I saw this tweet from a USA Today writer sometime during December, and I thought, this will be a great offseason discussion. However, I did not save the tweet and cannot locate it now, so I will summarize. The tweet went along the lines of saying this: If a college football team hasn't won a title in the last 20 years they will never win one again.
My first reaction was "What? Seriously? That is a bold prediction." But then I began to think, and I started to realize where this writer was coming from. First things first, the motivation behind this tweet was in reference to the Tennessee and Nebraska job openings, because Nebraska's 20 years just expired, and Tennessee's will this coming year. *cough cough* Michigan's expired along with Nebraska. I will breakdown my thoughts and would love to hear yours as well. I don't have a definitive opinion; however, spoiler alert, I agree with this tweet more than I disagree.
Why I disagree: Because Ohio State broke this rule. This was my first thought. Ohio State went from 1970 (ehh more like 1968) to 2002 without winnning a national championship. And this period wasn't just 30+ years of close calls. No this was the dark ages (relatively speaking to OSU history). The 80s were mainly spent in mediocrity, as Ohio State went from a national brand to a regional brand. As teams such as BYU and Miami jumped onto the scene with high scoring and innovating offenses, Ohio State was mired playing 1960s football.
But Cooper brought us back. I know Cooper gets a lot of hate, and deservedly so, but Tressel doesn't happen without Cooper. He took Ohio State back to the level of national prominence with recruiting like Ohio State had never seen before. Finally, Tressel won the games that mattered, and Urban got sick at the perfect time and here we are. A team that went 32 (maybe 34) years without a title, and now are in a small group behind Alabama fighting for the Queen's seat in college football.
Why I agree: Simply put, college football has changed since Ohio State accomplished the feat. It really is tremendous to see the amount in which everything surrounding college football has changed since the turn of the century. The popularity has taken off. Along with this popularity, media outlets and these things called "recruiting rankings". It wasn't that long ago where I didn't know the incoming freshmen until I heard their name announced for the first time on Saturday. Now by the time they are juniors in high school, I know their moms name, their dogs name, and where they like to eat.
You may be asking, where are you going with this? My point is this, there are far far fewer "program and demographic ties". It wasn't long ago where you'd see a kid deciding between Ohio State, Michigan, and Penn State. Nowadays, you see these kids have three hats on the table from three completely different parts of the US. Media outlets and recruiting sites such as 247Sports and Hudl.com, which allow coaches to see literally any player they want, have completely changed recruiting.
How does this affect the premise of this thread? A kid is much less likely to hang around a mediocre program just because he is close. That 4-star who in 1995, may have chosen Michigan just because it's close and no one really knows him outside of 100 miles, now all of a sudden has 30 offers, ranging from USC to Miami. The moral of the story is that it is harder now to recover from a drought that it was just 2 decades ago because it is much easier for a kid to leave a bad situation, where before, they may be a part of a rebuilding era.
When John Cooper arrived on campus, he did something only a few other programs around the country were doing, and that was recruiting on a national level. He protected Ohio and won in other states. And in doing so, brought us back. But what do you do now when 50+ FBS teams are already doing the same thing?
My next point takes aim at programs like Michigan, Tennessee, and Nebraska. I am FED UP with these teams, specifically Tennessee and Nebraska declaring "We are a Top 10 job!! We are a blue blood!!" Well I have a newsflash for you, recruits don't care. Okay maybe you have 1 or 2 who's parents tell them about the 90s, but for the most part tradition in college football is wearing off. This may hurt some fans feelings, but do you think Urban Meyer walks into a house and talks about Woody Hayes when he is recruiting? No, he shows them a picture of 2014, and then talks about all the guys who are in the NFL right now.
The mindset has changed, and the driving force is "3 years and out". It is almost like the Kevin Durant plan. Join the best team and win a title. Only for recruits it's "Join the best team, win a title, get paid ASAP". It is going to almost impossible for a comeback team to beat the top dogs right now. You may get a guy with just a Purple Scar that makes a run into the Top 5, and makes it interesting, but in the end, isn't likely to beat the guy built up in the final circle and 3 legendary guns (shoutout to my Fortnite lovers). Translation - You may get a Johnnie Manziel team that makes it interesting and makes a great run, but in today's game, that isn't winning a CFP against teams that have 4 Top 5 classes on their rosters.
This brings me to my final point. The college football playoff. You have to win one more game against a Top 4 team. This separates the best of the best. It used to be possible to play an easy schedule, make a run, and then pull a major upset. That was the formula. It was rare, but still possible. That can't be done now. Just look at some Ohio State teams. We were one game away from playing for a national title in 2013 with a defense that belonged in the garbage. We wouldn't have had to play both Auburn and Florida State. No, we just would have had to play one. And anything is possible in just one game, right 2002? Florida State played an awful schedule in 2014, and would have been in the title under the old system. Iowa was a win away in 2015. The playoff made, or would have made a fool of these teams, but just having to win one game? Who knows.
In summary, I believe the hypothesis to be mainly true, other than Georgia is going to break this rule soon. Since Ohio State in 2002, only Texas, Auburn and USC have beaten the 20 year rule. The rest had all won a title within the previous 20 years. I believe it to be a snowball effect. Recruits not being tied down to a region leads to taking the best path to a title and NFL career, which leads to 5 or so teams having a majority of the best players stockpiled on their rosters, and the playoff means a team with less depth will have to pull 2 upsets instead of 1.
I would love to hear your thoughts. Of course it is possible, and likely at some point in the future, that we will have an outlier win it all. And hell, Georgia was a blown coverage away from breaking it this year. But the moral of the story is that it is true, it is damn hard to rebuild a program nowadays. Way harder than in the past.