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College Football 50 Years From Now

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An One Foot Down Roundtable Discussion.

Mike Ehrmann

Football at the college level will be different in a half century mostly due to populations shifts to the South and West. We ponder how this will affect the future of recruiting and history for various programs.

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NEBRASKA

nebraska

Eric: Pretty much the poster-child for an ominous future. Chose to enter a conference further away from fertile recruiting grounds. Their pipeline in Texas has already shriveled up. With their history it's scary to think but I don't know if they ever regain the magic they displayed in the 20th Century. 30 years from now we may wonder how Bo Pelini did so well. Is that crazy to think about?

Jamie: I don't think it's crazy at all to think Nebraska could look back wishing for the days of Pelini and Frank Solich sometime in the distant future. In addition to not being able to recruit Texas as well, they haven't been able to go into California in years. They used to get a lot of talent from there and they just aren't a big enough national brand anymore to do that.

Jim: Agree on all counts here--Nebraska bolting to the B1G didn't make sense a few years ago, and will continue to look like a bad move in the future.  The days of Tom Osborne will become more and more legendary as the years pass by.

GEORGIA TECH

tech

alstein: Have the unbelievable advantage of residing in one of the biggest cities in the Southeastern recruiting hotbed. Also have the unbelievable advantage of not having to compete in the SEC. Much like Florida State, they are in the best-of-both-worlds for recruiting and scheduling, yet they have just 3 conference championships (the most recent of which was vacated) since leaving the SEC and joining the ACC more than 40 years ago. It's almost impossible to have that little success given their situation. They should be just one great hire and a couple years of recruiting like they freakin' should living in Atlanta away from having another season like 1990 and, maybe, more sustained success than they've had in their very occasionally-successful history.

Eric: Oh, good pick. It feels like with Paul Johnson's offense they are bound to never explode on the recruiting trail (and on the field, frankly). High nerd factor with a somewhat indifferent fan base, though. But yeah, they should be way better. At least in terms of having a great season here or there. 82-year old me won't be surprised if they are a great program.

Paul: I like Georgia Tech, but I think the reasons why they've slipped and what they need to do to get back is very simple. It's all about the head coach and the offensive system. I'm with alstein here: Georgia Tech, located in Atlanta, has almost zero excuse to not be a dominant program. However, their option offense can be a turnoff to certain athletes and the coaching staff lacks the punch and penache that you'd expect out of a school in the SEC. After going from Bobby Ross, to George O'Leary, the Jackets got Chan Gailey's mediocrity and panicked in the aftermath of it. If they can get a spread coach or convince Johnson to change the system around, he'd be the one to set the standard that 50-years from now, would make Georgia Tech one of the top teams in the country.

Jim: Great question--why isn't Georgia Tech better?  I think if they get smart and hire an up-and-comer vs. a has-been when the job comes open next, they could be in good shape.  The real question is this--are they willing to spend like a big program?  I was surprised to see Johnson gets paid $2.5 million-plus but their stadium only seats ~55,000.  Something doesn't jive there.

UTSA

utsa

Eric: Here's my absurd pick for future football power. They are in a football crazy state. Have nowhere to go but up after starting the game a few years ago. They have Larry Coker right now to build a foundation. The school is sizable at around 37,000 students. They are strategically placed in the southern part of Texas and who knows how that will benefit them vis-a-vis Mexico and Latinos. Plus, they are in a big city that is bound to get much larger.

Jim: I was surprised to see that San Antonio is the second largest city in Texas.  Of course, if you take the entire Dallas metro area, SA wouldn't be close.  I have been to the city and it just doesn't feel that big.  Anyway, Eric has a good point about location and there is more than enough talent in the state of Texas to support the major programs and then some.  If they take the next step and build a stadium on campus then I agree they could be a future power.

MIAMI (Florida)

miami

Jamie: This program is just waiting to explode again. They just need the right coach to get there and by right coach I'm talking about someone who can utilize all that south Florida speed in a spread offense. They are in the heart of the most fertile recruiting ground in the country with crazy athletic talent at the skill positions, yet they currently run a traditional offense. If they ever get someone to open and play fast like an Auburn, Clemson, or a Baylor...oh my gosh the things they could do and the talent they could attract. It's also a better than most people think academic institution as well. If they can get out of their own way then there is no reason why Miami can't be what they used to be on a consistent basis.

