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Wednesday, October 13, 2010
Faster pace of football affects dynasties

By Ivan Maisel
ESPN.com

Everything happens faster in today's world. News travels faster. Players run faster, coaches build programs faster, freshmen become stars faster, coaches get fired faster. We want what we want when we want it.

Mack Brown
Mack Brown is in danger of not having a nine-win season for the first time at Texas.

The problem is that the faster something happens, the faster it ends. Freshman stars evolve into juniors who will leave as soon as the NFL will take them. Coaches who build programs whisk themselves away to bigger programs. And judging by the evidence, dynasties end faster, too.

Three of the most dominant teams of the past decade -- Texas, USC and Florida -- all are in danger Saturday of losing their third consecutive game. Remember last week, when Alabama appeared invincible? The Crimson Tide had its 19-game winning streak -- and its 29-game regular-season winning streak -- snapped this past Saturday 35-21 at South Carolina. That's the largest margin a No. 1 team has lost by in the regular-season in 10 years.

The shelf life of a dynasty used to be about the same as a good cabernet -- somewhere between 10 and 15 years. When the previous decade began, Nebraska, Florida State and Florida all had won at least nine games for at least 11 consecutive years. The Huskers' streak began in 1969 and lasted until 2001.

Now there's only Texas, which has won at least nine games in each of coach Mack Brown's 12 seasons in Austin. The possibility of extending the streak to 13 seasons is shaky. Brown, who takes his Longhorns to No. 5 Nebraska this week, has not lost three straight regular-season games since he arrived on the 40 Acres.

"Everybody can beat you," Brown said. "You can't let up. It used to be the Texases of the world could go play bad and win. It's hard to do that now."

The shelf life of a dynasty these days may be closer to a presidential term than a bottle of wine. Here are a few reasons:

• Changes in freshman eligibility. The NCAA hasn't changed the number of players a team may have on scholarship (85) or the number a team may sign in a given year (25) in two decades. But the minimum score on a standardized test that the NCAA Presidents Commission demanded, beginning in 1992, detoured a lot of talented players into junior college.

Lattimore
Freshmen like Marcus Lattimore can immediately elevate a program -- and their own NFL draft stock.

In 2003, the NCAA switched to a sliding scale. A player with a higher grade-point average doesn't need to score as well on standardized tests as a freshman-to-be who didn't make the grades. The net result has been that more players are eligible as freshmen. Yet the 25/85 limits have not changed. There is more talent to be spread around. And it does spread. That's one reason programs that aren't traditional powers suddenly spike. Kansas has a top-10 season (2007) and recedes. Louisville (2006) and Texas Tech (2008) climb as high as the top five in the polls. This season, Utah State nearly beats Oklahoma and then routs BYU.

• Emphasis on the passing game. Teams throw now because they have to score to win. More than ever, the success of a team rides on the ability of a quarterback. One reason for the Longhorns' success is that Brown replaced Vince Young -- who led Texas to the 2005 national championship -- with Colt McCoy, who led the Longhorns to the 2010 BCS title game. A quarterback's ability depends on his experience. Passers get better the more they understand the schemes that opposing defenses throw at them.

"I do think you definitely go in cycles at quarterback now," Brown said. "It's hard to say. USC started over last season with a young one [Matt Barkley]. Florida's got one that's inexperienced [John Brantley] and we've got a young one [Garrett Gilbert], and everything has to be right for those young quarterbacks.

"If you've got a running offense like Nebraska or like Oregon, a young player can play in that offense faster than he can play in an offense that throws the ball more, because he's still doing what he did in high school."

• NFL-itis. This condition is not limited to players such as Young and USC quarterback Mark Sanchez, who left college football early and took their teams' hopes for a crystal football with them. When Florida State finished in the top five for 14 consecutive seasons, the Seminoles usually replaced a fifth-year senior quarterback with a junior, usually a redshirt junior, who had bided his time. That's Casey Weldon to Charlie Ward to Danny Kanell to Thad Busby, if you're scoring at home. When Busby turned the job over to a sophomore in 1998, it was 26-year-old Chris Weinke, who compensated with maturity what he lacked in experience. All Weinke did was lead Florida State to a national championship as a junior and win the Heisman Trophy as a senior.

Those days are gone.

"It's changed," Brown said. "All the kids want to play in the pros. There's so much visibility. Those kids want to start. They're not going to wait anymore at that program at that position. … They're highly recruited kids, so most of the time, if the quarterback's not the starter after his first or second year, he's gone."

Brown knows better than most. Had Jevan Snead stayed at Texas and not transferred to Ole Miss, he would be a redshirt senior. Had G.J. Kinne stayed at Texas and not transferred to Tulsa, he would be a redshirt junior.

• The media, the Internet and social networking. College football is covered more than it's ever been. Ask the fans in the SEC for their opinions about Boise State. They've got them. Last weekend, for the first time in the history of the game, every FBS team had its game televised. Recruits are more aware of teams outside their regions than they've ever been. The ability to follow a team on the Internet has flung open the doors of every program to more people than ever. That means there are more opportunities for players. Coaches are more willing to recruit a broader territory than they once did. Unfortunately for coaches, the Internet is a two-way system. Communication goes out. It comes in, too.

"There's so much inconsistency right now in college football," Brown said. "You're not seeing teams get better and better and better. They may just absolutely stink one game. I don't know [why]. I've thought about it. We've got so much social networking and the electronic media is so much better. When somebody says 'This team can't beat you,' the kids read it and hear it. Their minds go up and down more than in the past."

No matter how big a control freak the coach is, he can't control Facebook and Twitter. They move too fast. The world is spinning faster than ever. The days of dominating week after week, season after season are disappearing. A dynasty is not what is used to be.

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com and hosts the ESPNU College Football podcast. Send your questions and comments to him at Ivan.Maisel@ESPN.com.