If you don’t know Quigley, a regular commenter on this site since the beginning, he’s an Oklahoma guy that I’ve been talking college football with since about 2012. I started breaking down some of the non-Texas Big 12 teams in games over at Barking Carnival that year and wrote a few pieces on the Sooners that drew Quigley’s attention, that lead him to recommend me to Bill Connelly when they wanted to bring someone new aboard to Football Study Hall, which launched more of my ventures here. I’m a big fan of Quigley and he regularly brings insightful comments below posts.
Quigley commented on my post yesterday about 2000 Oklahoma and National recruiting and there was so much meat to the argument I figured it’d be better to carry on the conversation in a new post.
#1 I agree with your argument against Bud’s “blue chip ratio” being essential for winning individual national champions.
#2 That said, overall, having elite talent is key to sustained success.
It’s likely that we’ll end up in agreement based on this summary.
Even that 2000 Oklahoma team had a few “elite” talents. Quentin Griffin was an early Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Torrance Marshall and Rocky Calmus were pro-caliber LB talents and particularly good in the college game, Roy Williams was totally dominant, and Derrick Strait would win a Thorpe.
My landing point is that you need tactics and role players that allow your elite players to control games. Much like how LeBron James does his best work when surrounded by 3’n’D wings or how much synergy exists in the Steph Curry and Draymond Green pairing, the key isn’t to overwhelm opponents with talent but to control where games are won and lost and center them where you’re strong or the opponent is weak. So after a certain level of talent, I think…
1) Tactics and ultimately strategy matter much more than further talent accumulation.
2) Further talent acquisition can start to work at cross purposes against getting the right people in the right spots to win.
OU 2000 is a good example of more than one of these things.
– Coaching acumen can overcome talent disparity. OU needed to be on the cutting edge on both sides of the ball, as you point out, to overcome the talent deficit. It is rare to have schematic advantages simultaneously so this was a black swan event.
– Depth. OU’s 2000 team had VERY few injuries throughout the year so the Sooners’ limited depth was never really tested.
– The 2010 BCS Championship is the best example of the weakness of the “blue chip ratio.” Auburn barely met the ratio (or didn’t, see link below), and Oregon definitely didn’t. https://www.bannersociety.com/pages/blue-chip-ratio-2019
2013 Auburn was just at 50% and also almost won the BCS.
Not a black swan event, but certainly a great start for the Stoops-era Sooners. Bobby accumulated some other amazing staffs and hadn’t even hired the best coach of his career yet, he was just done in by nepotism.
I should have mentioned the injuries issue, injuries and other measures of luck are often enormous factors in all of this.
Elite talent is needed to have sustained success. Two things need clarification in this sentence
a. How does elite talent create consistent success (four factors).
b. What is success and how does the Alabama experience in the 2010’s illustrate this?
a. What does elite talent provides
– Culture and expectation of winning.
– Competition for playing time making each individual player strive harder
– Ability to tailor sub-packages with players with high skill level and athleticism
The big question is what level of talent you need to arrive at a strong culture and expectation of winning. Is there a point at which adding more talent starts to hurt you? How much does talent matter here vs personality? The Tom Osborne Nebraska teams stockpiled their rosters with players that weren’t necessarily very talented but they competed at every spot on the roster and worked hard.
Part of Tom Herman’s plan at Texas has been to drastically upgrade the quality of their preferred walk-ons and consequently their scout team and pool of reserves. I think it’s a good plan, unfortunately for Texas he’s had some other strategic snafus.
Sub-packages was a big part of Saban’s formula. You get diminishing returns there as well. For most teams that would mean limited complexity because of all the time spent teaching multiple defenses and checks to multiple players in multiple personnel groupings. Saban does it anyway, which has lead to big problems for them as teams have increased their usage of tempo and passing. Make a small bust against the run and your size and speed can cover for you…there are no small busts in coverage.
Depth is key BUT, if you are relying more on featuring your elite players with supporting role players than you can achieve depth with less talent so long as you don’t lose your elite players.
b. Success do NOT mean winning national championships, it means competing for them.
Let’s look at Alabama’s best teams as rated by S&P over the decade.
Year S&P Record NC
2010 #1 10-3 no
2011 #1 12-1 yes — made it NC game because Ok St kicker MAY HAVE pushed a kick wide
2012 #1 12-1 yes — in SEC-CG, Georgia was 5 yds from keeping the Tide from the NC game
2013 #2 12-2 no — didn’t make NC game though #2 by significant margin
2014 #1 12-2 no — NC winner was #4
2015 #2 14-1 yes
2016 #1 14-1 no
2017 #1 13-1 yes — needed OT to win over Georgia in the championship game.
2018 #1 14-1 no
2019 #3 11-2 no
So, the Tide finished #1 in S&P seven times. They won the title when they were #1 about half the time (three times). Those three national championships required considerable luck for them to win. This is especially true for 2011 and 2012 where they could have missed the BCS title game both years. Then they also won a title as the #2 S&P team.
Especially true for 2009, I’d say…
I think this analysis overrates S&P some. Here’s the thing on adjusted stats, they’re designed to figure out what the marks of a consistent winner are and then rank teams by how well they execute those marks.
However, it’s a big picture analysis with a small sample size. Saban’s old boss Bill Belichik for instance doesn’t strive to put teams together that consistently dominate at the big picture things that lead to winning, he crafts rosters that are versatile enough to execute week by week gameplans that can force the focal point of a game onto terms where his team can outperform the other. Saban’s teams have regularly struggled to shine or cover themselves with glory when facing teams that aren’t blown away by Saban’s oversigning/talent stacking strategies.
Yes, Nick Saban was able to stockpile talent and resources at Alabama in a way that have allowed the Tide to be very good and very competitive for a long time. My point though is that he’s sees diminishing returns in terms of titles from his approach because it doesn’t differentiate champions. I don’t think what’s been happening is akin to flipping a coin and hitting heads early before having a run of hitting tails. I think teams have worked out how to counter his strategies for dictating game outcomes, which is talent stacking, sub-packages, etc.
The point is that they were in the hunt every year because Saban has built a system that fosters consistent success. Part of this success that is based on having plus athletes who are super focused at every position.
The other part is the Tide running game. Alabama has been so run-focused until they had to pass to keep up. A dominant running game is more sustainable because you can recruit 5 elite OL annually and 2 RB. A bunch of them will pan out. Recruiting QB has much less certainty (although this is changing). Even if you identify an elite QB and develop an elite passing game, QBs can get hurt and don’t stay in college four years.
I think Alabama’s success is mostly about regularly having a ton of elite talent. I’m not sure how much that has helped their culture, surely some because of the depth of talent and competition that you’re speaking to. They also have some other policies that have helped. Like medically retiring guys that Saban doesn’t want to invest in, having an extremely harsh culture where Saban rules like a totalitarian, and probably a TON of rule-breaking regarding meeting times so that he can drill all of his different pattern-matching rules into the brains of his players.
The argument about the run game is one that I bought after 2009 and embraced along with Mack Brown. After watching and studying football for the last decade, I no longer believe in it. Quarterback development these days combined with the transfer portal make it pretty feasible to rotate in high level talent on a consistent basis, as Oklahoma has demonstrated.
The idea that you can’t maintain a pipeline of dangerous distributors at quarterback was always pretty suspicious anyways. As I detailed in the book…
…programs like Leach’s Texas Tech and then high school programs like Southlake Carroll were pulling it off in the early 00s. If you have a system for finding and training your quarterbacks and can maintain a strong pipeline of talent at the skill positions, it’s imminently feasible to remain competitive year after year.