Why some programs stay on top, others remain stuck
Posted: Wednesday September 27, 2006 1:39AM; Updated: Monday October 2, 2006 4:45PM
Since jumping from the New York Jets to Virginia in 2001, Al Groh has a 38-29 record.
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Everywhere I look these days, people are movin' on up. A close friend of mine recently got a much-deserved promotion at her ad agency (and now she's working twice as hard as she did before). Jim Halpert from The Office got himself a desk with a view in Dunder-Mifflin's Stamford branch (from which he can gaze longingly every 15 seconds at the empty chair where Pam would have sat). The SI.com powers-that-be even gave me an office recently for the first time in my seven years here -- and I only have to share it with two other writers! (We don't talk over each other on the phone at all.)
In the college football world, however, there are certain programs that, no matter who they put in charge, just can't seem to get ahead.
Who does Al Groh have naked pictures of? Virginia is not a good team and hasn't contended for a title of any sort since his arrival, even though UVA has been a pro-football factory during his tenure. It seems like no one cares that they continue to lose, and to teams like Western Michigan, no less. -- Jackson, Tucson
This question got me to thinking about the plight of not only the Cavaliers but also North Carolina, Michigan State and all the other programs whose fans aren't particularly happy with their coach right now, and I think I've come up with an explanation. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you my College Football Equilibrium Theory.
While the balance of power in the sport certainly changes from year to year, decade to decade, only a few programs (Florida State, Miami, Kansas State, Wisconsin, Louisville) have succeeded in dramatically altering their status. Viewed over a longer history, the teams at the top (Ohio State, Michigan, USC, etc.) and the bottom (Vanderbilt, Indiana, etc.) haven't changed a whole lot. So why shouldn't that be true of the middle as well?
What I'm saying is, while every program has its good years and bad years, most have a natural equilibrium point to which they will eventually return, no matter who the coach is. Oklahoma had its rough years in the '90s but eventually returned to its more natural state in the top 15. Michigan and Ohio State are at equilibrium when they win Big Ten championships. USC is slightly above its equilibrium point right now, but that balances out all those pre-Pete Carroll years below it. Unfortunately, Duke is at equilibrium when it goes 3-8.
Virginia's equilibrium, to the undying frustration of its fans, is somewhere around 7-5. The Cavs have their occasional highs (nine wins in 2002) and lows (5-7 the year before that), but for the most part they will always hover around 7-5, whether the coach is George Welsh, Al Groh or Al Bundy.
Same with North Carolina, whose equilibrium point is around 5-6. Sure, occasionally a Mack Brown will come in and lead the Heels to consecutive 10-win seasons, but as soon as he leaves, it's back to somewhere between 3-8 and 6-5, with an average just below .500. Such has been the case for most of John Bunting's tenure.
And Michigan State ... oh, Michigan State. If any team has a 6-6 equilibrium, it's the Spartans. They tease -- oh, how they tease. They even pulled off a 10-win season under Nick Saban. And this year's team may well be capable of eight or nine wins, but however long John L. Smith winds up there, I bet you his record over that span will wind up being right around .500.
So that's my theory. And it occurs to me now that I never actually answered Jackson's original question. I don't know whom he has naked pictures of; hopefully it's not ACC commish John Swofford.