In college football, every program is looking to separate itself from the pack, not only to win recruiting battles but to ensure an advantage on the field. Over the last few years, an explosion in training technology has keyed securing those advantages. Teams willing to pay for and use it have seen huge leaps in how their players perform on Saturdays. From using virtual reality to train quarterbacks to 3D mapping a player's entire body, these five programs are on the cutting edge of training technology.
Florida State - GPS
Florida State University hired a full-time "GPS man," who monitors every movement players makes in practice and in the weight room. Each Seminoles football player is outfitted with a GPS on his chest that tracks his acceleration rate, heart rate and speed. This wearable technology is produced by Catapult, a company that is becoming more prominent among college and pro teams as they adapt to the future with sports technology.
FSU's coaches use Catapult data to help fight soft-tissue injuries and design practice schedules that are light on mid-week work, the idea being that the Seminoles will be in peak shape for their games on Saturday. The GPS system played a large part in FSU's championship run during the 2013 season, as the team had very few injuries that season.
Oregon - Speed Class
The reason why the Oregon Ducks football team has been faster than your favorite college team over the past five seasons is simple: they have Jim Radcliffe and your team doesn't. Radcliffe has worked with Oregon players for 26 seasons, and under former coach Chip Kelly he placed a premium on sprint training—so much so that all incoming players had to attend his "speed school" to learn the "specific biomechanical techniques that motor the Ducks' warp-speed offense," according to ESPN.
Indeed, speed school is all about improving technique—toes pointed forward, shoulders and thumbs up—during a sprint. To keep their jaws relaxed, players are even supposed to flutter their lips as they run. Radcliffe also focuses on improving stride length and hip flexibility, especially for Oregon's offensive linemen, who play a huge role in the team's up-tempo offense. That means drills like Hill Sprints and linemen walking around on their hands. If you want to be as fast as Oregon, you've got to go all out.
Auburn - Virtual Reality
For years, virtual reality, as reflected in video games, kept college kids indoors and away from the football field. Now, it's making them excited about practice. VR has found a home in college football, where a handful of Division I schools are using it to help their quarterbacks recognize defensive coverages, analyze offensive formations, audible to hot routes and much more.
Once he slips on the VR headset, the player is inserted behind center, seeing a full defense on the other side. He can look to his right or left, and even behind him at the running back. It's like simulating a game in real time.
"Anytime you can get a rep—it's as close to a practice rep as possible—all it can do is help," Auburn coach Gus Malzahn told USA Today. "It's really good."
Although Auburn is not the only school to tap into the benefits of VR (Arkansas, Stanford and Vanderbilt are also using it), the Tigers' success over the past few seasons is evidence of one its biggest payoffs.
University of Missouri - 3D Mapping
Last season, the University of Missouri, or "Mizzou" as the cool kids call it, began using a Kansas City-based company to create a 3D map of the each player's body. The scan captures 33 different points of functional movement, establishing a healthy baseline to compare a player against himself if and when he's injured. The training staff can monitor the players week to week, note differences in their movement patterns or athletic abilities, compare them to when the players were at their healthiest and determine whether they need special training or even whether they should play the following Saturday.
One of the biggest goals of the 3D mapping system is to create a team free of ACL injuries, one of the most common and most devastating injuries that football players suffer. The map of a player's body acts as a predictor of his potential for injury on a week-to-week basis. Pretty futuristic stuff.
Baylor - Tensiomyography
From Robert Griffin III to Bryce Petty to Seth Russell, the Baylor Bears have had a run of elite quarterbacks, which has translated into a whole lot of wins. And though the talent in Waco, Texas has been impressive, Baylor's use of cutting edge technology from Slovenia might be the coolest thing about the program.
Baylor uses something called tensiomyography, or TMG, technology that tracks the function and performance of specific muscle groups, helping to predict and prevent future injury. Unwanted variance in different muscles from week to week can alert Baylor's training staff to hold a player out of a game or focus his training on specific areas that need work.
Baylor doesn't stop there. They make their football players spit in a cup every morning so they can test their saliva for things like sodium and potassium levels, which allows the training staff to understand what each player needs that day in terms of nutrition. Heart rate monitors and GPS systems are also common, both on and off the football field.
As Baylor charges toward the College Football Playoff, the technology behind the talent propels them full speed ahead.
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