Data Dive – NFL Combine

The NFL Combine provides an opportunity for NFL GMs to wipe their mind of all scouting info from games and instead dwell on the hand size of an athlete.

In all seriousness, the NFL Combine is a fun chance for fans to see just what these incredible athletes can accomplish, and often be surprised by some ridiculous standouts. But for college athletic departments, it’s also a marketing opportunity to show how much NFL talent they’ve been able to develop (even if some players were already beasts out of high school). In this post we’re going to dive in to the data and see which conferences and teams have the largest representation.

Combine Athletes By P5 Conference

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No surprise here, the SEC produces a heck of a lot of NFL talent. Perhaps the most surprising is that the Big 12 is in dead last, but a factor is also that the conference has less teams. So, here’s the same chart but with Avg. # of Combine Athletes per Team.

Combine Athletes per Team by P5 Conference

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Notre Dame kind of gets an unfair advantage here, since they’re the only Independent we’ve considered P5 for this data. When your one representative has 9 athletes, you get a boost. Again, the SEC is still dominating here, but what’s interesting is that the gap between the Pac 12 and the Big 10 significantly closes. While combine representation is a mix of how well schools recruit and how well they develop their talent, this makes a good case for the Pac 12 not being as far behind in talent as some think. ACC truly gets left in the dust here, showing that while they have good total representation its really Miami and Clemson carrying the weight.

On that note, let’s look at the schools that are the top performers.

Combine Athletes by School: Top 10

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While this attests to how talented LSU’s roster was this year, it’s got to be a little concerning for Tigers fans how many great players they’re losing to the draft. I doubt they’re crying holding that trophy, though.

Miami is definitely the biggest example of a team that didn’t perform well on the field but sent many players to the combine. Granted it was his first year, but I think this makes Manny Diaz look pretty bad. Hopefully he learns how to develop talent in year two.

This is also a bit of a bummer for Utah. They had a wonderful season, but the Utes better hope they’re still able to perform even with losing 9 good guys to the draft. It would be sad to see them barely miss the playoffs and a Rose Bowl and fail to compete at that level again.

It’s also interesting to see rivals Michigan and Ohio State bumping shoulders at second place. Ohio State has clearly accomplished more with their talent, but is this Harbaugh’s fault? That’s for Michigan fans to debate in online forums while Buckeyes laugh.

Combine Athletes by G5 Conference:

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Don’t worry other guys, we didn’t forget about you. The American is the only G5 conference even close to hanging with the P5…P6? Both the American and the Mountain West have 12 football schools, so that isn’t really an excuse here. If the American is able to send more representatives to the combine than a P5 conference consistently, it could really shake up how they recruit and maybe give more G5 schools a fighting chance.

Combine Athletes by School: Non P5

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These are the only non P5 teams to send 3 or more representatives to the combine. Talent will always aggregate at P5 schools, but I hope more G5 schools are able to get media attention and maybe send some more deserving players to the combine in later years.

Either way, Rhode Island is probably the most impressive school in this article. For a CAA school to send three representatives to the combine is incredible, and a fantastic recruiting pitch for the Rams.

The biggest takeaways from all this? Well, it’s tough to extract that much information from combine representatives since, as mentioned, it’s a complicated mix of recruiting and talent development. Furthermore, a championship caliber team will always get more screen time and NFL interest than a G5 school. Schools that sent a ton of representatives will get a huge recruitment boost, especially those that over performed like Utah, Miami, Charlotte and Rhode Island. I think the biggest questions surround Miami; when will they start doing something with the talent they have, and if they don’t will it start to hurt their recruitment?

But at the end of the day, the most fun part is just obsessing over data that really might not matter at all. Like hand size.

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The Largest Apparel Deal in CFB – and Which One Will Be Next

The largest apparel deal in CFB is not with a playoff team. In fact, it’s not even with a Top 25 team. Perhaps even more surprising, the company writing the check isn’t Nike.

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Image Courtesy 247 Sports

In May 2016, Under Armour inked a 15 year, $280 million deal with UCLA to be their official shoe and apparel sponsor. This is the largest such deal in the history of college athletics.

For Under Armour, it was just another move in the imperialist game of athletic apparel brands. While Nike has claimed most of the lucrative brands like Ohio State and Texas, Under Armour planted a flag in the second largest TV market in the country.

The largest brand Under Armour has under its belt is arguably still Notre Dame, but the addition of UCLA expands their growing foothold to the West Coast – right in the heart of Nike Territory.

