I love to play around with sports and see if I can find patterns that I can learn from. When I used to cover college football more regularly I came up with a three-part theory on how national champions are built.
In the modern era (say, starting with the first BCS title game in 1998, won by Tennessee) virtually all national champions have a) had a history of winning national championships; b) played in a stadium that seats more than 70,000; and c) has a roster that is fueled largely by in-state recruits. You have to have the history and tradition, you need the revenue and interest that a huge fan base delivers and you have to have the players in your backyard.
Sharp-eyed readers will note that Oregon and Oregon State possess none of these traits, yet the Ducks twice played for the national title. Close doesn’t count, though.
I got intrigued if the theory still held so I applied it to the four teams in this year's playoff: Alabama, Clemson, Georgia and Oklahoma. The first two criteria were easily met, but the recruiting one turned out interesting.
I chose to use the teams’ two-deep chart, minus special teams, and then watched for patterns.
Bama had nine players from Alabama, eight from Louisiana and four each from Texas and Florida. No real surprise there.
Clemson had an interesting mix, with 13 in-state players from South Carolina, 11 from North Carolina and eight from Georgia.
Oklahoma had 15 from Texas, nine from Oklahoma and three each from Kansas, California and Louisiana. Yes, the Sooners didn’t have in-state dominance, but Texas is so close and such a rich recruiting ground. Besides it’s a shorter recruiting trip from Norman to Dallas than, say, Corvallis to Medford.
Georgia was the outlier. The Bulldogs have 30 players from the home state in their two deep. That is amazing. Florida is next with six, then North Carolina with two. Ten of the 12 players (counting a nickel back) on the starting defense for UGA stayed home to play.
Some other patterns: All four teams all but ignore the northeast and the Midwest. Between the schools there were two players from Ohio, two from Pennsylvania, two from New Jersey, one from Indiana and one from Massachusetts. And six from Pac-12 country — four from California and one apiece from Arizona and Washington.
Alabama showed the broadest reach, with 18 states represented on its two-deep. Oklahoma was next with 13. Clemson (10) and Georgia (nine) were more insular.
Georgia players made the two-deeps of all four schools. No one from Oklahoma, South Carolina or Alabama made the depth chart at any of the other schools. Florida (15), Lousiana (13) and Maryland (five) players also were in the two-deeps at all four playoff schools.
And, interestingly enough, Tennessee, which won that first BCS title, plays in a huge stadium and used to be a perennial contender, was not represented in the two deeps of any of the four playoff teams. And the Volunteers share a border with Alabama and Georgia and it’s 143 miles from Clemson to Chattanoga as the crow flies.
Fun stuff. Enjoy the bowl season.