It's January, which mean's it's time for the Big Ten's annual attempt to justify its existence after a dismal bowl season. In retrospect, everyone rooting for Oregon to beat Oregon State was asking for it, no? The Big Ten's image this offseason would be much, much better if these were the matchups:
- Penn State-Oregon State
- Ohio State-Georgia
- Michigan State-South Carolina
and so forth and so on. That looks like 3-1 at least.
Anyway, Dan Pompei has an article in the Sun Times describing the attractiveness of the Big Ten to NFL scouts:
In the last five drafts, 166 Big Ten players were chosen, third highest among conferences. The SEC led the way with 192 players, followed by the ACC with 176. The Pac-10 had 157 while the Big 12 had 143.
If you break it down to first-rounders, the Big Ten also fared pretty well. The conference has had 28 such players in the last five drafts, including one chosen first overall— Jake Long of Michigan by Miami last year. Only the ACC (39) and the SEC (37) have had more first-rounders. The Big 12 and Pac-10 each had 17.
It drives me crazy that the Sun-Times didn't take the simple step of dividing, but I guess that's what I'm here for. Setting aside the silly "most Super Bowl starters" metric, your numbers per team for each conference listed:
The Pac-10 looks much better once you adjust for the fact that there are, you know, ten teams in it, not twelve.
Despite Pompei's angle here, There is some evidence of a talent drought. The NFL starters metric is a lagging indicator that no doubt picks up on the fact the ACC was utterly horrible for the duration of the 90s, and in the other metrics the Big Ten is third or fourth of five conferences. The gap isn't large, but when you combine it with the other problems the Big Ten is up against you get a deck stacked against Big Ten bowl success.
- The games are all on the road. This is just true. Except for the who-cares Motor City Bowl, every Big Ten bowl game is either sort of a road game or absolutely a road game.
- USC manages to blow it once a year. Playing USC every year of late in the Rose Bowl has not been good for the league's reputation.
- The Big Ten gets the most attention and has the "best" matchups. The Big Ten's #3 team this year played Georgia. The Pac-10's #3 team goes to the Sun Bowl, where they take on Pittsburgh or South Florida or something.
The Big Ten plays one game against the nation's most top-heavy conference, the Pac-10, and gets its champion. They play two games against the nation's deepest conference, the SEC, and get that #3/#4 place where the SEC has an advantage over others.
- Michigan and Penn State were (are) not run with high energy. (Ohio State's BCS record under Tressel is not bad overall.) Two of the flagship programs in the league aren't performing on a regular basis. In Michigan's case, Lloyd Carr's energy flagged as he neared retirement and the Rich Rodriguez transition went less than smoothly. Joe Paterno, meanwhile, is a powerless figurehead occupying one of Penn State's precious slots for a coach that actually talks to his team and allowing the continued employment of his obviously-incompetent son. Both teams have been wildly variable of late and poor in bowls.
All that's quite a hurdle to overcome, though it's not enough to excuse the Big Ten's recently dismal record. In the near future, when Michigan is not a disaster zone and Joe Paterno finally shuffles off to eat brains in peace and quiet, things should improve. The Big Ten can't have two of its high-ceiling programs perform erratically and keep up with the rest of the country.