One guy can change everything

6/19/2013 - College Football

One day your team is in the septic tank. It reeks. The Roto-Rooter guy won't get near it.

Then the skies part, the angels sing and from the sports heavens comes a blinding light. You shield your eyes, but through the small gaps between your fingers you see a solitary figure descend toward Earth. It takes on human characteristics and soon you can make out the clothing.

An oversize panama hat with a red band. A zippered gray vest. A white T-shirt. Khaki shorts. It's & Nick Saban! And he wants to coach your team. And he's bringing that really thick manual about "the process." And just for fun, he gets in your face and demands to know if you understand the difference between working and working hard.

Flecks of Saban spittle splash against your face, but you don't care. You smile, almost involuntarily, because you know that your team isn't going to spend much more time in the septic tank.


B.S. -- Before Saban: Alabama hadn't won a national championship in 15 years.

D.S. -- During Saban: Alabama has won three of the past five.

The future isn't as mysterious or complicated as we make it out to be. You're going to see a lot of wonky charts, analytics and statistics in our comprehensive package on future college football and NFL power rankings. It's compelling, fascinating stuff, even for non-wonks like me.

But always remember the eternal truth of football: Sometimes it just takes one guy. And from that one guy comes a trickle-down effect that saturates a program or a franchise like a sprinkler system. L's become W's. Then W's become championships. And championships become legacies.

Look what Saban did at LSU. At Bama. And Miami Dolphins followers are going to shriek when I say it, but eventually he would have figured it out there too.

One guy.

Urban Meyer at Utah. At Florida. At Ohio State. You think the Buckeyes went undefeated in 2012 by accident?

One guy.

Robert Griffin III at Baylor. At the Washington Redskins.

One guy.

Andrew Luck at Stanford. At the Indianapolis Colts.

One guy.

Peyton Manning at Tennessee. At the Colts. At the Denver Broncos.

One guy.

The most recent NFL godfather of the One Guy Principle is New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick. And before that, maybe former Dallas Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson. And before that, San Francisco's Bill Walsh.

Aaron Rodgers was sitting in the NFL draft green room in 2005, humiliated & embarrassed as team after team chose someone else in the first round. Arkansas quarterback Matt Jones was selected as a wide receiver by the Jacksonville Jaguars three spots before the Green Bay Packers took Rodgers at No. 24. Jones is now a radio host in Little Rock. Rodgers recently signed the most lucrative contract in NFL history. Compare and contrast.

By the way, the Jags have been knee-deep in the septic tank since the beginning of the 21st century. They were 2-14 last season and have a grand total of one playoff victory since 2000. Maybe new owner Shahid Khan is that one guy. Or new coach Gus Bradley. Or No. 2 overall pick Luke Joeckel.

Hope doesn't cost a nickel. Hope comes through the NFL draft. It comes through the whims and fickleness of a high school recruit. It comes through taking an educated flier on a coach. At some point -- days, weeks, months, years, decades -- the worm turns.

Vanderbilt hires James Franklin and the Commodores win nine games last year, the most since 1915. Vanderbilt wins just its second bowl game since 1955.

Johnny Manziel, the 39th-ranked quarterback by ESPN in 2011 (Jeff Driskel was ranked first among QBs), isn't romanced by his favorite school -- Texas -- so he commits to Oregon, but then changes his mind and signs with Texas A&M. He redshirts.

Now he's a Heisman Trophy winner. He's Johnny Football. He's the guy who beat Alabama. He's a legend. Meanwhile, the quarterback who did stay committed to Oregon -- Marcus Mariota -- will make a serious run at the Heisman this year. And his former coach, Chip Kelly, who couldn't decide if wanted to bolt for the NFL, is now the Philadelphia Eagles' head coach.

So yes, look at the charts. Digest the numbers. Marvel at the analytics. But sometimes it comes down to simple fate, to the arbitrariness of life, to a uniform design, geography or relatives.

Think about it: Class of 2011 No. 1 recruit Jadeveon Clowney could have signed with any program in the country, yet the defensive end chose to stay home in South Carolina. Michigan running back Vincent Smith wishes he wouldn't have.

This year, another defensive end ranked No. 1 in the country, Robert Nkemdiche, had his pick of the country and chose Ole Miss. Among the reasons: His brother plays there too.

Anyway, the power rankings aren't about today; they're about tomorrow. They're about a formula that is part science, part luck, part destiny.

Can the Kansas City Chiefs, Arizona Cardinals and Jaguars become what the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers are now?

Can Kansas become Kansas State? Can Tennessee become Tennessee again? Can UCLA surpass USC? Can Alabama stay Alabama, master of the college football universe?

Look toward the skies. Do you see a shining light? All it takes is one guy.