November 22, 2016
Again, I pose the question: what has happened to college football? A decade ago, the American public had football figured out. For heaven’s sake, a few months ago we thought we had it all figured out- Top 25’s laid out, tournament brackets set, and Heisman candidates decided. The only potential source of argument we had left for this season was who takes the number four spot in the football playoff. And for some reason, we thought that this season would go the way it was expected to go and we’d have a simple ride through this season, right? WRONG.
Instead, we have been given a football season with more twists and turns than a soap opera, and as much unrest as was caused by this election year. Fears rampant from week to week as to who is getting kicked out of the brackets for the playoff and potential Heisman candidacy. Even in the last two weeks, we’ve seen number’s 2, 3, 4, and 5 all lose; there are multiple conferences with such an equal playing field that two loss teams are in contention for a conference title; and even the most powerful conferences two or three years ago seem to be slipping into mediocrity. So what’s going on?
Believe me when I say that people have been trying to figure this out for years. Some people blame the Power 5 conferences, some the playoff committee, and so many more- at this point, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone blamed the flying spaghetti monster.
But all these questions need to stop…like now- really- just stop. Because we can argue about polls and stats and awards and conference titles and on and on until we are all blue in the face, but in the midst of every question, argument, and upset, we have all truly missed what has happened to the college football landscape. In fact, its staring us in the face, and yet we are all too stuck in the 90s and 2000s and will not see what has happened. It’s not a novel idea. In fact, what has happened to college football has been the defining factor of champions for decades and has just redefined itself.
The answer to all of this is…consistency. That’s right. You heard it here first. Consistency wins titles. And before you go, “Wow, thanks for that one, Captain Obvious,” let’s consider this because it simply is true and yet we have completely forgotten about it.
Really think about football until now- what defined champions? Consistency. But consistency showed itself in very different forms- consistency in recruiting, consistency in tradition, and consistency in high performance and so on. All of this, however, took a great donor base and fiscual consistency as well as a size advantage in terms of school size in order to accomplish. This explains why names like Alabama, Texas, USC, and Notre Dame have stayed relevant to football for decades. Big schools stayed relevant and smaller colleges weren’t as focused on athletics and were not able to compete on so high a level. And yet only one of the schools I just listed has been consistent in terms of results- Alabama. So what shifted?
Well, to put it bluntly- the entire landscape of football changed. Schools all realized that one of their biggest moneymakers will be athletics. So they started pushing to make their athletics relevant to the sports world while big schools sat contentedly on their cash cow. Smaller and newer schools knew, however, that they would not be able to compete in recruiting, or size, or budget. So how did they remedy this? Well we could argue about the evolution of the spread offense and other minute points of the history of college football, but suffice it to say that consistent personnel and results are what mattered. If coaches could use something only they had to their fullest ability, they had a shot. Offenses and defenses went from the same five that EVERYONE used to an infinite amount that are individualized to every single school to promote consistency within their football programs.
Don’t believe me yet? Here, let’s look at some examples- one program that has risen and one that has been reborn.
First, Western Michigan. Talk about a program that has risen. When I was a kid, I knew them as one of those bad teams you didn’t use on NCAA Football video games. Now look at them- still undefeated with a decent schedule, averages of 49 points per game, almost 500 yards of offense per game, and only allowing an average of 17.7 points per game with multiple shoutouts. In fact, the only time there was even a close game for them this year was versus Northern Illinois- and that was only until the fourth quarter. So what’s different? Exactly what I’ve said. The program at WMU is consistent and yet you don’t hear much about them. They’re not that flashy. They go get it done every week. But the stats speak for themselves that they went all in on building a balanced and consistent team rather than devoting their energy to star player or one side of the ball. If a school like Western Michigan can do it, it is safe to say that any school could do this with the right leadership.
Second, the University of North Carolina- a program reborn under Larry Fedora after a slump of years with bad leadership. The stats here are deceiving and maybe lower than other teams, but for simple reasons- the Heels have defense. This was something they struggled with in slump years. In fact, the entirety of the slump years at UNC were a direct result of inconsistency from the team as a whole. When Fedora took over, he set out with a simple goal- a consistent, fast, and aggressive football team. And boy, are they that. Mitch Trubisky is without a doubt a potential Heisman candidate with less than five interceptions on the year and over a 70% completion rating…talk about consistency.
So what is going on in college football? What’s the point in me saying all this? Why have you read this entire article written by a die-hard college football fan who’s tired of hearing all the questioning of “What’s wrong with college football?” when the answer has been with us the whole time. Simply, it is this- at the end of the season, the teams that show consistency on and off the field are the ones that will experience success in the NCAA. There is no more invincible team. There never has been an invincible team. There have only ever been consistent teams. The definition of consistency may change over time, but parts of it remain constant. Any team can compete with any team if they are consistent enough, but that consistency is exactly what sets apart an NCAA champion.
December 2, 2016
An update from the future. Even as I write this addendum to this article, Western Michigan- the shining star of consistency in the NCAA- is being crowned MAC Champions. Consistency wins games. Consistency just might get WMU a Cotton Bowl game.