I finally got around to watching the 30 for 30 documentary on Marcus Dupree recently. I hope you get a chance to some time, because it shows you an entirely different side of college football than you normally get to see. It's the sort of film that will help you understand when beat writers say they can't be fans anymore having seen up close how the system works.
The film raises many important points, too many to go over at once even. The one that stuck with me most was about the treatment of freshmen back in the early '80s when Dupree got to Oklahoma. He, along with Herschel Walker before him, was the first of a new breed of player that could come in and be dominant fresh out of high school. Even today they're rare, though we do see the occasional Maurice Clarett and Adrian Peterson. Even so, freshmen now play much larger roles than ever before.
That wasn't so back then. Barry Switzer felt he needed to mercilessly nit pick every part of Dupree's game he could so that the veterans on the team wouldn't think he was playing favorites with a newcomer. There definitely is merit in honoring seniority, but everyone knew Dupree was the best player on the team. It set a bad precedent between the coaches and Dupree, and even after Switzer junked the wishbone offense he helped create to install the Dupree-friendly I-formation, the two sides never reconciled.
I couldn't help but think of a lot of what I've been hearing out of Florida this season about the rift that formed between the veterans and freshmen. The older players didn't spend much time building up who they saw as a group of hotshots, and even as late as after the South Carolina game, the chemistry was still off.
Some people called Florida's recruiting class potentially one of the best ever, but it's been a rocky road since signing day. Two freshmen transferred out in camp, and a third has been kicked off the team for poor attitude among other things. All three of the highly touted defensive linemen who were viewed as the core of the class (Ronald Powell, Sharrif Floyd, and Dominique Easley) went through stretches where they didn't want to be on the team.
While Urban Meyer has a reputation for being good with young players thanks to high profile freshmen starters like Percy Harvin, Tim Tebow, and Maurkice Pouncey, he's not had the same touch with this group despite Trey Burton's starring role. He was probably blindsided by the fact that the hype that the media put on the class caused the team's veterans to think they needed to be extra hard on the incoming players. The combination of poor attitudes from some of the older players and a sense of entitlement from some of the freshmen kept the team from bonding until after the team's bye week.
Coaches now probably wish they only had one guy to worry about like Switzer did with Dupree. Meyer has said that things are much different now with freshmen than they were even five years ago, and he doesn't want to think about how they'll be five years from now.
Coaches are faced with the task of blending freshmen who have been told for years that they'll walk into college and start with players who have spent that time paying their dues in the program. That's not even to mention the people who, like they did for Dupree, will whisper to the highly touted ones that if they're not playing it's a sign of disrespect from the coaches. It almost seems quaint to think back to 2005 when Meyer's biggest headache was merely Josh Portis's overbearing mother.
Of course, most highly-touted recruiting classes find ways to make it work. Dupree and 2010 Florida remain largely cautionary tales rather than the rule.
There can be hope for the future. Meyer unloaded on his 2007 team after that season, calling them "a bunch of spoiled young players" in his authorized biography . The young core of that team went on to lead UF to a 26-2 record over the next two seasons.