If you could build a college football program from scratch, what would it like? Who would coach it? Where would you play? What uniforms would your team wear? How would fans experience your game-day atmosphere?
With the 2016 college football season less than 100 days away, this is how the ideal program would be built just in time to kick off on Labor Day weekend. There's a lot of work to be done, but we're confident we'll sort out all the details in time. From hiring a coach to selecting a stadium, no angle was left unexamined.
The only rule to this exercise is that every selection must be from a current program. This is most obvious for the coach and player selected to lead the team, but it also applies to everything else. For instance, the ideal stadium can't be one that's been closed for good, nor can the ideal uniforms be something a team no longer wears.
OK, enough of the boring stuff. Let's get to the selections, which you'll surely agree with entirely.
If given unlimited resources and reach, the ideal college football program would ...
Have Urban Meyer as its head coach: Each selection is going to inevitably upset somebody -- there's no avoiding that -- but picking a coach somehow seems extra personal. They are almost always the face of the program, after all.
So let's take as much emotion out of it as possible and stick with the facts: Meyer is 50-4 at Ohio State. Fifty. And. Four. He's won two national championships at Florida and another with the Buckeyes. And if you want dabble in postseason accolades, Meyer is No. 1 all time in career bowl win percentage.
Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press once tweeted that Meyer, along with Nick Saban and Jim Harbaugh, was one of the three elite coaches in college football. You could make a strong case for Jimbo Fisher and Bob Stoops being close to that level as well.
However, Saban is 64, 13 years older than Meyer. I'm not saying Saban retires tomorrow, or even in the next couple of years, but I am thinking long-term. I love Harbaugh's personality, but of the three elite coaches mentioned above, Meyer combines the track record with the ability to win today and some longevity to boot.
Have Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey as the face of the program: It was tempting -- extremely tempting -- to go with Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson. He's easily the top signal-caller heading into next season on what could very well be a historically great offense. But I have to go with McCaffrey, my personal Heisman Trophy favorite last year.
The reasoning is obvious, but I'll explain it anyway -- McCaffrey does it all: rushing, catching, returning and even a little bit of passing. In 2015, he broke the single-season all-purpose yardage record previously held by Barry Sanders (3,250 in 1988). Now, before you even think about saying Sanders put up his numbers in 11 games, remember that McCaffrey actually averaged about five fewer touches per game than Sanders. Regardless, McCaffrey is a true definition of a game-changer and is nearly impossible to defend because of his versatility.
So, sure. Take it away, Stanford bro:
Have Notre Dame's tradition: You'll notice this hypothetical program follows one general rule: the less cliche, the better. College football is unique and no two programs are even close to being the same. That's part of what makes the pageantry so much fun. However, I don't know that I avoid choosing Notre Dame here.
You know the drill: Touchdown Jesus, "Play like a champion today," the occasional green jerseys, the gold helmets, the national championships, the seven Heisman winners, Knute Rockne, Rudy being offsides, etc.
Notre Dame hasn't won a national championship since 1988 -- just more than 10,000 days ago, in fact -- but we're explicitly measuring history, and no one has it better than the Fighting Irish.
Be based in Louisiana: Now that I've spent some time breaking down the ideal coach, let's undermine it completely by reminding you recruiting matters more than coaching in college football. That's not to say coaching isn't important, but go back through the list of national champions from, say, the past decade and they all have have one thing in common: each program recruited at about a top-10 level, if not a top-five one.
This begs the question: Where do we want to set up camp for our ideal college football program? Put another way: Where would Harbaugh want to have as many satellite camps as possible?
I'm going away from the obvious and selecting Louisiana. It has an ideal ratio of blue-chip talent -- the 2016 class produced 21 four-and-five-star players, fifth-most in the U.S. per Sports on Earth -- and state population (about 4.67 million, per the U.S. Census). Basically, Louisiana churns out a lot of talent per capita.
