America's Loss of Small Family Farms Is Killing Midwest Football

J. Robert ByromCorrespondent IJanuary 19, 2009

Three yards and a cloud of dust is all but dead in college football. Gone is Bill Yeoman's veer, Daryl Royal's wishbone, Bud Wilkinson's split T, and, to a lesser extent, the Maryland Power I.

The reason being that historical power running programs that used to rely on having 10 to 20 "hosses" walking straight off the farm and onto their campuses just do not have that luxury anymore. The power teams are falling behind the speed teams, and the reason is they just do not have the dominate lines they once did. 

They cannot line it up every play and know that they'll get at least three yards no matter what, even if they run it every play of the game.

You see this phenomenon in the Big Ten and the Big 12 North more than anywhere else. Programs that used to have lines twenty men deep just cannot dominate they way they used to. They cannot get to the QB as fast and their linebackers just cannot cover the skill players when needed. 

If they cannot stack the line, they cannot stop the run. This never used to be a problem.

Nebraska, Notre Dame, Michigan, Minnesota, Iowa, Penn State, and Illinois are among the most affected, but other teams have had to go away from the run to continue or resurrect their success.

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USC, Oklahoma, Texas, and Penn State, all once great power running programs, have had to switch to spread offenses to retain the top spots on their totem poles. Can you think of any team that just runs the ball that is a contender anymore?  Even Notre Dame, Nebraska, Ohio State, and Michigan have switched to the spread.

I am definitely part of the problem. I was raised in the country of eastern Oklahoma. My parents both grew up in the western part of the state and both grew up on farms.

While I lived in the country my whole childhood, I spent my days exploring the woods, fishing, catching insects, tarantulas, and scorpions and making them fight one another. Nothing I spent my days doing really made me tougher and stronger. They were just ways to kill the boredom. While I was always a strong kid, all my strength was inherited and had nothing to do with my lifestyle. 

My parents were brought up on farms, they spent their childhoods picking cotton, bailing hay, and rustling animals that were much bigger and stronger than them everyday. You can workout all you want, train three times a day, and take supplements galore, but nothing compares to working outside, bailing hay from dawn till dusk all day, everyday for a month straight. 

Growing up on a farm makes you both strong and somewhat mean. Trying to get stubborn animals four times your size and pure muscle to do what you need it to is not easy, and you get a mean streak dealing with them day in and day out.  You have to learn to impose your will on something that weighs half a ton or more. After doing so, your whole life doing the same thing to someone your size or smaller is nothing for you.

Farming is a hard life. If mother nature is not kind to you, you starve both financially and physically. Almost everyone who has based their livelihood solely on farming knows true hunger. They all have spent at least one winter eating the bare minimum to survive and praying to God for more rain the next spring.

So, what farms sow as far as human capital are men that are extremely hard and strong and can be as mean as they need to be, when necessary.   

That is exactly what is missing from Midwest football; it has lost these farmboys, and with them, its edge. There are still kids that are big and strong, but not in the numbers as before.

Most of these kids are still big and strong because of their genetics. Their parents were farmers and they gave them a head start physically, but usually their families have sold the farm and moved to the city. The farmers that are left usually push their kids somewhere else. They see there is no future in farming and want something better for their children.

So, what we are seeing in college football is the decline in teams from rural states and programs close to urban centers thriving. Rural towns still have great players, but it is just as likely to be a skill player coming from a small town than a big, ugly lineman. 

More and more families are moving to cities, so the closer you are to urban populations the better you are. You see this both in the Big 12 and Big Ten. Teams that have multiple or major urban areas to recruit from are rising: Missouri, Ohio State, Texas, Penn State and Oklahoma.

You see it all across the country as well. USC, LSU, Florida, Boston College, Georgia, and Rutgers are all programs on the upswing that have major cities from which to recruit.  

The historic programs that struggle the most are the ones that have relied on finding rural gems, because they do not have a major recruiting city that mostly belongs to them. Nebraska, Notre Dame, Iowa, and Minnesota are the best examples of once great programs that are now having trouble trying to compete.

They all used to dominate with line play and just cant do it anymore. Whether in or out of conference, they still struggle.

The Pacific Islanders seem to be the strongest now. The West Coast teams, namely USC, BYU, and Utah, have long known this secret and have been recruiting the Islands for years. The sumo cultures of the Pacific Islands seem to be producing the biggest and strongest kids for now. 

Just look at what Utah did to Alabama; that game was won at the line on both sides of the ball.

My guess is they are also seeing a decline in culture, and this pipeline will begin to decline in number of lineman produced as well. But for now, it seems alive and well, and I wonder if it is under-recruited or not. 

For the Midwest teams, I do not know if there is an easy answer or solution. Most are switching to the spread offense to compete, but will it be enough to resurrect them to glory?  Will the decline in farming culture put them at a disadvantage forever?

I certainly hope not. The Midwest is the most historical area of the country for college football, and college football is better when both the Big Ten and Notre Dame are good. The Big 12 needs the North to step up and be more competitive if it wants to keep continuing to get better.

So, next season, when your tailgating with your buddies outside your favorite stadium,  pour one out, or have a toast, for one of college football's greatest losses: the farmboy lineman that made the game so great for its first 90 years.

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