What It Takes to Have a Great College Football Team
A thousand different things go into how a coach runs a college football team, but at the end of the day there are really two, non-mutually exclusive buckets one can dump resources in: acquiring talent (recruiting) and making the most of that talent.
Of these two buckets, recruiting is relatively more straight forward. You find the best guys you can that fit your system and you try and sign them. The better players you sign, the better your team probably will be.
The other bucket is where the options are seemingly limitless. What does your culture look like day-in and day-out? What scheme do you run? What decisions do you make in-game? How do you run your strength and conditioning program? How about nutrition? Classes? etc., etc., etc.
Neither is sufficient, but both are necessary for having a great team. Nick Saban isn't winning many SEC games with Troy's roster. But Troy's coach isn't going to deploy and develop that talent as good as Nick Saban can.— Travis (@Travis_Roeder) October 31, 2019
Rhule Clearly Knows How To Establish a Tough Culture
This really doesn’t need that much explanation. Rhule was famed at Temple for creating tough, physical teams. His defenses were great every year despite turnover, and his offense’s utilized a smaller, heady QB who protected the ball and kept the chains moving.
Even in 2017 and 2018 at Baylor, you could see how Rhule’s tough ethos came out in the team. They may have been susceptible to gaff after gaff, but there was lots of rallying to the football and tough play interspersed.
Much of this has been reported ad nauseam. The young players are much bigger and stronger after several years in the strength and conditioning program. Their attention to detail is better. They have a fancy new nutrition center right next to the football facility. Etc., etc., etc.
Rhule is clearly so good at developing players and creating a tough culture that even if you gave him the worst roster in the Big 12, he'd probably be a tough out and winning his fair share of conference games.— Travis (@Travis_Roeder) October 31, 2019
But Don’t Forget—Rhule Can Recruit
Lost in the narrative of Baylor’s scandal and Rhule’s rebuilding has been that he is doing it with some damn good players. Make no mistake, Rhule, because of his “other bucket” abilities has Baylor playing above their heads with respect to their recruiting rankings. Baylor is currently 16th in SP+ despite having a roster with an average recruiting ranking finish of ~35, and a lot of them are still very young at that. That is a huge accomplishment.
But dudes are dudes, and Baylor has some.
The 2017 recruiting class has been well documented. Hired in December, Rhule had two months to put together a recruiting class, and he did so with remarkable aplomb. He signed 27 guys and the class finished 40th in the 247 composite. Baylor’s starting 22 is littered with guys from this class: QB Charlie Brewer, RG Xavier Newman, DE James Lynch, WR RJ Sneed, TE Rob Saulin, RBs Trestan Ebner and John Lovett, and LB Terrel Bernard.
But I think 2018 really shows Rhule’s ability. Most of the commits came before the 2018 season. They committed when the scandal was still fresh on everyone’s minds. Then, of course, Baylor went 1-11. All but one of the commits signed with Baylor.
Baylor signed this dude after going 1-11. I think Matt Rhule can recruit. pic.twitter.com/NcrJh8zS2g— Travis (@Travis_Roeder) October 10, 2019
The class finished 29th in the country and 4th in the Big 12. Let that sink in. Baylor, a school fresh off a scandal that received persistent national scrutiny and followed that up with a 1-11 season, signed a top 30 class.
The class was replete with guys I really, really liked.
It included guys like starting CB Kalon Barnes, a national sprint champion from a small southeast TX high school who had offers from Texas, Georgia, Texas A&M, and various others. It also included WR Josh Fleeks, a do-it-all skill athlete from Cedar Hill who had offers from Georgia and Texas A&M. The class was filled with guys like these—supreme athletes who had many other options, but chose to come to Baylor.
This 2018 class, those of whom are now true sophomores and redshirt freshman, are significantly contributing to the 2019 Baylor team. It includes starting LT Connor Galvin, starting RT Casey Phillips, 2 starting WRs in Josh Fleeks and Tyquan Thornton, starting CB Kalon Barnes, starting S JT Woods, starting TE Christoph Henle, and many others on the two deep.
Baylor's 2018 recruiting class is one of the most under-discussed phenomena in recent CFB happenings. Post scandal and during 1-11, he pulled in the 29th ranked class nationally (per 247 composite). This is in line with what Baylor was getting when at their peak under Briles.— Travis (@Travis_Roeder) October 31, 2019
Rhule has shown that he can recruit to a seemingly destitute program. The guys he signed now have Baylor 7-0 and at first place in the Big 12. With more success, the quality of player Baylor signs will likely continue to rise. How far can Rhule take this program? Only time will tell, but he’s got everything it takes.