In the spirit of national signing day (which should be considered a national holiday this year due to the weather-related issues affecting one third of the country), I decided to jot down a few of my own thoughts.
Before the advent of scholarship limits, schools could just stockpile talent year after year. This is why when you look back at college football history, you see the dynasty phenomenon that was so common—ND in the late 40’s, Oklahoma in the 50’s, Alabama in the mid-60’s, etc. Since the most recent reduction in scholarships to 85, college football has seen more parity than perhaps at any time of its glorious past.
While I am sure Brian Kelly and his staff have their own approach on how to fill this magical 85 on an annual basis, here is how I would approach the task if I were anywhere near qualified to do so:
Step 1: Minimally, you need to be three deep at any one position. Given you have 11 on offense and 11 on defense, which makes for 66 scholarships right off the bat. Here is a breakdown:
Offensive Line: 6 OT, 6 OG, 3 OC
Offensive Skill: 3 QB, 3 RB, 3 TE, 9 WR
Defensive Line: 6 DE, 3 NG
Linebackers: 3 Dog LB, 3 Cat LB (a very difficult position to fill), 6 ILB
Secondary: 6 CB, 6 S
This only tells part of the story. Within many positions, you need different skill sets from each player. Take WR as an example. You have three positions that are not exactly interchangeable. Same goes for the LB corps. For the sake of brevity, I won’t get into all the particulars here.
Running Total: 66
Step 2: Certain skill position players need extra depth. Since the old football adage of the backup being one snap away from being the starter is as true today as it has ever been, you need to pad your depth chart in certain areas.
Here are positions that require an additional player: QB, RB, TE.
Since NG is a position that a freshman is rarely able to step into right away physically, lets add one more to the depth chart there as well.
Running Total: 70
Step 3: Special Teams. After the success that David Ruffer enjoyed this fall as a walk-on and the shaky historical performance by place kickers at Notre Dame, special attention needs to be placed on the kicking game. Ideally you need at least two place kickers and two punters on scholarship at a time in case of injury. If you can recruit a player who does both, that saves a scholarship, but let’s assume that is the exception and not the rule. Oh, and a scholarship long snapper has paid many dividends already (I can’t remember Jordan Cowart having a bad snap at any point over the past two seasons).
Positions: 2 K, 2 P, 1 LS
Running Total: 75
As you can see, we only have 10 scholarships remaining. How do those get distributed?
Step 4: Add extra defensive depth. Given the offensive system Brian Kelly runs, he rarely wins the time of possession battle. Because of that as well as the heavy rotation that Bob Diaco favors, extra emphasis must be placed on depth in the front seven on the defensive side of the ball. You need at least two extra DEs, and three LBs. Also, two extra DBs would be a good idea, since development is key to success in the Cover 2 system.
Positions: 2 DE, 3 LB (2 OLB/1 ILB), 2 DB
Running Total: 82
Step 5: Rounding out the depth chart and using the full limit. With three scholarships left, I would want at least one more WR and two OL (preferably one OT). Depending on their size, offensive linemen may be athletic enough to move from one position to another. Playing a spread offense further emphasizes the need for athleticism (especially footwork) for these linemen.
Positions: 1 WR, 2 OL
Running Total: 85
There, we finally have arrived at the NCAA limit for football scholarships. Just to review, here are the numbers at each position:
Offensive Line (17): 7 OT, 7 OG, 3 OC
Offensive Skill (22): 4 QB, 4 RB, 4 TE, 10 WR
Defensive Line (12): 8 DE, 4 NG
Linebackers (15): 4 Dog LB, 4 Cat LB (a very difficult position to fill), 7 ILB
Secondary (14): 7 CB, 7 S
Special Teams (5): 2 K, 2 P, 1 LS
Step 6: Yearly Strategy. Based on the numbers, I would prefer to have five 5th year seniors/walk-on scholarships available on an annual basis. This allows for development and continuity at a few key spots—offensive line, nose guard, secondary, quarterback. That allows for recruiting about 20 players each year, plus replacements for attrition during the season or in the spring. As an annual breakdown, you would target to sign 4 OL, 1 QB, 1 RB, 1 TE, 2 WR, 3 DL, 4 LB, 3 DB and 1 ST each cycle.
Without going into great detail about the depth chart (and players moving positions—see Jackson, Bennett) and applying the numbers to the 2012 recruiting class, there are some big needs for next year’s recruiting cycle. Based on my analysis, here are the priorities: OG, C, RB, NG, and DB. There are nine eligible 5th year seniors in for 2012, so how Brian Kelly uses them will be interesting to watch.