15 College Football Coaches Who Run the Toughest Spring Camps
Which college football spring practice is most likely to bring players to their knees?
Yes, which coaches run a spring camp offering the brutal physicality that will challenge players to the point of actually altering their destiny in the season that now lies just 149 days away?
To answer that question we could look to the individual head coaches’ personalities or their backgrounds, but instead why not draw on two important stats to gauge the overall conditioning of their team?
The following slideshow ranks the top 15 college football coaches who run the toughest spring camps (and fall practices) based on last seasons’ points scored and points allowed in the fourth quarter.
Indeed, what better way to meter who was the toughest in the spring and who got their team the most “ready” for the fall, than by seeing who performed the best in the final period of the combined games of 2011?
Though this is admittedly a simplistic study that doesn’t take into account a myriad of other factors such as opponent strength, experience levels and injuries, it’s still an interesting window into which coaches’ teams are most effective late in games.
As a note, the stats used for this presentation are drawn from the very intriguing www.teamrankings.com.
15. Steve Spurrier, South Carolina
Spurrier’s Gamecocks allowed, on average, only 5.2 points in the fourth quarter of games played in 2011, and on top of that number scored an average of 8.3 points per game in the final period.
These numbers earned South Carolina the No. 28 spot nationally in fourth quarter points allowed and the No. 27 slot in final period points scored, illustrating a remarkable balance of excellence late in games.
The Cocks' conditioning ultimately had a lot to do with their 11-2 final record and top-10 finish in 2011.
14. Jimbo Fisher, Florida State
Florida State managed to score an average of 9.1 fourth quarter points in 2011, a number which garnered them the No. 12 slot nationally.
In terms of final stanza points allowed, the ‘Noles took a small step backward with an average of six, which ranked No. 42 nationally.
Overall, Fisher had Florida State acclimatized to play to the whistle in 2011, an attribute that should continue to pay dividends in 2012.
13. Bret Bielema, Wisconsin
Bilelema’s Badgers scored an average of 7.5 points in the fourth quarter of 2011 games (ranking No. 41 nationally), but then sizzled defensively, holding opponents to only 4.1 points in the final period.
This stingy late game performance earned Wisconsin the No. 10 spot nationally in fourth quarter points allowed, and goes a long way in explaining how the Badgers went 11-3 and won their first ever Big Ten title game.
12. Kyle Whittingham, Utah
Last season was a compelling opportunity to stack Kyle Whittingham’s preparation techniques against Utah’s new Pac-12 opponents.
Even though the Utes went only 4-5 in conference play and 8-5 overall, they performed admirably well in the fourth quarter.
Utah allowed an average of only 5.2 final period points in 2011 (No. 24 nationally) and then managed to score 8.5 fourth quarter points (No. 23 nationally).
Like South Carolina, Utah showed great balance of performance late in games last season, a characteristic which should serve them well when they return 18 starters for their second season in the Pac-12.
11. Dabo Swinney, Clemson
Even though Clemson’s defense wound up hitting the wall with a thud in the Orange Bowl, they still managed to hold opponents to an average of only 4.2 fourth quarter points across their 2011 slate (No. 12 nationally).
Offensively, the Tigers scored, on average, 7.8 points in the final period, earning them the No. 32 spot in the land.
Swinney’s boys seemed in shape for every game other than the last, which may have had more to with a catastrophic collision course between a team with everything going right and a squad temporarily saddled with zero Karma than a conditioning issue.
10. Rocky Long, San Diego State
San Diego State went 8-5 in 2011 and came up just two points short of their ninth win by losing to ULL in the New Orleans Bowl.
Rocky Long’s team had decent numbers last season across the board, but what helped catapult them to the postseason was a string of gritty late game performances.
The Aztecs scored an average of 9.2 final period points in 2011 (No. 11 nationally) and then allowed a stingy 5.2 points in the final 15, earning them the lofty No. 25 slot in the land.
Though when you think SDSU you might not immediately think of the “toughest practices in the nation,” this is a group that performed in the top two percent of teams from a “late in the game” perspective.
9. Bobby Petrino, Arkansas
Coach Petrino’s 11-2 performance in 2011 must be considered (at least partially) a tribute to a coach that continues to prepare teams for the stiffest competition in the nation.
Arkansas, and keep in mind who they play each week, ranked No. 25 nationally in fourth quarter points scored in 2011 with 8.4 and then ranked No. 9 in points allowed in the final stanza, with a mere four.
8. Chip Kelly, Oregon
What makes Oregon one of the elite programs in the nation is not just the fact that they reel in top-15 ranked recruiting classes—it’s because they are physically prepared to last the entire 60 minutes of a football game.
