College Football Requires Scheming

Nature or nurture? It's a discussion of long-standing in education, anthropology, philosophy, psychology, and other disciplines. How about football? The obvious answer is that it's good to have both--good players and good coaching.

Alabama Coach Nick Saban was asked Sunday about the transition from coaching defense in the NFL to coaching in college. Unquestionably, there are better players in professional football. The pros take the very best from their training ground, which is college football. But that doesn't necessarily mean the pro game is more entertaining than college ball. And therein lies the question. Do pro coaches rely more on talent and less on schemes than is the case in coaching college defense?

Saban knows football, and he particularly knows defense.

He said there's a difference in the games.

"First of all, it's a different field," he said, alluding to hash marks closer together, putting the ball more in the middle of the field. "The hash mark does make a difference in college football. A lot of people play ‘boundary' and ‘field' defenses, which is a simpler way rather than playing formation defenses. We started doing combination of both here, if we need to, which you don't do in the NFL. It can affect adjustments that you have to make. If the ball is on the hash, the same adjustments don't work as well in the middle of the field.

"I think the diversity of offenses that you see in college is far beyond the stereotype offenses you see in the NFL because the quarterback is not ever going to be a runner. I think the biggest difference in college football and pro football in those offenses is that the quarterback will run it. The new offenses, the spread, are all things with the quarterback as a featured part of the offense in something other than being a passer, whether it's option football, zone option, quarterback runs. All those things are the major differences.

"But systematically, you don't have to change your system. You just have to adapt it so that you have enough people to be able to do it. I think we've done that fairly effectively here and will have to continue to do that, but ironically enough, probably the worst game we played last year was against a team that was not a spread offense, was not a running quarterback (but rather) four wideouts. That's something you see all the time in the NFL.

"So I think it's even more important to have experienced players who can adapt week to week because there are significant changes in how you defend or you have to become extremely simple. And if you're extremely simple, you'd better be better than the other guy because you're not going to create schematically much in helping the players make plays. They're just going to have to do it kind of on their own ability and talent. And I think a combination of both is probably the best way to be effective."

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