What better to do in early August than rebut a 5 year old article which argues that speed is the most important factor in college football. In the article Why Speed is the Most Important Factor in College Football the author argues that at the local high school game you can figure out who the star is because they are the one running past the defenders. Also colleges are recruiting these same kids because you can teach them technique, but you can't teach them how to be fast. In addition Chip Kelly circa 2012 was able to magically identify speedy recruits and used the magic of that speed in order conquer the NCAA in a spark of brilliance that no other coach could have imagined.
So let the myth dispelling begin.
1. The local high school football star is not necessarily the fastest person on the field. Yes, go to any smaller school classification game or state where football talent isn't immense and you can probably see a local 5'7 150lb running back making short work of inferior competition. But go to that same league to a different game and I bet you can also find a 6'0 210lb running back who runs a 4.8 40 doing very similar things to the competition.
The reason that the person running past the defensive backs will typically usually be pretty fast is just due to the high correlation between being athletic in general and being fast. There are very few athletes who run a 4.5 40 an equally impressive vertical jump, broad jump, 10 yard dash, adequate change of direction, and decent strength to weight ratio. Which in layman's terms would mean that they are athletic. So yes, a very athletic person could most likely with training be a good football player, but having the best 40 doesn't make you the best football player.
2. Football technique is no easier or harder to teach than speed. Contrary to popular belief, you can not only be born fast, you can also taught to be fast. A proper training plan can fairly easily drop a few 10ths of a second off of the average high schoolers 40 yd dash time. While many websites and guru's will push snake oil and secret Russian training techniques in order which results in a mix average results and crippling injuries.
A well thought out mix of strength training, plyometrics, sprinting and youthful exuberance can get most dedicated high school athletes to a respectable 40yd dash time.
Try taking a non-football player and try to teach them the nuances of high level high school football and you will soon find out that speed and technique both require a level of skill to teach.
3. Chip Kelly did not use voodoo magic to recruit fast college football players. LaMichael James was a 4-Star Recruit than ran 10.5 100M dash in high school. He was on the radar of many schools.
And today through a mixture of local and national skill camps for football along with local high school track results you can easily find the cream of the crop in terms of speed.
Also while it may seem that Chip Kelly favored speed over all else do to the fact that he had a few high level athletes at skill positions who were no doubt very fast, even at the college ranks, Chip Kelly's offensive schemes focused more so on an uptempo offense (not to be confused with speed of the athletes) and mismatches in terms of blocking schemes.
Yes, hindsight is 20/20 but, with Chip Kelly's offensive scheme, you can see all that glitters is not gold.
Having a coach that can fully utilize the athletes on his roster through a flexible offensive scheme is more important than the raw speed of the athletes. In fact, in 2016 8 of the top 12 "big play" RBs (defined as breaking runs of 10+ yards) ran 40-Yard Dash times of 4.57 or slower.
Wrapping it up - In conclusion, The Wizard does not believe that Speed is the Most Important Factor in College Football. Having a well thought out offensive and defensive scheme that plays to your team's strengths, executing on that scheme and finding mismatches to exploit are much more important to the success of the team.
Can mismatches be created through speed, of course, but that is just one of various mismatches that can be created. And like many other skills, speed is a skill that can be trained and effectively improved upon.