Before I take a closer look at the analyzing the talent in the conferences I'll talk briefly about the other two key ingredients in a successful program. Those are coaching and what I call program health. I'll cover these now so that when I reference them when talking about the conferences you know where I'm coming from.
Coaching is a large umbrella that many things fall under. But I'll start with schematics. All coaches must develop their players, motivate their players, and teach their offensive and defensive systems to players in a way that they can grasp and execute. Once that is done it then becomes X's and O's. When looking at the numbers vs. recent success on the field I solidified a belief that I have had for several years now. Teams with elite talent can effectively run a pro style offense. But there's a reason its called "pro style". Its complicated and it takes exceptional talent and coaching to execute. But if you don't have elite talent the greatest equalizer when you have the ball is to effectively run a spread/ option type offense. This applies to old school option teams (Navy and Georgia Tech), teams that spread you out and throw 99% of the time (Texas Tech, Hawaii) and teams that employ a running QB and a mix of the two elements (Oklahoma State, West Virginia). If you have mediocre talent but can run one of these offenses effectively you can compete. If you have great talent and run one of these offenses effectively you can be devastating (Mid 90's Nebraska, 2005 Texas, modern day Florida). The second greatest equalizer on the coaching front is a great Defensive Coordinator. These guys are worth their weight in gold. If you have John Tenuta, Will Muschamp, Brent Venables, Bud Foster, etc. roaming your sidelines you can stay in games with more talented teams. If you combine them with elite talent you can compete for and win national titles. There are very few "elite" DCs out there as the really good ones tend end up in head coaching jobs like Pete Carroll, Bo Pelini, Randy Shannon and Gene Chzik. But they stay involved in the defense and still tend to have great defensive teams. In most cases the thing that makes them elite is that they will schematically beat you. In my opinion these are the most important guys on any coaching staff.
The third and final major piece of the equation is really a subset of coaching and I call it program health. This addresses overall discipline level, motivation and off field issues. Do the kids believe in it? Are they buying in? Are a lot of kids having off field issues? If program health is high you can consistently be very competitive without necessarily having elite talent. Scroll up and down the spreadsheet in Part I and you'll see teams with elite talent that haven't fared very well as of late. Chances are its related to coaching, program health or both. The opposite is also true for teams that don't even register on the talent meter but consistently field highly competitive teams. Well identify several of these on both sides of the coin when looking at the conferences.