Furthermore, and unlike other talent-rich states such as Florida or Texas, Louisiana isn't supersaturated with other programs successfully swooping in and stealing recruits. LSU, the in-state institution, signed 14 top-25 in-state prospects in 2016, including nine of the top 10. In 2015, LSU hauled in 11 of the state's top 25 players.
If you want to keep a high percentage of blue-chip talent in state, Louisiana is your best bet. As a bonus, it sits next to Texas and near Florida and Georgia, so poaching is still a possibility.
Play in Oregon's Autzen Stadium: Bigger isn't better when it comes to stadium size. Besides, you've seen the photos of half-empty stadiums minutes before kickoff, right? There aren't many looks worse than a 90,000-seat stadium at 60 percent capacity right before kickoff. I was tempted to choose something classic, like Cal's Memorial Stadium or even the Yale Bowl. However, I'm not OK with sacrificing intensity, which is why Autzen Stadium gets the call.
Autzen was one of those best-kept secrets for many years when it came to college football atmospheres. That's changed significantly in the last decade or so. That's due in part to the rise of the Ducks program coupled with more exposure from program's like College GameDay.
Autzen routinely makes the list of loudest stadiums in college football, even with its modest 54,000-seat capacity. In fact, its size is a big part of the appeal. There's just something extra collegiate about its cozy bowl shape that puts fans right on top of the action.
Have LSU's game-day atmosphere and tailgating: A lot of college towns -- like Madison, Wisconsin, for example -- know how to throw a party. That's all well and good, but let's throw in some color and flavor. I can get a solo cup anywhere. I want unique foods and the slight uneasiness that comes with understanding you might not be able to wrap your head around what you're about to see for the rest of the day.
LSU gets the nod, with Wisconsin and Ole Miss getting strong consideration. The Cajun cuisine is a definite advantage, as is playing at night. That gives the locals plenty of time to, you know, "prepare." And considering the program is already based in Louisiana, it just makes sense.
Plus, coffin cooler:
Use Virginia Tech's pre-game entrance: I'm not typically one for artificial noise when it comes to in-stadium experiences. The more organic, the better. But goodness, nothing prepares you to run through a wall like Metallica's "Enter Sandman" blasting over the PA system as Virginia Tech takes the field. It is mean, it is nasty, it is unique and --most importantly -- it is perfect.
Have West Virginia's mascot: How many Tigers, Bulldogs and Wildcats are there these days? The Mountaineer is alive and real. He has a musket. And he fires it. Wrasslin' potential came under serious consideration here as well.
Have Alabama's fan base: OK, nevermind -- this is going to be the category that angers everybody, not coaching. Every school thinks it has the best fans in the country -- well, except Florida State, which almost prides itself on, shall we say, an "aggressive" Twitter presence (don't @ me, #FSUTwitter).
Anyway, I've been generally scientific thus far, backing up my choices with at least some stats. This is a selection based on feel, and I feel I want Alabama as my fanbase.
Don't come at me with game attendance or donor numbers or 12th man #brands. I don't care about those. As you've already seen, my stadium numbers don't need to eclipse 100,000, and I'm operating under the hypothetical assumption of unlimited resources. Kissing people's you-know-what for cash is not a requirement.
Rather, I'm choosing based on this extremely unscientific video. I want my fans running ... to get an autograph ... at a spring game.
This was a thing, too. An annual thing, like Thanksgiving or whatnot. If you spend your offseason training to sprint 100 yards in order to get a material item signed by another homo sapien, you're No. 1 in my book.
Wear UCLA's uniforms: Oh, what's that? Your team wears crimson? Good for you. Give me a splash of some color -- and something different, for that matter. Give me North Carolina's Tar Heel blue or Texas' burnt orange. Better yet, give me UCLA's powder blue and gold with some script lettering on the helmets.
In a day and age of alternate uniforms and unofficial third (and fourth, and fifth) colors, UCLA's home originals are a classic look. Plus, it's part of the best-looking rivalry in college football.
It's Saturday, baby, and this program is going to be noticed.