Which programs make the best use of top talent?
In many instances, we struggle to come up with definitive answers to larger college football questions because of the small sample sizes in a sport with a 12-game regular season and constant turnover. However, unlike pro sports, we have fairly reliable (in the aggregate) measurements of incoming talent.
Over the past eight years, the 10 best recruiting programs (according to the 247Sports Composite) are Alabama, USC, Ohio State, LSU, Florida State, Georgia, Florida, Texas, Oklahoma, and Notre Dame, in that order.
Which have taken their superior inputs (blue chip talent) and produced superior outputs (success on offense or defense, as measured by Bill Connelly's S&P+ rankings)?
|On-field unit quality, according to S&P+ ranking|
|Florida State defense||30||1||3||4||30||13.6|
|Florida State offense||11||1||10||48||16||17.2|
|Ohio State offense||1||2||16||65||12||19.2|
|Ohio State defense||2||42||25||25||2||19.2|
|Notre Dame offense||22||27||7||20||27||20.6|
|Notre Dame defense||57||48||8||11||10||26.8|
Good lord, the Florida and Texas offenses jump off the table. None of the other units are outside of the top 30, but the Gator and Longhorn offenses are in their own circle of hell.
Is it possible Texas and Florida recruited well on defense, but not offense? Let's look at the number of players signed by Texas and Florida since 2007 who were consensus four- or five-star players, according to the Composite:
|Blue chips signed per class|
|Year||Florida offense||Florida defense||Texas offense||Texas defense|
The 2014 Florida offense was preceded by four recruiting classes that had 17 blue chip recruits on offense.
On the one hand, Florida had more than enough talent to do better than 5.24 yards per play, 12th in the SEC. On the other, Muschamp neglected to recruit depth on the offensive line and speed at the skill positions.
In contrast, Texas recruited balanced classes under Brown. For example, the miserable 2011 offense came on the heels of the Horns signing 25 blue chip offensive players in the preceding four classes.
The exception for the Longhorns came at quarterback. In the five classes from 2007 to 2011, Texas recruited two blue chip quarterbacks, Garrett Gilbert and Connor Wood, both of whom transferred. Brown put a bevy of blue chip recruits on the field, except at the most important position, where he was hoping for Case McCoy and David Ash to surpass their three-star ratings.
A common thread?
We cannot talk about the collapse of the Florida and Texas offenses without also talking about scheme changes.
With Colt McCoy and Tim Tebow, Texas and Florida were both in the Offensive S&P+ top 11 three years in a row. But in 2010, both underwent ballyhooed scheme changes from spread attacks to a more pro-style approaches.
In both instances, the changes were motivated by five-star pocket passers (Gilbert and John Brantley). And in both instances, the changes were disastrous.
Where do we go from here?
Florida made the conventional response to a bad offense: hiring an offensive head coach.
Jim McElwain has the tailwind of personnel who fit his and Doug Nussmeier's preferred pro-style approach, but the headwind of Muschamp's failures. The combination of a better scheme and excellent defensive talent could be enough, but it's hard to look at the material right now and imagine Florida scoring bushels of points.
Texas, meanwhile, hired a defensive head coach. Steve Patterson's decision to hire Charlie Strong makes sense on the level that he needed a disciplinarian after Brown's casual approach. Additionally, while Strong's expertise is on defense, his Louisville teams were generally good on offense.
And if we are willing to credit Strong's staff with Teddy Bridgewater's success, then Strong answers Texas' biggest weakness: quarterback. The initial results were not positive, as Texas appeared to pretend last year that Tyrone Swoopes has Bridgewater's skillset.
Texas and Florida have been disappointing outliers for five years. Neither projects to be much better in 2015, as both McElwain and Strong have a lot of work to do. Both have the advantage of great recruiting bases, but as recent history for both programs show, bringing in blue-chip classes is no guarantee of success.
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SB Nation presents: Players who could make an impact at Florida in the future