The football programs at my college alma mater, University of Illinois, and my high school alma mater, Blue Island (now Eisenhower), are very much alike. They produce a great team about once a decade but lack consistent talent to keep pace with the perennial powers.
What makes a perennial power like Michigan and Ohio State and Penn State and Alabama and USC and Texas and Oklahoma?
What makes a consistent winner like Mount Carmel and Maine South and Joliet Catholic and Naperville North and Wheaton Warrenville South and Thornton?
In the last six decades, Illinois has won Big Ten championships in 1951 (Johnny Karras, Chuck Boerio, Al Brosky), 1953 (J.C. Caroline, Mickey Bates), 1963 (Dick Butkus, Jim Grabowski), 1983 (Don Thorp, Tim Brewster, Jack Trudeau, Jim Juriga), 1990 (Howard Griffith) and 2001 (Kurt Kittner, Tony Pashos, Brandon Lloyd).
Blue Island had unbeaten teams in 1951 (Jack Heniff), 1955 (Bill Moore, Bill Seilheimer) and 1971 (Jerome Brown, Jimmy Smith).
Illinois can't beat Michigan or Ohio State. In my time, Blue Island couldn't beat Thornton or Bloom.
Why? What does it take to build a program that produces outstanding players year after year, that wins consistently, that has a lot of ups and few downs? What is the common denominator, the difference-maker?
"There are 16 super schools around the country," recruiting analyst Tom Lemming explained. "They became super powers in the college ranks because of their winning tradition and consistency over a long period of time.
"There isn't one thing that determines a super power. It could be coaching or recruiting or administration. But they are all on the same track. They built up a record of consistency so they can afford to make some mistakes, some pratfalls, like Notre Dame did with Ty Willingham."
The telltale sign of a super power, according to Lemming, that separates it from a Johnny-come-lately and other schools is they keep their coaches for a long period of time. Other programs win for a year or two and lose their coaches to another school.
"It is a sign that you have made it (as a super power) is when the coach decides to stay and he keeps getting great players year after year," Lemming said. "Trace the history of Ohio State and Michigan and Notre Dame and Alabama and Texas and Oklahoma and USC. That's what every program aspires to be."