Blutarsky and B&B discuss some interesting points. Explicitly or implicitly, the discussion turns on the role of schemes and top-flight recruits, coupled with scheme transitions. In short, are there advantages to recruiting to pro-style offenses versus the spread, and is it wrong (or at least misguided) to hire coaches who will transition their team from one to the other? And what’s the better plan for the long-run? I don’t think there even could be an answer to these questions, but below are some non-systematic thoughts.
1. For the truly elite-level recruiting teams, I think the agnosticism of pro-style treats them well because they basically recruit incredible players and then figure out the system and scheme later. Moreover, spread offenses, option offenses, and really any pass-first offense (including West Coast attacks of which I’d put Georgia in the category) require very good quarterback play. Alabama and LSU are basically designed to win in spite of their quarterbacks; Nick Saban does not want to return an all world defense with a bunch of five-star playmakers and lose because his QB was a junior and had some “growing pains”, which absolutely happens at every level. In other words, if you get be a top 5 recruiting team every year, it’s not that you want to be pro-style it’s that you want to be “system neutral.” They can get superior talent and can fit plays around those incredible guys. Note that this isn’t the same as “fitting your scheme to your players,” because we’re talking about first round draft choice guys not guys with certain strengths and certain weaknesses. I leave aside whether pro-style is truly more attractive to recruits or not.
3. This latter point plays into those “scheme” transitions. Every system requires you to have certain skills to be effective. A transition from one scheme to the other reduces everyone’s effectiveness. The old saying is that changing your offense makes all your seniors freshmen. I think the “fit” of a team to a spread or a pro-style or what not is often underrated: athletes are athletes and every offense is designed to put them in space. Many of the issues come in the fact that with a scheme change guys have simply practiced certain things less.
Where I do agree with it is in terms of depth. A spread-to-pass team has different depth needs than a flexbone team, and in turn they have different needs than a tight-end heavy team like Stanford. Every team wants to have a couple of good wide receivers, but only the spread to pass team needs eight of them; whereas only the flexbone team needs 10 runningbacks on the roster and none of them but Stanford need to have more than a couple of tight-end types. It absolutely takes time to build that kind of depth.
4. The effectiveness of scheme transitions often depends more on luck and circumstance than anything else. (1) Do you have a quarterback who can do what you need him to do (and how many do you have? What if he gets hurt? Coaching changes often decimate the quarterback spot.); (2) How familiar are your opponents with your scheme? The less familiar they are the more you can “buy time” with smoke and mirrors while you get better (when Georgia Tech won the ACC in Paul Johnson’s first season, they weren’t a great flexbone team but they had big surprise advantages that first year; some random spread team or even pro-style team doesn’t really catch people off guard anymore); and (3) How much depth do you have in general? The deeper your roster, the more you can play around with guys, move them around, and try to dedicate them to certain things. The less you have the more constrained you are to get into what you want to do, whatever it is. That said, I think for most players, the difference in what they are asked to do in a spread versus a pro-style scheme is vastly overrated, particularly in the case of run-first spread teams.
Ultimately I think the question is a good one but maybe too complex to even answer. I do think quarterback is the X factor for every single college and pro team nowadays, with extremely rare exceptions. The most “pro-style”-ist pro teams need great quarterbacking, but teams like LSU and Alabama do not. The reason: compared to their opponents, LSU and Alabama are simply much better teams, advantages that pro teams and very few, if any, other college teams have.