma, Ohio State, play in the 4-team playoff year after year, with a little Georgia, LSU, Notre Dame and even a Cincinatti mixed in this year—but reading this story made is so abundantly clear what it takes to win a national championship in college football, and that nothing short of a miracle is needed for a team like Cincinatti to win a title.
First and foremost, it’s about talent. Of course, right? I didn’t know how drastic the disparity is. Georgia had 19 – 19! – 5-star recruits in the title game last week.
There’s a massive gulf between making the College Football Playoff and winning it, and you can measure the distance in talent. Around 60 percent of five-star recruits committed to the same five schools—Alabama, Georgia, Clemson, LSU, and Ohio State—over a five-year period ending in 2021, and that number increased later in that time span, according to the Sporting News. Those schools have combined to make 16 playoff appearances and win every national championship since the 2016 season. Texas A&M, which has the no. 1 class in 2022, has made strides to join that group.
Next is money. A school has to spend gobs and gobs of money, and not have to waste time convincing people to hand it over. Clark tells a story about when Clemson’s Dabo Swinney asked for a bigger staff and facilities upgrade, he was asked why. He responded, “Well, Alabama does it.”
Or how about this anecdote about Kirby Smart and Georgia’s program:
“Kirby Smart got in there and said, ‘This is exactly what I need to win,’ and Georgia gave it to him,” Bud Elliott, a recruiting expert for 247Sports, told me. This includes a helicopter, which Smart uses to navigate recruiting visits. (“Time spent going slow doesn’t work,” he said, when first asked about the helicopter, which costs tens of thousands of dollars to operate.) The state of Georgia changed a public records law early in Smart’s tenure after he lobbied against it. Everyone was on board.
Plenty of schools with big football programs have money. Money is a prerequisite to be above average, but it doesn’t make a program a contender. Traditions be damned—a program that cycles through a couple bad coach hires (take USC as an example) is like blood in the water for the sharks.
What’s developed is fairly obvious to see: a handful of schools that conceivably could compete are stuck in the mud, stopping and starting with every new coaching hire, while the select few run up the score. In many instances, those down programs are in recruiting hotbeds, which means the haves can run in to raid their talent, increasing the disparity even more. You should not be surprised when Georgia and Alabama play in the national title game—you should be surprised when they don’t. That’s what we had Monday.
It was a great game watch, and now I know why I should expect a lot more of the same. -PAL
Source: “Georgia Is the Exception to Alabama’s Rule,” Kevin Clark, The Ringer (01/11/2022)
The NFL’s “Scheme Wars” Will be Spotlighted This Weekend
This was a fun article by The Ringer’s Steven Ruiz outlining the rise of the spread offense, kickstarted by the 2008 New England Patriots, and the factions in offensive scheme that have formed over the last decade:
Now, 14 years after the Patriots kicked things off, that ubiquitous “NFL Offense” that Brown wrote about is just one of many systems that are permeating the league. Never before have we seen schematic variety like this at the NFL level, as some coaching staffs have fully embraced more modern concepts, while others have adapted them to fit their established philosophies, and still others have been more reluctant to jump on the bandwagon.
Those three factions are the Spread (Chiefs, Bills, Cardinals), the Wide Zone (Rams, 49ers), the “Throwback” (physical running game setting up play-action passing) (Titans, Patriots, Buccaneers). Ruiz does an excellent job explaining each of them, with video examples. As Ruiz argues,
These varying levels of acceptance have separated the league into schematic factions. And as assistant coaches from winning teams get head-coaching jobs of their own, those new hires will take their offensive systems with them and expand the territory of whatever faction they belong to. We saw this phenomenon play out a few years back when seemingly every coach who had ever crossed paths with Sean McVay became a hot coaching commodity. And after Kyle Shanahan, who belongs to the same coaching tree as McVay, dragged Jimmy Garoppolo to the Super Bowl after the 2019 season, we saw a run on his assistants, too. Now, nearly a third of the league’s offensive play-callers come from that tree. And four of their teams have made the playoffs this season.
If that success continues, we could see the Shanahan/McVay influence over the NFL grow even larger. But the rest of the league won’t go down without a fight. McDaniels (Patriots), Brian Daboll (Bills), and Eric Bieniemy (Chiefs), three offensive coordinators outside of the Shanahan/McVay tree, are headed for another round of head-coaching interviews this offseason, and Byron Leftwich (Buccaneers) has also gotten some requests.
In that way, there is more than a Lombardi Trophy at stake this postseason. With so many different offensive schemes represented in this year’s playoff field, the next month will not only determine a champion—it might dictate the next step in the NFL’s offensive evolution. So let’s take a look at three main factions that will battle it out for schematic supremacy over the next few weeks, starting with the one that launched it all.
