Talent vs. Potential

An experienced and talented team can often run on auto-pilot.

A team without experience simply has a greater chance of failure at each position on each play due to lack of physical maturity, time in the system (and on the field) and mental maturity.

For example, Larry Coker’s first Miami teams were experienced and talented. He took them to a national championship in his first season after Butch Davis left, but after that they slowly fell apart and Coker was eventually fired. In other words experienced talent won the national championship for Miami, not Coker.

It’s simply harder to win with an inexperienced squad, and you need experience for both depth and front line capability. So why can’t you win with just a talented team, “Gee, they have so much talent.” There’s a reason astute observers of sport (okay, you don’t have to be that astute) usually use the caveat “young talent.”

Talent as it’s normally used within sports is really describing potential based on innate ability. Now, potential is nice, but isn’t the same as current ability level or demonstrated ability level. Remember ability can be either innate or developed (born vs. built.)

Take LSU this past year. Matt Flynn, a 5th year senior took them to the title. Flynn doesn’t have as much talent as Ryan Perrilloux, but that’s talent as defined by potential. LSU wouldn’t have won a championship with Flynn as a sophomore or a junior, but as a 5th year senior he had the physical development, mental development and system experience to guide them to a national championship. It’s fair to say that LSU wouldn’t have won without Flynn as a 5th year senior and certainly wouldn’t have won with the “more talented” Ryan Perrilloux quarterbacking their offense. Perrilloux was the number one rated quarterback in the country two years ago (the one before Clausen.)

Everyone knows who Jacob Hester is… now, but it took him four years to develop into a key player in a national championship run.

So, what’s your point, you ask?

Without Flynn and Hester having four and five years to develop, LSU probably doesn’t win the title.

You need numbers and potential in the upper classes, because that’s where your highest probability of reaching potential will reside. Overall development differs by position and by player, but on the whole upper class leadership and experience are essential pieces of good teams and most players need time in a system to develop their potential.

In really good teams, the “bones” of the team are usually in the junior, senior and 5th year classes, which allows the spectacular younger “talent” to break through and develop faster by playing next to experienced players.

Here’s a quip on Bo Pelini and LSU:

It also helps that a defense with 11 seniors and juniors on the two-deep depth chart is entering its third season under Pelini. With seniors such as defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey, Blue Ribbon’s national preseason defensive player of the year; linebacker Ali Highsmith; strong safety Craig Steltz; and cornerback Chevis Jackson, the Tigers aren’t short on experience or leadership.

“We’re so much further ahead than we were before,” Pelini said. “There wasn’t as much of a sense of urgency to put in a bunch of stuff in the spring. We have ideas and we tweak things and we added a few things, but it goes in pretty easy now because most of the guys understand the system and the terminology better.”

So, a couple of things here.

1. Individual development is important.
2. Team development, having a team with a number of seasoned players in the system for a period of time, is important.

This applies to Notre Dame how?

Well, Notre Dame has very little support in the upper level classes to surround the talent that’s bubbling up underneath. The Irish don’t yet have the players to develop enough Flynns to lead the team from above. It’s a legacy from Willingham that is just starting to wash out, remember he recruited the majority of the seniors on this team which made up two of the worst back to back classes in Notre Dame history (if not the worst two.) By my count the only kids recruited by Weis who weren’t in the pipeline already were Steve Quinn, Darrell Hand and Pat Kuntz . Those are our senior and 5th year kids.

If your kids haven’t physically developed yet (as Weis claims is the case with the OL last year,) you can’t get off square one.

It will be interesting to watch Justin Brown this year. It took him four years to see the field, now he might have the chance to evolve into a very good player. The fact is that the longer any kid is in the system the higher the probability he’ll reach his potential. Each less year in the system, the less chance he’ll play to his potential. So a player might be talented, but just not had enough time to physically and mentally develop.

I looked back at the impact by class from 2006 and found that most starters on top teams were in the senior class, followed by almost equal amounts from the junior and 5th year classes (which falls here due to graduation.) No surprise, there. It takes kids time to develop physically and mentally. Sophomores had the next greatest team impact and freshmen on good teams rarely made an impact (surprisingly little.)

So your “Talent” equation, based on starter ratios of good teams, approximates the impact you should expect from any given universe of recruits. It looks something like this:

Good teams have 8 seniors, 5 juniors, 4 5th year seniors, 4 sophomores and one freshmen starting. That might be a little off as I don’t have the analysis with me, but it’s fairly close. The other key point here is that the sophomores and freshmen who do play are usually beating out the upperclassmen, which means they’re ready to go. That’s best case scenario.

In sum, when thinking in terms of playing ability, it’s twice as important to have a good senior class than a sophomore class and many times as important to have a good senior class than a freshmen class. And that’s simply because there’s a higher probability players will reach their potential by their senior year than by their sophomore year.