For UCLA, it’s more than just money – of course, it *is* an unimaginably large amount of money. But this contract identified them as one of the most valuable brands in athletics. By market value alone, they now stand shoulder to shoulder with the Alabama’s and Michigan’s of CFB. With a coach like Chip Kelly, who carries attention with him wherever he goes even if his teams haven’t performed as of late, eyes will be on UCLA every preseason.

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This is huge for recruiting as well. A recruit going to UCLA knows media attention will be on them, as well as millions of dollars for facility improvements and equipment.

The Under Armour – UCLA deal was done 4 years ago. A lot has changed in CFB, but a lot has stayed the same too – mainly, money is still king. So, which deal will beat UCLA’s?

The first thing to think about is obviously the team itself. Better performing teams will always bring more money, but as Texas has shown, fan following and brand power matter far more. This leaves a pretty short list of teams that could be expected to make a landmark deal, and it’s pretty similar to the list of teams that have a chance of making the CFB playoff every year: Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, UGA, OU, LSU, Notre Dame, Penn State, Nebraska, Oregon, Florida, Florida State, Texas, Texas A&M, USC. We can immediately cross off a few – Oregon will never need a payout to stick with Nike, and Clemson and Florida State just don’t have the size of fan base or brand power to milk that large of a contract.

The second thing to look for is geography and market; this is arguably the main reason why UCLA has the largest apparel deal right now. There are no New York teams worth paying a super contract too. Chicago is tied to Notre Dame, a good candidate for the largest contract (they currently have the fifth largest, also with Under Armour). LA could be snatched up on the other end by paying out to USC.

Finally, you have to look at the companies themselves. What are Nike’s goals? They have the most money – which battles are they going to choose to fight? Nike already runs the west coast, and I don’t think they are interested in stealing Notre Dame from Under Armour. Adidas is also a major player we haven’t discussed much thus far – their cash cow is Texas A&M, who they gave the most lucrative deal in the SEC. They actually held the UCLA deal before Under Armour took it. SEC deals are huge for a brand, and a few contracts there are expiring soon.

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Taking all of this into account, it seems likely the next biggest contract will go to a team that is already a massive brand, probably to rip them away from another apparel company. It will likely be Nike, since them and Under Armour have been the biggest spenders but Under Armour has faced extreme financial difficulties recently as they stand on the line of bankruptcy. I would guess Nike might try to rip a big brand away from another company. Maybe Texas A&M away from Adidas, although they already have Texas in that region.

Who do you think will be the next shoe and apparel super deal in CFB? Let us know on Twitter @Sidelines_SN!

10 Best Stadium Views in CFB

The main reason we go to a stadium is to see the on field product, but the ambience and atmosphere are just as much a part of the fun. While the crowd is a big part of that, incredible views can certainly make game day even more memorable. Here’s 10 stadiums that you should visit if you love beautiful views.

10. Falcon Stadium – Air Force

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Colorado Springs is just a beautiful place in general, but sitting in Falcon Stadium you have grand views of the surrounding mountains. Plus, Air Force provides the best flyover you could possibly get!

9. Sun Bowl Stadium – UTEP

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The Sun Bowl, opened in 1963, is one of the most historic stadiums in the country. The stadium truly feels built into the El Paso hills, perfect for a team called the Miners. You also have a chance to come here every postseason with the Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl game.

8. California Memorial Stadium – Cal Berkeley

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While lots of stadiums on this list made it for beautiful mountain ranges, the Golden Bear’s stadium shows that a forest view can be just as incredible. Fans often try to get a free seat at the game by sitting on the opposite hill, which has consequently been nicknamed “Tightwad Hill”.

7. Folsom Field – Colorado

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Folsom Field’s horseshoe shape opens to the North, giving grandiose views of the Rockies. The stadium surpasses Colorado’s “mile-high” reputation, actually sitting 5,360 feet above sea level!

6. Rice-Eccles Stadium – University of Utah

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Salt Lake City is already one of the best weekend-visit cities imaginable, but Rice-Eccles’ views will convince you to buy that plane ticket for game day. This beautiful stadium is about to get even bigger with an $80 million renovation approved.

5. Michie Stadium – Army West Point

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Nothing says “Fall Afternoon” like being surrounded by autumn leaves and a picturesque view of the Hudson. Michie Stadium was truly built for September game days. Plus, who doesn’t want to cheer on America’s own?

4. Maverik Stadium – Utah State University

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Something about the state of Utah leads to the most incredible stadium views. Being embedded in the mountains certainly helps, as the Aggies’ Maverik Stadium is. The colorful trees in the background are the perfect highlight Logan’s western views.

