Raw Skill Vs. Experience: Which Is More Important in College Football?
On Sep. 10, 2005, Vanderbilt defeated Arkansas in Fayetteville 28-24. Vanderbilt fans attributed the win to the clutch fourth quarter play of their prized senior quarterback Jay Cutler. Arkansas fans blamed the loss on Houston Nutt and his decision to only give freshman running backs Darren McFadden and Felix Jones one carry each.
Two years earlier, almost to the day, Nutt himself perhaps benefited from a similar move from Mack Brown. Nutt’s Hogs defeated Texas in Austin, and freshman Vince Young played the same number of snaps as I did.
College coaches struggle with the question of raw talent versus experience every year. Fans accuse coaches of mistakenly choosing the veteran over the blue chip newcomer when creating early year depth charts. Admittedly, most of those "fans" are me.
My attempt to rank positions according to the importance of raw talent versus experience is below. Raw skill is more important for the positions at the top, and experience is more important for those at the bottom. I think these are the rule more often than the exception, although there would be plenty of exceptions.
Run fast and jump high. Sure, their route running and run blocking will need to be sharpened over the next few years. But these guys have the best chance of coming into a college football program, stretching the defense, and scoring touchdowns early.
All the weightlifting and sprinting in the world still won’t make someone look like Michael Crabtree. If you need a good blocking receiver, just put in that fifth-year senior. Crabtree probably needs to rest after his 55-yarder.
Choking doesn’t seem to discriminate between freshman and senior kickers. It seems to me that players just have the "clutch" gene more than it is learned. There are probably as many or more four-year starters at these positions than at any other (no research on that). Tennessee had a Colquitt punting from the Depression through this past spring.
Pass protection is the only thing that puts this position below wide receivers. Experience never made anyone a home run threat.
The footwork and more difficult defensive packages drop this below the other "skill positions." Raw speed still dominates, though.
This lands right in the middle. The receiving part prefers raw talent, and the blocking part favors experience.
The spread is making speed at this spot more and more important. The responsibility for run and pass can still be present on every play, and one of them is usually charged with being the leader of the defense.
If you were to start building an NFL team and could choose Peyton Manning or Vince Young, Manning would be a no-brainer. For a college team, however, I’m not so sure. College quarterbacks who are legitimate running threats are nightmares for defensive coordinators.
Nonetheless, they have to learn the jobs of other positions and lead the huddle. More importantly, they have to understand what the defense is thinking.
For the last two positions, I guess a few years in the weight room counts as "experience" rather than "talent." Freshmen have to truly be freak monsters to come in and have an early impact. This position is ahead of the offensive line simply because of the speed factor in pass rushing.
Talent and experience for one or two members of the line still won’t get the job done. Everyone has to be able to move together for the unit to shine. Teams that improve their records by four or five games over the previous year typically have an offensive line made up of juniors and seniors.
Here’s to the fans that scream for the freshmen to take the field while the coach waits until they’re ready. Let the best players play.
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