So when you read some simpleton trying to extrapolate expectations based on “talent” it’s important to ask what someone means by that. Are we really just talking about potential or a realistic expectation of ability to perform given innate ability and experience or demonstrated ability on the field?

In reality there are a lot of pieces that make up talent:

Innate Ability + Physical Development + Mental Development + Coaching Development + Development within a Team (are you surrounded by good players) + social factors + ?

And almost all of those pieces can be improved markedly by more time, which is why senior dominated teams usually play well and also why teams usually redshirt as many players as possible (which is where the phrase “true freshmen” comes from.)

Qualitatively speaking, wide receivers and running backs seem to reach their potential the fastest and are usually near their potential by their Junior years (though guys like Reggie Brooks and Ryan Grant needed more time.)

Offensive Lineman aren’t often at the top of their games until their Senior or 5th years. Some develop sooner like Jeff Faine, but many others just take a lot of physical and mental seasoning (like Dan Santucci) before they arrive and contribute at a really high level.

Quarterbacks, generally, seem to take until their Junior years before they can play at a high level and until their Senior or 5th years before they play at a championship level.

Defensive Linemen seem to need longer than linebackers and defensive backs to develop and reach their potential.

I’m sure there are ratios for the above, but the bottom line still looks similar to last year.

Most “Seniors” on other teams are really 5th year kids and “Juniors” are red-shirt Seniors. Most good teams red-shirt the majority of their freshmen because they understand that it’s going to take time for players to develop. If the best young players reach their potential sooner or there’s a great need, they’ll see the field earlier. It’s great to have a Percy Harvin as an option (when a kid is so good you have to play him.) It’s not great to have to play a Percy Harvin before his time based on need. See Notre Dame last season. Some might say that’s an excuse, others might say it’s reality, either way it’s an indisputable factor.

Notre Dame, again, is still severely lacking in senior and 5th year talent (last year it was Junior, Senior and 5th year talent,) but the level of players coming up underneath and their extensive early experience will likely shift the growth curve for the younger guys.
If that happens, we could be surprised by the performance of the Irish in 08.

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31 Responses to “Talent vs. Potential”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    Good article that kind of brings you back to reality. Everyone seems pumped up about the young talent we have and are getting, but we still have the same problem as last year and that’s lack of experience. They should be better next year and its going to be fun to watch. GO IRISH!

  2. Anonymous Says:

    Great analysis. The only contradiction in terms of talent and youth winning a championship, was the 2002-2003 Syracuse men’s basketball team. I know that this is a football site, but if you are talking about experience and talent in sports, you must include this team in the debate.

    That team only had two returning starters, both of which were sophomores, to include Hakim Warrick and Craig Forth. The rest of the starters and contributors were true freshman – Carmelo Anthony, Gerry Mcnamara and Billy Edelen.

    It may be said that the two sports are vastly contradictory in the physical style of play and readiness to adjust from one level to the next.

    I look for a strong 2008 on the field. Go Irish!

  3. AJG Jr. Says:

    I haven’t even read this yet, but for the past 2 weeks everytime i type in NDnation.com and as the page loads, i silently pray for a new rock report or ANYTHING about 2008 ND Football.

    You really are doing Gods work.

    Thank you.

  4. Anonymous Says:

    Tell us something that we don’t know.

  5. PJC Says:

    Good article. Two quick comments:

    1) Last year’s fifth year class was not bad. It had Zbikowski, Laws, John Sullivan, and Travis Thomas. That is as good as if not better than the 5th year classes for most schools.

    2) While Notre Dame’s senior class is not up to Notre Dame’s historical standards, it is as good as your standard Purdue class (the 5th year class is abysmal).

  6. Anonymous Says:

    If you look back on last year we got beat by a lot of teams with greater depth than us. This year the schedule looks to find some of those teams not as loaded with seniors and 5th years. Plus so many of the Irish’s young guys got early baptisms of fire. Hope springs eternal when you’ve got the best talent and chemistry. We’re getting there. Coach Charlie is doing the right thing by concentrating on both sides of the ball and the special teams, not just the offense. Let’s stay healthy, but hit more in practice so we won’t be so surprised when we take a lick when it’s live and full-speed and counts. Geaux Irish! We’re comin’ back.

  7. E Says:

    Was Mitch Mustain the no.1 before Clausen? I’m betting on talent plus experience plus easier schedule equals big year.

  8. Anonymous Says:

    My God! Do you ever sleep at night?
    ~mps

  9. Anonymous Says:

    Mustain may have one a player of the year award but he wasn’t viewed as the number one qb recruit.

