2-Deeps Or Not 2-Deeps: Inside the Silly World of College Football Coaches’ Refusal to Reveal Depth Charts
Michael Reaves/Getty Images. Pictured: Jim Harbaugh.
Two-deeps or not two-deeps? That is the question.
Ever since Rutgers and Princeton refused to provide depth charts before college football’s first-ever game in 1869 — sources told Action Network both schools had wireless outages that week and their e-mail was down — coaches have had different opinions on whether to release their depth charts.
This year is no different. Of the 131 FBS programs, 113 released their two-deeps (starters and backups at each position) while 18 schools had not provided depth charts for their season openers as of Wednesday night.
The 18 that didn’t: Akron, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, LSU, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern, Ohio State, Oregon, Penn State, Purdue, South Florida, Texas, USC and Western Michigan.
Perhaps it’s unfair Purdue is lumped in this list because the only reason the school didn’t provide a depth chart was that tonight’s opponent, Penn State, hasn’t released a two-deep for the past three seasons.
The other schools on the list all had various reasons for not providing a depth chart. They usually do so except for openers so they can surprise their opponent, or it won’t be finalized until right before kickoff, or — my favorite — the dog ate their depth chart.
Some schools don’t even bother providing depth charts all season (yes, we’re looking at the paranoid coaches at Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Ohio State, Penn State and Texas).
Longtime ESPN college football analyst Tom Luginbill summed up the anti-depth chart crowd.
“Honestly I think it’s pretty stupid,” Luginbill said. “Just release it.
“All of these coaches know the players on the other rosters. They all recruited them, they’re all familiar with them. Whether a guy is starting or listed as the two or three, you still have to prepare for all of them anyway.”
Luginbill said he had a bigger problem with schools that list a player on the depth chart they know will not play. This is the part of the story where I remind each school, “He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone.”
FOX analyst Brock Huard called last week’s Nebraska-Northwestern game. Neither school provided a depth chart.
“It’s pretty silly, really,” Huard said. “In a name, image and likeness sport where players, families, agents and marketers want the player’s story told and their position recognized, it certainly feels archaic.”
North Carolina’s Mack Brown has been a head coach for 33 years. He said the only times he hasn’t released a depth chart is if his opponent didn’t.
“I always wanted to announce the depth charts for the kids, to give them the recognition,” Brown said. “It’s exciting for the fan base and the media to discuss it. If our opponent releases a depth chart, I want to be fair to them and release ours.”
Like Brown, Arizona coach Jedd Fisch said he lists a two-deep to recognize the players.
“To help the kids on our team get exposure,” Fisch said. “Also, we believe the players should be rewarded for all of their hard work all training camp. It is a way to show appreciation.”
Added TCU coach Sonny Dykes: “I’ve always believed that there is an ethical duty to do it.”
And then there is UMass coach Don Brown.
Brown, in his first season at UMass, provided a depth chart — oh boy, did he ever. His first depth chart with the Minutemen lists five players as the potential starting quarterback for Saturday’s game at Tulane: “Brady Olson OR Gino Campiotti OR Garrett Dzuro OR Zamar Wise OR Chase Brewster.”
Of the 14 Big Ten schools, only five provided two-deeps. Kudos to Iowa, Maryland, Rutgers, Purdue (except this week) and Wisconsin for not being “Harbaughed.”
“Basically (Michigan coach Jim) Harbaugh hasn’t done it for several years and other coaches said, 'If he doesn’t, why should we?'” a Big Ten school source said.
Harbaugh has had a love/hate relationship with depth charts. OK, maybe it’s a hate/hate relationship, but we love his hate for them.
Even though Michigan didn’t include the Wolverines’ depth chart in this week’s game notes vs. Colorado State, Harbaugh painstakingly listed every starter and backup in a recent “In the Trenches” podcast with former Michigan offensive tackle Jon Jansen. Podcast good, game notes bad.
But it wasn’t until 2016 when Michigan played Colorado that we truly learned Harbaugh’s despise of depth charts.
That’s when the legend that is Colorado sports information director Dave Plati spoofed Harbaugh’s secrecy regarding depth charts by releasing a farcical Colorado depth chart featuring tight end Clark W. Griswold, strong safety Danny Noonan and punter Happy Gilmore, among others.
Please take a minute to look at the actual depth chart to appreciate Plati’s brilliance.
Harbaugh was not amused with Plati’s creativity.
“I saw the depth chart,” Harbaugh said in 2016. “I was trying to imagine how many people sat around and how many hours they worked on that. We've just found, I mean, when it comes to the depth chart, modern technology seems to have made the depth chart an outdated task by about 20 years. We've found studying last week's film of the opponent is the most accurate way of determining another team's depth chart.”
Even those hard-working, underpaid souls who compile the game notes and provide depth charts to the hard-working, underpaid media members might fib every so often.
“The reality is that the first depth chart (of the year) is usually the only one that contains a shred of truth,” said a Group of Five sports information director. “After Week 1, schools don’t typically update the public version unless a player is out for the year for whatever reason.”
Then there's the strange case of New Mexico State. The Aggies play Minnesota tonight. It’s New Mexico State’s second game of the season.
Before last week’s season opener against Nevada, New Mexico State listed its two-deep in its game notes. This week, however, the Aggies had removed their depth chart because — you guessed it — Minnesota didn’t provide a depth chart.