Talent Gaps

By Jake on May 4, 2011 at 1:00p
A.J. Hawk: 2 Whole Stars of Awesome

Hello ladies and gentlemen, rogues and rapscallions. It's been quite an eventful week. Royals were wedded, terrorists were killed, players were drafted, and tornadoes ravaged the south. And while the world continued it's not so blissful way, the blogosphere dropped a bit of a bombshell in the form of a diary post on Black Heart Gold Pants

The crux of the post is that player development is the forte of the Big Ten:

The Big Ten is indeed the elite player development conference. Recruits that go to the Big Ten add 15% to their NFL chances. The SEC and the ACC did have more draft picks than the Big Ten over the time period in question (the additional team helps), but that was because they started with with more talented recruits (and simply more recruits). The moment players step on campus, the Big Ten starts closing the talent gap through its superior player development. And as a side note, the SECs development profile suffers by its addiction to oversigning. While few doubt that oversigning is advantageous for the programs that do it, the players are the ones that pay the price in the form of a lowered chance of turning their talent into an NFL career.

This is a topic dear to my own heart. The original poster parses the recruiting success of various schools and compares them to NFL draft classes and comes to the conclusion that the Big Ten develops their players into lean, mean, combine machines by the end of their short college careers.

Assuming the data is good (it is), then there are three possible causes for the "change" in talent over time. If the SEC lags the Big Ten so much in developing their talent, then it stands to reason that their coaching staffs are worse than those in the Big Ten. Considering the absurd amount of cash tossed at coaches down south, it seems unlikely that that is the case. Much in the same way that the best teachers migrate north after a few years to take advantage of the higher salaries in the northeast and midwest, you would expect the better coaches to migrate south to take advantage of the better coaching salaries. 

Another possibility, one that the poster touches on, is oversigning. Cream rises to the top. So, more milk means more cream. Considering Steve Spurrier and others have essentially admitted straight up that oversigning is a competitive advantage, there's little doubt that it contributes to the talent discrepency. 

However, the third possibility, and one not really considered, is that rivals/scout consistently underrate Midwestern and Northeastern prospects. What's most striking about the data is the way it almost forms an inverted pyramid. The conferences with the best recruits all seem to have the worst coaching. The SEC, ACC, and Big-12 get the worst of it, the Pac-10, Big East, and Big Ten the best. Again, I doubt that the SEC has worse coaching than the Big East, but that seems to be the claim. Instead, it seems more likely to me that scout/rivals consistently underrate non-southern prospects, and over the course of 4 years of actual college production we're merely seeing a regression to the mean. 

It's not entirely the fault of the scouting services if they miss prospects in areas that are less football crazed than rural Alabama. Half of Iowa plays 8-on-8, which obviously makes any linemen scouting difficult. Here in North Carolina, most teams rotate starters to give every kid a shot, something that would be unthinkable in Northeast Ohio or South Florida. 

Regardless, it's diary posts like this that make the blogosphere such a great place. How often do you hear some former player or talking head parrot the "SEC speed" line or the "Southern talent" line without ever hearing any evidence to back it up? Even more, blogs create a community where the readers are as much a contributer as the writers. So, what do you all think? Is the talent gap a myth? Or does the Big Ten really have better coaches?



Bucksfan's picture

But the results on the field are supposed to be indicative of what's going on.  Right?  The SEC gained a very large advantage over the Big Ten in the 10 year W-L ratio during 2010.  And it was clear that the Big Ten teams did not match up in any way with the SEC teams during those bowl blow-outs.  Penn State had a QB that threw 4 interceptions Florida's way.  Michigan was hapless against a very beatable Miss St. team.  Michigan State, who went 11-1 got beaten as if they had the talent of a Toledo.

As much as it was awesome that Ohio State led by 3 scores at half-time against Arkansas, their coaching almost gave away the blowout win in the second half.

Over the last several seasons, I have actually grown to respect Big Ten coaching less and less.  I'm surprised by what Black Heart Gold Pants is saying.  It just doesn't quite add up in my opinion.  Turning one or two kids a year into NFL players by the time they're seniors doesn't compete with teams that have 5-6 kids on the field that could play in the NFL right out of high school.  No Big Ten player was selected in the top-10 of this year's draft.