Eric: Can or will Miami return to dominance without building their own stadium? Probably. It just seems like Joe Robbie Stadium/Pro Player Park/Pro Player Stadium/Dolphins Stadium/Dolphin Stadium/Land Shark Stadium/Sun Life Stadium has sucked all the swag out of the Hurricanes. They are 45-31 since they left the Orange Bowl. In the state of Florida I think someone like UCF is a place to watch out for in the coming decades. Huge public school with a lot of room for growth. Anyway, check out this map from the New York Times:

nyt map

Granted, there are 6+ million people in that Miami corridor and that kind of proves Jamie's point, however, geographically they are surrounded by huge public schools with much stronger followings. And if you establish that the majority of those 6+ million people aren't avid Hurricane fans well that leads to such a fertile recruiting ground being dominated by all those schools surrounding the area--which is basically what's been happening for 10 years or so.

Brendan: I'm with Jamie. I don't think it'll take much to get Miami back in the ranks of the elite; the big missing piece is getting the right coach. Set aside the likelihood of such a move and imagine, for example, if they had hired Chip Kelly or Gus Malzahn. With the skill position talent they're able to pull from the area... Yikes. There's no systemic issue preventing Miami from reaching its former levels, other than its own inability to get the right guy. Note that this isn't necessarily a referendum on Golden; I'm not sold on him yet, but I don't mean to imply that he can't do it.

Eric: Well, if you don't think a bandwagon fan base with a ridiculous low level of passion isn't a systemic issue!

Jim: Disagree Brendan--I've seen enough of Golden to see that he will keep Miami stuck in neutral.  Keep him around and they are a perennial 6-8 win team based on talent alone.

Jamie: The thing about Miami's (lack of a) fan base is that it has always been the case. They've never really had the support that other top schools have had. It didn't matter when they were winning championships though because their talent was superior to just about every program in the nation.

Eric: I guess my point is there are a lot of programs that would take off with the right coach. I'm thinking more long-term, over multiple coaches, across decades, and I'm not sure Miami is set up for long-term success. I know that sounds crazy but what does Miami offer besides its location in a recruiting hot bed? I'm not saying that location isn't perhaps atop the list in importance for the future but I think the talent is so vast nowadays and so many teams are in their plucking away at the elite players that Miami may never come close to putting together those late 80's or early 2000's recruiting classes. Then what are you left with? A small, private school without its own stadium on campus and a regional fan base that pales in comparison to the likes of Florida, Alabama, or Georgia. Also, if things aren't turned around within the next decade the program will have been mediocre in modern times for as long as their dominance lasted. Think about that.

Brendan: Jim, I should clarify - I haven't paid close enough attention to them to know whether Golden is the answer. My hunch is that I'd be underwhelmed, but I hate to assume (sometimes, other times I really love to assume and just run away with myself). Jamie, that's a good point and where I would've headed too. They're naturally capable of drawing a ton of top-level talent whether the stadium's full or not, and if they draw talent and have a capable coach leading them they'll win enough to fill it up again.

ARIZONA / ARIZONA STATE

zona schools

Brendan: There's a growing pool of talent local to these two programs, and particularly Arizona State should be able to draw even more kids from the growing almost-local pool based on what you hear all the time about their campus. This wouldn't be too popular in Ann Arbor, but I think Rich Rodriguez got a raw deal at Michigan - he was trying to completely rework that team and never had a chance to get a coherent philosophy in place. Todd Graham's resume speaks for itself. I don't expect Graham or Rodriguez to stay in place for too long, but they could both be building something in the desert that will use some built-in advantages to continue to blossom over the next few decades.

Eric: Solid choice, and makes me wonder what the balance of power will look like in the Pac-12 (or whatever we call it 50 years from now) into the future. Plenty of room for growth for the Arizona schools but maybe buried behind the history/tradition of USC, Washington, etc. with the emergence of Oregon, Stanford, etc. which will make it tough to rise. The whole conference has the ingredients to go on a run like we've seen in the SEC since the early part of the 2000's.