3. Husky Stadium – University of Washington

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The American Pacific is arguably the most beautiful part of the country, so why not build your stadium right on the coast? Husky Stadium’s waterfront views have birthed the tradition of “sailgating” – watching a Husky Football game from the water as you tailgate on your sailboat!

2. LaVell Edwards Stadium – BYU

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Yes, many Utah stadiums have made this list, but LaVell Edwards is truly the king of them all. Provo’s mountain views rise higher than any of the others, and perfectly frame the stadium itself. Utah’s mountain skies seal the deal – this is the most beautiful stadium backdrop in the country except the Granddaddy of them All.

1. Rose Bowl – UCLA

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It’s simply unbeatable. The Rose Bowl is the most beautiful stadium experience and nothing compares. Pasadena’s hills surround the bowl and glow a beautiful red during sunset. This effect is actually what gave the stadium its name. Surely on every CFB fans bucket list, nothing compares to the Rose Bowl game experience.

 

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The Ballad of Scott Frost

Coming off of a 13-0 season (and, depending on who you ask, a National Championship), UCF’s Scott Frost seemed to be the hottest coach on the market. Any P5 team that could snap him up would be lucky to do so, and surely would see improvement in their player development and culture, two things he was hailed for as the Knights head coach…right?

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Image Courtesy bleacherreport.com

As it was quite rudely announced during UCF’s conference championship game, Scott Frost was going back home to mama. His alma mater, Nebraska, offered him a 7 year, $35 million contract. That’s a lot of money for any athletic program, even when you’re Nebraska, who had an athletic department revenue of $120 million last year.

Some of the immediate concerns were that he had only competed against opponents from a “G5” schedule, though the American conference has been much stronger in recent years. Others were simply concerned at paying so much to a coach that was relatively unproven at the highest level, which might have been on the money after all.

As his first season approached, Frost was able to flip a few recruits and snag the 23rd overall recruitment class in the country, 4th in the Big Ten. A few preseason polls contained Nebraska, though most were able to temper their expectations in Frost’s first season. He ultimately went 4-8, losing to rival Colorado in a heart-breaking season opener, and Sun Belt contender Troy in the game immediately following. In fact, Nebraska lost their first 6 games under Frost until beating Minnesota at home.

Still, a coach should always be given a year to establish a culture and bring in his guys, right? In fact, most people use the “second year test” as a gauge to determine if the head coach will find success at the school. Firing anyone before their second season is general irresponsible, save some particularly dire situations we have seen recently.

In Frost’s second preseason with the Huskers, he brought in the 17th best overall recruiting class, which was once again 4th in the Big Ten. It was a competitive recruiting cycle, but fans definitely were expecting a little more (though it’s tough when you have to go against the likes of Ohio State and Michigan). Still, these were “Scott’s Guys” and the expectation was that he would win with them. In the 2019 offseason, a majority of preseason polls had the Huskers in the Top 25. This was proven to be a gross overreaction, especially when nothing had really changed other than time.

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Image Courtesy The Denver Post

Frost’s Huskers won their first game of the season against South Alabama (finally beating that pesky Sun Belt opponent), but once again lost their rivalry game against Colorado. This was one of the first times we saw large groups of Husker fans showing visible frustration under Frost’s tenure. This was his second year, he had his guys, what could possibly be going wrong? Maybe it was just a bad game…

Frost went 5-7 that season, demonstrating a one game improvement in record. Two of those wins were against G5 opponents.

The purpose of this article isn’t to say Scott Frost should be fired and Nebraska has exercised too much tolerance with him. In fact, one of the worst trends in college football is firing coaches before they really get a chance to establish themselves. But hasn’t Frost established himself? He has brought in his guys and done the usual showy things to demonstrate a culture change, hopefully getting Nebraska as far away from the Riley years as possible. But what is their left to do? Nebraska is once again ranked in many preseason polls, becoming the over hyped poll laughingstock that Texas is usually known to be. All that Frost can do at this point is win and earn that massive contract.

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Nebraska Football’s “Money Cleats”. Image Courtesy Sneaker Freaker

And that contract? It just got more massive. This off season, Frost was given a 2 year contract extension to 2026. This move by the athletic department demonstrated a commitment to Frost that should put away some pitchforks and even help recruiting. But does Nebraska actually have a plan for the next few years? What would it take to convince them the Frost experiment has failed?

