College Football: How Do You Make a Champion?

Jon Joseph Editorials

COACH: “Son, this is your fifth year in the program.”

STUDENT ATHLETE: “Spot on Coach. Gimme five, my man.”

COACH: “Give you five? What, as-a-once-upon-a-time, a 5-Star recruit, have you given me or this team?

I can’t figure out whether you are lacking in intelligence, or are you simply apathetic?”

STUDENT ATHLETE : “Coach, I don’t know, and I don’t care.”

In other words, sports fans, as we Ducks denizens  have witnessed before, not every 5-Star recruit will ascend beyond this firmament.

But when it comes to winning a college football (CFB) championship, 90% of the way to winning comes on CFB signing days. You cannot incent the best and the better high school football players to matriculate to your school? Well Coach, you are sadly out-of-luck.

I believe the following speaks for itself. Bud Elliott, currently on the staff of 247 sports where he is the No. 1 recruiting guru, a few years back came up with his Blue Chip Ratio. Mr. Elliott’s BCR has determined that since 2002, generally considered to be the beginning of the ‘modern’ recruiting era, no team has won a title unless 50% of the roster was made up of 4 and 5 star recruits. This simply reflects what most of us who have followed CFB for years well know, it’s all about the Jimmies and the Joes. Is it any surprise that the schools with the best talent win titles?

Was Joey Harrington the most clutch QB ever at Oregon?

A Ducks feather in the cap for Oregon, is that Oregon since the BCS came along decades ago, is the only ‘recruiting outlier’ to have played for both a BCS title and a Playoff Championship. And as anyone with a computer that isn’t GIGO programmed well knows, the Ducks should have had another Natty shot in 2001. Defeat an extremely talented Miami team in the Rose Bowl? Doubtful. But the Joey Harrington, Mike Bellotti, led Ducks would have, unlike Nebraska with Heisman winner Eric Crouch, have at the very least showed up and balled out. The Cornhuskers was never in the game.

Auburn in the BCS? A heart- breaking loss against a team the Ducks should have at least, taken into OT. A team quarterbacked by a guy who went on to be an NFL MVP. Ohio State in the inaugural playoff title game? An amazing 17 of the 22 Ohio State players who started in the game went on to be NFL draft picks. Many of these guys are still playing in The League, including Zeke Elliott and Bosa The Elder.

A unique system on offense can get you to the threshold, but more often than not, talent will out. So, no surprise, recruiting the better athlete will pay dividends.

Nevertheless, properly identifying the lower rated kids will also pay dividends. When Clemson under Dabo was building, the early Tigers Playoff teams had an amazing ‘hit rate.’ Close to 90% of Dabo’s pre-champions 3-Star and less recruits, who first lost to Alabama in a title game before overcoming the Tide for the title the following year, started for the Tigers, and were named 1st or 2nd team all ACC. Yet, the initial Clemson title team, met the threshold of Mr. Elliott’s Blue Chip Ratio.

Devon Allen had an incredible year in 2014 especially in his breakout game against Michigan State.

Next, unless you are invited to the Playoff Final 4; well, it is difficult to win a title. Can I get a ‘DUH!’ How much does scheduling matter? This is a far more difficult issue to get one’s arms around.
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The last team from the Pac-12 to make the Playoff, Washington, played mince and meat out-of-conference (OOC) that season. UW’s B1G OOC win, at Rutgers. A school that puts CFB function into CFB dysfunction. Yet, when the Ducks tripped to the Rose Bowl for THE first Playoff game, an OOC win at Autzen against a then solid Michigan State team helped overcome a single conference loss.

And how about last season’s title winner, LSU? These Tigers schedule was as tough as it gets, including a win over Texas (last seen manhandling Utah in San Antonio) and wins over Alabama, Auburn and Florida before the destruction of Oklahoma and Clemson. But circling back to recruiting, LSU had 14 guys taken in the 2020 NFL draft. And, if LSU had played Texas Tech and not Texas OOC, would Clemson have won the title game?

For the most part, the Playoff Committee has evidenced that what it cares about when it comes to the Playoff, is Ws and Ls. Yes, you can get seeding props, LSU and not Ohio State seeded No. 1 last season, for playing the more difficult (although this was debatable) schedule. But had Utah gone 12-1 in 2019, the Utes and not 12-1 Oklahoma would have played LSU in the Peach Bowl. Utah’s big 2019 OOC game? A BYU team that lost to Toledo and Hawaii. A 12-1 Oregon? Also likely in over the Sooners, with a loss to the SEC’s 5th or 6th best team, Auburn.

Texas Tech is a better option than Georgia…

You can step it up OOC. But if you lose, you have to win every other game on the schedule. Thus, I am more sanguine about the Ducks Playoff chances in 2023 when the big time OOC opponent is Texas Tech and not Auburn, Ohio State or Georgia. And make NO mistake, today’s recruits want to know if you can get me to the Playoff and then into the NFL. A Playoff slot equals a two week, at least, ESPN cartel recruiting infomercial.

Now, let’s get to in-game coaching. Where the ‘rubber’ you have recruited meets the road. Since Nick Saban’s first season in Tuscaloosa, Alabama has not lost a game to an unranked opponent. THIS is an amazing stat. You not only have bring in the James and the Josephs,’ but you also have to coach them up.

You have to get them ready to play against themselves and not to the level of the competition. You have to wipe out the Vandy’s and today’s Arkansas. In other words, you cannot lose to a mediocre ASU and play close games against the Oregon State’s and Washington State’s of the world.

Has the perfect trifecta arrived in Eugene in 2023? I, unlike good friend Mike West, doubt it. But I do see a championship shot on the horizon.

Jon Joseph
Aiken, South Carolina
Top Photo by Tom Corno

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