Look, I hate the SEC as much as anyone.  I think they are unfairly inflating coaching salaries while doing everything possible to recruit via loopholes.  But, the result remains the same.  It's put-up or shut-up on the field, and the Big Ten has had to shut up quite a bit.

btalbert25's picture

Isn't it also fair to think that the SEC and Big 12 have a system of play that is very successful for the college game, but perhaps doesn't equip players to succeed at the next level?   Put Tim Tebow, Cam Newton, or Vince Young in USC's offense and we probably don't have the same player or results.  It's not the same for all schools.  Matthew Stafford certainly wouldn't have thrived at Auburn. 

That's basically what I think is the main difference.  I don't think neccessarliy the coaching, oversigning, better athletes down south excuses are all that relevant and the information above can certainly disprove a lot of that.  We know great football players come from the midwest.  There's a reason Texas and Bama come to Ohio to try and steal recruits. 

Florida had a system in place and recrutited incredible athletes to plug into it.  Auburn had a freak athlete running an offense that was suited to his skill set.  TP was absolutely correct in saying he would dominate the nation in that system.  Bama, was just incredibly talented. They ran the ball and had great D.  But if you step outside of the SEC and look at other schools with recent success, like Oregon, Oklahoma, and Texas, they haven't run offenses that neccessarily set up QB's and ,other players for that matter, for NFL success. 

I guess, it's a long winded way of me saying, I'm not sure it's a player development thing so much as do they get players who would have a great chance of being a great NFL player?  Those offenses can use guys like LeMichael James who are small but fast. Maybe in one of those systems a guy like Flash would have shined, where in Ohio State's system his skills just didnt translate well. 

NYC Buckeye's picture

I think the overall statement of the article on Black pants is just being inflated a little by being called a "bombshell".

The Big Ten may develop lower ranked high school recruits at a better rate than any other conference, however that really does not say anything about the talent level or quality of our teams vs other conferences, I dont even think it means our coaches are any better or worse than anyone else, as kids who are not highly ranked recruits are more likely easier to coach than top level prospects (who might already have a big ego coming out of high school)

Im not sure its much to brag about, it does make me proud to know that Ohio State consistently develops players like Dane, AJ and Mangold from less heralded recruits into quality smart football players, however if Im doing some chest thumping near SEC fans the bowl record trumps it in the head to head aspect...

Jake's picture

See, I'm not sure tOSU does develop those players. I think instead those players just get passed over by Rivals and Scout.

JaxBuck2010's picture

I also Think its has alot to do with the fact that some of these recruiting services are flat out wrong and mis-evaluate the talent . They say John Doe runs a 4.3 40 yet plays against sub-par competition so they might take away a star or two , when in reality 4.3 is fast no matter what competition they may play against . To say that a kid has California or Florida speed makes him faster than a midwest kid , Malcolm Jenkins was 6'1 195 pounds running a 4.5 but since he was from New Jersey He is automatically not as good as a kid with the same measurables from Miami Fl, or Southern California . I just feel that alot of times the biased judgement has alot to do with what these kids are ranked , if AJ Hawk went to florida or came to Ohio State from Californa how many stars would he have been , Clay Matthews was a walk on at USC cause the recruiting servces felt he was undersized , what a joke right . I just Feel That These kids are better than advertised and the Big 10 does not get enough credit for having tradition and staying power in recruiting So-called 4 and 5 star recruits .

btalbert25's picture

Good, point, and there's no way to quanitfy heart and work ethic.  Recruiting services and these 5 star camps etc, aren't much different than the NFL combine.  You see a guy with freakish athletic ability and give him stars.  We have seen that sometimes it does compute. Beanie, Brewster, TP, Posey were definitely 5 star caliber.  Then you see a guy like Robert Rose and to an extent Worthington who were fine college players but may not exactly 5 star.  It's also impossible to tell how a person will adjust to the next level, or has the kid peaked in high school etc. 

ramiy63's picture

Another thought might be the pro style offenses and the fact that the NFL does not use spread offenses - as many in the SEC/ACC do. This affects what type of players are recruited, and how they develop and adjust over their four year college career. I think it's especially true for offensive linemen. So when a NFL team is looking to draft someone for their system, it's much easier for them to grade and evaluate someone who comes from a system like theirs. But, I agree that the player rankings are skewed in favor of players from the south. Speed you know...  

btalbert25's picture

That's kind of what I was getting at with my first comment, certain systems definitely work better with smaller quicker guys.  If where as at the end of the day an O-lineman from Wisconsin is going to be much more desired than one from another school that may be more successful.

