The College Football Playoff National Championship is tonight between Alabama and Georgia. Considering 118 of the players you’re going to see in tonight’s football game ran track in high school, I figured it would be fun to see who would win a hypothetical match-up in my favorite track event, the 4x100m Relay.
First, let’s do a rundown of the top speedsters for each team, in order of their F.A.T. 100m Dash personal best:
Eric Stokes, DB: 100m 10.39, 200m 21.46, 400m 47.91
Ameer Speed, DB: 100m 10.39, 200m 21.42
Tyler Simmons, WR: 100m 10.60, 200m 21.37
Sony Michel, RB: 100m 10.64, 200m 21.91
Mecole Hardman, WR: 100m 10.64, Long Jump 23’11”, Triple Jump 46’9.25″
Nick Chubb, RB: 100m 10.69, 200m 21.83, Long Jump 22’4″, Shot Put 55’8″
Deandre Baker, DB: 100m 10.83, 200m 21.74
Jayson Stanley, WR: 100m 10.83, 200m 22.98
Jeremiah Holloman, WR: 100m 11.00, Long Jump 22’8″, Triple Jump 49’5.5″, High Jump 6’4″
Other notes: Hardman competed for Georgia in the 4x100m Relay at the 2017 NCAA Championships. Baker (41.78), Hardman (41.94), Michel (41.38), Simmons (41.24), Speed (41.02), Stanley (41.36), and Stokes (41.87) all ran on high school 4x100m Relay teams that broke 42 seconds. Baker, Hardman, Stanley and Stokes all ran on State Champion 4x100m Relay teams.
Tony Brown, DB: 100m 10.12, 110h 13.38, 300h 37.32
Xavian Marks, WR: 100m 10.39, 200m 21.30, Long Jump 23’0.5″
Henry Ruggs III, WR: 100m 10.53
Calvin Ridley, WR: 100m 10.63, 200m 21.92
Anthony Averett, DB: 100m 10.80, Long Jump 25’2.5″, High Jump 6’6″
Shyheim Carter, DB: 100m 10.83, 200m 22.88
Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB: 100m 10.86, 200m 21.66
Robert Foster, WR: 100m 10.98
Damien Harris, RB: 100m 10.98
Other notes: Tony Brown is easily the most accomplished track athlete on both teams. He is a four-time NCAA All-American for the Crimson Tide, led all high school athletes with a time of 13.38 in the 110m Hurdles in 2013, and won a silver medal in the 110m Hurdles at the 2013 Pan American Junior Championships. Brown, Xavian Marks and Anthony Averett all run track for the Crimson Tide. The high school 4x100m accolades of the Alabama crew is not nearly as impressive as that of the Georgia crew, but Xavian Marks did run on a 40.70 relay team in 2015.
Who runs for Georgia?
It would be easy to run down the 100m Dash personal bests and just pick the four fastest, but as every track coach knows, the raw times do not tell the whole story. These times are relatively comparable, however, because they are all fully automatically timed (F.A.T.), which means none of them were hand-timed by the school’s athletic secretary. Two athletes from Georgia have enough of a cushion in their open 100m Dash times to warrant a spot on the relay team. Eric Stokes and Ameer Speed both have personal bests of 10.39, and confirmed that speed with 200m Dash bests of 21.46 and 21.42, respectively.
So who runs the other two legs? Georgia’s next four athletes all have personal bests in the 10.60-10.69 range. Two of those athletes, Sony Michel (10.64) and Nick Chubb (10.69), make up the best career running back duo in NCAA history with 8259 rushing yards gained between the two of them. However, based solely on track stats, I believe Georgia’s other two 10.6 studs, Tyler Simmons (10.60) and Mecole Hardmann (10.64), will get the final two nods on Georgia’s 4x100m Relay A team. Simmons has the best 200m time on Georgia’s roster at 21.37. Since the 4x100m Relay requires most athletes to actually sprint about 110-130 meaningful meters, 200m times make a big difference. Michel and Hardmann had equal high school 100m Dash times of 10.64, but Hardman has proven his credentials by running on Alabama’s real 4x100m Relay. So he’s getting the nod here.