  10. NDkid06 Says:

    In response to our 5th year class, I think they looked good on paper but the only one that had a real positive impact was Laws. Zibby looked like he was somewhere else half the time. Sully thought he was snapping to Shaq. Thomas got personal fouls even freshmen shouldn’t get. I think a lot of the upper classmen resented the freshman last year and we had no leadership. Its going to take a couple years but I think guys like Sam Young can be the leaders we need.

  11. Anonymous Says:

    Mustain was a Freshman in ’06, Clausen was in ’07. Matthew Stafford was the #1 rated quarterback in ’06…Great Article!!

  12. Anonymous Says:

    you can’t compare basketball to football. sorry, but you will never see a “fab 5” in football. in basketball, an individual can control a game and you can play well without serious time in weight room. sorry, but you are comparing apples to oranges. try and find a young inexperienced and talented team in the top 10.

  13. Anonymous Says:

    Mustain was the number one qb recruit before Clausen. Perilloux(not sure about the spelling)was the number one Qb the year that Sharpley was recruited. He would have been a redshirt junior this year.

  14. Anonymous Says:

    I understnd one thing. Last years team was the most embarresing Notre Dame team in history as far as not being able ti iniate a block,hold a block,or run routes or run with speed or run outside let alone inside and the Offensive Line was the worst one in College Football. It was good we did not play Army or we would have lost to them as well.
    Air Force had a back that ran thru us like he Reggie Bush going against thru Hoover High School in San Diego. Let us not talk about last year anymore. Ara;s worst year was 8-2 in 72 with losses to Missouri a week after the Tigers got crushed by 62 – O by Nebraska as well as playing Number 1 USC to a 24- 22 halftime and almost tying the game on a two point conversion try which did not work. Though we lost 45-22 to USC and then got balsted by Nebraska in the Orange Bowl 40-6 Ara came back the next year with a Juinor QB and beat USC 23 -14 and then went undefeated to play then Number One Alabama 24-23 in the Sugar Bowl in 1973.

    Even the next year after getting upset by a lousy,I mean lousy Purdue team and getting humiliated by USC out in LA after being ahead at hald time 24-6 only to lose 55-4 Ara came back and knokced off Number 1 Alabama 13-11 in the Orange Bowl to cost Bear Bryant another Nationsl Championship.

    It is easy to Coach with all the material. Just like in life. It is when you get your ass kicked in life is what determines what kind of person you. The 2008 Season is a chance for Charlie Weis to show he is a Big Time College Football Head Coach. Like Ara ,Dan Devine and Lou Hotlz were.
    Forget Rockne and Leahy and Layden. Those guys are legends. But the other guys did it and never ,ever gave up. That is the mark of a winner.

    So lets not make any more excuses. Weis should win 9 or 10 games this year and a Bowl Game. If not then it is time to put the big time heat on him.

    That is what would happen at your job or to your kids in school. Pressure to perform.

    GOOOOO IRISH

    Somehow when all is said and done I DO THINK ND will win 9 games plus a Bowl Game this coming Season. And Coach Weis will get it done.

    GOOO IRISH

  15. Anonymous Says:

    Nice write up, I talk to so many people that don’t realize or agree that you out 5-10 pounds of muscle on all of those talented freshmen and sophomores (spring not fall) and more brain power with the extra year, you add a couple basic realities to the mix: 1. if you weigh 5 to 10 lbs. more you can probaly take hits alot better and can de,iver better hits as well, mere physics. 2. At the beginning of last season Weis and Co. only had weeks with Clausen and others to build chemistry, now they now more about eachothers’ abilites and can step into situations with a better idea of what their team will do. 3. I think they have a bitter taste left in their mouth that only revenge and winning will wash out.

    p.s. Most likely the refs will not get much better……….

  16. Bernie P. ND'74 Says:

    No doubt about it, that older, more experienced teams dominate. I also agree that the weaker schedule this year may help the team’s development (it’s less likely they’ll get shell-shocked early, which is what I thought happened last year). But one factor that will be different for this team is that, as sophomores and freshmen, these guys got more experience than they would have normally received. Don’t you think that will accelerate their growth curve? I do.

    Go Irish!

  17. Anonymous Says:

    interesting article but it sounds to me like you are greasing the skids already in an attempt to give Charlie another pass here this year…

  18. Anonymous Says:

    This is good stuff. And while obvious to those who really pay attention, it is still lost to many. For example, PJC touts the 07 5th class as being “not bad.” Sure, those listed are fine. The problem is there are essentially only 3 of them(Thomas had no impact of any significance). Most top teams will have twice as many as well as twice as many 4th year players contributing as ND had in 07. The problem gets marginally better in 08 with the 4th years but we still have only 3 5th years that will have any impact.

    Another example is the note about basketball which is competely totally irrelevant to the football equation. The only contradiction is the dynamics of college basketball and football are completly different making the comparison downright silly.