Chip Kelly’s water fowl earned top 20 rankings in both fourth quarter points scored (9.1, No. 13) and final period points allowed (4.8, No. 18), making them yet another well-conditioned team with the stats to prove it.
7. Hugh Freeze
Perhaps a bit of a surprise this high on our list, Ole Miss’ incoming head man, Hugh Freeze, stacked up some juicy stats during his single season at Arkansas State in 2011.
Freeze’s Red Wolves wound up with the No. 26 national ranking in fourth quarter points scored in 2011 (8.4) and then dazzled with the No. 4 ranking (again, nationally!) in final period points allowed, with a mere 2.8.
Though these numbers are undoubtedly impressive (on a grand scale), it’s reasonable to quantify them by saying that Freeze was only the coach at Arkansas State for one season.
Looking ahead, it’s hard to use the stats to predict Sir Hugh will do the same type of miracle work in Oxford in 2012, but still, the numbers don’t lie, and the truth of the matter is, he was the guy on the sidelines while it all went down.
6. Gary Pinkel, Missouri
Pinkel has long had his Tigers in condition to contend, and 2011 was no exception to this long-standing rule.
Mizzou held its opponents last season to a mere 4.9 points in the fourth quarter (No. 23 nationally) and then sizzled to an average of 10.5 points of scoring in the final canto, earning them the No. 4 spot nationally.
It will be interesting to revisit Pinkel’s preparation and practice methodology results in 2012 when the Tigers pounce on the SEC East, where everything shines brighter and W’s are even harder to capture than a greased pig on a rainy day.
5. Brady Hoke, Michigan
Statistically speaking, what really stands out in Brady Hoke’s first season in Ann Arbor is the fact that 2010’s No. 110 ranked total defense was transformed into the No. 17 unit from 2011.
Delving further into the numbers, we find that Hoke’s Wolverines played all the way to the final whistle, earning an average of 9.5 points of scoring in the fourth (No. 9), and then holding foes to only 4.3 points in the final 15 (No. 13).
This proves that what happened at Michigan last season was far more than just an attitude adjustment.
4. Nick Saban, Alabama
It should be no surprise to find Saban’s name this high up the list, nor is it any wonder that his teams are as well conditioned as any in the business.
Alabama’s 2011 statistical tour de force includes the No. 16 spot in fourth quarter points scored (8.9, on average) and then the No. 1 ranking in final period points allowed.
So, how many points did foes score on the Tide in the fourth quarter in 2011?
Try 1.6 points, on average.
That’s just ridiculous.
3. Gary Patterson, TCU
Gary Patterson has long been lauded for continuing to reload his gun from a personnel standpoint, but the truth is that players perform much better when you’ve got them physically ready.
To illustrate Patterson’s readiness program, consider the fact that TCU is one of only three teams from 2011 to rank in the top 10 in both fourth quarter points scored and allowed.
And they ranked No. 7, nationally, in both categories.
The Horned Frogs allowed only an average of 3.7 final period points and then scored an average of a whopping 9.8 points in the final verse of ball games.
This all makes a body wonder how steep the ramp will be, in reality, for TCU as they ascend to the Big 12.
2. Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M
While everyone (including me) wants to yap it up about how Kevin Sumlin’s prolific offensive approach carried over from Houston will fit at both Texas A&M and in the SEC, here’s a guy who has more than a scoring frenzy to his name.
Yes, Sumlin’s 2011 Cougars scored points faster than Texas Tech (oh, wait, we weren’t talking about them?) could give up points, but they also performed remarkably well in the final period of their collection of games.
Highlight remarkably, because they were just that.
Houston ranked No. 1 nationally in points scored in the final period with 12.4 (no surprise there) but then ranked No. 6 (nationally? Yes) in points allowed in the fourth quarter with, get this, 3.6.
Kevin Sumlin’s squad was physically prepared to finish the game and played especially well in the fourth quarter.
And, ironically, there may be no program needing more help in “finishing” opponents than Texas A&M, who specialized in comeback-fueled losses last season.
1. Les Miles, LSU
In 2011, there was one team that performed better than any other in the fourth quarter, and that team was LSU.
Using our methodology to take the next step, we now crown Les Miles as the guy who has the best conditioned team and therefore had the toughest spring camp, and perhaps still does.
LSU scored, on average, a whopping 10.2 points in the fourth quarter in 2011 (No. 5 nationally) and then put a cherry on top by allowing foes only 2.3 points in the final stanza (No. 2 nationally).
The only pock mark on the Tigers' otherwise “holy crap” statistical resume is the national championship game where they gave up six fourth quarter points and scored zero.
And that, my friend, is another way to explain how 13-0 became 13-1.