Jim: Football Study Hall had an interesting breakdown about a year ago on how many Division 1 football players each state produces.  Would you believe that Indiana produces as many as Arizona?  For a coach to be successful there, they need to hit either Texas or California (and preferably both) in recruiting.

MARYLAND

maryland

Punter Bro: It is difficult to believe that the Terps could be a perennial football powerhouse, but let's not forget that this team, from 2001-03, went 31-8, finishing 2nd in the ACC twice and first once, garnering a trip to the Orange Bowl. The performance since then has been spotty, with varied years middling around .500, being dismally bad, or having 9 wins.  Maryland is slowly getting better under Randy Edsall, going from 2-10 in his first season to 4-8, and to 7-6 and a bowl bid last year.  Maryland currently sits at 3-1 and, arguably, should be 4-0, with their only loss coming at the hands of a West Virginia team that gave Oklahoma a run for its money.  The capability is there, the problem is keeping it consistent.

In terms of football talent, the DC area has regularly produced some great players in all of college football, such as current MD wideout Stefon Diggs, current Stanford QB Kevin Hogan, former Florida LB Jelani Jenkins, the list goes on.  The talent is there, but the task for Edsall and those who come after him is keeping it at home.  Maryland's move to the B1G will likely open up traditionally midwestern recruiting states for the Terps and if they can make inroads in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and out west, they have the capability of routinely challenging for Rose Bowls.

Eric: With Under Armour all things are possible for Maryland football. But seriously, everything you said about Maryland I would apply to Virginia. Except their history hasn't been as strong (only 2 conferences titles and they shared both of them) and UVA has an even larger and more talented in-state recruiting pool to choose from. I think if you look at the entirety of the ACC and weigh everything each program has to work with that Virginia should be no worse than 4th in the pecking order. They just have to improve into the future.

Brendan: Eric, great call on Virginia. If they can lock down the state, they could have a sustained run of success in them. The weather is pretty good there, the campus is nice, it's within reasonable driving distance of the beach, and for the recruits who are so inclined, it's a top-level academic institution (23rd overall and 2nd among public universities in the last USNWR rankings). If they can string a few good years together to both solidify their grip on the local talent and energize their fan base a bit, they could get something rolling.

SYRACUSE

cuse

Brendan: This one hurts, because Syracuse is close to my heart. With the way the college football landscape and the demographic landscape is shifting, I don't think Syracuse will ever get back to the heights it reached in the 50's and 60's, when they won a title and a Heisman trophy and had a steady stream of All-Americans. As the population dwindles in the Northeast, it'll just be too hard to draw talent from outside the region to a somewhat isolated city with pretty cold winters and a long-past tradition of greatness. Consider where some of their greatest players have come from:

  • Jim Brown - Manhasset, NY
  • Ernie Davis - Elmira, NY
  • Floyd Little - New Haven, CT
  • John Mackey - Hempstead, NY
  • Joe Morris - Ayer, MA
  • Art Monk - White Plains, NY
  • Don McPherson - Brooklyn, NY
  • Larry Csonka - Stow, OH
  • Marvin Harrison - Philadelphia, PA
  • Keith Bulluck - Suffern, NY
  • Rob Moore - Hempstead, NY
  • Donovin Darius - Camden, NJ
  • Dwight Freeney - Hartford, CT
  • Daryl Johnston - Youngstown, NY

With the notable exception of Donovan McNabb, who's from Chicago, they've really never drawn talent from outside the Northeast too well. That doesn't bode well for them, or for the other programs in a similar situation - decent history, shrinking talent pool, less-than-ideal location - like Pitt, West Virginia, and maybe even Penn State eventually.

Eric: I was going to throw Pitt into the discussion and this is a good spot. They have a similar history to Syracuse but with the exception of a local recruiting base that was once one of the best in the country. That base is shrinking, they'll continue to be second fiddle to Penn State, and their whole stadium situation does not have me optimistic about the Panthers' future.