  19. jim / Redondo Beach Says:

    …so…if I understand you correctly…we’re depending on willingham’s seniors and 5th year seniors to dig us out of this hole?…christ…

  20. Anonymous Says:

    I hope 9 wins will happen but you’re not in Kansas anymore. …And a bowl win…? geez…The Irish should count their blessings if they win 6 this year. That will be a tremendous season after playing and ending like they did last year. Weis not calling the offensive plays should honestly help – Tenuta will definitley have an impact! GO IRISH!

  21. Anonymous Says:

    Everything you write is true and it appears you are already preparing next season’s excuse matrix? At least wait until after they lose to San Diageo State Teachers College. Then we can once again realize the mistake of not hiring a coach with HEAD coaching experience. ND is no place for a coach to learn on the job.

  22. Anonymous Says:

    The Irish will upset USC this year. 31-27 Book IT!!

  23. Anonymous Says:

    2008 should be better, maybe 7-5. But the OL and DL must play a lot better if the Irish want to win more than 7 games.

  24. Ted Says:

    It amazes me that some comment posters really believe our Irish will win 9-10 games + a bowl game.

    My friends, you missed the point in The Rock Report. We have had great recruiting, and our younger players got valuable experience during the dismal ’07 season.

    However, Notre Dame is still a very young team that is developing physically and mentally.

    Charlie Weis and his coaching staff and players will direct an improved team, but to think we can win ten games is a hopeful wish. CW is a head coach, contrary to what someone said, but the development of a great team takes time. Expect it!

    I believe a seven or eight win season would be great and would set the stage for spectacular seasons in ’09 and beyond.

    To those who still expect a ten win season, I hope we see it, but I believe The Rock Report told it like it is.

  25. Anonymous Says:

    Hey Rock,

    This in unrelated to the article. With the changes in recruiting, I believe we need to utilize the media. ND has been out of the spotlight for weeks and everytime I go to Yahoo or ESPN, I see Michigan or Alabama in the headlines. I think Weis needs to get us out in the headlines during this period, and I have not seen it. I know that as a ND fan, ESPN is not my favorite website, but I know that if we make ESPN headlines, we reach a huge audience, especially young athletes. I haven’t seen an ND article in three or four weeks. I generally come here to read articles that I want to read and then go to yahoo or espn to see what everyone else is reading. We need to beat Michigan in the media war and right now I would say they are winning this year.

  26. Anonymous Says:

    Yeah – very young team – anybody realize this is Chuck’s 4th year….?

  27. Ted Says:

    This is year four with Coach Weis. Prior to his first year on the sideline, he didn’t go to work until late January, so he couldn’t recruit, and to a large degree he inherited what recruits there were…not much.

    Since then, his three classes have been very good to excellent. That means his first real recuiting class are the juniors in ’08.

    That brings us back to The Rock Report on “Talent vs. Potential.

  28. Anonymous Says:

    There is some truth in what you say but the bigger problem is the lack of development of the young players.

    We have to get over Willingham and see why Coach Weiss do not seem to grasp the college level.

    Plain and simple that was the worst third year coaching at a major college I have ever seen. He was lost.

    08 is judgement year. The Irish cannot keep changing coaches but this is not the NFL either.

    Go Irish

  29. Anonymous Says:

    There is some truth in what you say but the bigger problem is the lack of development of the young players.

    We have to get over Willingham and see why Coach Weiss do not seem to grasp the college level.

    Plain and simple that was the worst third year coaching at a major college I have ever seen. He was lost.

    08 is judgement year. The Irish cannot keep changing coaches but this is not the NFL either.

    Go Irish

  30. Anonymous Says:

    From reading the responses to this great analysis, it appears that too many people are in the same fog as last year that had them believing the Irish could win 9 or 10 games. And now you are thinking that the 2008 team can win 7 or 8 or 10 games??? Are you serious??? Yes, the team will be better, but better in my mind is simply being able to compete. An offense that bad can’t possibly improve as much as it would take for the Irish to win 8 games. I’ll take the ability to move the ball consistently, keep defenses honest and not allow them to just tee off on us up front. Five or six wins and the ability to compete in every game is more realistic. Expecting anything more than that will set you up for another very disappointing year.

  31. dc Says:

    Good article. One team that defied the odds last year was Illinois. They did not deserve to be in the Rose Bowl, but they were a good, young team. Not great, but good. I’d gladly take a season like that for ND this year. Benn makes your point about young receivers being able to make an impact. I’m hoping we’ll see the same thing this year for the Irish. We have to solidify the trenches to win more than 5 games though.

    No more excuses. Charlie hopefully will not try to outsmart himself again this year and we’ll see a team focusing on the basics first. A team that shows improvement throughout the season and that fighting spirit.

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