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Are Coaches Game Planning to Win in February?

Are coaches running offensive schemes to appear more attractive to NFL-bound quarterback recruits?

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Chris Thomas provided some context for the QB1 vs QB1a debate that will prevail throughout football media from now through the NFL Draft in May. Jameis Winston, your "prototypical pro-style pocket passer" is going to be compared and contrasted at every turn with Marcus Mariota, your "college system spread option athlete".

Who would I draft? Winston, of course. He's awesome. But what I found interesting about Chris' article was his insinuation that a correlation exists between NFL offensive scheme preferences and  NCAA offensive scheme preferences because of the implied boost to recruitment.

From 30,000 feet, the logic here holds. NFL teams run systems that they feel gives them the best chance to win. High school quarterbacks want to play in the NFL. Thus, recruits will choose the school that best prepares them to succeed in the NFL system. With this in mind, college coaches will then mirror their system to that of the NFL's in order to get NFL bound recruits. Makes sense, right? But is this taking place in reality?

First, let's identify what, traditionally, the characteristics of an "NFL offense" are. In brief, the quarterback takes a chunk of the snaps from under center, audibles are made from the line of scrimmage (not from the sidelines), and the run scheme is not read option based.

The demand for quarterbacks with this skill set is rather obvious. Of the top ten quarterbacks drafted in 2014, only Johnny Manziel plays the position non-traditionally. Not a single read option quarterback went off the board before the 7th round in 2013. RGIII and Russell Wilson were the only non-traditional quarterbacks drafted in 2012.

This is not a new trend. In fact, it is only within the last decade, when the best athletes on the field started playing quarterback, that drafting a non-traditional passer was even an option for NFL teams.

So how have the college programs responded? In a variety of ways. Comparing and contrasting premier programs in the context of quarterback play is curious.

Of the 30 or so programs that have a legitimate chance at landing an NFL bound quarterback, about half employ some pro style" characteristics. LSU, Georgia, Florida State, USC, Alabama, Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Stanford to name a few.

Other schools, however, most definitely do not. Aside from Kansas State, BigXII schools run a version of an air raid spread offense, operating predominantly out of the shotgun with 4 or 5 receivers and throwing the ball upwards of 50 times per game.

Some of the most successful programs, Oregon, Ohio State, and Auburn most notably, ask their quarterbacks to be athletic enough to make any play necessary. This often means a heavy dose of read option in a run first pass second offense.

So what's going on? We know what the NFL wants. So do the coaches and high school recruits.

Urban Meyer seems to have a pretty good handle on recruiting quarterbacks, and can theoretically recruit the best pocket passers to Columbus.Yet, he doesn't make any effort.

Conversely, you have Florida State and Head Coach Jimbo Fisher. Fisher has produced three consecutive quarterbacks who have been or will be taken in the top 10 of the NFL draft, in part due to the pro style offense run at Florida State. Without question this is part of his sales pitch to each and every high school quarterback he visits.

Is Jimbo Fisher simply outsmarting Gus Malzahn and Urban Meyer? Of course not. Offensive schemes are a product of many factors. How the scheme effects recruiting is just one of these factors.

Fisher values the advantages that running a pro style offense brings both on and off the field. Meyer clearly favors a scheme that gives his team the best chance to win, end of story. As such, he recruits quarterbacks that fit his mold.

These approaches are able to coexist because coaches are not judged on whether or not their quarterbacks get drafted. They are judged on wins. And given that the demand for wins is often set so high, coaches do not have the luxury of counting on signing an NFL bound quarterback recruit for success.

When you're recruiting to win, you build an offense around what talent you have, or recruit around a scheme that gives you the best advantage.

The BigXII plays air raid football because the high school quarterbacks in the region play air raid football. The dust bowl recruits are prepared to excel in the system in which they were brought up. Mirroring a system the players know and running it efficiently makes more sense than attempting to mirror a complex NFL offense in hopes of luring a top 5 quarterback.

Oregon, Ohio State, and Auburn are able to play for National Championships without pro style quarterbacks. Because of the talent these schools have surrounding the quarterback position, simply inserting athletic quarterbacks into the scheme makes them nearly unstoppable. Because these schools don't need to burn the resources required to court Elite11 quarterbacks, they can allocate those resources into surrounding their quarterbacks with talent at other positions.

If the goal is wins, and winning is possible without a pro style quarterback, it becomes advantageous for Urban Meyer to recruit quarterbacks precisely because they are non-traditional.

So why do USC, Alabama, and Florida State run pro style offenses? For the same reason NFL teams do. All things being equal, the offensive schemes run in the NFL are the best, most efficient offenses in the game. Because top 5 programs have the ability to recruit the best traditional quarterbacks in the country, doing so gives them the best chance to win.

Of course a high school quarterback wants to play in a program that will best prepare him for the NFL. But this does not mean that all programs have the necessary capabilities to implement pro style offenses and recruit quarterbacks who can run them.

Regardless of the ebbs and flows of the NFL offensive schemes, college coaches have one goal in mind: winning. If that means running a traditional or air raid or spread offense then so be it. Collegiate programs scheming an offense around the potential that that scheme has to lure recruits is not a reasonable course of action for any program.