Conroy's picture

Outside of Auburn, MSU, Florida (Not anymore) no one really runs the spread in the SEC.

Hoody Wayes's picture

"Bill Hancock, the executive director of the BCS, who was copied in on the letter, said he was confident that the BCS complies with the law.

'Goodness gracious, with all that’s going on in the world right now and with national and state budgets being what they are, it seems like a waste of taxpayers’ money to have the government looking into how college football games are played,'" he said. (source: AP)

What BS! The projections for cash made by a college football playoff DWARF the BCS' earning power.


NC_Buckeye's picture

Hoody, I know why SEC fans want a playoff. But I can't for the life of me understand why a fan of any Big Ten school would want one. Delaney is right, a playoff is bad for the Big Ten.

We're going to have a hard time getting any of that cash when we place one team in a sixteen or eight team field. Playoff selection is all about perception and the Big Ten doesn't have a very good reputation after the last six or seven bowl seasons.

If the bowls even exist after a playoff, the cash flow from them will be significantly reduced. But I think the majority of them will just fold. 

So if you're big reason for a playoff is that it will increase the cash-flow. Yeah, maybe it will for the S-E-C and the little sisters of the poor but not for the Buckeyes and our Big Ten brethren.

NoVA Buckeye's picture

It's hard to say that the Pac-10/12 produces quality recruits into great players. USC seems to have the best recruiting class every year, but what do they have to show for it? 0* National Championships. Maybe Petey is just a recruiter and not as much of a coach, of course, many thought Charlie Cheeseburger was a good coach at producing NFL talent, so I could be wrong, but what happened to CJ Gable? Seantrel Henderson? Aaron Corp? Carson Palmer? (that's right, Cincy fans) John David Booty? Mike Williams wasn't so hot his first 8 years in the NFL. And who could forget Matt Leinart? I mean, it just seems a lot of guys fell off of the table.


*- You know... Reggie Bush anyone?

The offseason begins when your season ends. Even then there are no days off.

Conroy's picture

I mean, you can say the same thing about almost any big time program.  If you put a lot of players into the NFL, there are going to be a lot of bad ones and a lot of busts.  Palmer was awesome until he got injured; that had nothing to do with USC.

Natty Light's picture

commitment to football is the biggest difference imo.  and the lack of partying/drugs/alcohol.  reason why boise, utah, byu, tcu can turn 2/3 stars into a competetive team.  there isn't anything else to do in boise but practice and work out. 


zosima's picture

There is a flip side to the SEC's high coaching pay... "high" standards. That means high turnover on the ten teams that don't get ten wins. I think the consistency in coaching staffs up north contribute greatly to players' growth.

tybeedawg's picture

Georgia fan here - we discuss this alot. I think the recruiting services have more subscribers in parts of the south (probably 100 Alabama subscribers for every Minn subscriber) tend to think they pander to that base. I think the sites undervalue early commitments in order to keep or increase subscriber base as signing day approaches.

Sometimes a player will be a high 3 star and pick up an offer from Alabama, Notre Dame , or USC and the next update will show him as a low 4 star.

UGA pretty much only offers the guys they really want early - so a 3 star is high on their board if they have an early offer - a late offer generally means the guys they wanted have committed to some other school or have told the coaches they plan to sign with somewhere else.

Yes there is alot of pressure to win in the SEC - our coach is feeling it some. I don't agree with the desire to change coaches quickly unless there are problems with the NCAA or legal issues with the players. I know some think UGA has had some problems - that is true. Most have been teenagers away from home kind of things - motor scooters, expired drivers liscenes, some more serious stuff.

Not commenting on the current Buckeye problems - glass houses etc. Thinks will work out.

We ended up with Boise State in the opening game this year - had heard rumors OSU was a team they were trying to schedule for that game. Maybe next time - it would be fun.