Part of the Frost problem is hiring alumni. Alumni head coaches will always be viewed in an unfairly positive light. Look at the disaster happening year after year in Ann Arbor? I also don’t think Harbaugh should be fired, and he has posted some of Michigan’s best seasons in decades, but he still hasn’t beaten Ohio State. Would selecting a non-alumni, but rather best coach on the market brought them over that edge?

I think the model for alumni Head Coaches is David Shaw at Stanford. He has posted an 86-34 overall record and gone 5-3 in bowls. He has also won the conference 3 times, something the Michigan Man (and certainly not Frost) have accomplished yet. But he worked his way from within the program as OC, proved himself, and has demonstrated his coaching knowledge with his team’s on field performances.

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Rose Bowl Champion David Shaw. Image Courtesy San Francisco Chronicle.

Teams simply need to make sure the coach they are hiring is the best coach for them. Is motivating alumni and selling tickets important? Yes. But do you know what sells the most tickets? Winning. Big name schools that will be looking for their next head coach – looking at you, USC – need to learn what they can from the story of Scott Frost so far. Demonstrate a commitment to your coaches – but should you really be granting super contracts to them just because they played for your team already? Has the coach really proven themselves just yet?

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SSN Best of the Decade Awards

Sidelines Sports Network was only founded in 2018 (as Grid Lines Blog – thanks to those who have supported us since then), but all throughout this decade we’ve been watching some incredible College Football. In this article, we highlight the moments, players and teams that we believe were the most outstanding and will truly stand the test of time. Without further ado…

Play of the Decade:

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The Kick Six – Auburn vs. Alabama 2013

Sorry, you just can’t beat this. BCS championship bid on the line, rivalry game, last minute chaos and a radio call heard round the world. “AUBURNS GONNA WIN THE FOOTBALL GAME” still rings in our ears. This play encapsulates the beautiful madness that is college football.

Honorable mentions: 2nd and 26, Watson to Renfrow

Coach of the Decade:

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Nick Saban – Alabama

Sorry, rest of College Football. We’ve been bullied by one guy throughout these ten years and he sits on a throne in Tuscaloosa. While coaches like Dabo Swinney, Lincoln Riley and more recently Ed Orgeron have pulled teams to new levels of achievement, Saban has brought the Tide to a whopping 4 national championship games this decade (and made it to almost all the others). Saban owns this decade – we’ll see how far he can go.

Honorable mentions: Dabo Swinney, Bob Stoops, Lincoln Riley

Player of the Decade:

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Deshaun Watson

While we’re on the subject of lifting teams to new heights, Deshaun Watson has to come to your mind. While he had the benefit of Swinney’s coaching and a loaded roster to surround him, Watson still went toe to toe with Saban’s seemingly unstoppable Bama and won. His victory also marked the beginning of a new powerhouse at Clemson, and the momentum hasn’t stopped since. Though he never actually won the Heisman (but was a finalist twice), Clemson graduate Deshaun Watson is our most outstanding player of the decade.

Honorable Mentions: Cam Newton, Ezekiel Elliott, Johnny Manziel

Team of the Decade:

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2018-19 Clemson (15-0, National Champions)

Yes, two Clemson winners on the list – but it’s deserved. First of all, the 2018 Clemson team was the first team to go undefeated in the playoff era at 15-0. That alone merits legend status, but how they got there is equally as impressive. Clemson cruised through their ACC schedule with nothing more than a close game here and there, then crushed undefeated Notre Dame in the semifinal 30-3. In a championship game of undefeated teams that everyone expected to be fairly close, Clemson absolutely demolished Alabama 44-16. Dabo outcoached Saban at every level and Trevor Lawrence was nothing but a gunslinger. The Clemson Defense also lived up to their reputation and put Alabama in a chokehold. It’s worth noting that whichever team wins this year will also go 15-0, and both Clemson and LSU could have a strong case to finish as team of the decade – but for now, no one tops the 2018 Clemson Tigers.

Honorable mentions: 2011 Alabama, 2013 Florida State, 2014 Ohio State

Fans of the Decade: YOU!

And that’s a wrap! This was the first year of Sidelines Sports Network, and we have no one but our fans to thank for our success. It’s been an incredible ride, and we have massive plans for growth. Keep engaging with us on our Twitter (@Sidelines_SN and affiliate accounts) and reading our articles – the best is yet to come!

 

Must-Watch Spring Games

While the basketball world is in the depths of March Madness, College Football fans are gearing up for spring games; the slight whiff of fall ball that gets us through the off season (besides of course, frequent and rampant speculation).

Here’s our list of must-watch spring games with details.

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Thoughts on the games? Think we should have included others? Let us know in the comments below.