Now let’s figure out the order, just for fun. Hardman ran a lot of lead-off in high school and college, so we’re going to keep him there. The rest of the athletes, predictably, have most of their experience on anchor leg. Tyler Simmons ran third leg on his team’s 41.24 4x100m Relay team at the end of his senior year, and he has the best 200m time of the group, so we’re going to keep him on the curve as the third leg. That leaves a decision between the two 10.39 athletes for the anchor leg. Ameer Speed has a slightly better 200m time (21.42 to 21.46), but his 10.39 100m Dash was a bit of an outlier for him. That was his first race of his senior year, and his next-best 100m time is 10.68. Eric Stokes, however, also has times of 10.40 and 10.48 on his résumé, plus a 400m best of 47.91 (as a sophomore). We’ll give Stokes the anchor leg, because on paper he is the fastest athlete and his 400m chops should make sure he finishes well.
(Note: Some people have a different theory for the 4x100m. They believe the fastest kid should run second leg because it’s the “longest leg.” I have no idea where this theory came from, because with the exchange zones you could make any leg the longest leg or the shortest leg. On my team’s 4x100m, I determine the second leg by whomever is comfortable running with the baton in their left hand.)
As for the B team, we have Sony Michel, Nick Chubb, Deandre Baker and Jayson Stanley. Even though Jeremiah Holloman ran 11.00 in high school in addition to triple jumping an incredible 49’5.5″, he is not quite fast enough to make our B team. I want to keep Michel and Chubb on consecutive legs because they seem to work so well together. Michel ran third leg as a senior in high school, so we’ll put him on third leg and have Chubb on anchor. If you have seen Nick Chubb, you know he is built like a freight train, so having him on anchor leg makes a ton of sense. Baker ran second leg in high school, so we’ll put him there, which means Stanley gets to run lead-off.
Georgia A – Mecole Hardman, Ameer Speed, Tyler Simmons, Eric Stokes
Georgia B – Jayson Stanley, Deandre Baker, Sony Michel, Nick Chubb
Who runs for Alabama?
Figuring out the foursome for the Tide is a bit easier because four athletes stand far ahead in 100m times. Tony Brown is a two-time NCAA All-American in the 4x100m Relay and has a 100m Dash best of 10.12. He’s the cornerstone of the relay. Xavian Marks has run for the Crimson Tide as well, and his bests of 10.39 and 21.30 are incredible. Henry Ruggs III joined track his senior year of high school in 2017 and ran 10.53, so he has a spot. The next-best 100m time from Alabama is Calvin Ridley at 10.63, which is 0.17 better than the 10.80 by Anthony Averett. Even though Averett has competed in track for the Crimson Tide (mostly in the long jump), there appears to be no reason to jump him ahead of Ridley. So our foursome will be Brown, Marks, Ruggs III and Ridley.
As far as the order, I’m putting Tony Brown on lead-off. Not only is he an individual NCAA All-American in the 100m Dash, which means he obviously is great out of the blocks, but putting the best athlete on lead-off will put pressure on the rest of the teams in the race. Xavian Marks ran anchor leg on a 40.70 relay in high school, and he is our next-fastest athlete, so I am keeping him on anchor. That leaves Ruggs III and Ridley on the middle legs. This is slightly arbitrary, but I am going to put Ruggs III on second leg and Ridley on third leg. The main reason the fact that Ridley ran the 200m in high school. They are within an inch in height, so that is not a big difference (usually a taller athlete will run the straight while a shorter athlete will run the corner). Ruggs III is a freak athlete who was dunking in basketball as a freshman in high school at 5’8″, and Ridley is one of the best receivers in Crimson Tide history (second in receptions and touchdown catches all-time behind Amari Cooper). Both are clearly athletic enough to handle the extra responsibility that comes with the middle legs.
For the B team, the three automatics based on 100m bests are Anthony Averett, Shyheim Carter and Minkah Fitzpatrick. The fourth spot is a toss-up between two people with identical PRs of 10.98, Robert Foster and Damien Harris. I’m going with Harris, for two reasons. One is that Foster’s 10.98 is a bit suspect, having been achieved in a dual meet. The other is that Harris is the starting running back for the Tide, which comes along with it an unbelievable amount of pressure considering the past backs were Derrick Henry, T.J. Yeldon, Eddie Lacy, Trent Richardson, and Mark Ingram. I’m putting Averett on lead-off due to his 55m/60m experience, Harris on second leg, Fitzpatrick on third leg due to his 200m chops (21.66), and Carter on anchor leg.
Alabama A – Tony Brown, Henry Ruggs III, Calvin Ridley, Xavian Marks
Alabama B – Anthony Averett, Damien Harris, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Shyheim Carter
First a recap of the teams, along with their 100m PRs.
