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October 14, 2011

Mailbag: Will Saban's success inspire copycats?

College coaches are quick to copy formulas for success.

Knute Rockne is credited with popularizing the forward pass in the 1920s. Soon afterward, everybody was throwing downfield.

Darrell Royal's Texas Longhorns unveiled the wishbone in 1968 and eventually posted 30 consecutive victories. The next thing you know the wishbone was the most successful offense during the '70s.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. Click here to send Olin a question for a future mailbag, and you can click here to follow him on Twitter.
Portland State's Mouse Davis devised something called the "run-and-shoot" in the '70s. That wide-open system led to the spread, and Rich Rodriguez is credited with developing the run-oriented spread option.

When Steve Spurrier went to Florida in 1990, the SEC was a better-weather version of the Big Ten, with teams generally relying on powerful running games. But other SEC teams started throwing the ball, too, after the Gators won conference championships in '93 and '94 with Spurrier's "Fun 'n' Gun" offense.

Now that Alabama has a 42-5 record over the past 3 seasons will coaches start trying to copy Nick Saban? And can they, even if they wanted to?

Back to the future?

With 265-pound linebackers, defensive tackles in the high 300s and larger tailbacks such as Trent Richardson, do you see Nick Saban changing the game back to bigger, stronger players, the same way Steve Spurrier changed the game with faster players and throwing the ball around?
Jon in Baumholder, Germany

I don't think college football is destined to revert to the power-oriented, 3-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust days of yore.

While it's true coaches often borrow ideas and copy styles, players such as Richardson don't come along all that often. There is no specific out-of-the-ordinary scheming that makes Alabama great; it's the players and how they play within Saban's system.

There was a time in college football when almost every team had a ground-oriented offense. They basically used the veer, the I-formation or the wishbone.

Then teams such as BYU, Miami and, later, Florida under Spurrier developed creative passing games and started winning national championships. Other teams followed suit.

Eventually, offenses evolved to the various forms of the spread in which coaches sought to set up favorable one-on-one matchups with their best athletes, whether by run or pass.

The next thing you know, teams with modest histories such as Texas Tech, West Virginia and Oregon became nationally significant.

There always will be programs that can be successful with pro-style offenses and powerful running games, but I believe most teams will continue to use some variation of the spread and try to get their fastest players in space.

It has been proven over and over that speed is the greatest asset in football. I expect coaches will keep devising ways to get more speed on the field, then utilize it.

Besides, not every team can attract the caliber of players that Saban and Alabama can.

Believe it

Why is it that people keep thinking that Paul Johnson and Georgia Tech's triple-option offense is a fluke? The man has won everywhere he has been and used this same offense. Call it a throwback or "old school," but I'd say it works.
Jonathan in Georgia

My only question about Johnson's offense: Who doubts it?

As you mentioned, Johnson has been extremely successful with that offense every where he's been. In 10 years at the FBS level at Georgia Tech and Navy, Johnson's teams have averaged more than 30 points five times. The Yellow Jackets currently rank sixth in the nation in scoring offense with a 46.5-point average.

Johnson is 76-43 at the FBS level, so obviously his system works.

QB quandry

Who should start at quarterback for BYU - Jake Heaps or Riley Nelson?
Nick in Wylie, Texas

How does one not go with Nelson? The Cougars are 2-0 with him at quarterback and the offense has been more productive, although the caliber of competition has been softer, too.

Heaps just wasn't that good in the first four games, completing 56 percent of his passes for an average of 213.5 yards per game, with three touchdowns and five interceptions. The Cougars were 2-2 in those games, but would have been (probably should have been) 0-4 if not for Ole Miss and UCF practically giving games away.

In the past two games - victories over Utah State and San Jose State - Nelson is 24-of-38 for 363 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions. It would seem to me he's earned the starting job. If he falters, coach Bronco Mendenhall can go back to Heaps.

Upside down

You were talking about teams losing, then moving up in the polls (Can a team rise in the polls after a loss, Oct. 6). Although it wasn't a move up, who could forget Oklahoma losing 35-7 to Kansas State in the 2003 Big 12 championship game and still playing for the BCS title?
Felton in Bethel, Okla.

I guarantee USC fans haven't forgotten. The Trojans were ranked No. 1 in The Associated Press and coaches' polls at the end of the regular season, but the BCS formula still somehow decided that Oklahoma should face LSU for the national championship.

That USC team might have beaten LSU in the national championship game. (Then, perhaps Reggie Bush could've been responsible for the Trojans vacating two national titles.)

Having Oklahoma in the championship game remains a travesty. The Sooners were not even a conference champion and had gotten absolutely steamrolled in the Big 12 championship game.

It was a prime example of how the BCS system is flawed.

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Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.
Got a question for Olin's Mailbag? Click here to drop him a note
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