It’s a great article if you’re interested in learning a bit more about how your team’s offense works. -TOB
Source: “Scheme Wars Have Taken Over the NFL—and Could Decide This Year’s Playoffs,” Steven Ruiz, The Ringer (01/13/2022)
PAL: Good week for The Ringer, eh? Two of its stories made our list this week. The bit of this article that I had to read twice was that, prior to the 2007 Patriots, a large portion of NFL teams ran essentially the same offense. I couldn’t believe it. But a former journeyman player would know better than anyone.
Donté Stallworth, who joined the Patriots just before the 2007 season, shared a similar viewpoint at the time. The now-retired wide receiver told The Ringer’s Kevin Clark that around half of all NFL teams ran the same playbooks, and the rest were only separated by minor scheme tweaks. He was expecting more of the same when arrived in New England. But Stallworth quickly saw that the offense Josh McDaniels had crafted was something radically different.
A Pet Peeve: Announcers Who Lose Track of the Basic Rules of the Game
Last weekend, the 49ers overcame a seemingly insurmountable 17-3 halftime deficit against the Rams. If they lost, they would have been out of the playoffs. It was such an improbable comeback, that late in the 4th they had an expected chance to win of just 0.4%.
But they did. In overtime. The Niners won the OT coin flip and elected to receive. They kicked a field goal on the first possession, giving the Rams a drive to either tie and continue OT, or score a touchdown and win. Niners rookie cornerback Ambry Thomas intercepted a deep pass from Matthew Stafford, and the game was over. Everyone seemed to realize that, except 49ers radio play-by-play guy Greg Papa. Here’s Papa’s call of the last play, starting at the 2:00 mark. Listen to that again:
“Intercepted! By Ambry Thomas. Ambry Thomas takes it away. The Rams only have one timeout remaining! The Niners are gonna win the game in L.A. … and they have won the game.”
LOL. The ever important timeout reminder after the game is over! You can hear the moment his spotter punches him in the shoulder to point out the game is over, and he tries to save it. I really don’t know how you lose track of the fact the game was over – Papa should be embarrassed, and I’ve wondered all week if he addressed his blunder on his daily radio show. But it reminded me of the very famous call from Joe Starkey, the longtime Cal Bears announcer (and also a longtime 49er announcer, coincidentally), during The Play. Give it a listen.
There are just a few seconds left. The Stanford kicker squibs it, and Starkey says:
“The ball comes loose and the Bears have to get out of bounds!”
Except, no. It’s a kickoff. The clock stops at the end of the play. The Bears could have kneeled to save a second or two for a Hail Mary. But getting out of bounds there would serve no purpose, except to waste time trying to get there, and possibly losing Cal the game in the process if the time ran out. And it certainly would have deprived the world of the greatest play of all time.
Starkey has long been lauded for his call on the Play. And, yes, his emotion is great. But his failure to understand or remember a very basic rule of the game has always perturbed me.
Announcers: Do better! -TOB
More Women Officials Needed
I knew the majority of basketball referees – at all levels, but especially at the high school level – are men, but I didn’t know just how few women ref until I read this story from Jim Paulsen.
In Minnesota, one organization that represents officials said “18 to 20” of its 250 officials are women. Another told Paulsen that just four of their 200 officials are women. The good ones move up to college pretty quickly, he was told.
Far more interesting than the disparity, though, is the difference in how a girls game is called when reffed by all-women crews.
Buffalo coach Barb Metcalf said the difference in how the game was officiated was evident from the outset.
“To me, things just seemed more equitable,” Metcalf said. “It felt like there was a better flow to the game, with a lot fewer ticky-tack calls. There weren’t 50, 60, 70 fouls. They let them play.”
Metcalf summed up a common complaint: Male officials let boys play a more physical game than girls.
“There’s an assumption that women cannot be physical and are less athletic,” Eden Prairie coach Ellen Wiese said. “Boys play more physically, and the male referees are used to that. It’s like they’re saying, ‘I’m going to be more lenient because of your gender.’ ”
But ask female refs, and they articulate that it’s not as simple as calling a tighter game for women than men.
“As officials, we’re taught to allow for a flow to the game,” said Dayna Rethlake, a former player and coach who has been officiating for about a decade. “It’s not so much calling it tighter for the girls as it is defining the skill level and what players can play through.”
Rethlake believes those discrepancies are declining quickly. She cited the improved strength and skill of girls’ players since she helped Midwest Minnesota (now MACCRAY) to a Class 1A championship in the mid-1980s.
I would assume this theory extends to other physical women’s sports – hockey, lacrosse, water polo – as well. I’m calling on my nieces for an update. Will update next week. -PAL
Source: “All-woman crew leads to a question: When the refs are women, is the girls’ basketball better?,” Jim Paulsen, Star Tribune (01/11/22)
Video of the Week
Tweet of the Week
Song of the Week
Like what you’ve read? Follow us for weekly updates:
“Where were you on September 11th?”