NCAA Football: In Conference Moves, Mental Aspect Weighs as Heavily as Physical

Michael FelderNational CFB Lead WriterAugust 8, 2012

NORMAN, OK - SEPTEMBER 27:  Running back DeMarco Murray #7 of the Oklahoma Sooners is tackled by Jerry Hughes #98 of the TCU Horned Frogs at Memorial Stadium on September 27, 2008 in Norman, Oklahoma.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

With Texas A&M and Mizzou moving to the SEC, everyone is talking about how much more physical the league is going to be. As West Virginia and TCU step up to the Big 12, folks are wondering if they can handle the week-to-week improvements in competition.

It happened with Utah a season ago, as folks questioned the Utes' slow start in the Pac-12. In 2013, when the Boise State Broncos transition to the Big East, some of those same questions will loom.

There is going to be a physical grind when the competition increases. It is only natural that as the competition improves, so too does the physical stress on the bodies. No mistake about it; going from the Big 12 to the SEC or the MWC and Big East to the Big 12—there is a physical toll to be paid by the bodies of the players in transition.

However, the most interesting increase in toughness will not be shown through the players' physical play. Rather, the mental angle of the game will take its toll on the newcomers. I'm not talking about the silly "getting fired up for games" aspect of things. I'm talking real football, the Xs and Os and the preparation for the opponent.

Players are not the only people who get better when you step up in the league. Coaching staffs improve in more ways than one. Financially, they have more resources. That means more staffers watching film to evaluate the minutiae. More cutups to give their players of that film. More ways for their players to learn tendencies, learn wrinkles and dissect your schemes. 

It is not just technology, though. When you move up, the players are better. That means coaches can ask more, not only of their two-deep players but of their scout teams as well. They can duplicate your schemes in much better fashion than the limited bodies at the lower level. 

That point leads into the biggest difficulty in changing competitions—the coaches are better.

With better film-evaluation staff, better bodies on scout teams and better coaches on staff, what you have are the recipes for making winning difficult. In dissecting the film more thoroughly, you find the weaknesses. In having better bodies to run the scout team, you figure out what can and won't work against the schemes. Ultimately in having better resources, the competition just got revved up.

Manny Diaz and Mike Stoops, at Texas and Oklahoma, are going to spend their hours dissecting Dana Holgorsen's schemes. They'll have their scout teams working frantically to duplicate the looks, and they will tweak their defensive approaches to find a way to stop that offense.

On the flip side, Josh Heupel and Mike Gundy will be eying TCU's 4-2-5, looking for weaknesses. Can they stretch that speed-based scheme horizontally in order to open vertical seams? Will they be able to out-physical the smaller Horned Frogs?

In the SEC, minds like Nick Saban, John Chavis, Todd Grantham, Brian Van Gorder and Sal Sunseri will be pushing to solve the Texas A&M and Missouri offensive schemes. That's a lot of staff and coach eyeballs on the systems and a lot of folks working to figure out how to break the code.

The physical punishment that comes with stepping up in the ranks is a very real thing. How teams handle the week-to-week grind is going to be something to watch.

That said, don't discount the less-than-physical portion of things. Better teams prepare better, and with better preparation, winning gets a bit more difficult. For 2012, watching how these teams handle the new opponents is going to be one of the more interesting aspects of the season.