"I think a lot of it is consistency in recruiting and the fact that we keep guys in school for four or five years and redshirt when we can," Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson says. "Bigger schools have to deal with transfers and guys going to the pros. It's hard to replace them with freshmen."
Johnson says another key is stability in the coaching ranks. He is in his seventh season at Vanderbilt and has had two changes on his staff in that time. Jim Grobe is in his eighth year at Wake Forest, and [Pat] Fitzgerald is in his 12th as a player or coach at Northwestern.
"If you do things the right way, you can win anywhere," Fitzgerald says.
Grobe also says his close relationship with his athletic director is a crucial reason for his program's success in recent years:
"It's probably one of the few programs in the country where the AD and head football coach are really kind of joined at the hip about the way to approach winning."
Considering his program's challenges, Coach Grobe has a terrific approach, in my opinion:
"We're not looking for the best players we can find. We're looking for the best kids we can find. That means kids with character, kids that want a college degree - they don't have to be the top student in the class, but they have to be a college-bound kid that wants a college degree.
"Our thought at Wake Forest is: can we be the best football team without necessarily having the best talent? One of our goals is to make sure that we're doing the right things as coaches and our players are doing the right things so that we can actually have a good football team without necessarily walking [onto the field] with the most talented players."