Georgia A – Mecole Hardman (10.64), Ameer Speed (10.39), Tyler Simmons (10.60), Eric Stokes (10.39)
Alabama A – Tony Brown (10.12), Henry Ruggs III (10.53), Calvin Ridley (10.63), Xavian Marks (10.39)
Georgia B – Jayson Stanley (10.83), Deandre Baker (10.83), Sony Michel (10.64), Nick Chubb (10.69)
Alabama B – Anthony Averett (10.80), Damien Harris (10.98), Minkah Fitzpatrick (10.86), Shyheim Carter (10.83)
It is fairly obvious to see that barring some sort of miracle, neither of the B teams is going to beat either of the A teams. We’ll save the main event for last, so let’s discuss the B teams first. If you add up the four times of the Georgia B team, you get 42.99, while the Alabama B times add up to 43.47. Obviously both of those foursomes will run significantly faster than those times. Assuming the hand-offs are above average, you can expect each of them to run about 2.5 seconds faster, so 40.49 for Georgia and 40.97 for Alabama. Given the nearly half-second advantage that Georgia has in raw speed, Alabama would need either perfect hand-offs or a bumble from Georgia in order to win. Averett would probably get Alabama a slight lead coming into the first exchange, and Baker would bring the Bulldogs even at the midway point of the race. But that’s where the best running back combo in NCAA history would take over and lead Georgia to a dominating victory. Michel would get a lead on third leg that the intimidating Chubb would only expand. B Relay Edge: Georgia.
Now onto the big show. Alabama has an advantage on combined 100m times, mostly thanks to the world class speed of Tony Brown. Adding up the four 100m PRs gives Alabama a time of 41.67, and Georgia a 42.02. Subtract the 2.5 from each team to account for hand-offs, and you end up with amazing times of 39.17 and 39.52. Now obviously, Alabama has the edge on paper. But a lot of that edge is on the lead-off, where Brown’s PR of 10.12 dwarfs Coleman’s 10.64. However, Coleman ran lead-off for Georgia at the 2017 NCAA Track & Field Championships. His 10.64 was from high school, which still isn’t nearly as good as Brown’s high school best of 10.37. Brown will give the Tide a lead, no doubt, but the Bulldogs on paper have the advantage on the next three legs. Speed and Ruggs III will probably be a wash on second leg, because even though Speed has a better 100m PR, we have already discussed that his time was a bit of an outlier. Simmons and Ridley on third leg will be a battle. Even though Simmons has just a 0.03 advantage in his 100m time, he has a 0.55 second advantage in the 200m. Simmons will catch the baton behind here, and will basically have to close the entire gap on Ridley because the anchor legs for both teams are almost identical. Whomever gets out of the zone first between Marks and Stokes will almost certainly win the race. Both have 10.39 personal bests and a wealth of experience on anchor leg. I cannot see either of them getting passed.
If Georgia is going to win, their hand-offs are going to have to be nearly perfect. While the Tide have the edge in pure 100m speed, the Bulldogs have the edge in 4x100m experience and 200m speed. Can great hand-offs make up a 0.35 second difference in pure speed? Absolutely! Case in point, the 2004 Olympic men’s 4x100m Relay final. The USA came in with Shawn Crawford (9.88), Justin Gatlin (9.85), Coby Miller (9.98), and Maurice Greene (9.79). Gatlin, Greene and Crawford finished 1-3-4 in the 100m final, respectively, just days earlier. The Great Britain team ran Jason Gardner (9.98), Darren Campbell (10.04), Marlon Devonish (10.13) and Mark Lewis-Francis (10.04), none of whom made the 100m final. The combined 100m personal bests of the Americans coming into the race was 0.69 faster than that of the Brits! In fact, the slowest member of the US team (Miller) had the same PR as the fastest member of the Great Britain team (Gardner) at 9.98 seconds. And yet, the Brits beat the Americans by 0.01 in one of the most exciting races ever. The Brits had some help, with Miller leaving early and catching a horrendous exchange, but Mark Lewis-Francis held off Maurice Greene (the 100m World Record holder at the time) the entire straightaway to get the win.
So who will win our big 4x100m A Relay matchup, Alabama or Georgia? The on-paper favorite in Alabama, or the team with more experience in Georgia?
Too close to call, and that’s the beauty of it! What is on paper means very little once the gun goes off. A nervous athlete or a fumbled exchange could make a huge difference in the relay, just like a nervous athlete or a fumbled exchange could make a huge difference in tonight’s football game. Alabama is favored by four points tonight, but that does not mean they are definitely going to win. We play the sports on the field, not on paper. That’s what makes sports so amazing.
Tune into tonight’s College Football Playoff National Championship Game at 7:00pm central time on ESPN. We’ll let the winner of the football game decide our mythical 4x100m Relay championship.