Paul: I think Syracuse suffers from the same "basketball school" moniker that could theoretically apply to Pitt, Kansas, maybe Duke and some other programs. The fact is, they play in an all-purpose arena in a part of the state that is very hard to draw talent from. 18 year old kids like shiny things and you can only chrome the uniforms and jazz up the helmets so much. In order for ‘Cuse to be a factor, they gotta pony up for a stadium, modernize facilities and convince someone from Florida, Texas and/or California that -22 degrees in December isn't that bad.

Punter Bro: The same thing could be said for Maryland as well, with regards to the "basketball school" moniker.

Jim: Syracuse has to compete with a lot of other schools for a limited talent pool in the Northeast.  I think Pitt definitely belongs in this discussion, but they play 3rd fiddle in their own city (behind the Steelers and Penn State).  Rutgers is probably a better comparator, but the move to the B1G probably hurts them in the long run from a recruiting standpoint (by giving more exposure to the Ohio States, Penn States and Michigans of the conference).

I guess I have a bigger question to ask here--what is the big draw to head south to school if your ultimate goal is to play in the NFL.  Approximately half of the NFL franchises are in the Northeast/Midwest/Great Lakes region.  Are these guys going to tell a prospective team "no thanks--its too cold up there" when the league comes calling?  While I am at it, has anyone studied the overall success rate of draft picks from schools/conferences?  It seems like there is a higher miss rate from football factories.

Eric: Sounds like someone is trying to discredit the SEC again! And such a strange argument, too. You might be the first person in history to say that playing football in the South isn't the best route if you want to get to the NFL. The only credence to that theory might be that there are a lot of players who are washing out just because there are so many from the South being drafted in the first place, but that's not exactly an endorsement for playing in the North. I looked at NFL.com's list of the Top 100 players in the NFL and they are broken down by conference:

  • SEC- 23
  • Pac-12- 19
  • ACC- 17
  • Big 12- 12
  • Big Ten- 12

It doesn't seem like players from the South are having a problem playing in the cold weather now. So I don't even know why that's a concern. If you break things down by Southern schools versus Northern schools (Pitt, BC, Big Ten, etc.) it looks like this:

South- 35

North- 19

Nearly twice as many players. Maybe someone can do the research and find that Northern players have a better ratio throughout the entire league but I bet this ratio holds pretty steady. You asked what the big draw is to playing in the South? I'd ask what isn't the big draw? Good to great tradition at most schools, large stadiums with rabid fans, warm weather, beautiful women, and to top it off ESPN rigs the system for them, right?

CALIFORNIA

cal

Eric: We touched on the Pac-12 above with the Arizona schools and I'm left believing there are going to be a few schools out West that blow up in football over the next half century. I wonder if Cal is going to be one of those schools? It has something different to offer than the Los Angeles schools and should be more enticing than their rival Stanford. High academics might be a problem but the school has never shown a concern holding its football players to those high standards. At some point Oregon is going to take a step back and perhaps Washington never recaptures the magic it had 30 years ago. Doesn't that leave the Arizona schools, UCLA, and then California as the only major programs with a lot of untapped potential? The Bears have a decent tradition, great campus, and one of the more spectacular venues in the country. They just have to be better in the future.

Jamie: Wasn't one of the reasons Tedford got fired was that the academic performance was dreadful under him in recent years? And the talk of them changing athletic admission standards could also be troubling in terms of recruiting. I think Tedford showed that they can attract talent to Cal (Desean Jackson, Marshawn Lynch, Aaron Rodgers), but the Pac-12 wasn't as deep as it is now. The potential is there, but they need to have someone dynamic as a coach to attract the right kind of talent against the rest of the Pac-12.

Brendan: I think there are a couple of problems. First, there's a ton of competition out there already. They're never going to be able to go into Los Angeles, for example, and make any kind of significant recruiting inroads with elite kids. In Northern California, they have to contend with historical recruiting strength from Oregon and Washington, and on top of it their historical rival Stanford is better than they've been since Pop Warner was on the Farm. I think the other main problem, and this is coming from someone who doesn't follow the inner workings of Cal so I could be off, is that the university doesn't care too much if the team is good or not. Stanford decided they wanted a better program, and they went out and did it. It doesn't look to me like Cal is interested in that kind of commitment. Even if they get a decent coach, I think he'll be more likely to slog through the mess out there and then use it as a stepping stone to another program.