One thing stood out to me after watching college football’s electric opening weekend: the level of talent and athleticism has never been so high. It is easy to see when you watch a #1 ranked Alabama team with a true freshman quarterback absolutely dominate a No. 20 ranked USC team 52-6. The young talent was obvious for Alabama; but with so much concentrated talent in places like Tuscaloosa AL, Clemson SC, and Columbus OH, arguably the three football epicenters in college football right now, you would have to think there is talent elsewhere. From what I can tell there is, and more so than ever before.
The precursor to this change in power may have been what some call the “Greatest Upset of All Time” when Appalachian State an FCS (Football Championship Series) school from North Carolina defeated #4 ranked Michigan, college football’s all-time wins leader, 34-32. FBS (Football Bowl Series) teams like Michigan have 85 full scholarships have usually have budgets multiple times higher than their FCS counterparts who can only give 63 scholarships. Michigan even paid Appalachian State $400,000 to play in the game. Just this week Appalachian State took #9 Tennessee to overtime.
The line between FCS and BCS is becoming ever closer. FCS team Richmond convincingly dominated ACC school Virginia while receiving a $375,000 check to boot. FCS Powerhouse North Dakoda State holds an 8-3 record against the FBS including 5 straight wins, four of them over power 5 conference teams. Even low tier FCS school Nicholls State who was a 55-point underdog gave No. 9 Georgia a scare 26-28.
With talent aplenty, and many larger schools focusing on and fighting over big-time recruits smaller less distinguished schools have risen among challenging ranks. A look at the currant AP poll Top-5 won’t bring any surprises: Alabama, Clemson, Florida State, Ohio State, Michigan. But #6? Houston who is fresh off of putting a whopping on No. 3 Oklahoma, a perineal powerhouse. I had to look when the last time Houston was ranked and from 1990-2011 Houston never spent a single week in the top 25. It is getting more and more difficult to accurately rank teams and even with the expansion to the FBS playoff many talented teams feel like they don’t get their fair shot. Unranked Wisconsin shot up to No. 10 in one week after taking down #5 LSU and unranked Texas jumped to 11 after beating No. 10 Notre Dame. These kind of jumps indicate that the pollers clearly can’t identify the most talented teams because there is simply far too much talent.
What is the reason for the rise in talent of smaller schools? Much of it has to do with coverage and commercialization. There is an abundance of college football games on national television. This opening weekend of the 2016 season there was a Primetime game Thursday-Monday. That was not always the case. In the past recruits would line up to play at the schools where they would be on TV. Today many teams are featured. One could even argue that cool uniforms and flashy perks have taken recruits away from larger schools. Oregon was never a football powerhouse until Phil Knight, the CEO of Nike started investing in the team and coming up with some of the flashiest uniforms college football has seen. As a recruit, playing for Penn State and wearing traditional solid colors vs playing for Memphis who rocks chrome helmets becomes an even playing field when recruits know that the television networks will find a way to get them on TV.
The gap is certainly closing…