Isn't it Dr. Phil the guy that keeps telling everyone that to solve their problems, they have to quit looking at everyone else and take a hard look at themselves? Well, you can look just that far to figure out why certain teams are on the rise and teams like Nebraska are on the decline, at least for now.
It's not the scholarship limitation. That's a cop-out excuse for coastal media who can't find a five dollar word to explain the apparent parity in college football. There is no parity. Never has been and never will be.
Let me explain:
The sudden drop in the Nebraska Cornhuskers is blamed on a lot of things. Coaching seems to come first, but within all the banter there comes another word heard just as much, recruiting. And when you start talking about recruiting and how NU just doesn't look as dominant as it once did, if you have seen the games, you say it's talent, if you haven't, it's the scholarship limitation.
It's all a matter of perception.
You see, It's not the limitations of numbers, but the limitations of talent that has the big guys feeling the grip. One bad recruiting class or one even just so-so can have an incredible impact on that team, say two years down the road. Instead of getting six starters out of a class of 22, you have three and two of them are only starting because you don't have anyone else to look to.
Add two years of bad recruiting in a row and folks, you got yourselves a Sahara Desert dry spell. It's a dry spell that if not drenched with JUCO talent to fill the gaps will cause your team to go from whatever level it was at to one, well, someone's getting fired.
It all comes down to the people.
The ones you recruit and the ones doing the recruiting. There is no parity. During any one year, a school can have around 20 scholarships to offer. That means they are replacing 20 scholarship players. Those players gone may have been ranked 2nd, 3rd or whatever in those oh-so speculative recruiting rankings when they came in.
The class meant to replace them is ranked 45th. Well, what does that tell you about two or so years down the road when that talent is expected to replace the talent before it with equal expectations? There won't be equal success. That's not parity, that's bad recruiting.
It comes down to players and those recruiting the players. Texas comes out with a slam dunk recruiting class every single year. It's a damn good thing for the rest of the country their coaching staff stinks or "The eyes of Texas are Upon you" might as well be the national anthem you would be hearing it so much. What good coaches can do when they can get good talent committed is best illustrated by the so-called upstarts, teams that went from nothing to national prestige.
Look at Iowa. When Kirk Ferentz took over, he was handed a team by former coach Hayden Fry that was all but depleted. It was void of any real playmakers, absent of any major speed and the future was not bright for the fledgling headmaster.
That changed with time to the point this season where some are complaining that it isn't Iowa in the national title game instead of Ohio State. That kind of turnaround didn't happen because of scholarship limitations, it happened because Ferentz could coach, but he could also recruit.
Players like offensive lineman Blake Larsen, coveted all over the country and looking at successful and offensive line traditions like Nebraska could not sway Larsen from going to a school that could barely win a game. Matt Roth, a DE/LB out of Illinois was about as hot as they came and again, recruited heavily by schools that were winning like Nebraska. Lackluster seasons and poor showings at the stadium still could not deter Roth from going to the University of Iowa.
You give me 85 players of my choice from around the country and I am going to whip your butt. If you get the players that fit your system, are athletic, talented and have speed, you got yourself a winning program if you and your staff can coach. 85 doesn't mean anything if the 85 you get are sub-par taking on a team with 85 that can play. Add to that what the person calling the plays on either side can do to bring all that potential together, there is your winning combination.
It's not about one year though, it's about every year. The difference in teams is the difference in one or two years of recruiting. You go on a dry spell in recruiting, just figure your team is going to do the same on the field. No matter how good of a coach you are, there's only so much you can do against teams with 85 guys that can play versus your 45 guys that can play and 40 other guys eating up bench space.
It's harsh, but it's reality. The difference between a 4.5/40 and a 4.7 could be 14 points a game. The difference between having five 300 pounders on the line that can pull versus 3 guys that fit the description and 2 guys that are basically filling in the depth chart, that could be the difference of 80 yards a game on the ground. In this day and age, with the nation so diluted with one kid after another that can be considered a "speedster", "bruiser" and "stud", you don't have to be Nebraska to get them, you just have to be an Iowa, an Oklahoma State or even a North Carolina who has never had the records to keep pace with a team like NU, but this year, they are rated amongst the best in recruiting thus far.
It all boils down to quality over quantity. It's not about how many, but how many of those guys can play. The better recruiter you are, the better potential your team has. And the better coach you are, the better your odds, that, that potential is realized.
You want to blame it on the fact that teams can now have only 85 versus 200 like back in the Darrell Royal days, fine. But, I am betting you that if you give me 200 guys from anywhere in the country and let me choose my coaching staff, Royal wouldn't have a chance.
Don't use the scholarship limitation is an excuse. It's not. It was a means to an end to sway the advantage between states like Texas where there was a whole lot of talent and states like Nebraska that had to go on the road to fill up their rosters with guys good enough to compete.
It wasn't meant to make teams equal, rather the entire landscape of college football. So, now, it's about what those few numbers look like. It's about what kind of players you get and it's about who's doing the coaching.
If the limitation has done any one thing, it's show coaches for what they are and make it easier to differentiate salesman from people you can respect. It hasn't put the pressure on coaches to just perform better on the field, it's made them more and more concerned with their efforts off.
85, 105 or 350, it just doesn't matter. It's who you have and who you bring in and who's bringing it all together. It's about the people.
There is no parity.
Steve Ryan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 402-730-5619