Thursday, December 08, 2005

An Interesting Nugget on USC

This quote from a "veteran [NFL] personnel man" caught my eye in Don Banks' article on why Reggie Bush is in the lead to be the #1 pick in the Draft ahead of Matt Leinart:

"But with that team [USC], if you watch it closely, the guy that stirs that drink is the tailback. The guy is clearly the factor. They don't do anything revolutionary on offense. They just have better players than anyone else. They're backed up on their goal line, but they give him the ball on a simple hand-off and he goes 70 yards. He's a special player."

Gee, that sure seems inconsistent with Heismanpundit's "Gang of Six" Hypothesis that we impaled this off-season. It's a lot more fun to imagine that your program wins because it has smarter coaches and more sophisticated schemes as opposed to simply having better talent as a result of sitting in one of the most talent-rich areas in the country and having little or no competition for the talent in that region. Anyway, this quote piles more dirt on the "Gang of Six" hypothesis, not that Urban Meyer's struggles at Florida or Boise State's destruction in Athens didn't already do the job. (Heck, Les Miles always had effective offenses at Oklahoma State and his more talented LSU team couldn't get out of their own way for much of the year, which means that either SEC defenses are actually tough [and not the product of getting to play weak offenses] or the Big XII gets thrown into the mix with the SEC as a conference full of neanderthals who don't know how to script beautiful plays while sipping a lovely pinot grigio.)

Upon re-reading the paragraph above, I do want to point out that USC isn't guaranteed success because of their proximity to talent (see: the Paul Hackett era) and they do have a very good coaching staff. Coaching is still important and there are differences between USC's staff and the staffs of most other college football teams. I do think that Heismanpundit overstates the differences between the USC offensive scheme and offensive schemes throughout the rest of the country. He also seems to misunderstand the primary reason why his own program is so successful: unlike the rest of their conference, they can play defense. That's what separates USC from the UCLA and Oregon teams that were on top of the league in the late 90s. Pete Carroll is an excellent defensive strategist and he has loads of talent with which to work. Great defense has always been the common thread for national championship teams and it's Carroll's work on that side of the ball, rather than some sort of revolutionary offensive concept, that has USC going for a three-peat in the Rose Bowl.


Heisman Pundit said...

First of all, the argument that you 'impaled' was not mine, but College Football Resource's.

Second, I think you have a real misunderstanding of what my whole 'Gang of Six' argument was about. It was basically that these six teams--each of them at different strata in the college football universe--were better than they would be otherwise thanks to their offensive systems, each of which are/were revolutionary in their own way. Unfortunately, people took it to mean that I was saying these teams were unbeatable or something. That's not what I was saying at all. I was merely pointing out that if it weren't for their system--if they ran a simple SEC-style offense, for instance--Boise would never have even been in the conversation at the beginning of the year as to whether they could beat Georgia. They would not have been ranked. Thanks to their system, they WERE ranked and only a six point underdog. They certainly weren't a six point dog because people thought they had legitimate talent. The system made their lack of talent better. That is the point of the Gang of Six. It was that those teams were better than they would be otherwise. Look at Gang of Six member Notre Dame as a perfect example. In 2004's system, they were shit. In 2005 with a new system, they are very good. What is the common denominator?

As for USC, to say they don't do anything revolutionary is silly. I can care less what a single scout says. There were scouts in the Sporting News that said that USC had no chance to beat Oklahoma last year, that Leinart was overrated, etc. I know several scouts personally and most of them don't know shit. So, just because you can quote a scout who says otherwise does not prove anything. The fact that a ton of teams around the country are trying to use their backs in the same manner as Bush is used at USC is proof alone that the Trojan offense has been influential.

If you think that USC is just out-talenting people to win 34 in a row, then you have your head in the sand. USC has a lot of talent, but so do Texas, LSU, Tennessee, etc. It is USC's system, combined with that talent, that has made them untouchable. To ignore that is just ignoring reality.

So, once again to recap: The Gang of Six theory does not ignore defense or other factors in football. It merely picked out six teams that had separated themselves in offensive sophistication, with the result being a rise in their program's success. USC is an elite school, but was struggling until the system arrived. Cal was shit for years and suddenly got good. Now, it is to the point where they can lose a first round pick at QB and have a bad replacement, but the system still enables them to go 7-4 (coulda easily went 9-2, but lost a couple last minute games). As disappointing as Louisville has been, they replaced Shelton and the nation's pass efficiency leader and went 9-2. Think it was because of talent or that system that kept them together? Boise went 8-3, but they have serious talent problems. If they ran a straight I formation, they are a 5-6 team, easy.

Again, if you have impaled any theory, it wasn't mine.

Heisman Pundit said...

One other thing: If just having better players than everyone else means you win every game, then why isn't LSU undefeated right now? Why does any less talented team beat more talented teams? It happens all the time. Like I said, not all scouts are phi beta kappa.