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College football, the Hurricanes, and systems thinking

We’ve talked a lot about Bill Connelly’s acquisition, development, and deployment- but what weight do each get in a high P5 program like The U?

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 30 Virginia at Miami Photo by Doug Murray/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Analytics nerd and college football (amongst other endeavors) SP+ creator Bill Connelly coined the adage that college football is three things: acquisition, development and deployment. Acquisition being the signing of talent, development being turning that talent into NFL draft picks and deployment being the system and schemes used to get the most out of your talent.

While Bill C. has used that triumvirate to explain how programs exist, the aspect I have never seen quantified is the weighting given to each of the three parts of the system. I sat down with two anonymous assistant college football coaches (one Power 5, one JUCO) to discuss their thoughts on how to weigh acquisition, development and deployment. We came up with some interesting theories I’ll share with you below.

In the book, Thinking in Systems, the author Donella H. Meadows (edited by Diana Wright) breaks down all of the parts, and flows, of a system. Thinking in Systems takes you on a journey through governmental, economic, business, and even physical systems (like fighting off diseases like HIV/AIDS).

In the world of college football, the system is based on acquisition (inflow and outflow of talent), development (a secondary function that can add to or takeaway from talent) and deployment (a third aspect, that can also add to or takeaway from success).

If my program has a 70% Blue Chip Ratio (explained in more detail below), but a development function that results in slower, less powerful and injured players, while my deployment adds to success- I may still lose because my “best” talent is on the sideline (see: Oregon competing during the ‘21 season with injuries to Justin Flowe, CJ Verdell, and Kayvon Thibodeaux missing time).

With Mario Cristobal serving as head coach (or CEO, President, etc. in other systems) he’ll be responsible for the entire system via all three facets we’ll discuss in more detail below.


Acquisition

Bud Elliott’s “Blue Chip Ratio” theory is that teams need 50% or more of their roster to be four and five star prospects in order to have a shot at the National Championship. Looking back at the last couple of College Football Playoff National Championship winners, UGA sat at 80% BCR heading into 2021, Alabama had an 83% BCR in ‘20, LSU came in at 64% in ‘19, and Clemson had a 61% BCR in 2018.

Lately, the key to success has been building a strong recruiting class and adding 2-3 key Blue Chip pieces via the Transfer Portal. If you’re a Miami, you’ve had too add too much via transfer. Coach Cristobal is sorting the roster out with high quality people and players in the portal- he’s adding a ton of pieces, but they’re carefully curated pieces.

Under Diaz, there had been no culture in the ‘Canes locker room because how can there be? The former head coach, Manny Diaz, wasn’t a ‘culture first’ head coach, and he relied too heavily on ‘his guys’ and portal transfers.

If you’re Alabama- you just added former Georgia Tech running back Jahmyr Gibbs to solidify a position that needed an elite talent. The rest of your locker room is intact and understands Nick Saban’s culture. A guy like Gibbs isn’t the type of player to step in and interfere anyway, he’s known for being a program-first player.

Through our discussions, we broke the importance of acquisition into three levels:

High Power 5 (ie. Alabama, UGA, Clemson): acquisition is valued at 80%.

Low Power 5 (ie. UVA, Colorado, Washington State): acquisition is valued at 70%.

Group of 5: acquisition is valued at 60%.

Now, with the weight of acquisition being different at each of those three levels of FBS football, you can see why Miami needs to acquire better under Coach Cristobal than under Coach Diaz in order to compete with the big boys of the playoff. Having a roster of around 50% BCR isn’t going to cut it against teams with a 70% or higher BCR in ‘22.


Development

Development is the second part of Bill C’s theory and holds different weight at different levels, too. But what is development? It’s the process of honing and building elite players, out of elite athletes.

From Fergus Connelly’s book Game Change

According to Fergus Connelly’s book Game Change, the athlete can be broken down into a quadrant of skills: physical, psychological, technical and tactical. Development is where these four pieces are honed in and perfected.

