Thursday, October 15, 2015

USC and the 10 strongest blueblood programs in college football

Because college football is becoming so money-driven and the culture is becoming more short-term oriented, losing its ability to maintain longer time-preferences, top 10 jobs are available virtually every offseason.

So far in 2015, USC has a vacancy with Oklahoma looming as another possible opportunity if the Sooners can't rebound from their loss in the Red River Shootout and proceed to drop several more games (another loss to Oklahoma State would really put Bob in some hot water).

I wrote up a bit on what and who USC should look at in hiring their next head coach over at Football Study Hall. I'd like to take a fun opportunity to rank the 10 programs in college football that I think are the strongest as USC is undoubtedly in the mix.

The strength of a program is tied most strongly to its base of support, particularly from the alumni. Without a strong network of alumni or other boosters who are fully invested in the program it's very difficult to be competitive in the spending wars that draw in top coaches and players.

The next most important quality for a blueblood program is access to premier players. This can come either through being located next to a region that produces a ton of talent or else having a diaspora of invested alumni to help convince players to come to campus.

Finally, there's tradition which is important both for selling players and coaches on the program. Tradition usually carries with it one of the previous two qualifiers but it brings a total credibility that these talent pools and this existing culture knows how to win and how to support a program.

If you're a coach at one of these ten programs you know that you have as good or better chance than anyone in your league of building champions.

Understand that these rankings are subjective and I reserve the right to change my mind on the order, but what could be more fun to debate?

Alright, here we go:

Honorable Mentions

Auburn, Penn State, Texas A&M, and Tennessee just missed the cut for me.

Auburn is on the rise thanks to demographics and booster investment from their fan base but they aren't quite there yet and are the 2nd biggest program in a state that isn't particularly large in a greater region with a lot of other powerhouse programs.

Tennessee has a similar minor shortcoming that holds them back but could also be in the top ten very easily if things break the right way. For Tennessee the biggest problem is lack of local talent, the state simply doesn't produce a ton of great players. The surrounding states do, but the Vols rely on their powerful alumni network to help draw those players in which means they have to overcome the other SEC powers that are closer to the talent.

For Georgia it's mostly just a lack of tradition of winning championships. It simply doesn't happen often enough to prove they belong in the top 10. However, they have tremendous booster investment and an absurd base of talent from which they always have their pick of the litter.

Penn State is close, and their support and access to talent are both better than many realize. They basically just need to stake their claim by knocking over Big 10 East rivals Michigan and Ohio State a few times with a coach who's name isn't Paterno.

A&M has fantastic support, premier facilities, and easy access to Houston, DFW, and East Texas. Their problem is a lack of tradition as they've always been an also-ran in every conference. You figure that if they were able to win a title things might start rolling for them but they also have a unique, insulated culture that makes it harder for them to be an easy flag for every one to follow.

10. Notre Dame

The Irish are prime to get knocked off this list by one of the rising SEC powers if they can't start winning some titles in the playoff era. However, the Irish brand is one of the strongest national brands in the country and they've long served for both the Irish-American and Catholic-American community at large as a sort of mascot and source of pride. So they have national resources, a national fanbase, and a long history of winning.

9. LSU

The Tigers are new to this list, but they are in great position to never give up their spot and even to potentially climb to a higher ranking. Why? Louisiana has the most talent per capita of any state in the union and their boosters and fans are passionately committed to ensuring that the Tigers always have their pick of the litter within the state.

8. Florida

The Gators are clinging desperately to this spot against the efforts of other SEC programs to the west. The thing is, Florida is the biggest university in the nation's most talented state, and their boosters are committed to taking advantage and making sure the Gators don't lose their position as a national contender.

7. Florida State

I'm sympathetic to Marco Rubio's claim that Florida is the better school based on my interactions with Noles fan on twitter, but "free shoes university" has a longer and better tradition of winning. Barely. If you're the head coach at FSU you know that you have everything you need to pull in top Florida players and go whip some opponents.

