Big Four “Moneyball”

September26/ 2011

I took my own advice and went to see Moneyball on Friday, its opening night.   Twenty-four hours earlier I watched TO’B Wolfpack be decimated by Bearcats in Cincinnati.   Saturday The Ev Withers’ Undefeated Era was triple-optioned to a halt in Historic Grant Field while Dave Cutcliffe’s Juggernaut romped in The Wally.  BB&T Field in Winston-Salem was idle…..

On the way to da beach on Sunday, I threw all this in a blender and wondered how Billy Beane might advise “Big Four” Football enthusiasts.  Is there a Moneyball-esque solution for local football fans?

Moneyball is the story of Oakland As’ General Manager Billy Beane who bucked “tradition” and found a way for a small market team to hold is own versus the behemoths.   The story is ten years old.   Beane’s philosophy of how to build a roster to give his team the best %s to win worked.   Alas, then the behemoths started using the same strategy.

Sort of like college football in the 70s.  Bear Bryant proved that “small & quick” could beat “big & slow”.   In time however it was shown that “big & quick” beats “small & quick”.   Deep pocketed teams using Beane’s computer analysis would always have a decided edge over him.

Blondie described the movie as “Brad Pitt doing something in baseball and looking very cool doing it ……”

But it all got me to thinking ….. Is the Future of Big Four Football dependent on folks at UNC, NCSU, Duke and Wake Forest thinking out-of-the-box and finding innovative ways to manage their respective programs?

NC State and Wake Forest have very qualified veteran head coaches with veteran staffs.  Their collective football IQs are equal to any staffs in America.  Both TO’B and Jim Grobe are solid citizens with little/no “wink, wink & nod” in their systems.  They DO know what their assistants are doing and don’t pretend otherwise.

To use the Bum Phillips measure – yourn vs his’n vs yourn.  TO’B and Grobe could take Les Miles or Bob Stoops’ teams and coach’em to glory.  Could Miles and Stoops take a State or Wake roster and win?  Probably not.

There ARE some very fine football players who want what TO’B & Grobe can offer.  But year in/ year out there are only “some” not “a bunch”.   TO’B and Grobe face a version of what Ike faced in June ’44 – storming Omaha Beach was going to result in casualties.  Storming beaches and playing football results in people getting hurt.  PERIOD.   Ike knew he would send enough troops ashore to withstand a certain % of casualties and still make it to the hedgerows.   TO’B and Grobe know they can handle a few injuries but not many and not to certain key personnel.

If State or Wake could play 12 games with their August 1 depth chart they could win 3-4 more games per year.  That never happens.  Alas, their 2nd and 3rd stringers are not the equal of many of their opponents.  And never will be unless they completely bypass the admissions departments (or not pay any attention to what John Blake is doing).

Recall my incredibly astute truism – A Football team is no stronger than its 3rd string Offensive Line.  By mid-October, certainly by early November, the 3rd string “big’uns” are in the thick of it.  That goes for any program in America.  It’s “physics” – mass x speed vs ligaments and tendons.  “X” # of knees and going to blow out each year in every program.  How many back-up knees, Achilles tendons and shoulders can you throw into the fray without a noticeable loss in athletic skill and talent.  With Big Four schools that answer is “not very many”.

NC State, Wake (AND the next version of UNC) will never have THE DEPTH to compete with the “factory programs”.  Duke is even more so.   Duke’s loss to Richmond was devastating to its prospects for a solid season.  A loss that simply cannot be recovered later in the season.

Slobbering goobers and bragging rights-starved Fat Cats don’t want to hear it.  Every year it is inevitable that depth charts start falling apart the first day of contact in August.  It’s not always the “name players” but sometimes it is; but it is always key personnel that thin rosters cannot afford to lose.

In very rare years that The Grim Reaper does not slash thru a roster like Wake’s – it can catch lightning in a bottle as it did a few years ago.  State gets a kid like Russell Wilson and rides him to 2-3 Ws that don’t seem possible on paper.

Duke has a bona-fide Big Time coach in David Cutcliffe.  David Cutcliffe can out-coach a Tulane coach every time.   Does Duke have more “skilled players” than Tulane?  I don’t know.  I could put together a schedule for Duke that includes twelve “schools you’ve heard of” that are not compass schools and bet the church’s building fund that Cutcliffe would win a minimum of 6-8 EVERY year.  He’s that good as a football coach.  So are TO’B and Grobe.

Given that same schedule, State, Wake and “what UNC will likely look like when the smoke clears” could also play twelve very competitive exciting games and have a real chance to win every one of them.  TO’B, Jim Grobe and David Cutcliffe are bona-fide Big Time coaches who can manage staffs, devise game plans, prepare teams and adapt to game situations with anyone those schools are ever likely to hire ….. ever.

I don’t include Everett Withers in this group simply because we don’t know how well he can do these “head coach things” yet.  It will take him a few years to develop his own style and have it tested under fire.  Plus, he may not get that opportunity at UNC.

Meanwhile The Big Four “might beat” a VaTech, a FlaSt, a Clemson but not year in-year out.  Being on-hand when it might happen has an appeal.  Nothing beats the Big Upset when your school is Little David.  It ain’t so good when you’re Goliath.

Billy Beane might advise The Big Four to schedule wisely.  There ARE “schools you’ve actually heard of” available out there to schedule.  Absolutely DEMAND that Little Johnny Swofford have all four Big Four schools play each other EVERY SINGLE YEAR.  Get rid of this rotation crap.

Grobe is secure at Wake.  Cutcliffe secure at Duke.  TO’B getting shaky with his mob faction after last Thursday.  With Withers right now its like Forrest Gump’s box o’  chocolates – we never know what we’re gonna get.  Optimism is cartainly justified so far.

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