Physical attributes can be brought out by the strength and conditioning department (as can psychological).

From Keir Wenham-Flatt

Technical aspects are started by the S&C department and then carried through by the position coaches. The S&C coach will teach the player how to use their eyes, brain, and motor skills but not specifically to a play call.

And the tactical aspects are honed in by the position coaches and brought to the forefront by the coordinators who game plan, install and place people into the best (or worst) possible position for success).

Through our discussions, we broke the importance of development into three levels:

High Power 5 (ie. Alabama, UGA, Clemson): development is valued at 10%.

Low Power 5 (ie. UVA, Colorado, Washington State): development is valued at 20%.

Group of 5: development is valued at 30%.

The P5 assistant said the goal of development at the high P5 level is to “Not f*** it up.” While the lower you slide down, and the worse your acquisition is either by failure of the staff or because you are who you are (certain programs will obviously not attain the recruiting rankings of Bama, Clemson or Ohio State)- development becomes more important.

From Andrew Ryland

Rule no. 1 of an S&C staff is to not injure the players. If soft tissue injuries are piled up for Miami in ‘22, that’s a violation of rule no. 1 of the S&C staff. Manage load, rest, recovery and bulletproof the athletes for the stressors.

Rule no. 2 is to make sure what you do in the weight room and on the field transfers to the sport.


Deployment

Urban Meyer has said, at times, that deployment (scheme) would count for 10% of a program’s success- at most! I think he’s right. The tactical aspects of the sport, mixed with who gets on the field and where, mixed with clock management and situational play calling will add up to about 10% of a program.

If you look around the college football world there’s now an “NCAA Offense” and even an “NCAA Defense.” Where every offense has some read option, RPO’s and Air Raid concepts in it; every defense has some even and some odd front involved, and most spill and squeeze while running some man, some match and some drop zone.

Deployment matters much more at Navy or Army West Point than it does in separating the differences between Miami and Clemson. Both can run the exact same ‘schemes’ but if one is more talented, and better developed, that team will win 9 out of 10 times.

Fergus Connelly would call the deployment piece the tactical aspect of the four quadrants. However, the building of tactical knowledge would happen in development, too.

Deployment is essentially putting the right pieces in the right place in order to find success. Under Manny Diaz, you saw a lack of that quality by having younger, more talented players on the bench, or an Amari Carter in over Gil Frierson at Striker. How about Dan Enos at OC running a slow developing, ‘power run’ offense straight from 2003 Arkansas?

High Power 5 (ie. Alabama, UGA, Clemson): deployment is valued at 10%.

Low Power 5 (ie. UVA, Colorado, Washington State): deployment is valued at 10%.

Group of 5: deployment is valued at 10%.

Some development issues are ones that don’t take advantage of what you roster has to offer, or doesn’t have to offer. Much like development, the point of deployment is really, don’t eff it up!


...and the ‘Canes specifically?

NCAA Basketball: Notre Dame at Miami-Florida Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Miami, with Mario Cristobal at the helm, is pushing from a borderline high and low P5 to a high Power 5 program. The ‘Canes have loaded up on coaches, staffers, and NIL deals to make the big push from the ranks of North Carolina State and UVA to hanging with the big boys in Bama, Clemson and Ohio State.

For Miami, acquisition will now be 80% of the deal, while development and deployment will have 10% shares a piece. What does that mean? S&C Coordinator Aaron Feld needs to ‘not eff it up’ and keep the players healthy and fast. Did Oregon players improve physically while there? Did they stay healthy? There are conflicting reports on both of those topics.

The position coaches need to teach the proper technique (see: Caleb Johnson’s technique vs. the UM Linebackers under Diaz) and tactical info (read: Football IQ, proper schemes on O and D). And the coordinators and head coach need to get the right players on campus, in the right positions, while managing the game to get big wins.