6. Michigan

Granted the Wolverines have only won one title since 1950 and yes they've often been a laughingstock in recent years. Yet their insanely long tradition, passionate and massive alumni network, and gigantic stadium mean that every coach there has a chance to bring in the best talent in the region (or even nationally) and have every needed resource to develop it to its fullest potential.

I suspect Jim Harbaugh's tenure will vindicate much of the Wolverine's pride in their program, to the chagrin of the program's detractors.

5. Texas

Texas has as many resources as any program in the nation, they're the flagship in a massive state with tons of talent, and they have tons of powerful and invested boosters. That said, the program often struggles to get all of those resources pointing in the same direction.

The Texas job at times is almost like the ring of power, it's difficult to learn how to wield it and trying to do so without the necessary power and will is likely to end in disaster.

4. Oklahoma

The Sooners have a stronger support network than Texas, which has often allowed them to poach many of the Longhorn's advantages and pick off top players in DFW or East Texas or to set up their coaches for major success.

Oklahoma doesn't have much else but the OKC Thunder and wealthy people who aren't owners can't use a pro basketball team as a vanity project. So much of the state is fully behind the football program and their alumni network extends into Texas where most of the talent has traditionally come from.

Oklahoma has claim to seven national titles, with the first coming in 1950, and played in four BCS championship games. That's strong evidence that the foundations of that program are granite.

3. USC

We covered them in the article linked above, it's very easy for the Trojans to be "the team" of the west coast, which is a massive and powerful region.

2. Ohio State

Ohio features the most high school football talent of the entire midwest region yet only has one major football program within the entire state. I suspect this is by design as it allows the Buckeyes to be "the team" for the entire state.

Much like with Oklahoma, when you have an entire region fully devoted to a program the results are going to be considerable.

1. Alabama

The investment from Alabama's base of support matches that of any other program and it has for a very long time. They claim 15 national championships and whenever Saban departs they will doubtlessly go spend huge money to bring the best possible coach to take up his mantle.

The state of Alabama is home to some great talent but the entire South is absolutely loaded with great players and Alabama is the big dog when recruiting all of them. They've also been great at going to states where players are willing to leave town to play (Florida) and picking off top players there as well.

Thoughts? Rebuttals?


  1. With what you mentioned about Ohio State... Michigan should be down near the bottom of the list. I see the money source as one thing but I see players flooding OSU when it counts unless you have a figure like Jim Harbaugh... but that's a rare event out here. Further down the line is Michigan State, whom rightly isn't on this list as they get the leftovers. I'm not familiar with Texas but I think the Florida schools at least trumps Michigan.

    1. Here's Michigan's traditional recruiting territory:

      1) Michigan
      Obviously. Michigan produces a fair few good players, not enough to fill out a class but definitely enough to provide 3-6 good players in every class.

      2) Ohio
      Michigan has a ton of recruiting pull in Ohio and can even pick off top players that Ohio State wants.

      3) The greater midwest
      Michigan is one of "THE schools" in all of Big 10 country. Kids in all of these regions can be swayed to go to Michigan over more local Big 10 schools.

      4) The east coast
      Several more good players along the east coast who grow up watching Michigan football and live in proximity to Michigan alumni.
      Not to put too fine a point on it but it really helps recruiting if alumni live near where the good players are for reasons of access and ease in convincing those players to play for the Wolverines.

      4) National recruiting

      Michigan is a national brand, especially with Harbaugh but the school has the funds to always try and bring in coaches with national pull even if they don't always find ones as brilliant as Jimmy.

      They can recruit in the South, in Florida, in Texas, etc.

      Brady Hoke wasn't a national brand that recruits around the nation were thrilled to come play for but with Michigan's resources he signed two top 10 classes.

      Obviously Ohio State has an easier time of recruiting than Michigan, but the Wolverines have the money and reach to make up for it when they have good coaches.

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