This is the time of year when college football coaches start popping up randomly in the news as they make this comment or that comment on this radio interview or that speaking tour stop.
South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp did it earlier this week when he appeared on Arkansas radio host Bo Mattingly’s podcast and said, “We’re not where we want to be, but thank goodness we’re not where we were.”
It’s the kind of throwaway line that’s only worth notice because we’re in football-starved April. It gives fans something to cling to for a moment, but it says nothing. The question that elicited that response was, to paraphrase Bo, “Where are your program and team right now?”
That’s a good question, and it would be a great answer to have if anybody had it. We certainly don’t, and Muschamp doesn’t either. He knows his program intimately and probably has mentally catalogued every step forward and step backward that was taken by every player in every spring practice and on top of that has a rough idea of his chances of landing every recruit from here through the 2019 class.
“Who’s your best player?” He could answer that question in a minute. (He’d probably say Jake Bentley.)
“What’s your biggest weakness?” The answer would be on the tip of his tongue.
“What’s your best chance of getting pressure on a quarterback on third down?” He’d draw it up on a napkin.
All those questions, he could answer. The question that nobody can answer until after August is, “Where are your program and team right now?”
That’s because everybody in college football is living in a bubble at the moment. From the end of the national championship game until the season opener, every college football program in the country exists in a vacuum. Every team had a great signing class. Every team got better in the spring. Every offseason program was harder than the last one and made all the little guys bigger and big guys littler. Etc.
The bubble syndrome will only get worse next month. That’s when the summer speaking tours begin for most coaches, including Muschamp, who opens his Gamecock Club obligations in Lancaster on May 2. Like every other coach in the country, he’ll say, “We’re good at X, Y and Z, but we’ve got to get better at A and B.” And, like every other fan base in the country, the garnet and black faithful will hear, “Bring on Bama, baby.”
It’s OK to live in the bubble in the summer as long as you understand you’re in a bubble. Right now N.C. State – which plays South Carolina on Sept. 2 in the season-opener for both teams – and its fans are living in their bubble. Wolfpack coach Dave Doeren soon will embark on his summer speaking circuit, during which he probably will tell folks that year five is when all the groundwork he and his staff laid in the first four years is going to start paying off in victories. He may be right. Nobody knows at the moment, but nobody can prove you wrong in the bubble.
The thing is, nobody lives in a bubble in the fall. When all these bubbles start bumping into each other, then Muschamp, and everyone else, will know where his program and team are in year two.